Characteristics of Pentecostals

Characteristics of Pentecostals
By J. L. Hall, Editor

In the fall of 1900, Charles F. Parham opened a Bible college in a large mansion in Topeka, Kansas. After the first term, Parham asked the forty students to search the Bible to determine the evidence of a person receiving the Holy Ghost. It is not certain what his prior thinking on this subject was, but he states that he was surprised when the entire student body agreed that speaking in tongues is the evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.

On January 1, 1901, one of the students, Agnes Ozman, asked Parham to lay hands on her that she might receive the Holy Ghost. Reluctantly, Parham complied. As he prayed, Ozman began speaking in tongues. On January 3, Parham and twelve others received the Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues, and the experience quickly spread among the entire student body.

Parham soon moved his students to Kansas City for revival services, but it was not until they arrived in Galena, Kansas, in the fall of 1903 to hold services that significant new converts were added to the group. In Galena, more than five hundred were baptized and hundreds received the Holy Ghost. Next, the Pentecostals went to Texas; beginning in the spring of 1905 in the small community of Orchard, located

Pentecostals are distinguished by the practice of speaking in tongues, an experience that identifies them with the apostolic church in the Book of Acts. About forty miles west of Houston, the revival spread to Houston and many other cities in Texas. The success in Texas brought thousands of
new converts into the movement, and by the summer of 1906 they could
count more than thirteen thousand Pentecostals. But the revival had
only begun.

One of Parham’s students in Houston, W. J. Seymour, a black Holiness minister, took the news to Los Angeles, California, where he opened the famous Azusa Street Mission in the spring of 1906. From this mission the Pentecostal message reached across North America and around the world. From these early beginnings, the Pentecostal movement has continued its phenomenal growth, and today the number of Pentecostals worldwide is estimated to be more than 250 million.

Speaking in Tongues

Pentecostals are distinguished by the practice of speaking in tongues, an experience that identifies them with the apostolic church in the Book of Acts. The record of the birth of the church reveals that
when the Holy Ghost came upon the disciples they spoke with tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4). Moreover, the Gentile converts in Caesarea and the disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus spoke in tongues when they were filled with the Spirit.

Although speaking in tongues is not specifically mentioned in the revival Philip held among the Samaritans, it appears certain that tongues was the expected sign and the evidence accepted by the two
apostles, Peter and John, who prayed for the converts to receive the Spirit (Acts 8:1-16). There can belittle doubt that speaking in tongues was common among Christians in the New Testament (I

by J. L. Hall, Editor in Chief

Corinthians 12, 14).

At some point in time after the days of the apostles, speaking in tongues faded from the experience of those in the Roman Catholic Church, but history reveals that tongues did not cease. On the contrary, through the centuries many individuals and groups experienced speaking in tongues; recorded incidents exist from the Montanists in the third century to the Irvingites in the nineteenth century. Many groups since the Reformation reported speaking in tongues among them. For example, many followers of John Wesley and George Whitefield spoke in tongues. Moreover, from 1850 to 1900 at least eleven separate accounts of speaking in tongues are recorded. What made the event in Topeka, Kansas, so important is that it began a chain of revivals that has grown into the most significant movement in Christendom since the Reformation.

While speaking in tongues is the primary distinguishing characteristic of Pentecostals, other characteristics such as divine healing, fervent praying, jubilant worship, diligent Bible study, holy lifestyle, anointed preaching, and devotion to biblical doctrine also define the movement. Unfortunately, many groups have altered their historical Pentecostal practices. For example, many Pentecostals no longer ascribe to the holy lifestyle of their pioneers. Neither do many groups contend for a move of the Spirit in their services.

Finished Work of Calvary

For the first decade of the revival, from 1901 to 1911,Pentecostalswere not concerned about doctrinal differences among them, and they did

not confine their fellowship to denominational boundaries. But their stress on unity did not survive the next decade.

With the rapid spread of the Pentecostal experience among ministers and congregations of different doctrinal persuasions, it is not surprising that doctrinal disputes would soon come to the movement. Growth demanded organization and doctrinal discussion.

The first doctrinal division came with the preaching of William Durham, pastor of the influential mission on North Avenue in Chicago. Durham preached the “Finished Work of Calvary” to refute the Holiness doctrine of sanctification as a definite and separate work of grace. The Holiness Pentecostals held a three-stage gospel: saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost. Durham preached a two-stage gospel: saved and filled with the Holy Ghost. He preached that sanctification is experienced both as a part of salvation and as a continuous grace as Christians grow in Christ.

