Christian Articles: Pentecost History


Pentecostalism began among poor and disadvantaged people in the USA at the start of the Twentieth century.


Although the movement is a modern one (its foundation is usually taken to be the American Azusa Street revival in the first decade of the 20th century), its roots go back to the 18th century Wesleyan Holiness tradition, the 19th century Holiness movement and the late-Victorian Keswick Higher Life movement.

The Wesleyan Holiness movement was a reaction against the formality and ritualism of the traditional Christian churches of the time. It taught that Christians needed to be transformed by a personal experience of the truth of Christ which they could only get through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Members of this Methodist tradition experienced baptism in the Holy Spirit (which was given that name in 1771 by John Fletcher). Baptism in the Spirit was an important feature of all the Holiness churches.

The difference between these earlier traditions and the Pentecostal movement was, on the surface, speaking in tongues as a physical sign of baptism in the Spirit. The theological conflict underlying this was that members of the Holiness tradition believed that the Pentecost story did not need to be interpreted absolutely literally in modern times, while the early Pentecostals were committed to seeing baptism in the Spirit as an absolute re-enactment of the day of Pentecost.

Early twentieth century

Modern Pentecostalism began on January 1, 1901, when Agnes Ozman, a student at Charles F. Parham's Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, spoke in tongues (actually, the story is that she spoke in "Chinese", and did not speak English again for several days). On January 3, Parham and a dozen other students also spoke in tongues.

Parham and his followers later moved to Texas and began a spiritual revival in 1905.

This was followed by what became known as the Asuza Street revival, centered on the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission in Azusa Street, Los Angeles, led by the African-American preacher William Joseph Seymour, who had studied with Parham.

In 1906 Seymour preached that God would "send a new Pentecost" if people prayed for one, and was rewarded when he and his congregation began speaking in tongues.

This event, greatly helped by apocalyptic thoughts prompted by the San Francisco Earthquake which happened soon after, sparked a powerful religious revival driven by the three doctrines of salvation, sanctification and baptism in the Spirit, and in which the gifts of the Spirit were seen on a large scale. Over 13,000 people are said to have spoken in tongues in the first year.

At first the Pentecostal ideas flourished in individual church groups across North America, and it was not until 1914 that the first Pentecostal denomination, the Church of God in Christ, was founded.

The first Pentecostal church in the UK was founded by William Oliver Hutchinson in 1908 at the Emmanuel Mission Hall, Bournemouth. It became the headquarters of a network of Pentecostal churches which became known as the Apostolic Faith Church.

Another early European Pentecostal denomination was the Elim Pentecostal Church, which was founded in 1915 in Ireland by a Welshman, George Jeffreys.

source: bbc. co. uk