“The Father of Pentecost”
I returned fully convinced that while many had obtained real experience in sanctification and the anointing that abideth, there still remained a great outpouring of power for the Christians who were to close this age.
In a time when divine healing and moves of the Spirit had scarcely been heard of, Charles Parham introduced the American church to the power available through pursuing a Spirit-filled life. He revealed to the church the life-giving power found in the baptism of the Holy Spirit that was evidenced by speaking in other tongues. He sought to bring a balance of both the intellectual and experiential to the Body of Christ at the turn of the last century as a teacher, rooted and grounded in the Word of Truth, as well as a healing evangelist moved by compassion, commitment, and an amazing faith.
From envisioning and founding a Healing Home to establishing Bible Schools, Parham studied to show himself approved with a rare diligence while fervently working to prove the truth of God’s Word through the demonstration of faith. He gathered crowds exceeding seven thousand people while his ministry contributed to over two million conversions.
Trial by Fire
As with many of our heroes of faith, Charles suffered greatly as a child. He battled serious illness from infancy and then at the age of seven he lost his mother to a terminal sickness. Her parting words to him were, “Charlie, be good.” Though he had four brothers, he was overwhelmed by grief and loneliness. But the words of his mother rang in his ears and two years later, at the age of nine, Charles felt the call to ministry.
Though he continued to battle debilitating physical ailments throughout his childhood, Charles became increasingly hungry for God. Due to a lack of libraries and formal instruction, he read history books along with his Bible to educate and prepare himself for ministry. He practiced a life of service by helping his brothers do chores and preached rousing sermons to the farm animals.
Answering and Re-answering the Call
Up until the age of thirteen, Parham had only heard the sermons of two preachers, and it was after one of these meetings that Parham experienced a powerful conversion. He was walking home heavy-hearted humming “I Am Coming to The Cross,” pondering how he could be certain of his salvation, when he recalled experiencing a “flash from the heavens, a light above the brightness of the sun, like a stroke of lightning it penetrated, thrilling every fiber of my being.”
He soon began teaching Sunday school and held his first public meeting at the age of fifteen. He continued to preach before entering Southwestern Kansas College at the age of sixteen. It was there he became aware of the public’s disrespect for and the general poverty of ministers. Discouraged, he began to look for other professions. In light of his traumatic childhood illnesses he decided that the medical field would suit him well. Not long after changing his educational goals, he contracted rheumatic fever.
He suffered for months from fever and the guilt of leaving his first call. He cried out to God that if he would not have to beg for a living he would preach. Heavily sedated with morphine, and with nearly his last breathe, he prayed the Lord’s Prayer. When he arrived at the phrase “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” his mind cleared and he realized it was God’s will to heal. So he cried out to God, “If Thy will is done in me, I shall be whole!” As he did, his lungs cleared and he was completely healed. In that moment, Parham renewed his commitment to give himself fully to ministry.
Following Christ Alone, With Sarah
Not long after, at the age of eighteen, Charles held his first evangelistic meeting in the Pleasant Valley School House, near Toganoxie, Kansas. It was there he met Sarah Thistlewaite who he would marry five years later. In the meantime, when Charles was only nineteen, he was asked to pastor the Methodist church in Eudora, Kansas. He fulfilled this position faithfully while continuing to pastor in Linwood on Sunday afternoons where Sarah and her family regularly attended services.
His congregation steadily grew in Eudora, but Parham did not feel bound to promote the Methodist denomination. He exhorted new converts to find any church home even if wasn’t Methodist. He proclaimed that being a member of a denomination was not a prerequisite for heaven and that denominations focused too much on promoting themselves rather than Jesus Christ. Parham’s primary aim was to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit regardless if it was contrary to any denominational objective.
Parham began to pray for direction. He felt the Lord leading him into the evangelistic field and decided to hold meetings in schools, halls, or any church willing to have him and believe for the Holy Spirit to manifest Himself in a mighty way. It was at this time that Parham proposed to Sarah. In a letter he explained that his life was totally dedicated to the Lord and that his future was unclear, but if she could trust God with him, they should marry. Six months later, on December 31, 1896, they wed.
A Revelation of Healing
The young couple was well received as they traveled and ministered across the plains of Kansas. Soon after the birth of their first son, Charles fell ill and began to weaken from heart disease. As he battled physical weakness, their tiny son was stricken with a mysterious fever. Doctors or medications could help neither father nor son. In his weakened state, Charles was called upon to pray for another ailing man. While praying for him he heard the words “Physician, heal thyself” ring out of his spirit and the power of God touched Parham who was healed instantly.
He rushed home to tell Sarah and pray for his baby. He immediately threw away all of his medications vowing never to again trust in anything but the Word of God. The fever miraculously left his son who grew to be a healthy child.
