WHEN WAS Charles Parham baptized in the Spirit and spoke in tongues?

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Parham recalled hearing speaking in tongues for the first time at Shiloh as he listened to students coming down from the prayer tower after hours of intercession. To Sandford, tongues simply represented an occasional revival phenomenon. 

In part one of my blogpost series entitled, the Origins of Modern Tongue-Speech, I wrote about the origins of tongue-speech in the early Pentecostal movement. In part two of this series, I will detail the function and place of tongues in early Pentecostal theology and praxis, particularly with regards to missions. Then in an upcoming third piece, I will detail the soteriological/sacramental significance of tongues in the early Pentecostal movement.

In the previous blogpost I mentioned that Charles Parham articulated his doctrine of tongue-speech before Agnes Ozman’s experience of glossolalia on January 1, 1901. This is an important fact to keep in mind, since it crucial to understanding the place and significance of tongues in Parham’s theological system. Parham’s doctrine of tongues was founded upon certain theological presuppositions absent from subsequent Pentecostal belief. Presuppositions are working assumptions. They are ideas or beliefs whose validity is assumed beforehand. The first of these presuppositions (not one necessarily absent from forms of modern Pentecostalism, but nevertheless presupposed by Parham) was Wesley’s doctrine of the two workings of grace, Spirit baptism/entire sanctification, which was detailed in the first blogpost. Pentecostals in the Wesleyan tradition still hold to this idea. The other presuppositions that Parham was working with were primarily eschatological and missiological in nature.

Pentecostalism has had a near morbid fascination with the end of the world from its very conception. COGCT Bishop Dan Tomberlin writes, “Pentecostals have always understood the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as an eschatological event….Early Pentecostals were preoccupied, almost to obsession, with the return of Christ. Central to this eschatological self-consciousness among the early Pentecostal preachers are the words of Matthew24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Pentecostal Sacraments: Encountering God at the Altar. Cleveland: Center for Pentecostal Leadership and Care, Pentecostal Theological Seminary, 2010. p. 49.) While Pentecostal eschatologies (including Parham’s) have historical been one form or another of premillennial dispensationalism, there are ideas present in Parham’s eschatology that were/are absent from subsequent Pentecostalism.

Not unlike subsequent and modern Pentecostalism, Parham believed in the imminent return of Christ. Also not unlike subsequent and modern Pentecostalism, Parham was proponent of “newspaper eschatology.” He makes such statements as: “The Antichrist will make his first appearance in the closing days of the Bolshevik revolutions…”, and, “The last beast of Daniel (Bolshevism), and the scarlet colored beast of Revelation (anarchy), both come out of the sea of humanity. It will be after these two beasts have done their work of devastation that the ten-toed, ten-horned League of Nations comes into existence” (The Everlasting Gospel. Baxter Springs: Apostolic Faith Bible College, 1911. pp. 21, 32.) Parham’s eschatological views were undoubtedly influenced by the rise and prominence of premillennialist and dispensationalist thought within American Protestantism. That being said, we must be careful to distinguish and identify the peculiarities within Parham’s system. Scholar Donald Dayton says, “…we should not too quickly assume that Pentecostal eschatology is merely the assimilation of the themes of emerging dispensationalism” (Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Grand Rapids: Francis Ausbury Press, 1987. p. 146.)

Parham’s Pentecostal dispensationalist eschatology contained certain uniquely Methodist Holiness distinctives. Aside from notions about Spirit baptism and the rapture, which I will cover in the next blog post, one of more significant Holiness ideas adopted by Parham was the belief in an end times worldwide evangelization and revival. Parham believed that before Christ would return the gospel would first have to be preached throughout the entire earth. Stemming from this belief, he also believed that tongues’ primary function was the proclamation of the gospel. He states, “There are two things, then, that come to you in Pentecost: The power for witnessing in your own or any language of the world in this world-wide missionary effort—for this Gospel of the Kingdom must speedily be preached to every nation, as a witness only…” (the Everlasting Gospel.p. 68.) Parham identified this eschatological dispensation of glossolalia with the “Latter Rain,” a Holiness term used to denote the great last-days revival. Said Parham, “The purpose of this Latter Rain is twofold: The preaching of this ‘gospel of the kingdom’ to all the world ‘as a witness’ and the fulling of the grain for the harvest” (Ibid. p. 31.)

