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Religion Library: Holiness and Pentecostal

Founders

Written by: Arlene Sanchez Walsh

Not everything went well at Azusa Street.  Since  the much heralded revival, which was for many a sign of the end times, occurred at a predominately African American church, Seymour's legitimacy as a Pentecostal leader was in question from the beginning. Seymour not only survived the local criticisms from the religious and civil leadership of Los Angeles, but he survived two attempted coups of his pastorate, one by his old teacher, Charles Parham, and another by Chicago-based evangelist, William Durham.

The realities of turn-of-the-century Los Angeles forced Seymour to concede that if the Azusa Street Mission were to survive past the revival stage, it would soon have to revert back to what it started out as-an African American congregation with "colored" leadership-to ensure its survival amid the hostile racial atmosphere of southern California.  Seymour and his wife Jenny ran the church; William died in 1922, Jenny in 1931.  The property was sold to pay back taxes, and in what would be a cruel twist of fate, this Pentecostal paradise was torn down for a parking lot.

Charles F. Parham is the other major figure that vies for the title of founder of Pentecostalism.  Parham's Topeka, Kansas mission, Bethel Bible, was the scene of one of most significant events in the early history of Pentecostalism. On January 1, 1901, a Bible student, Agnes Ozment, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues.  Though Parham was not there on that day, he had been preaching the baptism of the Holy Spirit for years and had been trying to find a way to synthesize all the disparate theological strands of sanctification and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Parham was one the first of the early Pentecostal leaders to meld together Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues.  Parham's solution was to suggest that there was another experience after sanctification that all Christians should earnestly seek after as a sign that they have received "power from on high" as described in the Book of Acts. The baptism in the Holy Spirit was evidenced by speaking in tongues.  This is called the doctrine of initial evidence.  For Parham, tongues were known languages that were given to people to enable to go out onto missions.  This phenomenon, xenoglossia, was not generally accepted beyond Parham's initial discussion of it.  What was accepted was the idea that you knew that you had been baptized in the Holy Spirit when you spoke in a language that you did not know. 

Parham's ministry after the Topeka, Kansas event seems like a blur of activity during which Parham built up networks of churches of the Apostolic Faith, attempted to take over Seymour's Azusa Mission, and in 1907, was arrested on a charge of sodomy.  Parham's reputation never recovered and he spent the rest of his ministry days in relative obscurity focused seemingly on biblical themes of race, white supremacy, and eschatology.


 
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