Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fading Pentecostal Revivals and Oneness Renewal

[This post presents the first chapter of my dissertation, The People of the Name: Oneness Pentecostalism in the United States (Florida State University, 1985) which focuses on the emergence of American classical Pentecostalism and the eventual appearance of apostolic Pentecostalism as a distinct voice within this tradition.]

Oneness Pentecostalism originated in a restorationist fervor during the waning years of the Pentecostal revivals as an attempt to recapture the vitality of the Azusa revival, to thwart the theologizing of the Pentecostal experience, and to reaffirm the eschatological zeal of the early Pentecostals. American Pentecostalism, above all, began as a millennarian movement. Along with the premillennialist Adventist, Holiness, and Keswick movements, the early Pentecostals expected the imminent, apocalyptic return of Jesus Christ to right the wrongs of a corrupt world and establish a new order under his reign. For them, history itself revealed a cataclysmic downhill plunge into chaos and collapse. Even the church world had largely succumbed to this trend by leaving behind the cherished values of nineteenth-century revivalism and accommodating itself to the modern secular world. But in the early twentieth century, the "closing days" of history, God was raising up a "remnant of the faithful" through whom he would restore the pristine faith of the early church and launch a worldwide revival. A great outpouring of the Holy Spirit—a "Latter Rain" in contrast to the "Early Rain" of the Holy Spirit recorded in the Acts of the Apostles—would precede the second coming of Christ.1

The early Pentecostals expected and experienced unusual phenomena which paralleled the experience of the miraculous among the New Testament Christians. Of particular importance, glossolalia (speaking with tongues) and miracles of healing confirmed their end time scenario and intensified Pentecostal missionary efforts. Some Pentecostals even believed that glossolalia, the last great sign of God's end time action, would hasten world evangelism by miraculously overcoming language barriers on foreign fields. But as this hope failed to materialize, speaking with tongues came to be understood rather as "a divine encounter, a subjective experience of the Spirit, which no amount of objective evidence could annul." For the early Pentecostal, the experience of immediacy with the divine, the "being possessed" by the Holy Spirit, evidenced by tongue speaking, legitimated the experience of Spirit baptism as the great end time token.2

Robert Mapes Anderson points out that as Pentecostal urgency concerning the second coming of Christ dwindled, a shift in Pentecostal ideology occurred. Once the emphasis on an imminent apocalypse ceased to create "an immediate individual expectation," the movement drifted toward institutionalization with glossolalia moving to the central place in Pentecostal thought. "The former hope of immediate physical escape from [the] unhappy world through the Second Coming was replaced by the reality of immediate psychic escape through ecstasy." Belief in the second coming became formalized in doctrinal terms rather than in the "lively hope" of the believer. Glossolalia was no longer understood as an eschatological sign and a means for advancing the gospel, but became an "end in itself," the focal point of the Pentecostal message.3 From its inception, Oneness theology sought to reverse this trend by reemphasizing the eschatological quality of not only glossolalia, but also baptism in "Jesus name" and the "revelation" of the "oneness" of God. Likewise, Oneness thought resisted the strict categorization of the Pentecostal experience in Wesleyan or Reformed terms and sought to stress the experience itself over any explanation of the experience.

American Pentecostalism grew from roots in Topeka, Kansas and Galena, Texas to explode upon the national and international scenes with the 1906 revival at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles. Under the direction of Charles Fox Parham, a white Holiness preacher, a Pentecostal revival of ecstatic worship and glossolalia broke out at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas in January 1901. Referring to the Acts of the Apostles, Parham and his students identified tongue speaking as the "visible outward manifestation of the baptism of the Holy Spirit" and, therefore, normative within the Christian experience. The Bethel school quickly suspended all classes and became a full time revival center. Appealing to the Keswick doctrine of Spirit baptism as an empowering for Christian service, the majority of Bethel's students hastened into evangelistic efforts which forced Parham to close the school.

Traveling to Galena, Texas early in 1904, Parham conducted a three month "divine healing" campaign and boasted of several miracle cures. From this center, Pentecostalism spread in the tri-state region of Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. Parham then moved to Houston and formed a new Bible college. One of his students, William J. Seymour, a black minister who traveled to California and became the pastor of the Azusa Street Mission, soon replaced his teacher as the shaper and spokesman of American Pentecostalism.

