Christian History Home > Issue 58 > The Rise of Pentecostalism: A Gallery - Setting the Vision
The Rise of Pentecostalism: A Gallery - Setting the Vision
Pentecostalism's early leaders were as varied as they were dynamic
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 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 gave him 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 took a 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."
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