Pentecostalism is a “Spirit-driven,” renewalist movement within Protestant Christianity that began in the last part of the nineteenth century. Today, it is a fast-growing and influential religious tradition in Arkansas and worldwide. The term “Pentecostal” is derived from what is known as the Upper Room outpouring—the physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit as described in chapter two of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit is described there as descending upon the followers of Jesus Christ with the sound of wind, tongues of fire, and the ability to speak other languages. This outpouring is known as Pentecost in Greek (because it marks the fiftieth day after Pesach/Passover), “Feast of Weeks” in English (also known as “week of weeks” or the seven weeks between Passover and Pentecost), and Shavuot in Hebrew (which celebrates the giving of the Torah and the Feast of Firstfruits).
The eighteenth century’s Methodist revival within the Church of England and the nineteenth century’s Wesleyan-Holiness movement played major roles in the emergence of Pentecostal denominations in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. Some of the earliest recorded Pentecostal crusaders include Charles Fox Parham, William J. Seymour, and William J. Walthall. Parham, a Bible teacher at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas, began teaching that the gift of speaking in tongues provided evidence of Holy Spirit baptism. It was at a prayer meeting in 1901 that Agnes Ozman, a student of Parham’s, became the first of many students to begin speaking in tongues, thus launching the Apostolic Faith Movement. With this evidence fueling his faith, Parham opened a Bible college in Houston, Texas. Believer Lucy Farrow began speaking in tongues in 1906, and, that same year, a church in Los Angeles, California, became the host of an uncommon revival that was led by African-American Pentecostal pastor William Jethro Seymour, also a student of Parham’s. This well-known catalyst, more commonly known as the Azusa Street Revival, went on for nearly a decade and is widely considered to be the official launching point of the Pentecostal movement.
In Arkansas, the Reverend William Jethro Walthall of Bearden (Ouachita County) was an early pioneer of Pentecostalism. It is said that he began speaking in tongues after receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1879. The largest African-American Pentecostal denomination of the twentieth century, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), has roots in Arkansas. In 1894, Charles Harrison Mason, the founder of COGIC, gave his first sermon, in Preston (Faulkner County). Mason was ordained, baptized, and licensed to preach in Arkansas, yet due to his interracial work, as well as his controversial teachings on sanctification and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Mason often found himself disconnected from fellow ministers. Pentecostalism’s largest organized denomination, the Assemblies of God, was born in Hot Springs (Garland County). In April 1914, Pastor H. A. Goss of Hot Springs rented the Opera House and gathered with other Pentecostal laymen and preachers in a “general council.” Nearly all 300 of the participants in this historic meeting reportedly marched together in an impromptu parade down Central Avenue. The Assemblies of God, officially called the General Council of the Assemblies of God, was formed out of this meeting.
Oneness Pentecostals, also known as Apostolic Pentecostals or “Jesus Only” Pentecostals, were removed from the Assemblies of God in 1916 for heresy due to their refusal to use Trinitarian language to describe the Godhead. Although Oneness Pentecostals baptize in the name of Jesus only, they do, however, maintain that God manifests himself separately as Father, Spirit, and Son. Several ministers in this movement met in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) in 1916 and created the General Assembly of the Apostolic Assemblies. After several mergers and name changes, this organization eventually became the United Pentecostal Church. The Arkansas District of the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) oversees the numerous Oneness Pentecostal churches within Arkansas. Another group with significant representation in Arkansas is the Pentecostal Church of God, which was formed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1919; evangelist Eli Jackson DePriest of Black Rock (Lawrence County) was present at this meeting.
Remaining true to their renewalist roots, Pentecostals often feel a sense of urgency to pray for revivals in their communities and often hold tent revivals and camp meetings. In general, keepers of the Pentecostal faith expect an outpouring of the Holy Spirit when a congregation is gathered together. Pentecostal praise and worship traditions often include spontaneous expressions and divine utterances from believers who are inspired by the moving of or are given by the will of the Holy Spirit. Much like the apostolic scene described in Acts 2, in this type of worship atmosphere, Pentecostals can become intoxicated or “drunk in the Spirit.” The “laying on of hands” is often the catalyst to expressions like “Holy laughter,” speaking in tongues and interpretation, frantic dancing, “running the aisles,” and being “Slain in the Spirit.”
