The Pentecostal movement traces its founding to the tongues speakingâ that broke out at Charles Parham's Bible School in Topeka, Kansas in 1901 and at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles in 1906.
The stage was set by the late 19th century for Pentecostalism to be birthed. The holiness movement had produced a frenzy of spiritual excitement and a lusting after second blessings and second baptisms. Men such as John Dowie and Frank Sandford had set the stage with their emphasis on divine healing and the expectation of an end-times miracle revival and the reestablishment of apostolic sign gifts, including tongues speaking.
By any reckoning Charles Parham (1873-1929) is a key figure in the birth of Pentecostalism. He was ordained as a Methodist, but left the organization after a falling out with his ecclesiastical superiors (Larry Martin, The Topeka Outpouring of 1901, p. 14). In a restless search for religious instruction he visited the ministries of a number of strange holiness, faith-healing, and latter rain teachers, picking up various heresies along the way, which he eventually merged together into his Pentecostal theology.
Prior to the turn of the century, Parham observed the meetings of Benjamin Irwin, founder of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, and was deeply influenced by Irwin's third blessing doctrine (the blessing of salvation, the blessing of power, and the blessing of sinless perfection). As we have seen, Irwin taught that it was necessary for the Christian to seek the baptism of fire for power and perfection. Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan admits this connection:
Parham adopted the heresy of annihilation from his Quaker grandfather-in-law, David Baker, denying the eternal punishment of the wicked and believing, rather, that that the unsaved would be annihilated in hell.
In 1898 Parham came under the influence of the aforementioned Frank Sandford, and in 1900 Parham traveled to Chicago to study the ministry of John Dowie and to examine Zion City.
Like Sandford and Dowie, Charles Parham taught that physical healing is the Christian's birthright and he railed against the use of medicine and doctors. He taught that it was always God's will to heal sicknesses. In the Sept. 13, 1899, issue of his Apostolic Faith magazine, Parham replied to the question of whether the Bible forbids the use of medicine by exclaiming, We say yes, most emphatically YES (emphasis his).
An issue of Christian History magazine (Issue 58, Vol. XVII, No. 2, 1998) contains a photo of Parham and seven of his followers standing on the steps of the Carthage, Missouri, courthouse. The year was 1906 and Parham is holding a flagpole with banners reading Apostolic Unity. The others are holding banners proclaiming Truth, Faith, Life, Victory, HEALTH.â They were making a statement of their doctrinal position that health is a guaranteed part of the Christian life.
Parham was the first Pentecostal preacher to pray over handkerchiefs and mail them to those who desired his ministrations (James Goff Jr., Fields White Unto Harvest, p. 104).
In spite of his teaching that it was always God's will to heal and that medicine and doctors must be shunned, one of Parham's sons died at age 1 of a sickness that was not healed. He died, in fact, two months after the outbreak of tongues at Parham's Bethel Bible School in Topeka. Another son died at age 37. Most of those who attended Parham's meetings were not healed. In October 1904 a nine-year-old girl named Nettie Smith died. Her father was an avid follower of Parham and refused medical treatment for his daughter. The little girl's death turned local public opinion against Parham because her sickness was treatable and the community considered her death unnecessary. Parham himself suffered various sicknesses throughout his life and at times was too sick to preach or travel. For example, he spent the entire winter of 1904-05 sick and bedridden (James Goff Jr., Fields White Unto Harvest, p. 94), in spite of his own doctrine that healing is guaranteed in Christ's atonement.
In the March 22, 1899, issue of the Apostolic Faith magazine Parham listed his beliefs: salvation by faith; healing by faith, laying on of hands, and prayer; sanctification by faith; coming (pre-millennium) of Christ; the baptism of Holy Ghost and Fire, which seals the Bride and bestows the gifts.
