The Rise of Pentecostalism: A Gallery — Setting the Vision
Maria Beulah Woodworth-Etter (1844–1924)
Pre-Pentecostal Herald of “signs and wonders.”
Many shouted, others wept with a loud voice,” wrote Maria Woodworth-Etter about one of her meetings. “Other times the power would sweep over the house in melting power. In a few minutes, everyone in the congregation would be weeping, saints and sinners.” But Woodworth-Etter’s meeting occurred years before the Pentecostal movement began.
At these meetings, congregants would fall into trances or experience visions that could last for hours. Woodworth-Etter often went into trances, too, standing perfectly still with her hands in the air while the service continued. She called the experience “the power,” but critics dubbed her the “voodoo priestess.”
A frequent charge was that she hypnotized the people. Two doctors in St. Louis tried to have her committed as insane during a meeting she conducted there in 1890.
Born near Lisbon, Ohio, she had a rough first 35 years—five of her six children had died, and her first husband was caught in adultery. Distraught, she turned to the Quakers and became a preacher at a revival meeting. In 1912, at age 68, Woodworth-Etter joined the larger Pentecostal movement when she accepted Pentecostal pioneer F. F. Bosworth’s invitation to speak at his Dallas church. She stayed for six months, gaining favorable publicity in Pentecostal publications as far away as England.
Woodworth—Etter became one of the best known Pentecostal evangelists at the turn of the century, and her ministry made it more possible for later woman preachers and healers, like Aimee Semple McPherson and Kathryn Kuhlman, to minister publicly.
Charles H. Mason (1866—1961)
Seeker of slave Christianity
Charles Mason grew up hearing about the passionate Christianity of the slaves from his parents, both of whom had only recently been freed when Charles was born. He was enthralled even as a child, and constantly prayed, said one family member, "above all things [for] a religion like the one he had heard about from the old slaves and seen demonstrated in their lives."
At age 14, one year after his father died of the plague in an Arkansas swamp shack, Mason lay dying of tuberculosis. But on a Sunday morning, his wife recounted in his biography, he "got out of bed and walked outside all by himself. There, under the morning skies, he prayed and he praised God for his healing, [and he] renewed his commitment to God."
In 1891 Charles was ordained as a Baptist minister. But before he began preaching, he married Alice Saxton, who was so opposed to his plans for preaching that she divorced him two years later. About that same time, Mason struggled with the increasingly liberal Arkansas Baptist College, and dropped out. "I packed my books, arose, and bade them a final farewell to follow Jesus, with the Bible as my sacred guide," he later recounted.
Increasingly interested in Holiness "second blessing" teachings, he joined with Charles P. Jones to form the "Church of God in Christ" (COGIC)-a name he said God gavehim while walking down a street in Little Rock, Arkansas. A decade later Mason felt "a wave of glory" while visiting the Azusa Street Revival and began to speak in tongues. When he returned to Memphis to share his experience, Jones expelled him. But Jones tooka large portion of COGIC members and, after a lengthy legal battle, the name of the denomination.
Though the COGIC at one time had as many white ministers as black—it was the only Pentecostal church in America authorized by the government to ordain ministers—Mason continued to seek the "spiritual essence" and "prayer tradition" of the slave religious experience. In 1913, the white COGIC ministers broke off to form the Assemblies of God (AG), but Mason continued to work on both sides of the racial divide, speaking at AG conferences and meetings. “The church is like the eye,” he often said. “It has a little black in it and a little white in it, and without both it can’t see.”
Today the COGIC has almost 7 million members in the U.S.—more than twice that of the AG.
Gaston Barnabas Cashwell (1862–1916)
Southern apostle of Pentecost
When the Pentecostal Holiness Church (PHC) met for its annual conference in Lumberton, North Carolina, in November 1906, one of its most prominent members, G. B. Cashwell, was absent. But he had left a letter: “I realize that my life has fallen short of the standard of holiness we preach; but I have repented in my home in Dunn, North Carolina, and I have been restored. I am unable to be with you at this time, for I am now leaving for Los Angeles, California, where I shall seek for the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”
But when the blond, middle-aged, 250-pound Holiness preacher from North Carolina arrived at the Azusa Street Revival, he was very uncomfortable. He found many of the practices “fanatical,” and when a young black man laid hands on him for the baptism in the Holy Spirit, he was repulsed. But he soon “suffered a crucifixion” and “died” to his prejudice. He returned to the church and asked the black leaders to lay hands on him and pray. Immediately, he began to speak in tongues.
Cashwell returned to Dunn the next month, and began preaching to his fellow Holiness believers about Spirit baptism and speaking in tongues. Though his superior in the phc opposed his teachings, Cashwell continued to preach across the region. He soon became known as “the apostle of Pentecost in the South.”
Only two years later, however, Cashwell left the phc, apparently frustrated after not being elected its president. But in that time, he had brought four major Holiness denominations—the phc, the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.), and the Pentecostal free-Will Baptist Church—into the Pentecostal movement.
Ambrose Jessup (A.J.) Tomlinson (1865–1943)
Church of God visionary
Unsatisfied with his mystical Quaker heritage, traveling Bible salesman A. J. Tomlinson joined a church called “The Church of the Living God for the Evangelization of the World, Gathering of Israel, New Order of Things at the Close of the Gentile Age.” After another few years of close contact with Holiness believers, the Indiana-born Tomlinson had a vision:
"Jesus had started the Church of God when he was here on earth, and a record was kept of its progress and activities for several years after the death of its founder. The period known as the Dark Ages had come after the Church of God had departed from the faith and the church was lost to view.”
Understanding it to be the only “True Church of God,” in 1903 Tomlinson became the leader of a small band of Holiness believers in Camp Creek, Tennessee, known as the Church of God (though it had recently changed its name to the Holiness Church). By 1909 he was its general overseer.
Tomlinson began teaching Pentecostal doctrines as early as January 1907, but truly brought the denomination into the Pentecostal movement after speaking in tongues at a G. B. Cashwell revival meeting in 1908.
Though he was made “permanent general overseer” in 1914, he was removed from the denomination in 1922. Taking 2,000 members with him, he formed the Tomlinson Church of God, later renamed the Church of God of Prophecy.
By the Editors
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #58 in 1998]
Loose the Women
In Pentecostalism’s early years it was not unusual to see women preaching, pastoring, and leading.David G. Roebuck
The Rise of Pentecostalism: Recommended Resources
More resources on Pentecostalism.the Editors
The Pentecostal Tradition
A sampling of ecstatic experiences reported in different eras of church history.Stanley M. Burgess
Interview — Pentecostalism’s Global Language
It’s not tongues but a different way of being a Christian.Walter J. Hollenweger
Subscribe to magazine
Subscription to Christian History magazine is on a donation basisSubscribe
Christian History Institute (CHI) is a non-profit Pennsylvania corporation founded in 1982. Your donations support the continuation of this ministryDonate