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A Charismatic Looks at the Birth of Pentecostalism

One prophetic element of the Azusa St. Revival that did not last a decade was its interracial quality to include Hispanics from the LA region. This racial diversity did not last long either in The Azusa Street Mission itself or in the new Pentecostal denominations and churches. By 1920 Pentecostal churches were generally as segregated as other churches in the United States.[27]


The Holiness Veterans

Part of the reason that Pentecostalism succeeded was that many of its leaders were the battle tested and often wounded veterans of the Holiness and Faith-Cure movements. They had been bruised in the scandals of Dowie’s Zion City, opposed and ridiculed as cultists for their participation in the Faith-Cure movement, and told they were fanatics for upholding their Holiness code of morals. Some like Carrie Judd Montgomery had survived the scandals and had established successful, if marginalized ministries of their own.[28] These Holiness Faith-Cure veterans persisted and kept fellowship with each other. As Paul wrote of his own life: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor 4:8-9) Grayed and spiritually scarred, they flooded into Pentecostal denominations and churches with their wisdom and spiritual maturity. For the first time in modern church history, the leadership of one revival (the Faith-Cure) lived long enough so that they could mentor the leadership of another revival. It was a continuity of wisdom, suffering and experience. Bartleman, who we quoted earlier, was quite aware of this:

One reason for the depth of the work at “Azusa” was the fact that the workers were not novices. They were largely called and prepared for years, from the Holiness ranks, and from the mission field, etc. They had been burned out, tried and proven. They were largely seasoned veterans.[29]

Naturally, the Pentecostals faced persecution and ridicule in their home churches. Some of the fiercest opposition arose from Holiness churches and pastors who did not accept Pentecostalism as a fulfillment of Holiness quest of the Holy Spirit. In fact, one of the cruelest early critiques of tongues originated from a Holiness pastor’s wife, Alma White, who in her book Demons and Tongues, claimed that tongues were demonic in origins.[30] This was a position that many were prone to accept without much further investigation, and it remained influential for decades.

Opposition to Pentecostalism was not just in writing. Especially in the American South, where the Klan believed itself to be the arbiter Protestant Christianity, opposition meant beatings and burnings. As late as 1947 a sniper fired a rifle bullet at Oral Roberts during one of his early tent crusades.[31] In many foreign countries, especially in Latin America, Pentecostals suffered martyrdom.

Within a few years of the original outbreak it became clear that the established churches would reject the “Pentecostal Package.” New fellowships had to be forged. Forming a new religious group out of older ones is difficult because the general enthusiasm of the “innovators”, which unites them, often clashes with their conflicting expectations and histories when the time comes to organize and live together as a new group. Not surprisingly, the Pentecostals formed multiple Pentecostal denominations and independent fellowships. Among the most important development was the formation of fellowships that were not from Wesleyan or Holiness traditions. The largest of these, the “Assemblies of God” denomination formed in 1914 to be a home to Pentecostals from the Baptist tradition – and also, most unfortunately, to assure the segregation of the races.


Pentecostalism’s “irregular idea”

Forming a new theology of the gifts of the Holy Spirit where there was so little in the received traditions and theology of Christendom was no easy matter. Unexpectedly, it was the theology of baptism, not tongues or the other gifts, which caused the worst division among the early Pentecostals. It took the form of the “Oneness” or “Jesus Only” movement.

This new division began in 1913, at a Pentecostal camp meeting. There the minister in charge of Baptism noted that in the Book of Acts, the converts were baptized in Jesus’ name, and not in the Trinitarian formula found in Matthew 28:19. He baptized that day in the name of Jesus only. This stirred up a controversy and another Pentecostal minister, Frank J. Ewart, “searched the scriptures” and came to the conclusion that this innovation was correct. Further, he developed the idea that God was only Jesus, and the Trinity a superfluous doctrine. For him, Jesus was the Father and the Holy Spirit all in one.

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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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