Thus we see the combination of the various doctrines he had gathered in his travels. He also believed in the annihilation of the unsaved and taught that there were two separate creations, and that Adam and Eve were of a different race than people who allegedly lived outside of the Garden of Eden. The first race of men did not have souls, he claimed, and this race of unsouled people was destroyed in the flood. Parham believed that only those who received the latter days Spirit baptism and spoke in tongues would make up the bride of Christ and would be sealed for the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and that these would have a special place of authority at Christ's return. He believed in a partial rapture composed of tongues speakers. From John Dowie, Parham adopted the heresy that Anglo-Saxons are Israelites. He associated often with the Ku Klux Klan and believed that interracial marriages caused the flood of Noah (Martin, The Topeka Outpouring of 1901, p. 19). He did not believe that black people could be sealed as part of the bride of Christ.
After his visits with Dowie and Sandford, Parham established the BETHEL BIBLE SCHOOL IN TOPEKA, KANSAS. It was patterned after Sandford's ministry and was opened in October 1900 in a 30-room building called Stone's Folly. It was so named because the owner, whose name was Stone, was unable to complete the building before going bankrupt. Parham was convinced that Christ's return would be preceded by a latter rain outpouring of signs and wonders and he believed that tongues was the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He further believed that the tongues would be real earthly languages that would enable missionaries to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth without having to learn foreign languages. According to Parham's teaching, those who received the latter rain baptism and tongues would form the bride of Christ and would rule with Him at His coming.
Parham urged his students to seek this experience, and in this context he laid hands on one of his Bible school students, AGNES OZMAN, on January 1, 1901, and she allegedly began to speak in Chinese and later in Bohemian. She spoke while in a trance (Topeka State Journal, Jan. 9, 1901). Subsequently, Parham and others at the small Bible school allegedly also began to speak in tongues. They even claimed that cloven tongues of fire appeared over the heads of the tongues speakers.
Parham said that language professors and other linguistically educated people confirmed that the tongues the students were speaking were languages, but this has never been confirmed. Newspaper reporters of the day described the phenomenon merely as âœgibberish.
The only actual record we have of one of the tongues spoken by Parham's students was written by a reporter of the Topeka State Journal:
Ligle logle lazie logle!!!!! Ene mine mo!!!!! This is exactly the type of tongues I have heard dozens of times at Pentecostal and Charismatic meetings in various parts of the world, but it is childish nonsense.
In 1914 Charles Shumway diligently sought evidence to prove that early Pentecostal tongues were real languages, but he failed to find even one person to corroborate the claims that had been made (James Goff, Jr., Fields White Unto Harvest, Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1988, p. 76). In his 1919 Ph.D. dissertation, Shumway censured the local Houston Chronicle for credulous reporting and stated that letters are on hand from several men who were government interpreters in or near Houston at the time [when Parham conducted a Bible school there], and they are unanimous in denying all knowledge of the alleged facts (Goff, p. 98).
After examining the tongues spoken at the Azusa Street mission led by William Seymour, Holiness leader W.B. Godbey concluded that they were not languages (G.F. Taylor, The Spirit and the Bride, Falcon, NC: by the author, 1907, p. 52).
The Rocky Mountain Pillar of Fire (a holiness publication) for September 12 and November 14, 1906 contained the following accounts:
Many linguists who have studied the tongues of Pentecostals and Charismatics have come to the same conclusion. William J. Samarin, professor of linguistics at the University of Toronto, summarized his research as follows:
The Gospel Message, published in Kansas City, in October 1906, contained the following testimony:
This reminds us that every time someone attempts to test Pentecostal tongues or healings or other signs and wonders objectively, they prove to be either completely bogus or strangely illusive. The most amazing signs and wonders always happen some place far away or long ago and are otherwise not verifiable.
In 2002 I visited the Kansas State Research Library in Topeka and got a photo of the building where Parham had his Bible School (which was destroyed by a fire in December 1901). I also found some old newspaper articles and other documents about Parham's school.