The joy of victory was soon turned to mourning as Parham received news that two of his closest friends had died. Despairing, he determined to proclaim the gospel of divine healing. From this time forward Parham’s ministry was marked by his dedication to preach the power of Christ to heal.
The Parhams moved to Ottawa, Kansas, where Charles held his first diving healing meeting. He boldly proclaimed the Word of God regarding His will and provision regarding healing. As Parham inspired the faith of his listeners, miraculous healings began to take place. A woman who had been given three days to live was instantly healed. Another woman who was blind received her sight.
Although healing crusades were taking place in other parts of the country through the ministries of John Alexander Dowie and Maria Woodworth Etter, the people of rural Kansas had not been exposed to such manifestations of the Spirit. Word quickly spread and many in fear and ignorance accused Parham of witchcraft. Accusations such as this drove him to withdraw and search the scriptures.
Everywhere he looked in the Bible, healing was present. Parham realized that healing, just as salvation, came through the atoning work of the blood of Jesus, and from that point on, persecution and slander never offended him.
The Spirit in Action
By early 1899, the Parhams opened a home for divine healing. Sarah named it “Bethel.” The purpose was to minister to the sick around the clock. Powerful teaching services were held daily while individual prayer was offered several times throughout the day and night. On the ground floor was a chapel, reading room, and printing office. Upstairs were fourteen rooms with large windows. The Parhams kept the windows filled with fresh flowers and the atmosphere charged with peace and beauty. This refuge also placed orphans in Christian homes and found jobs for the unemployed. In addition, Bethel offered special classes for ministers and evangelists to train and equip them for the ministry field.
Such an undertaking should have been more than enough to keep the Parhams busy! But because of Bethel’s success, many began to urge Parham to open a Bible School. After much prayer and fasting, Parham secured a large, beautiful building in Topeka, Kansas, in October of 1900. The Bible school was open to anyone willing to “forsake all” to follow the teachings of Christ. They were to come willing to study the Word deeply and believe God for all their personal needs.
Tongues of Fire
It was here that eager students were instructed to study the book of Acts over a period of three days and report back to Parham what they found. Every one of Parham’s forty students reported finding that all who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts spoke in other tongues. Now there was a great excitement at the school surrounding the book of Acts.
Anticipation filled the atmosphere as people gathered for the evening Watch Night Service. A spiritual freshness seemed to blanket the meeting. A student named Agnes Ozman approached Parham and asked him to lay his hands on her so she would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Parham hesitated not having received himself, but after she persisted, he humbly laid his hands on her head and she began speaking Chinese. She was unable to speak English for three days!
After witnessing this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the students moved their beds from the upper dormitory and turned it into a prayer room. There they waited for two night and three days upon the Lord. Upon returning home from a meeting, Parham was led up to the room where he found twelve denominational ministers all speaking in other tongues. Overcome by what he saw, Parham fell to his knees praising God. He asked God for the same blessing, and after the Lord spoke to him about revealing the truth of this mighty outpouring everywhere he went—and that he would face severe persecution as a result—he was filled and spoke with other tongues.
The Birth of a Movement
Soon news of what God was doing had the Bible school besieged with newspaper reporters, language professors, and government interpreters. They sat in on the services to tell the whole world of this incredible phenomenon. They had come to the consensus that these students were speaking in the world’s diverse languages and their newspapers were headlined, “Pentecost! Pentecost!” Newsboys shouted, “Read about the Pentecost!”
On January 21, 1901, Parham preached the first sermon dedicated to the sole experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. Parham went through the country preaching the truths of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in wonderful demonstration. Once when Parham began to speak in a tongue unknown to him, a man in the audience jumped to his feet and declared he had been delivered of infidelity having heard Psalm 23 in his mother tongue. Parham’s ministry was not limited to preaching divine healing. Now untold numbers were being delivered from all types of bondages as Parham revealed the freedom and power available to all believers through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
The Price of Victory
Along with fame and victory came persecution and sorrow. Not only did this mighty outpouring of the Spirit give rise to slanderous persecution, tragedy struck the Parham household when their youngest child died on March 16, 1901. The family was grief-stricken. Their sorrow was further compounded when those who did not believe in divine healing blamed them for the death of their son. But through it all, the Parhams showed tremendous character. They kept their hearts tender toward God and continued to preach with even greater fervency.
In the fall of 1901, the Bible school was unexpectedly sold out from under them. They moved into a rented home in Kansas City and Parham began to hold meetings around the country. Hundreds from every denomination received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and divine healing. A Kansas newspaper wrote: “Whatever may be said about him, he has attracted more attention to religion than any other religious worker in years.”
