Pentecostal Movement & Mainstream Evangelicalism

The Great Awakenings triggered a shift in Protestant practices from an intellectual discourse on theological issues to a religion charged with emotion and personal experience. While the First Great Awakening began in the 18th century, it was not until the early 20th century that a major, mainstream, unified Evangelical movement started. It was this movement, eventually becoming known as the Pentecostal movement, that will be the focus of this article.


Charles Parham was an independent evangelist preacher who taught that “speaking in tongues” is evidence for baptism by the Holy Spirit. This was the third piece of a spiritual journey, beginning with conversion and sanctification. The sanctification part cleansed the believer, and the baptism by the Holy Spirit charged the person, making them fit for service to God.

Parham had opened a school in Topekpa, Kansas, and after one of his services in 1901, congregation members were claimed to have “spoken in tongues”, evidencing their baptism by the Holy Spirit. Had congregants done such an act before, they would have been deemed heretical or otherwise unchristian. However, with the Great Awakenings and an emergence of emotionally charged religious ceremony, speaking in tongues became a positive occurrence: you were now baptized by the Holy Spirit. It was considered a gift, not a detriment.

After the 1901 incident, Parham moved to Houston where he started another theological school. One of his students there was William Seymour, a black preacher with just one eye. Seymour went on to preach in Los Angeles, which witnessed the Azusa Street Revival. The Azusa Street Mission had no order to its service, and the congregants simply spoke out, often singing in tongues, as they felt moved by the Holy Spirit. The spectacle attracted thousands of people from various denominations, and those people returned to their home churches with an emotionally charged experience to spread to the rest. This viral spread of the idea of an emotional service, moved by the Holy Spirit, sparked the beginnings of Pentecostalism and the greater Evangelicalism movements.

In the context of society, the movement was certainly not mainstream at the beginning. The Azusa Street Mission was racially integrated and blacks could worship alongside whites, which was in opposition to major portions of the country. Furthermore, being gifted with tongues meant a high religious standing; therefore, women who received the gift were better positioned to take on roles earlier denied them. This included starting their own denominations and being preachers, though they often were “co-pastors” with their husbands rather than the main leader of the church.

As evangelicals, the Pentecostals believed they were readying the world for Christ’s Second Coming. They viewed themselves with the sole mission of preparing for the event. They began missionary work, notably in Africa, which had an interesting premise. As the tongues in “speaking in tongues” were always thought to be real, human languages – tongue sometimes refers to language, most often heard as “mother tongue” – the missionaries thought they wouldn’t have to learn foreign languages anymore. The Holy Spirit would simply imbue them with the knowledge to speak to their potential converts, as they were doing the work of God. Unfortunately, the “tongues” were mostly gibberish (at least as far as human languages are concerned), and they could not communicate with their converts without learning the local language. This forced a change in their ideas of what “speaking in tongues” meant.

Nevertheless, the missionaries continued their work, sending missions to Africa in the first decade of the 20th century and even to Korea and Japan in 1928. Today, very few Westerners associate Korea with Christianity. They expect Buddhism or Taoism or some other Eastern religion. However, contemporary Korea has a rather sizable Christian population (considering its location), partially due to the Pentecostal movement. The biggest impact, though, was in the birthplace of the movement, America, and in Africa. Today Africa has a large Pentecostal segment and, in step with its general demographic trends, the population is rapidly increasing. As for America, it is thought that at least one third of all Pentecostals reside in this one country alone.


Pentecostals have a few main beliefs that set them apart from other Protestants. First, they believe speaking in tongues is a gift from the Holy Spirit and this means the speaker has been baptized. There is no predetermination, and salvation can be achieved through Christ (and Christ alone). One must be “born again”, i.e., cleansed and readied for service by the Grace of God.

There are three types of baptism: believing in Christ, the usual water-style baptism, and the Holy Spirit baptism. Healing is possible through prayer, and one may receive gifts from the other-world, all of which is connected to the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, services are generally by free association and without structure, so anyone can start preaching or a song.

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