Although the American experiment in self-government can be analyzed through political ideology and innovation, including the United States Bill of Rights and the Constitution—both of which heavily influenced political movements around the world—one of the most profound impacts of American culture on society was freedom of religion, which created an ideal environment for experimentation in new religious movements across the country. Perhaps one of the most interesting ventures in religious freedom was the branching out of Christianity.

Pentecostalism is one of many religions that have added to the rich and vibrant past of the United States. The earliest forms of the Pentecostal movement are considered to have emerged from evangelical revival movements coinciding with this time period. 

Find Answers to Common Questions

  • What is Pentecostalism?

    Pentecostalism formed as a Protestant movement, emphasizing a personal relationship with and experience of God through baptism. The actual term Pentecost is an event describing the Holy Spirit's arrival to the Apostles and followers of Jesus Christ during the Feast of Weeks. The religion dictates the Bible as literal, with members’ acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior through the repentance of personal sin. Baptism acts as a conduit for the Holy Spirit, enabling members to empower their lives. 

    The act of baptism through the Holy Spirit dictates a concept known as the New Birth. Due to the literal nature of the Bible in Pentecostalism, their doctrine promotes the New Birth as the only means to reach heaven. According to their beliefs, Jesus Christ describes the New Birth as a spiritual journey, not a physical one, in which a Christian is reborn through his mother's womb. This transformation allows members to live through God's word and be reborn in his image. 

    Like many sects of Baptist philosophy, the literal translation of the Bible has led to some interesting concepts of empowerment, mainly spiritual gifts. In these sects, members are often seen as able to perform miracles like speaking in tongues or healing the sick. These beliefs translate heavily throughout the culture, as those who perform miracles are considered to have biblical authority. Many Pentecostals refer to their movement as "Apostolic" or "Full Gospel" for this reason. 

    The Pentecostal religion also believes in not only the imminent second coming of Christ, in which those who follow his teachings will be lifted up to the heavens, but that in this time period, spiritual gifts are a telltale sign and will increase in regularity and significance.

  • How Did Pentecostalism Begin?

    One of the earliest contributors to the Pentecostal religion is Charles Fox Parham, an Evangelist raised as a Methodist. Parham believed strongly in faith, worship, and the power of divine healing. He is considered vital to the creation of the Church of Pentecost, having started a spiritual school of his own known as the Bethel Bible School. This school was incepted near Topeka, Kansas in 1900, and there he brought his beliefs and connection to Jesus and the Holy Ghost to his followers. 

    Parham believed that speaking in tongues provided evidence of the effects of baptism with the Holy Spirit. His services were consistently filled with speaking in tongues, and he preached that his followers would eventually not need to learn foreign languages for missionary trips. In Parham's Christian philosophy, conversion and sanctification could cleanse a believer, but the act of baptism with the Holy Spirit led to empowerment in which followers were primed for service and able to channel the power of God. 

    Parham's teachings reached a man named William J. Seymour, who, as a Black man, sparked a movement known as the Azusa Street Revival in 1906. The Azusa Mission stood out for many reasons, but one of the most notable in a racially charged America was the integrated congregation. Followers would testify to being moved by the Holy Spirit and adhered to the tradition of speaking in tongues. This movement garnered plenty of media attention, and thousands would visit the mission. Although involving many contributors, the Pentecostal religion and Pentecostal belief were considered to have their start in the Azusa Street Revival. 

    With racial harmony at its forefront, Pentecostal belief defied political and social norms. Although under pressure to conform and practice segregation during the era of Jim Crow laws, the Pentecostal Holiness Church and various others initially refused. Over time, they would succumb to the pressure and divide into white and Black branches, with interracial worship eventually returning after the civil rights movement. 

    Another unique aspect of Pentecostal movements following Azusa Street was the advancement of women's rights. Through Pentecostal belief, women were able to circumvent societal norms of the time, claiming that the empowerment gained through the Holy Spirit allowed them to engage in what were considered taboo activities. Women were given leadership duties otherwise denied to them in traditional Christian movements, running religious schools, and participating in services through singing and speaking in tongues. Women were also able to serve as pastors, and in the early days of the Pentecost Church, female membership was on the rise. 

  • What Differentiates Pentecostalism from Other Christian Sects?

    One of the key differences between Pentecostal movements and other religious sects such as the Catholic Church is the belief in pacifism and racial harmony. While many sects of Christianity may not have promoted violence, a quick glimpse at the history of Christianity shows that pacifism and love for one another weren’t always demonstrated as core tenets of the church. Pentecostal teaching by contrast was centered on love, acceptance, and a spiritual connection to God.

    From New York to Latin America, the appeal of a racially accepting, gender-accepting, and pacifist-preaching religion was undeniable. Pentecostalism welcomed people who were otherwise turned away by Christianity in a way most had never experienced, and this act of togetherness spread. With a charismatic and welcoming persona, other Christian movements would see extreme competition from the Pentecostal Church and, in turn, see the Holiness movement and Holiness Church as a threat. 

    Although much of Christianity promoted similar values, the prominent roles of women and minorities served as a deterrent for many—and created a stark divide with Pentecostalism. Many flocked to Pentecostal Bible–based movements and assemblies simply to gain entry to comfortable rights not given within belief system they left behind. In fact, many who visited Azusa Street were known to bring the beliefs back to their hometown—increasing the spread of the Pentecostal Church.