Two articles give the testimony of S.J. Riggins, a student who left the school, claiming that the other students were merely speaking âœgibberish.
We are convinced that Riggins was correct in his assessment that Parham and his students were speaking gibberish and practicing fanaticism under the influence of the evil one.
Consider this description by Parham of what his students were doing the day after Ozman began her tongues-speaking career:
This is strictly contrary to the Bible's instruction about the use of tongues. The Bethel Bible School tongues in January 1901 was confusion, which the Bible says is not of God (1 Cor. 14:33). The Bible says that tongues are not to be used unless they are interpreted and even then, the gift is to be exercised by only one speaker at a time (1 Cor. 14:23-28). Further, women are not to speak (1 Cor. 14:34).
Parham claimed that Ozman was unable to speak in English for three days after her initial tongues experience. Her own testimony was that âœmany times we could only talk in other tongues (Martin, The Topeka Outpouring of 1901, p. 88).
To the contrary, the Bible says a genuine prophet or tongues-speaker is in control of himself. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophetsâ (1 Cor. 14:32). Ozman's uncontrollable tongues were not of God.
The lack of control over the tongues was also described by Lillian Thistlethwaite, another student at Parham's Bible school.
This is contrary to what we see in the book of Acts and the Epistles.
As we have seen in the previously quoted newspaper accounts, Parham's students not only claimed to speak in tongues but also to write in them. They claimed these writings were foreign languages, such as Chinese, but when they were examined by knowledgeable people, they were found to be mere indecipherable scratchings (Goff, p. 76). The Topeka Daily Capital printed an example of Ozman's inspired writings, and it can still be seen in the Kansas State Research Library. It was nothing more than childish scratchings. The people were deluded, plain and simple. The press called the writings quaint and indistinguishable hieroglyphics (Goff, p. 80).
A reporter for the Topeka State Journal observed Agnes Ozman when she was allegedly writing by inspiration:
This is the same phenomenon that occurs with New Age automatic writing, which is clearly demonic. There is not a hint of such a thing in the New Testament Scriptures.
The early Pentecostals thought they would be able to preach in foreign languages through the gift of tongues. Parham is quoted as follows in a newspaper article from that day:
As it turned out, they were deceived in this as they were in everything else.
Alfred Garr and his wife went to India expecting to speak in supernatural languages, but they quickly learned that it was a delusion. May Law and Rosa Pittman went to Japan expecting to preach in Japanese but when they found that no one could understand their tongues they moved on to Hong Kong, thinking that they must have the gift of Chinese instead, but they were no more successful there. T.J. McIntosh was the first Pentecostal missionary to Macau, and though he fully expected to speak fluent Chinese his hopes were soon dashed.
Parham's Bible school in Kansas closed down within months and he moved to Texas to establish churches. He also started a new Bible school in Houston.
The new movement was called THE APOSTOLIC FAITH, and it grew quickly and split into many factions. The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements notes that Parham's contributions to Pentecostalism included the particularly acute level of latter rain millenarianism. Parham's first book was titled Kol Kare Bomidbar, which is Hebrew for A Voice Crying in the Wilderness. He considered himself a latter days John the Baptist, announcing a new dispensation of the Spirit. He gave himself the title Projector of the Apostolic Faith. When one of Parham's co-evangelists, Lilian Thistlethwaite, wrote an account of the Topeka, Kansas, revival, she entitled it The Wonderful History of the Latter Rain.
In the summer of 1907 Parham was arrested in San Antonio, Texas, on a charge of sodomy. The charge was dropped by the authorities without comment and Parham refused to explain. Marred by scandal, he spent the final two decades of his life alienated from the bulk of the movement he had begun. ... At the time of Parham's death in 1929, he was almost unknown among the developing second generation of the Pentecostal denominations. Yet to no one individual did the movement owe a greater debt (The Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements).
Because of the charge of sodomy, W.F. Carothers and Howard Goss disfellowshipped Parham from the Apostolic Faith organization he had founded (Larry Martin, The Life and Ministry of William J. Seymour, p. 271).
