In discussing the origins of modern Pentecostalism, our minds often immediately go to Azusa Street near the turn of the century. But Azusa was by no means the beginning. Rather it was a product of an already existent movement which had been growing within, and becoming increasingly independent of, Methodism and the holiness churches in the late 19th Century.
Starting as early as the late 1860s, a massive holiness revival was awakening among Methodists. One of their chief complaints was that the doctrine of "entire sanctification", sometimes referred to as "Christian perfection", had fallen away over time. Phoebe Palmer, perhaps the most prominent of the leaders of this movement, developed a concept of entire sanctification in which the Christian is made perfect through a single, instantaneous act of faith. This "second blessing" (so named as to distinguish it from the "first blessing" of conversion) was the result of a Christian's sacrifice of worldly desire, metaphorically placing oneself on the sacrificial altar, and faith that God would sanctify him or her through this one act. This "two blessing" model was adopted by the earliest Pentecostal denominations, like the Church of God in Christ (1897) and the Pentecostal Holiness Church (1898). But there is one more doctrine which has not yet emerged in the movement at this time, and which will be adopted by these Wesleyan-Pentecostal denominations as the "third blessing" (though later non-Wesleyan Pentecostal denominations, like the Assemblies of God, would come to reject the doctrine of entire sanctification).
On January 1, 1901 one of these early Pentecostal leaders by the name of Charles Fox Parham conducted the first "baptism of the Holy Spirit". A former Methodist minister and teacher at a Bible school in Kansas, Parham prayed over one of his students (Agnes Ozman), who promptly began speaking in tongues. J. Roswell Flower, one of the "founding fathers" of the Assemblies of God, called this event the "touch felt round the world". Even in his day, I don't think Flower quite understood how accurate a description that was. It was this event that led to Charles Fox Parham developing his doctrine that tongues were the definitive evidence of what he called "baptism in the Holy Spirit". Further, Parham held to the example of Acts 2 (Pentecost) that the gift of tongues was a supernatural gift of human languages (officially termed xenoglossolalia). For this reason, missionaries had no reason to study foreign languages, as the languages they would need would be supernaturally imparted by the Holy Spirit. Parham used this new doctrine to found his own movement, which he called "The Apostolic Faith" (not to be confused with "The Apostolic Faith Church" which was founded years later), and extended this revival movement throughout the entire Midwest.
At this time, though, the Pentecostal Movement is still rather localized to the American Midwest. It's not until 1906 that we see Pentecostalism rising to the world stage. William Joseph Seymour is a familiar name to many, and for good reason. Having studied under Parham for a short time in 1905, and having been convinced by Parham's doctrine of tongues-attested baptism in the Holy spirit, Seymour left for Los Angeles where he was to lead a small church. Seymour did not last at that church very long, and was kicked out after a mere two weeks because of his preaching on Parham's doctrines. Seymour began a small prayer group with a few close friends, but that group rapidly grew too large to hold in the small house in which he was staying. The group moved to a former African Methodist Episcopal church at 312 Azusa Street, and it is there we see the Azusa Street Revival beginning to kick off.
For over three years, Seymour's group held three daily services, seven days a week. Thousands of attendees were baptized in the Holy Spirit and received the gift of tongues, and Parham’s self-published paper detailing the event was sent to over 50,000 subscribers around the world. But it wasn't simply Parham's doctrine that caused this massive growth. Dr. H. Vinson Synan of Regent University ties the popularity of this movement to its interracial aspect:
The Azusa Street Revival not only championed a new experiential form of Christianity, but also acted as a respite from the racial barriers of contemporary early 20th Century society. That whites were able to suddenly now worship with blacks (and other racial minorities) in this event, under a black minister (Seymour), stood to many as an example of the efficacy of Parham’s theology. The event was not only wondrous in its oddity for the time, but also intriguing in its egalitarian approach to what, at the time, were highly segregated societal classes. It was as a result of this that we see Pentecostalism, in its early days, spreading so quickly amongst the black communities, and one of the reasons why Pentecostalism today has found its unofficial home in the American South.
After Azusa Street, it was almost inevitable that this movement would see such massive growth. Everyone who attended this event eventually went home, and many of them began preaching about it. Pastors like Gaston Barnabas Cashwell expanded the Pentecostal Movement to the East coast. Charles Harrison Mason, a Church of God in Christ minister, returned to his home in Tennessee and brought Parham's doctrine with him. The Church of God in Christ now stands as the largest Pentecostal denomination in North America, boasting over 5.5 million members.
But another key figure was William H. Durham, who led many in his hometown of Chicago into the Pentecostal Movement. Durham completed work on a doctrine of gradual progressive sanctification, quite distinct from the instantaneous model of Phoebe Palmer's "entire sanctification" doctrine, which led to the founding of the Assemblies of God in 1914. The Assemblies of God has now grown to be the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world, by far, with nearly 70 million members worldwide.
What we have covered so far should be sufficient in order to begin looking at the doctrines of "baptism in the Holy Spirit" and "tongues as evidence". It should be noted that the Pentecostal Movement continued to grow in the 20th Century, finally beginning to make its way into mainline Christianity around the 1960s (particularly in the Catholic Church at Notre Dame and Duquesne). But what I will call "Second Wave Pentecostalism" isn't all that important to this series, as it stands more as a charismatic renewal within mainline denominations rather than a distinct movement unto itself.
In the next part of this series, we will dig into these doctrines in an attempt to understand them. Part III will be some of my personal reflections, but before we can begin reflecting on them or attempting to criticize them, we need to first be clear about what these doctrines actually are.
Let me know in the comment section below if there is anything that is unclear, or if you spotted some errors in how I expounded things! Thanks for reading!