The logical outgrowth of tongues’ missional significance for Parham was his conviction that all authentic tongues-speech was xenoglossa, known languages. Parham believed that tongues were given for the purpose of evangelizing foreign peoples. Goff says, “Parham, and all early Pentecostals, assumed that their glossolalia was xenoglossa—speaking real languages unknown to the speaker….The importance of xenoglossa over glossolalia was more than just concern over the phenomenon’s authenticity. Both Parham and the students shared an intense interest in world evangelism” (Goff, James R. Fields White unto Harvest. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1988. p. 72.) Parham believed that the Spirit-baptized believer would speak “fluently and smoothly in another language,” and that the tongue-speech, if authentic, would ultimately be validated by a speaker of the language (the Everlasting Gospel. p. 71.)

Due to his firm seated conviction in xenoglossa, Parham was highly critical of the majority of tongue-speech within the Pentecostal movement. Parham stated, “All the opposition from the churches and holiness movements is created by the fact that two-thirds of the Pentecostal, Holy Roller freaks have not produced the goods, and the real work of the Baptism is hidden behind such a mess of rotten rubbish and nonsensical fits and fleshly controls that our religious leaders and teachers condemn the work wholesale. No one in the true Apostolic work ever claims the Baptism of the Holy Spirit until he speaks fluently and smoothly in another language, and then have it proven by some disinterested foreigner witnessing to the fact that they really used a language. No repetition of sounds or chattering are ever accepted unless it occurs at the first reception of the baptism, but must then speedily give away to a clear real language that you are able to use without any undue emotions or unnatural action of the body” (Ibid.) This belief of Parham’s even resulted in a serious rift between he and William Seymour, the leader of the Azusa Street Revival. Parham ultimately denounced the revival as being a breeding ground for demonic activity. This severely damaged their relationship, as Seymour was one of his former students.

While Parham denounced the enthusiasm and wild fire at Azusa Street as demonic, Parham and those in his inner circle had long since been dabbling with spiritual practices bordering on the occult. Agnes Ozman and the other students of Bethel Bible College claimed that on January 1, 1901 when she first experienced glossolalia that the language she spoke was Chinese. In fact, she claimed that following the experience she could not speak or write in English for three days (Graves, Dan. Was Agnes Ozman Speaking Chinese?www.christianity.com.) During those three days Ozman engaged in an occult practice known as automatic writing. The premise is simple: the writer (in an unconscious state) yields to a supernatural or spiritual force that writes through them. The practice was popular at the time among spiritualists and those dabbling in the occult, as well as certain figures within the Dada and Surrealist movements. For instance, Levi H. Dowling claimed to have written, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ via automatic writing. This is the kind of spiritual practice that the early Pentecostals engaged in, and it should be concerning for adherents of the tradition today. Ozman’s writings were proven by linguists to be little more than scribbles. (As an aside, I had a friend of mine who is Chinese look at Ozman’s writings and he confirmed this.) Parham claimed to have testimonies from linguists validating Ozman’s automatic writing and glossolalia, but these were likely fictions he invented. Goff states, “Of course, Parham and his students experiencing actual xenoglossa would be a remarkable, though quite improbable event. Proofs would be almost impossible to verify….The best chance of amassing any such evidence ended with Charles Shumway”s scholastic research in 1914. Shumway made a thorough search for Parham’s “professors of languages” and “Government interpreters”, but invariably failed to find anyone willing to corroborate the evangelist’s claims” (p. 76.)

Parham’s view of tongues was no doubt utilitarian. Parham valued tongues primarily for its “practical implications” in lieu of its more mystical/personal aspects, which were emphasized and embraced by subsequent Pentecostalism. Think of these “practical implications.” Imagine sending a missionary oversees with no training in the native language and he miraculously being able to speak the language. Imagine how quickly the gospel could be spread across the entire earth. These, inasmuch as I can speculate, were the questions running through Parham’s mind. Being Methodist Holiness, he already accepted that there was going to be end times worldwide revival. The question was, how? If Christ’s return is immanent, there is no time to train missionaries to send abroad. But what if Christ doesn’t return until we’ve evangelized the entire world? What about secluded people groups and their native tongues which have yet to be discovered? Missionary-tongues was the answer to these questions. Parham was so convinced of this that he even sent missionaries to foreign countries. The only problem was that these mission-tongues, like Agnes Ozman’s automatic writing, were quickly revealed to be spurious and fraudulent. Thus Goff says, “By 1909 many Pentecostals were becoming skeptical of missionary tongues, at least as a widespread phenomenon” (p. 16.) After being continually disproved, the missional/xenoglossic distinctives of Pharham’s doctrine of tongues were dropped from subsequent Pentecostalism’s articulation of the doctrine.