The Azusa revival, which shocked the Los Angeles religious scene and reverberated throughout the nation, marked the peak of early Pentecostal success and began to gel the doctrines and practices of early Pentecostalism. From Houston, William Seymour moved to Los Angeles in 1905 to serve as associate pastor in the Santa Fe Mission, a Holiness congregation. Forced out of this position by his "offensive" Pentecostal message, Seymour began holding services in the homes of converts before settling his new congregation in a vacant frame warehouse on Azusa Street in the city's industrial section. This new Azusa Street Mission became the center of a worldwide Pentecostal revival. Throughout 1906 and 1907, day long services drew crowds too large to fit into the building. Pilgrims from America and abroad flocked to Azusa Street and returned home with messages of supernatural signs and end time revival.

The Azusa revival did much to crystallize the beliefs and practices of early Pentecostalism by uniting elements of American black "primitive" Christianity and the "old time religion" of rural whites—a union elaborated by Dr. James S. Tinney of Howard University.4 On the one hand, the rebellion of the blacks at Azusa against the social and religious customs of the rising black "middle class" by emphasizing a return to "original" biblical Christianity paralleled a return to a racial past. A widening class division within black churches had developed between those wishing to preserve elements of "slave religion" long practiced in the South and those who felt black religion should distance itself from its past and imitate the more ordered worship of the mainstream Protestant denominations. Black Methodist bodies largely succeeded in their efforts to abolish the remnants of "slave religion": emotional display, dreams and visions, emphasis on the activity of evil and good spirits, musical expressions derived from African melodies and chants, and the use of percussive instruments, especially the drum, in worship. But black Baptists were less successful and C. H. Mason's Church of God in Christ drew many into Pentecostalism. As a response to the harshness of Jim Crow legislation and increased violence against blacks, Azusa Pentecostalism, as well as other emotional religious expressions, offered a return to the "authenticity and simplicity of faith that had served [blacks] well in slavery and could be relied on to serve them in a growing racial crisis." This element of Azusa spirituality was African in its origin.5 On the other hand, Azusa also attracted many rural-agrarian whites associated with the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. These brought with them an experience of economic dislocation and an aversion to the changes of the urban-industrial world as well as the revival techniques and enthusiastic worship, the theological system, and the history of "come-outism" of the Holiness movement.6 The blending of these traditions—as well as their predictably repeated conflict—shaped the unique complexion of American Pentecostalism.

Azusa Street Pentecostalism spread most successfully in the Midwestern and southeastern states with the return of the curious and pilgrims to their homes. After traveling to Los Angeles in 1907 as a skeptic, William Durham returned to Chicago to revolutionize the ministry of North Street Mission and extend the message of Spirit baptism throughout the Midwest. Through his influence, many future Pentecostal leaders—including E. N. Bell, the first Chairman of the Assemblies of God, and A. H. Argue, the first to preach the new message in Canada—were converted. Through the efforts of two other Azusa converts, G. B. Cashwell and C. H. Mason, Pentecostalism also made deep inroads in the southeastern states. While conducting revival meetings throughout Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, Cashwell converted A. J. Tomlinson who in turn led the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) into Pentecostalism. Similarly, Mason, ministering in Memphis, Tennessee, led the Church of God in Christ—presently the largest black Pentecostal body with an estimated 3.7 million members—into Pentecostal ranks.7

Much of the advance of early Pentecostalism is attributable to its association with and absorption of most of the "Faith Healing" and Holiness movements. Incorporating the practices and rhetoric of these groups, Pentecostalism depleted their ranks and consolidated a variety of emotional, experiential religious expressions. The trans-denominational character of young Pentecostalism emphasized religious experience over doctrine or polity as it sought to revitalize rather than further divide American denominationalism. But this parachurch quality faded as Pentecostals recruited more among nominal Christians than among the unconverted. Targeting the working class, a group largely overlooked by the major Protestant denominations, the Pentecostals pursued an aggressive evangelistic policy, not waiting for recognition, approval, or invitation before launching their campaigns. Instructed by a century of revivalist evangelism, Pentecostals employed camp meetings and tent revivals as chief tools of outreach. A long list of tabloid periodicals, broadcasting sermons and testimonials of the Pentecostal experience and miraculous healings, trace the dramatic spread and growing isolation of American Pentecostalism.8

