Pentecostal Churches

A number of fundamentalist Protestant sects that emphasize Spirit baptism as an experience different from conversion and evidenced by speaking in tongues (Acts 2:1-13). They also teach the inspiration of the Bible, salvation by conversion and revival, instantaneous sanctification, divine healing; and claim to be a restoration of original Christianity. Early Pentecostal meetings were characterized by outbursts of ecstatic enthusiasm featuring healings, speaking in tongues, and motoric movements.

Pentecostalism began as an outgrowth of the Holiness Movement.* In 1901 a Bible school called Bethel College was started at Topeka, Kansas, by Charles F. Parham who, using no texbook but the Bible, drilled his students in Spirit baptism teaching. These pupils carried the message of the Spirit into Kansas, and when the school closed both teacher and students went throughout the South preaching Pentecostalism. Houston, Texas, became the next center of “Spirit baptism” when Parham and a local minister, W.F. Carothers, opened a school. One of their converts, William J. Seymour, brought the teaching to Los Angeles in 1906 where he founded the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission on Azusa Street. Seymour, a black with only one eye, was described by one who attended his mission as being “meek, plain spoken and no orator,” in short, not a very charismatic personality. Despite his unimpressive appearance, the results of Azusa revival attracted nationwide attention. Besides the many visitors, including ministers, who were influenced by the revival, publications were put out from this headquarters which caused the rapid growth of the movement. As other churches were started in different parts of the United States, the importance of Los Angeles decreased.

Pentecostalism became an international movement early in its history. One of the important leaders in spreading its teaching to Europe was Thomas Ball Barratt, a Cornishman who was a pastor of a Methodist church in Oslo, Norway. Barratt came to the United States in 1905 to solicit funds so that he might build a larger church. Some believe he visited the Azusa Street Mission, but even though that is debatable it is certain that he attended a Pentecostal meeting in New York City and experienced a Holy Spirit baptism and spoke in tongues. He returned to Norway and became an evangelist for Pentecostalism. People thronged to his meetings, and by 1916 he was able to found the Filadelfia Church, which became the largest dissenter body in Norway. Barratt was also influential in spreading Pentecostalism in Denmark and Sweden. In 1907 an Anglican clergyman, Alexander A. Boddy, after visiting Barratt, returned to England determined to promote a similar Pentecostal awakening there. Boddy wrote a pamphlet, Pentecost for England, which was widely distributed, and he invited Barratt to Britain (September 1907). Within a few months there was a Pentecostal revival in England.

Later the movement spread into Germany also. Pentecostalism also appeared in India, where it centered in Mukti and the orphanage of Pandita Ramabai. In 1909 groups from Mukti and missionaries from the United States and Great Britain had extended its teachings throughout India. In addition to W Europe and India, Pentecostalism also spread to Latin America, where it is claimed that eight out of every ten evangelical Protestants are Pentecostal. In Chile the very successful Pentecostal work began with the ministry of Willis C. Hoover, pastor of a Methodist Church in Valparaiso. He began holding charismatic meetings until his church became the “Azusa” of Chile. Later he was forced from the Methodist pastorate and started the Methodist Pentecostal Church, beginning a movement which has swollen to the present 500,000 Pentecostals in the country. Another area of rapid growth has been Brazil, where the charismatic revival began in 1910 with the establishment of the Congregacioni Christiani which has burgeoned to 1,400 congregations with nearly 500,000 communicants. Other Brazilian groups such as the Assemblies of God have used purely indigenous workers and scored equally impressive gains.

Early Pentecostals never desired new denominations, but rather felt they should call all Christians back to what they believed to be apostolic faith. Everywhere the work was to be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which in practice meant the control of visiting evangelists. But as their teaching was opposed by other groups, especially the Holiness churches, they began to organize denominations. Among the more important Pentecostal churches one could list the Assemblies of God, the Church of God in Christ, the Church of God (Tomlinson), the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and the United Pentecostal Church International.

The Assemblies of God* is the largest of these groups, with a total of 645,000 members. Founded in Hot Springs, Arkansas (1914), it maintains a denominational headquarters in Springfield, Missouri. The church has been very active in foreign missions and publication activities. In contrast with early Pentecostalism, the Assemblies give careful attention to the training of ministers. The church combines congregational and presbyterian forms of government and represents the most cultivated group in movement. Their meetings while emotional have departed from the ecstatic form of the early Pentecostal revival.

The Church of God in Christ is the largest and most influential black Pentecostal body. Though C.P. Jones made a notable contribution, C.H. Mason was the founder and the original leader of this church as a Pentecostal body. The church, organized like the Assemblies of God, publishes a periodical called the Whole Truth and had 425,000 members in 1964. Among the other Pentecostal churches using the title “Church of God,” one of the more interesting is that over which A.J. Tomlinson* was the general overseer. Starting as a Holiness church in 1886, this Church of God turned Pentecostal and suffered many divisions. Fragmentation is typical of the Pentecostal movement as a whole, and Elmer Clark claims that after Tomlinson's death in 1907 the Church of God divided into more than two dozen organizations.

The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, with its leader Aimee Semple McPherson,* is the best-known Pentecostal body. The church, organized in 1927, centers at the Angelus Temple located in Los Angeles. The colorful preaching of Mrs. McPherson started the movement, which continues today with 741 churches and over 90,000 members.

Recent developments have excited a lively interest in Pentecostalism. Its impressive growth while the major Protestant churches have been declining has caused concern in many circles. The fact that higher social classes are being attracted to its teachings-coupled with the building of attractive modern church buildings, accredited colleges (such as Oral Roberts University), orphanages, and other institutions-has also brought increasing public attention. In the post-World War II period a spate of new “independent” Pentecostal groups has appeared, including the New Order of the Latter Rain, Wings of Healing, the World Church, the Gospel Assemblies, and the Full Gospel Fellowship of Ministers and Churches, International. In addition to these, practically every major denomination, including the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran churches, now has its own charismatic element. The explosive growth of indigenous Pentecostal churches in Chile, Brazil, and South Africa has caused some to predict that the future center of Christianity will be in the southern hemisphere among non-Caucasian Pentecostals. The “Jesus people” have expressed interest in charismatic experiences, and the Pentecostal antiestablishment, egalitarian approach to women and blacks has made it attractive to a revolutionary age.

E.T. Clark, The Small Sects in America (1949); K. Kendrick, The Promise Fulfilled: A History of the Modern Pentecostal Movement (1961); B.R. Wilson, Sects and Society (1961); N. Block-Hoell, The Pentecostal Movement (1964); J.T. Nichol, Pentecostalism (1966); V. Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States (1971); W.J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals: The Charismatic Movement in the Churches (1972).