The churches grew out of the "holiness movement" that developed among Methodists and other Protestants in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, faith healing, and the second coming of Jesus are believed in; of the various Pentecostal churches, the Assemblies of God is the largest; a perfectionist attitude toward secular affairs is common; services feature enthusiastic sermons and hymns; adult baptism and communion are practiced.
I. Profile Report
Founder: The Reverend Charles F. Parham; William J. Seymour (also credited as a founding father of the modern Pentecostal movement and with bringing the Pentecostal experience to world-wide attention).
Date of Birth: Charles F. Parham (1873-1929), William J. Seymour (1870-1922)
Where born?: Parkham: Muscatine, Iowa; Seymour: Centerville, Louisiana
Where founded?: According to tradition and generally noted as the most celebrated places of origin: Topeka, Kansas (1901); also Azusa Street, Los Angeles, California (1906)
Sacred or Revered Texts: The Holy Bible; significant Scripture includes chapters 1 and 2 of the biblical book, the Acts of the Apostles (specifically Acts=2: 1-4.)
Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.
Size of group: Pentecostalism has become the largest and fastest growing segment of Christianity in the world. Due to the indistinct nature of many Pentecostal groups and the vast number of names and organizations, it is difficult to recognize all Pentecostals (Eliade, 1987). However, according to The World Christian Encyclopedia, edited by David B. Barret (New York, 1982), the world-wide total of Pentecostals is estimated at claiming close to one hundred million adherents.
Most Pentecostals are taught or teach that the history of the Holy Spirit expressed among the Pentecostal tradition began with Charles Parham in Topeka, Kansas and/or at the Azusa revival led by William J. Seymour. However, Pentecostalism itself was actually not without a history before the "breakthrough" in Topeka and the Azusa explosion; but regardless, these two events have become the most glamorous conventions for telling the story. Most scholars recognize these events as a kind of mythology and point out that often neglected to be included in the history of this Pentecostal awakening are the number of more modest events that in some way set the stage for the world-wide unveiling of Pentecostalism that would ultimately occur at Azusa.
As early as 1831, in London, England, Edward Erving, the pastor of the Church of Scotland church at Regent Square led parishioners in a prayer which ultimately resulted in them receiving the gift of tongues and prophecy. In light of the powerful manifestations that occurred at Charles Finney's revivals, some of his followers began to re-think their Holiness definition of Holy Spirit baptism. During the 1870s at what was known as the Keswick Conventions and in various other locations, the notion of the baptism being more of an anointing rather than a cleansing (which was the Holiness definition) was developed, which would ultimately guide some Holiness people in a direction that would eventually lead to the emergence of Pentecostalism.
As the beginning of the 20th century approached, more Christians throughout the world began to give more attention to understanding the Spirit and it was with this increased devotion that there resulted scattered incidences of people speaking in tongues and physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit's powers (such as gifts, signs and wonders) which would all seem to come together at Azusa.
In the fall of 1900, a former pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church by the name of Charles Parham began the Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas. As an assignment to his students he required that they investigate the "baptism of the Spirit" or what was also known as the Pentecostal Blessing. After returning from a speaking engagement he was astonished to learn that all of his students had the same story; while several different things occurred when this blessing fell, the indisputable proof on each occasion was that believers spoke in other tongues. After learning this, the students immediately began to seek the baptism with the evidence of speaking with other tongues. On January 1, 1901, the Spirit fell, first on Agnes Ozman, and then a few days later on many others, including Parham himself.
It was in 1906 that Pentecostalism would achieve worldwide attention through the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles led by the African-American preacher William J. Seymour. From attending a Bible School that Parham conducted, he learned about the tongues-attested baptism. Seymour opened the historic meeting in April, 1906 in a former African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church building at 312 Azusa Street under the name of the "Apostolic Faith mission" which would conduct three services a day, seven days a week. It was there that thousands sought to be baptized in the the Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues and experience numerous other Holy Spirit manifestations.
From Azusa Street, Pentecostalism spread rapidly around the world and began its advance toward becoming a major force in Christendom. The movement was also noted for it's integration of both White and African-American Christian traditions.
Experience, rather than doctrine has often been noted as the principal determinant of Pentecostalism. There is no absolute consensus among all Pentecostals on doctrine or any other matter except for Spirit baptism and the practice of charismata (gifts of the Holy Spirit). However, among most American Pentecostal denominations, it is believed that the "initial evidence" of Spirit baptism is the manifestation of glossolalia or what is commonly referred to as speaking in tongues but there are also those that believe that any number of charismata may evidence the baptism. It is almost universally agreed upon by Pentecostals that "speaking in tongues" is a miraculous act in which a believer, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, speaks in a language without having knowledge of it.
However, it is the doctrine of "speaking in tongues" that separates Pentecostals from the Holiness [and even Methodist] groups it splintered off from, as well as from other mainline Christian denominations. After 1875, a branch of the Holiness movement (that would soon become Pentecostal) began to stress aspects of the "second blessing" which focused on an endowment of powerful anointing for those who tarried at the altars. Eventually they simply added to this established Holiness doctrine of the "second blessing", the baptism in the Holy Spirit, with glossolalia as initial evidence of a "third blessing." Many conventional Holiness churches named this new baptism "The Fire" and labeled it as fanaticism and heresy (Melton, 1993).
Similar to the other mainline, evangelical Christain denominations, Pentecostalism tends to adhere to most all of the other fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. However, their inconsistency with Fundamentalists groups (such as Baptists and the Reformed) is in their understanding of the Holy Spirit baptism and gifts (tongues, miracles, etc.). Fundamentalists believe that the Holy Spirit baptism occurs at the onset of salvation, and that the gifts were given only to the Apostles and gradually ceased as the New Testament Scriptures were completed.
Another distinguishing mark of Pentecostalism is the worship of its believers which is often characterized by speaking/praying in tongues aloud, prophesying, healings, the "casting out of devils"(exorcism), hand-clapping, shouting and being "slain in the Spirit," which are all observed with great zeal and fervency. Since its beginnings, these practices have been subjected to rules that have dictated when such worship was appropriate (Eliade, 1987), but still persist as the typical worship style. These differences in worship style also divide Pentecostals from other mainline Christian denominations.
Since its conception in the early 1900s, Pentecostalism has advanced tremendously and seen rapid growth throughout this century, but up until the 1950s it had largely been associated with the margins of American culture. It was not until mid-way through the century that Pentecostal ideas and style began to surface in mainline Protestant churches and would thus, spark a movement in the 50s and 60s that would be known by such names as the New Penetration, Neo-Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Renewal (Revival). Beginning officially in 1960, Dennis Bennett, priest over an Episcopalian congregation in Van Nuys, California announced that he had spoken in tongues. This movement soon spread into a network of independent charismatic churches and organizations which included Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists and Catholics, which all came to enjoy this outburst of speaking in tongues.
The Charismatic Renewal was similar to classical Pentecostalism in its emphasis on the exercise of certain gifts (particularly tongues and prophecy) but the other important qualities of this movement made it distinctly different. It differed from Pentecostalism in that it was trans-denominational in nature, it had no set theology of two-stage blessing, it incorporated a diversity of theological opinion and it also provided a wealth of contemporary worship songs expressing personal and corporate devotion.
Even more recent than the Charismatic Renewal of the 1960s, America witnessed the emergence of another phenomenon with Pentecostal/Charismatic qualities in the 1990s with what was known as the Toronto Blessing.