When Parham visited Zion City after this and tried to raise a following there, Wilbur Glenn Voliva put up a billboard warning the inhabitants of the city as follows:
You know that this city is the private headquarters of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, and a place of residence for its officers and members. Those who break in here and attempt to hold meetings of any kind, especially to run a disgraceful monkey-house, are nothing but thieves and thugs. Old Parham from Sodom made fools and monkeys out of you. Either repent of your idiotic performances, and line up for God and Zion, or pack up your stuff and get out of here, and establish a zoo somewhere else. W.G. Voliva.
In 1908 Parham raised funds to travel to the Holy Land on an archaeological expedition to search for the lost Ark of the Covenant. He told the press that he had information about its location and that finding the Ark would fit into the end-times scheme. By December he announced that he had sufficient funds and traveled to New York, allegedly to begin his journey to Jerusalem. He never purchased a ticket to the Middle East and returned home dejectedly in January 1909, claiming he was robbed after arriving in New York.
WILLIAM SEYMOUR AND THE AZUSA STREET MISSION
One of the students at Parham's Houston Bible school was William J. Seymour (1870-1922), a black evangelist who accepted Parham's doctrine and carried it to Los Angeles, California.
The mission established by Seymour on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 has become famous as the birthplace of the Pentecostal movement. Meetings were held seven days a week for three years. Visitors attended from around the world, seeking their own âœpersonal Pentecost,â and their testimonies and the preaching of missionaries sent out from the Azusa Street mission created a whirlwind of growth for the burgeoning Pentecostal movement.
Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan observes: The Azusa Street revival is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement. In addition to the ministers who received their Pentecostal experience directly at Azusa Street, thousands of others were influenced indirectly (Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, pp. 105,130).
During 1901 and 1902 Seymour had attended Martin Knapp's God's Bible School and joined the Evening Light Saints in Cincinnati. He adopted the unscriptural doctrine of entire sanctification, believing that two works of grace were required to save and cleanse a man. One first had to be born again through faith in Christ then subsequently sanctified through a second work of grace.
Seymour believed that the true church was being restored in an end-times miracle revival. In 1903 he attended Parham's Bible school in Houston. There he became committed to another false doctrine, that the Christian must subsequently be âœbaptized in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of tongues.
In early 1906 Seymour was invited to Los Angeles to pastor a small holiness group which, at the time of the invitation, was pastored by a woman, Julie Hutchins. The group was formed of people that had been disciplined out of the Second Baptist Church for the second blessing sinless perfection heresy.
Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, Seymour preached only a few times before being locked out of the church that had invited him. His doctrine that tongues-speaking was the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was not well received.
Seymour moved his meetings to a private home and then to a former African Methodist Episcopal church building at 312 Azusa Street, and strange things began to happen. The meetings began in April 1906 and lasted more than three years. Large numbers of people visited Azusa Street to seek their own Pentecost, subsequently taking the Pentecostal theology and experience back to their homes.
The meetings began in the mornings and continued for 10 hours and more. There was no order of services and usually no one was leading. Whoever was anointed with the message would stand and deliver it. It might be a man, woman, or child (Larry Martin, The Life and Ministry of William J. Seymour, p. 186).
Seymour rarely preached. Instead, much of the time he put his head down in an empty packing crate that served as the pulpit and prayed. Pastoral oversight was minimum, to say the least.
People sang out at the same time but with completely different syllables, rhythms, and melodies (Ted Olsen, American Pentecost, Christian History, Issue 58, 1998). They called this the Heavenly Choir.â Seymour's wife, Jennie, claimed that she could sing under the power of the Spirit in many languages and even play the piano by divine inspiration (Martin, The True Believers, p. 58).