As Pentecostalism grew more isolated, opposition gave way to open hostility in denominational pulpits and secular newspapers. Pentecostal sympathizers were often removed from denominational leadership positions, and some Pentecostal leaders even suffered physical violence. Most of this opposition stemmed from the excesses of Pentecostal worship, especially frantic physical demonstrations and glossolalia. The exodus of denominational church members, predominantly Baptist, Methodist, and Holiness believers, into Pentecostal congregations also brought heated response. This response sharpened when Pentecostal evangelists, after establishing a congregation during a protracted meeting, would hastily move on to the next revival, leaving no one to pastor or instruct the congregation. Among some Pentecostals, attitudes of "spiritual superiority" were tainted by obvious moral inconsistency. Such extremes cried for rebuttal.

This opposition forced young Pentecostalism to tighten its otherwise diverse ranks. The legacy of Holiness "come-outism" encouraged withdrawal from mainline bodies and the development of independent Pentecostal congregations and organizations. But as Pentecostals consolidated themselves against opposition, discrepancies of beliefs and practices, not visible in the evangelical flexibility of the earliest revival, became readily apparent. Soon internal controversy threatened more than external opposition.

Leadership struggles first plagued infant Pentecostalism. Seeking to speak for the whole movement, leaders such as Seymour, Parham, Durham, and Tomlinson promoted a partisanship which hindered a unified Pentecostal effort. The entire question of organization unearthed strong attachments to the divergent systems of polity of the Pentecostals' former denominations. Many came to resist the notion of organization altogether, but Seymour's "Apostolic Faith" movement became the standard for early Pentecostal organization. Pentecostal leaders also debated the appropriateness of women clergy and the place of the rigorous ethical restrictions on dress, associations, and behavior brought into Pentecostalism through converts from the Holiness movement. Many of these matters divided the new movement along racial lines.9

Beyond organizational problems, doctrinal controversy divided the young movement into two distinct Pentecostal traditions. The "sanctification controversy" of 1908 arose from the various attempts to theologically explain the Pentecostal experience. Drawing from the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, some held sanctification as a "second work of grace"—an experience subsequent to conversion in which the believer becomes "entirely sanctified," that is, free from sinful inclinations. To these thinkers, the Pentecostal experience was received only after this cleansing experience. Others, leaning on the Keswick revivalism's explanation of Spirit baptism as an empowerment for Christian service, embraced a more Reformed understanding of sanctification as the outworking of the regeneration experience in the believer's life.10 Sanctification was, therefore, an inward work which altered man's nature and status with God—not as an independent crisis experience subsequent to salvation, but in the Christian life process. Heralded most prominently by William Durham, this "Finished Work of Calvary" position argued that no "second work" of cleansing stood between the experiences of conversion and Spirit baptism. The emerging Pentecostal denominations divided along these lines: the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the various Apostolic Faith organizations, and the Church of God in Christ institutionalized the "Second Work" tradition, whereas the Assemblies of God and its offshoots enshrined the "Finished Work" tradition. It is also important to note that while Seymour, and his Apostolic Faith followers, adopted the categories of Wesleyan theology, he was never comfortable with the notion of the subsequence of Spirit baptism to salvation. Rather, Seymour described the experience of Spirit baptism as "possessing" or "anointing" with no mention of its relation to sanctification. For Seymour, and no doubt much of black Pentecostalism in general, Spirit baptism was to be experienced, not theologically examined.11

