Where Australian Pentecostalism came from

Pentecostalism in Australia grew significantly in the 1970 and 1980s to become one of the fastest growing religious groups in the country (and the fastest growing Christian movement). Where did the Pentecostalism in Australia come from? As the only major religious group not brought to Australia by immigrants, Australian Pentecostalism developed from groups that originated here as a result of the influence of Pentecostalism overseas in the first decade of the twentieth-century. [1]

The first Pentecostal church that began in Melbourne in 1909, just three years after the birth of Pentecostalism in 1906 at the Asuza Street Mission in Los Angeles, California, became a major way in which the teaching of Pentecostalism spread throughout Australia in the next few decades. In most states of Australia the formation of small Pentecostal groups was a direct result of the work of this church (the Good News Hall) under Janet Lancaster and Frederick Van Eyk (who later renamed the work 'the Apostolic Faith Mission').

Janet Lancaster was a methodist from Melbourne, Victoria. She was convinced by an English pamphlet, entitled "Back to Pentecost," to seek baptism in the Holy Spirit as her own experience similar to the first Pentecost, as described in Acts 2. She had also become convinced that the Bible promised healing through faith while studying the topic of divine healing.

Then in 1908 after an experience that included tongues-speaking she began to share her new beliefs with others. Those who joined her began meeting together and in 1909 the group bought a building they named the "Good News Hall."

Describing their activity as the "Pentecostal Mission," meetings regularly included tongues-speaking, prophecy, "tarrying" for the gift of the Holy Spirit, laying on hands and anointing the sick, and "dancing in the Spirit." Many miracles were claimed to have occurred. Members also made attempts at casting out demons and claimed to having seen visions.

Janet Lancaster led the work until her death twenty-five years later. Her own teaching led the church to develop a number of unique beliefs: Lancaster and the Good News Hall denied the trinity, teaching that Jesus was inferior to the godhead which consisted only of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. It also taught that only death awaited the wicked who had no soul that could be sent to hell or heaven.

In 1910 Janet Lancaster began a periodical, entitled "Good News," which became a free monthly magazine that was circulated around Australia to as many as 3000 readers per month. It contained sermon material from the Good News Hall and also many re-printed articles from overseas Pentecostal newspapers and magazines. The Good News Hall also printed and circulated many thousands of tracts containing their teaching. In this way Janet Lancaster and the Good News Hall became a major way in which Pentecostal teaching spread thoughout Australia.

Material from overseas Pentecostal churches, in the form of newspaper and magazine articles, was used considerably in the Good News Hall. Eventually Pentecostal teachers from overseas were also invited to visit to Australia. Among them was Smith Wigglesworth, who visited Autralia from England in 1921-22. He stressed healing and had a significant influence in many States, most of all South Australia, where he left behind the first Pentecostal group in that State. In this way the influence of overseas Pentecostal movements had a large effect on the formation of Pentecostalism in Australia.

In 1926 Janet Lancaster also brought out Frederick Van Eyk, a Pentecostal evangelist from South Africa, who helped the Good News Hall to become an Australian wide movement. He changed its name to the 'Apostolic Faith Mission' and appointed himself as the evangelist of the new movement. He travelled widely, holding meetings in various parts around Australia and planting churches. He experienced particular success in Queensland, but also helped spread the movement to most other Australian states.

In Queensland Van Eyk planted a whole group of churches. In South Australia Lancaster herself visisted the first Pentecostal group formed in Adelaide in 1921 to encourage its growth. In New South Wales William Jeffrey, who had been influenced by the Good News Hall and corresponded with Lancaster, built in 1919 the first Pentecostal building in Parkes for a group he pastored. In Western Australia in 1926 Van Eyk organised a small group and left behind a church that later divided into a group that became the Apostolic Church in Perth, a second that named themselves the Elim Foursquare Church and another that became the beginnings of the Assemblies of God in Perth. In this way the Good News Hall under Janet Lancaster and the Apostolic Faith Mission under Frederick Van Eyk became the pioneering origin of the Pentecostal movement in Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia.

The Good News Hall dwindled rapidly after the death of Janet Lancaster in 1934. The Apostolic Faith Mission had been discredited by a number of problems, not least the questional behaviour of Frederick Van Eyk with a woman in Toowoomba after his wife and children had returned to South Africa. The teaching of Lancaster on the Trinity and the judgement of the wicked was also recognised by many to be heretical. The church eventually disappeared. Other Pentecostal groups, that had developed independently from the Good News Hall as early as 1911, became movements that eventually bypassed the Apostolic Faith Mission. They too also dwindled in time and were replaced by new groups. But each group had an impact upon the others with the continual influence of Pentecostalism abroad, right up to the present day.

Pentecostalism in Australia has evolved from these original Australian Pentecostal groups that developed here as a direct result of the influence of the worldwide movement of Pentecostalism that began in Asuza Street, Los Angeles, in 1906.

More on this topic

Baptism in the Spirit: What Pentecostals believe

How Pentecostalism developed over time

Baptism in the Spirit: The basis of Pentecostalism

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[1] Hughes, Philip J. The Pentecostals in Australia. Religious Community Profiles: Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra. | 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.