The services were characterized by much confusion: dancing, jumping up and down, falling, trances, slaying in the spirit, tongues, jerking, hysteria, strange animal noises, holy laughter, spiritual muteness or people trying to speak and unable to do so, etc. The seekers would be seized with a strange spell and commence a jibberish of sounds. Seymour said, Often when God sends a blessed wave upon us, we all may speak in tongues for awhile... (Martin, p. 188). A Los Angeles Times reporter observed that the participants work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal. A very sympathetic biographer of William Seymour admits that at times the meetings would become so boisterous that the police were called (Martin, The Life and Ministry of Seymour, p. 188).
Seymour taught the people to cry out to God and demand sanctification, the baptism with the Holy Ghost, and divine healing (Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, p. 99).
Shaking was a large part of the Azusa experience. The first case of tongues-speaking under Seymour's ministry was by Edward Lee, who was convinced that people shake and speak in tongues when God's power comes upon them after he saw an alleged vision of Peter and John shaking while speaking in tongues (Larry Martin, The Life and Ministry of William J. Seymour, p. 142).
One man shook so violently under Seymourâ™s ministry that an ambulance was called. When the man who was shaking told the doctor, Don't touch me, this is the power of God, the doctor wisely replied, If that is the power of God it is giving you a devil of a shakingâ (Martin, p. 306).
Spirit slaying was also a large part of the Azusa Street meetings. When Seymour laid hands on Edward Lee, he fell to the floor like a dead manâ (Ibid., p. 143).
The first woman to speak in tongues at Azusa, Jennie Moore, first fell to the floor (Ibid., p. 146).
Seymour also fell down like he was dead when he first spoke in tongues (Ibid., p. 148).
At times men would fall all over the house, like an army slain on the battle field...â (Ibid., p. 179).
The same lack of control over the tongues and other phenomena that we have seen at Parham's Bible School in Topeka was evident at Azusa Street. Jennie Moore, who later married William Seymour and eventually became the pastor of the Azusa Street Mission herself, was employed by a wealthy couple as a cook. When she burst out in tongues before her surprised employers, they feared she was going insane, and rightfully so (Martin, The True Believers, p. 112). Later she came under the power and burst out in tongues during a Methodist church service.
Though William Seymour and Charles Parham have been called the co-founders of world Pentecostalism, Parham never accepted the Azusa Street experience as genuine.
When Parham visited the meetings in October 1906, he was shocked by the confusion of the services. He was dismayed by the awful fits and spasmsâ of the holy rollers and hypnotists. He described the Azusa tongues as chattering, jabbering and sputtering, speaking no language at all (Synan, p. 102). The Azusa Street meetings were so wild that Parham condemned them with the term sensational Holy Rollers. He said that the Azusa Street meetings were largely characterized by manifestations of the flesh, spiritualistic controls, and the practice of hypnotism (Sarah Parham, The Life of Charles F. Parham, Joplin, MO: Tri-state Printing, 1930, p. 163). When Parham arrived in Azusa Street in 1906, he began his first sermon by telling the people that God is sick at his stomach because of the things which were occurring at Azusa (Charles Shumway, A Study of the Gift of Tongues, A.B. thesis, University of California, 1914, pp. 178, 179; cited by Goff, Fields White Unto Harvest, p. 131).
According to Parham, two-thirds of the people that professed Pentecostalism in his day were either hypnotized or spook driven (Sarah Parham, Life of Charles Parham, p. 164).
Parham never changed his opinion. To the end of his life, he denounced Azusa Street as a case of spiritual power prostituted. Thus the father of Pentecostalism roundly rejected the Azusa Street meetings as phony, manipulated, and demonic!
Though there were many reports about healing and financial miracles at Azusa, the bank eventually foreclosed on the church's property and Seymour died young at 52 years old and was in poor health for a long before that. A few months before his death Seymour was described as worn, tired, and decrepit (John Matthews, Speaking in Tongues, 1925, p. 14).
More than 30,000 attended the centennial celebrations of the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles in April 2006.