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A Charismatic Looks at the Birth of Pentecostalism

Parham missed being a major player in the Azusa Street revival which began in 1906 because he was busy bringing the message of tongues to the people of Alexander Dowie’s “Zion City” complex north of Chicago. For a while it seemed that Parham was going to win over a majority of Zion’s residents to his leadership. However, that did not happen, and Parham went back to Kansas and then Texas.[12] He did make it to Azusa Street in October of 1906 to attempt to assume leadership of the revival there. He was appalled by the exuberance, noise, and general “messiness” of the revival (see below).[13] He tried to “correct” these faults, but was rebuffed by the church board and asked to leave. He founded a separate Pentecostal church in Los Angeles which did not flourish. He left that church to another pastor and went back to Texas.

The worst was yet to come. He was accused of and arrested for a homosexual affair with a young man – a felony in Texas and an almost “unforgivable sin” among Holiness advocates. Although the charges were never proven and the case dismissed, the charges made headlines in the religious press across the nation. Parham’s ability to be a major leader in the new Pentecostal movement was ruined. He died in 1929, largely forgotten by the Pentecostal movement he founded. He went to his death-bed still believing that the gift of tongues was always xenolalia.[14] This in spite of the fact that the Pentecostal missionaries who went on foreign missions demonstrated, to their surprise and embarrassment, that he was wrong.

Pentecostals would grapple with tongues-as-xenolalia for several decades and come to an understanding that tongues were related principally to Paul’s description in 1 Cor. 12 and 14.[15] That is, that tongues were a special form of heavenly language used in communication with God, useful for edification, and, when matched with the gift of interpretation, functions as prophecy. Paul says clearly in 1 Cor .14:2, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” Xenolalia was a related but different and rare event. The idea that tongues was the necessary first step or “initial evidence” of Spirit-baptism remained as basic to Pentecostal theology, although there was always some opposition to this interpretation. For instance, the well-known Pentecostal healing evangelist, F F Bosworth, believed there were “multiple’ evidences to being baptized in the Spirit. Because of his opinion, he had to leave the Assemblies of God and joined the Christian and Missionary Alliance.[16]

In spite of his inglorious later years, Parham’s achievements must be counted as enormous. He brought the phenomenon of tongue speaking to the forefront of Christian thought and practice as never before. This opened up also clearer thinking about the other gifts of the Spirit enumerated in 1 Cor. 12, and Romans 12.

The contrast between the Cherokee County revival and the Azusa St. revival reminds us of what the famous philosopher science, Karl Popper, said on the progress of truth. That it, truth is discovered through some hypothesis that focuses on a phenomenon, and by testing it is affirmed, modified, or eliminated.[17] From the perspective of one hundred years we can see that Parham’s two hypotheses, that tongues was xenolalia, and that tongues were the necessary “initial evidence” of Spirit-baptism were respectively a mistake and an exaggeration. However these hypotheses were close enough to the truth to make tongues desirable to many Christians and do what the Cherokee Revival did not – spark a world-wide movement and recovery of the word gifts of 1 Cor. 12.[18]


An African-American preacher ignites Pentecostalism

Parham’s other major contribution to Pentecostalism was in mentoring the person who would subsequently lead the Azusa Street revival, a African-American Holiness preacher named William Seymour (1870-1922).[19] Seymour was borne in Centerville, Louisiana, to parents who had been slaves. Raised as a Baptist, as a boy and young man he received multiple spiritual dreams and visions. He moved north and eventually settled in Cincinnati where he joined a local Holiness congregation called the “Evening Star Saints.” They preached entire sanctification and anticipated a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit just before the rapture of the Church.

Seymour caught smallpox which blinded him in his left eye, but while recuperating from his illness accepted a call to preach. He was licensed and ordained by the Evening Star Saints. Providentially, Seymour moved to Houston and there attended a local Holiness Church pastored by a woman preacher, Lucy Farrow. Farrow asked Seymour to be pastor of her congregation while she accepted a position as governess in the home of Charles Parham in Galena, Texas. When Farrow returned to Houston with the Parham family (1905) she had the gifts of tongues. Parham had returned to Houston to establish a new Bible school.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2014

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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