Most consider the father of Pentecostalism to be Charles Parham, a young college student from Kansas with roots in the Methodist Church. While the Wesleys (John and Charles) could not be defined as Pentecostals, their theology laid the foundation upon which the Pentecostal movement would be built. Parham was also influenced by a fresh desire within his denominational circles to experience divine healing and speaking in tongues which are practices that most Christians at the end of the nineteenth century believed had ceased with the Apostolic age.

Speaking in Tongues, "Glossolalia," a popular practice with many Churches today, was an activity of the Holy Spirit coming upon a person and compelling him to external expressions directed to God, but not understood by others. In Pentecost Glossolalia, while speaking in several different tongues, both the speaker and the listener understood what was uttered. The Glossolalia manifested in Corinth was the utterance of words, phrases, sentences, etc., intelligible to God but not to the person uttering them. What was uttered needed to be interpreted by another who had the gift of interpretation.

History and Development

Parham believed and taught that tongues are the initial evidence of “the baptism of the Holy Spirit”.  In 1900, Parham opened a Bible college to promote these views which he deemed “Apostolic Faith” theology. In 1900 Agnes Ozman, one of Parham’s students, is said to have spoken in tongues. After this event it is said that about half of the thirty-four members of the school, including Parham, had spoken in tongues.  This is seen as the birth of Pentecostalism but the movement met with great scepticism and had a hard time developing. It was not until late 1903 at a revival in Galena, Kansas, that Parham and his teachings gained notoriety. Soon Parham had around 25,000 followers, but an even stronger Pentecostal movement was taking place in Wales in 1904-1905. 

The “Welsh Revival” was actually the European counterpart to the rise of American Pentecostalism. Actually, in many ways the Welsh Revival was a strong catalyst for American Pentecostalism. It was felt that “If God was performing these signs and wonders in Wales”, so the reasoning went, “He could do it in America as well.”

The next important chapter in Pentecostalism was in Texas, where in 1905 Parham opened a Bible school and began publishing a newspaper entitled The Apostolic Faith. Out of the Bible school emerged William J. Seymour, a southern black Holiness preacher. Seymour soon moved to Los Angeles, where he spearheaded a revival which would be called the Azusa Street Mission. It was here that a Times reporter claimed that “colored people and a sprinkling of whites practice the most fanatical rites, preach the wildest theories, and work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal”. Regardless of such comments, by September 1906 the church reported about 13,000 people had received the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

Thousands of pilgrims, curious about  what Seymour claimed to offer, poured down Azusa Street between 1906 and 1909. But while the Azusa Street Revival weathered the external storm of criticism, it soon began to unravel internally. Parham was shocked by many manifestations being portrayed as from the Holy Spirit, but were really, he believed, of the flesh or demonic.

Parham and Seymour split and never reconciled. Seymour, from that time forward, eclipsed Parham as the dominant personality in the movement. Shockwaves also came over racial tension. In the early months of Azusa Street, black and white people shared leadership, although black people were dominant. But soon Seymour asked all the Hispanics to leave, and eventually wrote by-laws that prevented anyone except African-Americans from holding office in the Mission.

By 1909, the revival was spent, and eventually faded into history. Even the mission building was demolished after Seymour’s death. However, this was not the end of this movement. Pentecostalism had spread all over the world. Denominations such as the Assemblies of God and the United Pentecostal Church had been formed, and a large segment of the American church would forever view Azusa Street as the “high water mark of modern Christianity.”


Unlike charismatics, who by definition have infiltrated every denomination and doctrinal persuasion, Pentecostals have definite theological distinctives. Below are some important doctrinal issues in Pentecostalism.

• Sanctification - John Wesley had taught that through an instantaneous experience, some time after conversion, a believer could become “entirely sanctified,” or reach a state of “Christian perfection.” By this Wesley did not mean that a Christian would never make a mistake, but that he could cease from sin in this life. Seizing upon this understanding of sanctification, Pentecostals have gone on to call it the “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” which is evidenced by the experience of speaking in tongues.

• The Trinity – While other Christian denominations baptise people in the name of the Trinity i.e. the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a number of Pentacostals baptise only in the name of Jesus which has led to some denominations denying the Trinity

• Practices - Pentecostals are defined more by what they do than by what they believe. Pentecostals believe in exorcism, speaking in tongues, faith healing, and a few (about 2,500) in snake handling, and in general, they seek supernatural experiences.

• Women Preachers – Women have always been permitted to be ordained in the Pentacostal church.

Pentecostalism Today

Pentecostalism has become the fastest growing segment of Christianity. "It is growing at a rate of 13 million a year, or 35,000 a day. With nearly a half billion adherents, it is, after Roman Catholicism, the largest Christian tradition" (Christian History, “The Rise of Pentecostalism”). In addition, the largest church in the world (the Yoi Do Full Gospel Church) is a Pentecostal church in Korea with a weekly worship attendance of 240,000.


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