By 1912, a majority of Pentecostals had embraced Durham’s message and made a clear departure from the Holiness theology of sanctification that had dominated the early years of the Pentecostal movement, but a large minority continued to hold to the belief that sanctification is a separate work of grace.

Baptism in the

Name of Jesus Christ

The second doctrinal division began during the worldwide Pentecostal camp meeting in Los Angeles in the summer of 1913. R. E. McAlister, preaching at a baptismal service, pointed out that the apostles did not use the traditional formula of baptizing “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” but that they always baptized in the name of Jesus Christ or in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; 22:16). His remarks created an immediate interest, and several ministers began to study the Bible to make sure he was correct.

One prominent Pentecostal leader, Frank J. Ewart, spent several months intensely searching the Bible for an answer to the meaning of Matthew 28:19 and the accounts in the Book of Acts. In the early months of 1914, he came to understand that the name in Matthew 28:19 is not the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but Jesus.

After discussing his findings with other ministers, Ewart announced his decision to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and that henceforth he would preach and practice water baptism in the name of Jesus as did the apostles. He soon opened a tent revival in the Los Angeles area, and on April 15, 1915, he baptized Glenn Cook, an evangelist who had been with the Azusa Street Mission, in the name of Jesus Christ, and Cook baptized him. During the next several months, he rebaptized thousands of Pentecostals in the name of Jesus Christ.

With the baptismal formula in the name of Jesus Christ came the understanding of the Oneness of God. Ewart recognized that in Jesus the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9). He stressed that Jesus was not only the Son of God but that He was also the one true God manifested in flesh (I Timothy 3:16). The Oneness teaching also presented a one-stage gospel; faith, repentance, water baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost are all elements of New Testament salvation.

The message of one God and baptism in the name of Jesus quickly spread across the United States, through Canada, and around the world. By the fall of 1916, many prominent leaders among the Pentecostals had been rebaptized in the name of Jesus Christ, including E. N. Bell, Howard A. Goss, and D. C. O. Opperman, three of the founders of the of God. Other leaders rebaptized in the name of Jesus Christ included G. T. Haywood, L. C. Hall, Frank Bartleman, Harry Morse, H. G. Rodgers, B. F. Lawrence, R. E. McAlister, W. E. Booth Clibborn, A. H. Argue, Frank Small, A. D. Urshan, Harvey Shearer, George T. Studd, and

Elmer K Fisher.

In the fall of 1916, the General Council of the Assemblies of God adopted the Statement of Fundamental Truths, which embraced a trinitarian view of God and water baptism in the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The passing of the Statement effectively pushed the Oneness believers out of the Assemblies of God. Believing that they should obey God and not man, the Oneness believers refused to bow to any creed that violated the clear teaching of the Bible.

Standards of Behavior and Appearance

Although the major doctrinal divisions were formed before 1920, other changes have occurred among many Pentecostals, especially among the trinitarian wing of the movement. In matters of holiness, they came to view the rigorist standards of behavior and appearance as legalistic and therefore spiritually unhealthy.

Although all Pentecostals originally preached that women were not to cut their hair or use make-up or wear immodest clothing, many have altered these standards to allow a more worldly lifestyle. They also took a more accommodating stand on worldly sports, movies, smoking, and other similar activities that were once forbidden.

With the change in standards came changes in public worship. By the 1970s, many churches had ruled out fervent praying around the altar, anointed preaching in the pulpit, and spiritual worship in the pews. This was especially true of urban churches, which tended to be more formal and performance oriented than churches in smaller cities and towns.

Oneness Pentecostals Today

While many Pentecostal churches moved away from their roots of the demonstration of the Spirit and the need for standards of conduct, Oneness churches have remained closer to the characteristics of their pioneers. They still stress the power of believing the Bible and the need of living by its precepts.
During the church service, a person can expect to witness fervent praying, biblical preaching under the anointing of the Spirit, congregational participation in worship that relies on the operation of God’s Spirit, divine healings, waterbaptisms, and people receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Oneness Pentecostals still stress the reliability of the Bible, declaring that it is the inerrant Word of God and the only infallible guide for salvation in Jesus Christ. They do not view standards of conduct or codes of dress as evidence of legalism, but they do not teach that a person can be saved by his good conduct or godly appearance. A person who is truly saved will not love the world or the things in the world, but his
affection is directed toward things above, and his hope is anchored in
the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Someone asked, “Will the real Pentecostals stand up?” Some of them will be found not only standing up but standing tall in the United Pentecostal Church International.

This article is a reprint from the August 1988 issue of the Pentecostal Herald.