So, what do we make of Parham’s doctrine of xenoglossa? In other words, was there anything to it or was it just babbling? Being true to my Lutheran self, I want to put the best construction on the situation. Of course xenoglossa is possible. There is no doubt that the tongue-speech described in Acts 2 was xenoglossa. So, we must at least be open in this regard and acknowledge that the Holy Spirit has spoken through believers using languages unknown to them. I propose that if the Holy Spirit so willed He could do this again. However, I do not believe that Parham and his students experienced genuine xenoglossa. More than likely Parham and his adherents were experiencing Cryptomnesia. Cryptomnesia is the recollection of memory as new thought. It may seem odd to classify Parham’s tongues-speech as such, but I believe there is good reason to. In the late 19thcentury Greek, Latin, and German were still often taught in the schools. Thus, most people had some experience with learning and speaking another language. When Parham and his adherents would engage in glossolalia, they were actually recalling speech patterns, words and word fragments, sounds, and syllables from both their native English and whatever secondary language they had been exposed to.  All this was done unconsciously. Thus, their glossolalia had the appearance of actual language. However, despite having the superficial appearance of language, their glossolalia failed the actual test, as proven by linguists from the period. Goff takes this stance.  Of course, I don’t want to beuncritically critical either. God the Holy Spirit can do whatsoever He pleases, including giving men the ability to speak different languages. Still, I believe my conclusions are validated by the fact that Pentecostalism had to rethink, reevaluate, and rearticulate Parham’s doctrine of evidential tongues. What a radical shift in thought! The doctrine went from being the ability to speak in a previously unknown language to being a private prayer language. (This thought really deserves its own post, so I’ll stop here before I go down this rabbit trail.) It’s something to mull over. Grace and Peace – Henry

John Kissinger [02/01/2016 9:46 PM]
Thanks. We already did the research with Charles Page and tongue speaking was going on about half-a-century before Parham picked ip http://cupandcross.com/diamonds-in-the-rough-and-ready-pentecostal-series/ For your part 2 you may want to consult The FORGOTTEN ROOTS OF THE AZUSA STREET REVIVAL http://cupandcross.com/the-forgotten-roots-of-the-azusa-street-revival/

John Kissinger [02/01/2016 10:01 PM]
There were Christians groups speaking in tongues and teaching an experience of Spirit baptism before 1901. However, Parham was the first to identify tongues as the “Bible evidence” of Spirit baptism

Parham believed that the tongues spoken by the baptized were actual human languages, eliminating the need for missionaries to learn foreign languages and thus aiding in the spread of the gospel

Parham’s believed that Spirit baptized (with the evidence of an unknown tongue) Christians would be taken in the rapture. The bride of Christ consisted of 144,000 people taken from the church who would escape the horrors of the tribulation. It was Parham’s desire for assurance that he would be included in the rapture that led him to search for uniform evidence of Spirit baptism.

NOW does anyone in this group know when was Charles Parham himself baptized with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues? Charles Page

Charles Page [02/01/2016 10:27 PM]
Jan 23, 1876???

Charles Page [02/01/2016 10:37 PM]
Doubtful that the picture portrays anything resembling the real baptism with the Holy Spirit! This is a cultural religious practice practiced in Pentecostal churches.

John Conger [02/01/2016 11:13 PM]
You gotta have a preacher meeting you’re headed around and another with his hand on your chin trying to open and close your mouth for you

Charles Page [02/01/2016 11:34 PM]
The man on the far left has a snake box and bout to let it go!!!

John Conger [02/01/2016 11:34 PM]
Lol

John Ruffle [02/02/2016 2:50 AM]
This is an interesting study regarding the gift of glossalalia that Pentecostals for the past 103 years ir si have argued about. This is only part 1and I have no idea where he is leading. Interesting point he makes as an aside about “… revivalism’s rejection of the sacraments …” caught my attention. This might help explain the often total mind-and-heart block that many Pentecostals display toward the Cathoilc Church. Yet without the Cathoilc Church as its mother, NONE of these Protestant sects would even exist! Oh that they would return home, bearing their gifts with them but in humility of heart!

Luchen Bailey [02/02/2016 5:21 AM]
Excellent presentation, looking forward to the next post.

John Kissinger [02/02/2016 6:14 AM]
There were Christians groups speaking in tongues and teaching an experience of Spirit baptism before 1901. However, Parham was the first to identify tongues as the “Bible evidence” of Spirit baptism

Parham believed that the tongues spoken by the baptized were actual human languages, eliminating the need for missionaries to learn foreign languages and thus aiding in the spread of the gospel

36 Comments

  • Reply March 21, 2019

    Don Williams

    Uh… 1908?

  • Reply March 21, 2019

    Don Williams

    The Welsh Revival(s) fits in here someplace. Tongues were a common manifestation during the Welsh Revival.