Against this background of early revivalist flourishing, growing internal and external disruption, and moves toward institutional and theological stability and formality, Oneness, or Apostolic, Pentecostalism was born. Accordingly, Oneness development should be viewed as a "counter-reformation of the Azusa revival," a rejection of the attempts to define and harness the Pentecostal experience. Extending beyond even the "Finished Work" critique of the Wesleyan elaboration of the Pentecostal experience, Oneness thinkers refuted any notion of sequentialism in works of grace by denying that any work, whether justification or sanctification, stood between the believer's conversion and Spirit baptism. For the Oneness believer, Spirit baptism, along with water baptism in "Jesus name," was synonymous with conversion and the normal Christian state. Oneness thought freed the experience of Spirit baptism from Pentecostal theologizing and reaffirmed the immediacy of the experience itself—the most prominent feature of the Azusa revival.12

The rise of Oneness, or Apostolic, Pentecostalism must also be seen as a reaction against racism in the early movement. Domination of white leadership faded with the return to an Azusa-like interracial fellowship and the stabilizing ministry of the black G. T. Haywood.13 Similar to Azusa, Oneness beliefs and practices blended elements of black and white religious expression in the greater context of eschatological expectation. Black influences are seen in the Oneness emphasis on monotheism, belief in the Holy Spirit as a force rather than a person, the magical use of the name "Jesus," the primacy of the ritual of water baptism, and the role of subjective revelation. To these emphases, white Oneness believers added a mechanical theory of biblical inspiration, the acceptance of women clergy, and the adoption of dispensational eschatology.14 These elements combined under the aegis of renewed eschatological zeal for the "revelation" of the divine name "Jesus," the climactic event in God's end time restoration of the apostolic church and the divine token of the great revival soon to come. In the Oneness mind, the Azusa "Age of the Spirit" was replaced by the Apostolic "Age of the Name." The Oneness theology, although innovative in its doctrines of God and salvation, sought to retrieve the lost Azusa revival with its religious fervor and millennarian hopes.

1Robert Mapes Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 79-81.

2Ibid., pp. 89-93.

3Ibid., pp. 96-97.

4James S. Tinney, "The Significance of Race in the Rise and Development of the Apostolic Pentecostal Movement," paper presented at the First Occasional Symposium on Aspects of the Oneness Pentecostal Movement, Harvard Divinity School, July 1984, pp. 55-70.

5Ibid, pp 55-56.

6Ibid., pp. 56-57.

7If this estimate is accurate, then the black Church of God in Christ challenges the Assemblies of God as the largest denomination within the classical Pentecostal movement.

8See John Thomas Nichol, The Pentecostals (Plainfield, N. J.: Logos Books, 1966), pp. 54-69. Nichol offers a survey of early Pentecostal evangelistic techniques and accomplishments.

9Tinney, "The Significance of Race," pp. 57-58.

10Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited, pp. 43-46. Anderson supplies the best presentation of the Keswick movement as a transition from the older Holiness to Pentecostal forms. Compare this with the position of Vinson Synan in his The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement in the United States (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971).

11Tinney, "The Significance of Race," pp. 57-58.


13See James L. Tyson's Before I Sleep: A Narrative and Photographic Biography of Bishop Garfield Thomas Haywood (Indianapolis: Pentecostal Publications, 1976) for a full discussion of Haywood's life and contributions to the Apostolic movement.

14Tinney, "The Significance of Race," p. 58.

1 comment:

  1. Good summary, Joe, of these early days of Pentecostalism. I encountered a striking example of Azuza Street Pentecostalism becoming more institutional and less focused on ecstasy in Stuttgart, Germany of all places. I had a student in Germany some years ago who was being installed as the pastor of a church in Stuttgart, and I attended his installation. What surprised me was that this central city church (and about 20 other affiliated congregations) trace themselves back directly to the Azuza Street revival. A German minister had actually gone to Los Angeles, became convinced of the legitimacy of what was happening on Azuza Street, and returned to Germany well before World War I to share his message with other Germans, and these churches are the result. However, now a century later their churches are difficult to distinguish from other mainstream evangelical churches. Theologically, they are evangelical. In terms of spirituality, they don't emphasize the more ecstatic side of Pentecostalism, even though they retain the name "Pentecostal". So, your comments about this trend toward institutionalization in early Pentecostalism is borne out in a strange way in these German congregations, churches that historically identify with Azuza Street but in modern life look and act more like Baptists or some other mainstream evangelical group.