Some of the most well-known Pentecostal revivals in the United States are California’s Azusa Street Revival of 1906, and, more recently, Florida’s Brownsville Revival (a.k.a. the Pensacola Outpouring) of 1995. When Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas, he began making annual visits to a Pentecostal camp meeting near Little Rock (Pulaski County), where he met Oneness Pentecostal Pastor Anthony Mangun. Mangun’s choir sang at both of Clinton’s inaugurations in 1993 and 1997. Several notable Pentecostal revivals have been experienced in Arkansas, including one in 1946 led by the Reverend William Barnham in Jonesboro (Craighead County); attendees reportedly claimed that a man was raised from the dead at this event. In 2011, the First Assembly of God church in Paris (Logan County) held a season of Pentecostal revival from February to April. According to Charisma News online, this eleven-week revival led by Pastor Rick Maness saw 155 salvations and 114 baptisms in the Holy Spirit.
According to recent statistics by the Pew Forum, approximately five percent of adults in Arkansas identify themselves as Pentecostal in the traditional evangelical sense. However, due to shared beliefs and similar experiences that span a wide range of Protestant Christianity, it is difficult to give an accurate number of Pentecostals in Arkansas or to estimate the true effects that Pentecostalism has on the state. Research shows that Arkansas is home to many Pentecostal churches whose weekly attendance is recorded to be in the thousands—for example 3,300 at First Assembly of God in North Little Rock, 2,200 at Harvest Time Tabernacle in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), and 8,200 at New Life Church in Conway (Faulkner County).
According to the Private School Review website, there are six private Pentecostal schools in Arkansas, with the largest being Calvary Academy in North Little Rock, showing enrollment of nearly 250 students. The Arkansas School of Ministry (ARSOM) in Little Rock is part of the Association of Assemblies of God District Schools of Ministry and has been recognized as a district-based Bible institute by the Executive Presbytery of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. Impact Arkansas, a multicultural church with locations in Sherwood (Pulaski County) and Little Rock, is pastored by Terry and Kim Nance. The Sherwood campus is host to the Bethel: School of Supernatural Ministry–Impact Church.
Pentecostals have divided into many sects over different discernments of Spirit and Scripture. These disagreements include literal or figurative interpretations of the Bible, number of steps in the salvation process (whether two-step or three-step), direct experience(s) with God (by means of contact through dreams, visions, voices, impressions, and signs), personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and second baptism in a post-conversion experience with Holy Spirit (as first evidenced by speaking in tongues or by other spiritual gifts). One major point of division within the movement is that of the salvation process. Many Pentecostals adhere to a three-step salvation plan, arguing that a personal crisis triggers conversion, conversion triggers sanctification (the process by which a believer is made to conform to the image of Christ), and sanctification leads to the believer receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The differences of opinion often arise over such points as whether or not sanctification happens instantaneously after conversion or if the converted Christian becomes sanctified by progressively growing in grace and whether the baptism of the Holy Spirit can occur at any moment in a believer’s journey or if it is an experience that happens after conversion.
One of the most controversial sects of Pentecostalism is the Word of Faith movement, founded by E. W. Kenyon. This movement is also known as Word-Faith, “Name It & Claim It,” and Positive Confession. The Word of Faith Pentecostal message teaches that a believer’s faith is shown materialistically, manifesting in health and wealth, because faith is the force that makes the spoken word powerful enough to create something new. Word of Faith Pentecostal teachers and preachers have been accused of sharing false doctrine for teaching that, during his three days in the grave, Jesus took on the nature of Satan and suffered in Hell in order to overcome death and to accomplish the work of redemption. One of the best-known faces in the Word of Faith movement is Bible teacher Charles Capps, a retired farmer and land developer from Arkansas. In addition to teaching the power of faith and the spoken word, Capps also emphasized the authority of the believer. During his years in the ministry, Capps authored more than twenty books, many on the idea that words have spiritual power.
For additional information:
Arkansas Assemblies of God. http://www.araog.org/ (accessed August 28, 2020).
Arkansas District, Pentecostal Church of God. http://www.arpcg.org/ (accessed August 28, 2020).
Arkansas District, United Pentecostal Church International. http://arkansasdistrictupci.com/ (accessed August 28, 2020).
Arkansas International Campmeeting. http://www.arkansascampmeeting.com/ (accessed August 28, 2020).
White, Calvin, Jr. “In the Beginning, There Stood Two: Arkansas Roots of the Black Holiness Movement.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 68 (Spring 2009): 1–22.
———. The Rise to Respectability: Race, Religion, and the Church of God in Christ. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2012.
Kerrie L. L. Hatcher
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