  • Reply March 21, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    not sure Don Williams Welsh Revival had little to do with Parham HOWEVER the question comes timely with what Link Hudson proposed as fake or witch tongues @ Azusa – it goes on with Parhams theory after 1906 especially if he was NOT yet baptized when vizited LA

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Link Hudson

      I’d have to look at the post. I recall I said demons could fake tongues, and the Azusa Street revival had a problem with spiritists, (meaning spiritualists) coming in and causing problems. I don’t know if they said that spiritualists were imitating tongues per se, but someone posted where Seymour told about a demonic manifestation of a different sort. I do believe demonized people might be able to speak in foreign lnguages or jabber.

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      when Parham first visited first Azusa he dismissed their experience as fake and demonic – at least some of the praxis It will be a good question to know IF Parham spoke in tongues at that time given there was a larger tongue talking movement in America already http://www.pentecostaltheology.com/speaking-in-tongues-in-america-prior-to-the-azusa-street-ourcog/

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Link Hudson

      I can’t find the thread where we were discussing this, but do you think the passage about the father not giving children stone for bread, snake for fish, egg for scorpion in Luke proves that no Christians ever prophesy falsely in the assembly, too? Or do you just think it applies to tongues,

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      here is the topic and my post – pls dont misrepresent my words again as you have the habit of doing I’ve said nothing about prophecy AND this OP is about Parham not to be flooded with your private diviations

      https://www.facebook.com/groups/pentecostaltheologygroup/permalink/2123505121037825/?comment_id=2126900160698321&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R%22%7D

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Troy Day Misrepresented you? how? I asked you a question. I asked it in the other thread. You can reply there if you wish.

  • Reply March 21, 2019

    Peter Vandever

    1901

  • Reply March 21, 2019

    Philip Williams

    I know Parham’s only surviving granddaughter, though she is now elderly. I know for a fact that she is Spirit filled.

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Link Hudson

      Would she know about Parham’s experience? Let’s ask Brother Synan.

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      most will tell you Parham gat baptized later

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Peter Vandever

      I would be interested in interviewing her for Azusa Report at some point. For real.

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      I would be very careful with the facts Had a similar experience with older relative who had every good intention to build the family name and stated lots of historical non-factual fiction – like Parham baptized in 1901 and similar

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Philip Williams

      There is something special about Roberta (Parham’s granddaughter). Two of my dearest sisters accompanied her to Mongolia in 2001 in commemoration of the tongue spoken by Agnes Ozman. She has the ear of the very top scholars and officials in Israel and set up programs in Oxford and Cambridge. She established prayer houses by the Old City in Jerusalem, by the Israeli embassy in Washington, and at the United Nations in NYC.

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      I believe her story. I believe she believes that is how it happened BUT what other proof do we have for that?

    • Reply March 21, 2019

      Philip Williams

      I have heard a few words from other languages that I spoke in tongues, usually words for God. Those occasions, which occurred in times of crisis, were a great comfort to me.

  • Reply March 21, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    Henry Volk was posted Agnes Ozman’s automatic writing before with some concerns Of course Henry dont know Chinese and I’ve asked some friend that studied Chin. philology @ Harvard who said it is not a common Mandarin BUT there are similarities with earlier not merely Chinese dynasty letters though they could make no sense of it Parham was so convinced of this that he even sent missionaries to foreign countries.

    However By 1909 many Pentecostals were becoming skeptical of missionary tongues, at least as a widespread phenomenon” – this is the time of Azusa 1906-1909 I believe Parham was baptized right around there shortly after 1909-1910 because right after that we have the Cashwell revivals in TN and the Carolinas

    HOWEVER Parhams period right then was connected with KKK and other questionable deeds which may have misplaced his tongue experience from the right focus and level of importance I believe Parham was NOT baptized in 1901 Peter Vandever as per the comments by Link Hudson I often have no clue where he gets his sources or information

  • Reply March 21, 2019

    Philip Williams

    Whether he was himself baptized of the Spirit, he was the author of the initial evidence theology that birthed the Pentecostals.

  • Reply March 22, 2019

    Salvatore Tropea Sr

    It was before January 1, 1900 for there was a prayer meeting in his house on December 31, 1899 and after midnight people began to worship in the spirit, speaking in tongues. John Sherrill, a spirit filled Episcopalian year ago wrote a wonderful history of the 20th century outpouring in his book “They Speak With Other Tongues.” .

    • Reply March 22, 2019

      Philip Williams

      Salvatore Tropea Sr a classic

    • Reply March 22, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      a classic error perhaps – wasnt it 1901? – Parham first saw speaking in tongues in Shiloh He only later connected it with HSB He had not yet arrived at the connection neither instructed his students that the initial evidence was missionary tongues The theology came only AFTER the experience Now his own baptism was… WHEN?

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