How early Pentecostals saw themselves

The key to understanding the teachings of the modern Pentecostal movement is understanding their origin. The first Pentecostals, who embraced this movement at that time in history when it began, had a determining influence on the Pentecostalism of today. We need to understand how early Pentecostals themselves interpreted the historical events surrounding their origin. How did they view Pentecostalism?

"When tongues-speaking occurred in Topeka in 1901, the only significant addition to the foregoing was to insist that tongues-speaking was the biblical evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit baptism. All the other teachings and practices of Pentecostalism were adapted from the Holiness milieu in which it was born, including its style of worship, its hymnody, and its basic theology." (McGee, 1995) [1] | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit. Firstly, the original Pentecostals knew that their doctrine of tongues-speaking was unique.

Pentecostalism began with the belief that the gift of tongues was the evidence of baptism in the Spirit. Although Pentecostalism came from within the Holiness movement it emerged as a new and distinct movement because of this unique role given to the practice of tongues. Although the Holiness movement did teach that Spirit-baptism was a second experience to empower Christians, it did not stress charismatic phenomena such as speaking in tongues. [2] The priority of the gift of tongues was inherited by early Pentecostals from Charles Parham who was the first to insisted that speaking in tongues was the evidence of Spirit baptism (that he believed to be the third work of grace.) [3]

Secondly, early Petecostals believed that the Spirit's work in those who had spoken in tongues was unique.

This is the reason why the practice of tongues-speaking was elevated in importance. It was Charles Parham again who was the first to articulate this so specifically. Charles Parham's saw an elite band of Spirit-baptised evangelists as fulfilling the Great Commission before the End. Gary B. McGee (as Professor of Church History, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary) describes Parham's view of the recipients of baptism in the Spirit:
"Sanctified and prepared now as an elite band of end-time missionaries, they alone [will] be taken by Christ at the (pre-Tribulation) rapture of the Church after they had completed their role in fulfilling the Great Commission. Other Christians [will] face the ordeal of survival during the seven years of tribulation to follow." [4]
McGee comments, "Despite the eventual relegation of this teaching to the fringes of the Pentecostal movement, it did raise an issue that still lingers: the uniqueness of the Spirit's work in those who have spoken in tongues as compared with those who have not." [4] It is a consequence of the Pentecostal belief (that Spirit-baptism is a unique work of the Spirit in some Christians) that the practice of tongues-speaking is a doctrinal priority in this movement. Tongues-speaking distinguishes between those who have had Spirit-baptism and those who have not. In other words, speaking in tongues funtions to divide the Church into two groups: those who are Christians only and those who are Spirit-empowered Christians.

Thirdly, early Pentecostals believed that with the beginning of their movement came the restoration of the Apostolic faith.

In 1922 Daniel W. Kerr (who has been called “the most influential theological voice in the early years of the Assemblies of God” [5]) wrote an article entitled “The Basis for Our Distinctive Testimony,” in which he remarked:
"During the past few years God has enabled us to discover and recover this wonderful truth concerning Baptism in the Spirit as it was given at the beginning. Thus we have all that the others got [i.e., Luther, Wesley, Blumhardt, Trudel, and A. B. Simpson], and we got this too. We see all that they see, but they don't see what we see." [5]
McGee himself believes in regard to the 1901 revival at Topeka, that "the 'apostolic faith' of the New Testament Church had at last been fully restored." [6] This point is further proven by the fact that Bennett Freeman Lawrence -- who wrote the first history of the Pentecostal movement -- named his book, "The Apostolic Faith Restored" (1916). [7]


The first Pentecostal thinkers themselves understood their doctrine of tongues-speaking to be unique in church history, and interpreted the events surrounding the beginning of the twentieth-century as the end-time restoration of the “Apostolic faith” in preparation for Christ's return. The practice of tongues speaking was specifically given doctrinal priority because it distinguishes between those who have received the unique work of Spirit-baptism from those Christians who have not.

But how did Pentecostalism grow so rapidly? How is it that by 1909, after only three years, Pentecostalism had become a world-wide movement? In the next article we'll be talking about why Pentecostalism was so successful.

More on this topic

Why Pentecostalism was successful

Why Pentecostalism began

How Pentecostalism developed over time

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[1] Gary B. McGee (Ph.D., Professor of Church History, Chair, Bible and Theology Department at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary), Systematic Theology, Chapter 1 “Historical Background”, Logion Press, 1995, p. 15-16.

[2] Vinson Synan (Ph. D., University of Georgia), “Pentecostalism”, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed., Paternoster Press, 2001, p. 900.

[3] Ibid., p. 15-16 (emphasis his).

[4] Gary B. McGee (Ph.D., Professor of Church History, Chair, Bible and Theology Department at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary), Systematic Theology, Chapter 1 “Historical Background”, Logion Press, 1995, p. 17.

[5] Ibid., p. 16.

[6] Ibid., p. 16 (emphasis his).

[7] Ibid., p. 16 (emphasis his).

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