Historical Development of Pentecostalism

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The historical development of Pentecostalism and charismatic churches


Aimee Semple McPherson outside her International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. McPherson was invaluable in popularizing pentecostal theology.

Major Divisions

As Parham began to fade into obscurity, Pentecostalism continued to splinter and develop in multiple directions. At times he took pride in the growth of the movement, and at other times he was harshly critical of new Pentecostals and new interpretations of his theology. Today, Pentecostal churches and movements are divided into three groups based on their distinctive theological themes. 

The first group consists of those following a doctrine of sanctification in keeping with the Wesleyan Holiness model of three works of grace: conversion, entire sanctification as a distinct subsequent experience, and a further baptism in the Holy Spirit empowering the believer for witness and service, evidenced by speaking in tongues. This was the view held by Parham and early Pentecostals.

The Pentecostal Fellowship of North America's (PFNA) statement of faith uses the phrase “full gospel” or "whole gospel" to describe five themes central to Pentecostalism: three works of grace, and then divine healing by faith, and Jesus’s second coming. A similar pattern of themes appears in the black denomination First Baptised Holiness Church of God in the Americas, formed by a merger in 1926 but tracing their roots back to 1898. The same pattern can also be found in the Apostolic Faith Mission, one of the oldest Pentecostal bodies who trace their foundation directly to the Azusa Street Revival.

Those who reduce this pattern to “two works of grace” by condensing the first two steps into one “finished work” broke off and created the first major schism. This conception focuses on conversion and sanctification as one step with a gradual sanctification of a subsequent baptism into the Holy Spirit. This idea was popularized by William Durham and is adhered to by the majority of Pentecostals today.

The final division includes those with a “Oneness” or “Jesus only" view of the Godhead. They claim an Evangelical unitarianism of the second figure of the Trinity. While this model can be seen as distinct in its own right, it is primarily a subdivision of the finished work model. The controversy did result in nearly a quarter of all Pentecostals separating into newly formed Oneness denominations. 

Within the two works of grace paradigm, there is still an emphasis on divine healing and the second coming. This results in the four-fold doctrine, which is the most popular expression of Pentecostalism. The four-fold doctrine found its most clear expression in the teachings of Aimee Semple McPherson founder of the controversial International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. She summarized this theology as follows:

“Jesus saves us according to John 3:16, He baptizes us with the Holy Spirit according to Acts 2:4. He heals our bodies according to James 5:14-15. And Jesus is coming again to receive us unto Himself according to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17” (Dayton 21).

Each of the elements of the four-fold pattern exists separately or in various combinations in other Christian traditions. The emergence of this pattern marks the final step in the complex process of the development of Pentecostalism. “These elements are linked together into a distinctive constellation that expresses the inner logic of the movement" (Dayton 22). Assemblies of God historian William Menzies defines Pentecostalism  as the “group of sects within the Christian Church which is characterized by the belief that the occurrences mentioned in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost not only signaled the birth of the church, but described an experience available to believers in all ages”  (Dayton 24).

Dayton, Donald. Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Metuchen, NJ & London, England: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 1987.

James R. Goff, Fields White Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1988).

Pentecostalism Today
Historical Development of Pentecostalism