The Latter Rain Movement
A Burgeoning Theology
In the early years, Pentecostalism often took the name "Latter Rain Movement." The account of Pentecost in Acts 2 quotes a prophecy from The Book of Joel that states in the "latter days" the Spirit will be poured out on all humanity. Passages such as James 5:7 also allude to an early and latter rain.
The term was employed as a metaphor for Palestinian rainfall patterns which comes in two main seasons. This doctrine states that the "early rain," as described in Acts 2 "watered the infant church in the same way that spring rains watered a freshly planted field. The 'latter rain,' however, fell toward the end of the growing season and allowed the plants to reach maturity before the harvest" (Goff 62-63). Premillennialists believed that the revival spirit of their day was a "final ripening of Christian saints immediately prior to the harvest of Christ's Second Coming" (Goff 63). Pentecostalism was seen as the "latter rain" and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit would restore the spiritual gifts that would help usher in the final harvest of the end times.
This belief was built on the popular conception among both early Pentecostals and Holiness people that after six thousand years of human history (corresponding to the six days of creation), the outpouring of the Spirit would immediately precede the apocalyptic Second Coming. Then "in the Millenium (which corresponds to God's day of rest following creation), a new social order would be established under Christ, in which position and prestige would be dispensed in accordance with one's faith and service to God during life" (Anderson 81).
The classic expression of the doctrine is laid out in The Latter Rain Covenant by D. Wesley Myland. As part of a related argument, Myland plotted the physical rainfall in Palestine to demonstrate that an increased amount of rain in the late nineteenth century "paralleled the spiritual emergence of Pentecostalism, confirmed its validity, and indicated that the end was imminent" (Dayton 27). While a direct correlation between rainfall and a spiritual outpouring were later abandoned, the term latter rain continued to be a popular expression for the revival spirit.
The notion of a latter rain also served as an explanation for why the biblical gifts which were common in the apostolic age, except in a few scattered instances, had not manifested since. Instead of being a theological problem, the long "drought" "is seen to be part of God's dispensational plan for the ages" (Dayton 28).
Dayton, Donald. Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Metuchen, NJ & London, England: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 1987.
Goff, James R. Fields White Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1988.