Friday, May 20, 2016

The Mostly Embarassing Origin of Pentecostalism

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
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Frank Sandford (1862-1948) was an American seminary drop-out who established the Holy Ghost and Us Bible School in Shiloh, Maine in 1864.[1] Sandford's theology was a combination of Wesleyanism, Anglo-Israelism,[2] and a form of pre-millennial eschatology that viewed the second advent of Christ as being precipitated by a missionary movement that displayed “with utmost patience, signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Corinthians 12:12). Sandford believed "all the extraordinary powers which Christ had granted to His apostles would be restored to the Church immediately preceding His second coming."[3] Sandford viewed his personal ministry and his school as integral to the second advent.

Between 1893 and 1899 Sandford established a commune in an elaborate victorian styled structure he named Shiloh. "By 1904 some 600 residents had donated all they owned to Shiloh."[4] Sandford's leadership at Shiloh has been described as "authoritarian," "abusive,"[5] and to have included "whippings, beatings, and mind control."[6] Moreover, Sandford grew to eventually teach that he was an eschatological Elijah and one of the two witnesses depicted in Revelation 11:3.[7] In 1911 Sandford was convicted of manslaughter, child abuse, and kidnapping.[8] Needless to say, Sandford and Shiloh constituted a cult.[9]

A former Methodist churchman, Charles Fox Parham left his pastorate of two years and visited Shiloh. "Parham and Sandford were very alike theologically, but Sandford imparted what would bring a new paradigm shift. That was the restoration of signs and wonders as an aid to world evangelism."[10] Through Sandford, Parham "heard isolated reports of xenolaic tongues among missionaries."[11]

In 1900 Parham followed Sandford's example and established Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas. In 1901 Parham instructed his students to study the baptism of the Holy Spirit as it appeared in the biblical text. Upon observing the narrative of Acts, the class concluded that those who were Spirit baptized spoke in tongues. Soon thereafter one of Parham's students, Agnes Ozman, requested "that hands might be laid upon her to receive the Holy Spirit as she had hoped to go to foreign [missionary] fields."[12] What allegedly followed, was nothing short of a "restoration of Pentecostal power"[13] wherein Ozman, followed by her fellow students and Parham himself, began to speak in pre-existing human languages (i.e., xenoglossy). It was reported that Ozman initially spoke and wrote in Chinese, but also spoke an additional 19 languages.[14]

In light of this account and that of Parham's restorationist mindset, it is clear that this restoration of the "power" of Pentecost resulted in the the utilization of previously existing human languages, at least according to what was reported. Hence, the xenoglossy reportedly exhibited was certainly not the glossolalia espoused by Pentecostals today. That is, while some modern Pentecostals do not distinguish between the Lucan description and Pauline teaching regarding tongues on exegetical grounds, Parham and other early Pentecostals evidently viewed tongues only as xenoglossy. The shift from the affirmation of tongues as only xenoglossy to glossolalia among Pentecostals resulted in a shift in the missiological utility and subsequent eschatological purpose of the gift. This shift has formed a doctrine of glossolalia that is more in keeping with tongues as described 1 Corinthians 14:4-28, while still accounting for the Lukan occurrences.[15] Whatever the case, there is a very limited correlation between the theology of glossolalia espoused by modern Pentecostals and that of the movement’s pioneers.

According to its origins, Pentecostalism has been predicated upon a wide array of false doctrines. From Sandford and Parham’s racist Anglo-Israelism, to the embarrassment of the initial Pentecostal missionary effort, the Pentecostal movement has arisen from the fertile ground of pseudo Christian novelty. While Scripture-driven reform has been achieved in the movement, the recasting of Pentecostal distinctives has divulged a dubiousness and a lack of discernment among both primitive leaders and moderns alike. However, there is, despite the overreaching postulations of certain cessationists, a valuable, unique, and praiseworthy element of Pentecostalism. Namely, Pentecostalism is definitionally evangelical heart religion.

In as much as Pentecostalism was a product of the aforementioned persons, doctrines, and events, it was additionally a reaction to the influx of Protestant liberalism and the capitulation to mediocrity of some populous denominations. Pentecostalism has brought a renewal of rigorous personal involvement in worship and devotion, and because of that, evangelicalism is indebted. Hence, Pentecostalism’s origins are an admixture of theological conservatism and theological heterodoxy.


[1] Burgess, Stanley, Van Der Maas, Eduard Eds., The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charasmatic Movements, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 1036.
[2] For a full discussion of Sandford's affirmation of Anglo-Israelism, see Barkun, Michael, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. Rev. Ed., (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 20, 71. See also, Sandford, Frank, "Who God's Ancient People Israel Are - Truth in History," Truth in History, Accessed 01/28/2016.
[3] Salbato, Richard. "Frank Sandford and Shiloh." Unity Publishing. Accessed 01/28/2016.
[4] Burgess, The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 1037.
[5] Enroth, Ronald, Churches that Abuse, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervand, 1993), 58.
[6] Veenhuizen, Gary. 2011. Spiritual Abuse: When the System Becomes the Persecutor. George Fox Univ., DMin Dissertation, 85.
[7] ibid, 90.
[8] ibid, 75.
[9]Sandford's cult still exists in a modern iteration entitled Kingdom Christian Ministries. See
[10] Letson, Harry. 2007. "Pentecostalism as a Paradigm Shift: A Response to Hans Kung's Paradigmatic Model." The Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association, XXVII, no. 2, 114.
[11] Burgess, The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 955.
[12] Parham, Sarah E, The Life of Charles F. Parham: Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement, (Baxter Springs: Apostolic Faith Bible College, 2000), 52.
[13] ibid, 53.
[14] ibid. See also, 1901. “Was a Pentecost: 'Apostolic Faith' Believers Claim to Speak in Tongues." The Kansas City Journal, Accessed 01/28/2016.
[15] See for example MacDonald, William. 2005. "Biblical Glossolalia: Theses 1-7," Enrichment Journal. Accessed 01/28/2016.