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Happy 100th Birthday to ????

One group within Christianity celebrated their 100th birthday in 2006. But who? The envelope please: the Pentecostal movement. Thatís right, the first Pentecostal revival which involved speaking in tongues occurred in 1906 in Los Angeles. Most Pentecostal and Charismatic groups stem from this revival which ran until 1909.  Here is the story.

Charles Fox Parham (1873-1929) began his work as a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He left the denomination in 1895 to become an independent Holiness preacher. In those days, the Holiness belief included divine healing, a second work of God of sanctification, and a third work of God which is baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Letís open up those last two. Parham, and all Christians, believe in a first work of God in a Christianís life, that of God accepting him/her as a Christian. (This is referred to as the first work of grace.) Parham believed in a second work of grace, called sanctification, when God takes away someoneís desire to sin, in other words makes them holy. Plus, Parham believed in a third work of God, when the Holy Spirit comes to live in a person. Many Christians believe the Holy Spirit comes to live in them when they become a Christian or join a church (as in the case of Catholics and Orthodox). But Parham believed this did not occur until after one became a Christian, sometimes much later.

In 1898 he established the Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas with about forty students. In December 1900, after an extended Bible study, Parham and students concluded that the first evidence of one receiving the Holy Spirit is the ability to speak in tongues. On January 1, 1901, a student of Parhamís, Agnes Oxmen, spoke in tongues for the first time. Parham and other students soon began to speak in tongues as well. A revival began which was centered on this idea of speaking in tongues as the evidence of being "baptized" by the Holy Spirit; it attracting as many as 25,000 followers. In 1905 he founded a Bible school in Houston, Texas. One of the students was William Joseph Seymour (1870-1922).

Seymour was the son of former slaves and was involved early in his life in the Holiness faith (same as Parham). He took classes at Parhamís Houston Bible School and embraced the Pentecostal teaching (although he did not speak in tongues himself at that time). In January 1906, Seymour accepted an invitation to speak from a black Holiness church in Los Angeles. Once there, he preached the importance of speaking in tongues. He was rejected by that black Holiness church, but continued to preach.

On April 9, Seymour and others began to speak in tongues. People gathered to hear Seymour preach and receive the "gift of tongues," and eventually they rented a rundown building on 312 Azusa Street. For the next three years Seymour led revivals from this church. Its fame grew and people traveled from great distances to hear Seymour and receive the gift of speaking in tongues. They returned to their homes and began Pentecostal churches. And thus the Pentecostal movement grew.

Today the number of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians in the world has been estimated as high as 500 million.

©2006 Mark Nickens

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