Despite persecution, loss, and disappointment, Parham published his first book, A Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness, in 1901. The book was filled with sermons on salvation, healing, and sanctification. Then in June of 1902, another son was born to the Parhams. In 1903, Charles had his first experience with fanaticism and dedicated himself to studying the nature of the Holy Spirit and teaching how to discern what is truly of the Spirit and what is not.
By the fall of that year, the Parhams moved to Galena, Kansas, where they erected a large tent. The tent could hold two thousand people, but it was still too small to accommodate the crowds. As winter set in they managed to secure a building although they were forced to leave the doors opened so that those remaining outside could participate. Huge number poured into Galena from surrounding towns when strong manifestations of the Spirit occurred, and hundreds were miraculously healed and saved.
Two national newspapers declared Parham’s Galena meetings to be the greatest demonstration of power and miracles since the time of the Apostles, writing, “Many come to scoff but remain to pray.”
Days of Glory
On March 16, 1904 another son was born into the Parham family. One month later Charles moved the family to Baxter Springs, Kansas, and continued to hold tremendous meetings around the state. In 1905, Parham was invited to Orchard, Texas. While he ministered there, the outpouring of the Spirit was so great that he was inspired to begin holding “Rally Days” throughout the country. Many from Kansas volunteered to assist in the outreach, which was successfully launched in Houston, Texas, just a few short weeks later.
The team returned to Houston once more due to high public demand, only this time they suffered severe persecution. Several of Parham’s workers were poisoned during one meeting making them very ill. They suffered with severe pain. Parham immediately prayed for each of them, and they all recovered completely. Parham’s own life was threatened several times. But not even poison enough to kill a dozen men could keep him down.
Undaunted by the persecution, Parham announced the opening of a new Bible school in Houston and moved his headquarters there in the winter of 1905. It was here that William Seymour was introduced to the baptism of the Holy Spirit and attended Parham’s school.
When the historic school came to a close, Parham moved his family back to Kansas where his last child was born on June 1, 1906.
The Beginning of the End
Around this time, Parham received letters from William Seymour asking him to come to the Mission on Azusa Street to help him discern the moves of the Spirit there. He was concerned that not all the manifestations being experienced were genuinely of the Holy Spirit. At the same time Parham felt led to hold a rally in Zion, Illinois in the wake of Alexander Dowie’s decline there. The people of Zion were disillusioned and losing hope making them vulnerable to corrupt forces attempting to take control of the city.
Parham decided to bring the blessing of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the discouraged people of Zion. He met with great opposition but eventually managed to secure a private meeting room in a hotel. After just one night he required two rooms and the hallway and then the meetings grew from there. Soon Parham was invited to hold meetings in the largest homes of the city—one of which belonged to renowned author F. F. Bosworth. The meetings were tremendously successful and prompted the most ardent persecution. Not only were the newspapers critical, but Dowie himself spoke out against Parham. The overseer of the city asked him to leave.
In October of 1906 Parham felt released to leave Zion and hurried to Los Angeles to answer Seymour’s call. Parham and Seymour were unable to come to see eye-to-eye regarding the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and after holding only a few meetings there, Seymour locked Parham out of the mission.
Parham returned to Zion in December of 1906, again unable to obtain a building. He set up a large tent capable of seating two thousand people and again had such powerful meetings that opposition soon arose. When he closed the meetings, he traveled alone to preach in Canada and New England leaving his family in Zion. The entire family suffered from harassment there. Finally one day Mrs. Parham received a devastating letter accusing her husband of scandalous acts. She was forced to move her children back to Kansas.
A Legacy of Faith
The Parhams suffered greatly at the maligning of Charles’ character. His enemies were using any means possible to destroy his reputation. National headlines read that he had been arrested for sodomy with his supposed companion. All of this was proven false and later recanted by the newspapers. Parham later wrote about the ordeal: “The greatest sorrow of my life is the thought that my enemies in seeking my destruction have ruined and destroyed so many precious souls.”
For the remainder of his life, Parham suffered as a result of the scandal. His ministry was threatened, as was his life on occasion. But he was steadfast in his commitment to continue traveling and preaching. He held tremendous meetings in the Pacific Northwest where thousands were healed and baptized in the Holy Spirit. It was in one of these meetings in the winter of 1924 that Gordon Lindsay found salvation and would later establish the international Bible college, Christ for the Nations.
In 1927, Charles Parham realized his lifetime dream of traveling to the Holy Land. He returned in April, 1928 with slides of his visits to Jerusalem, Galilee, Samaria, and Nazereth and spent the next year and a half showing them at his meetings. After spending Christmas of 1928, with his family, he was scheduled to preach and show his slides in Temple, Texas, and it was there while making his presentation he collapsed from heart failure. In a weakened condition he returned to his home in Kansas. He waited for his son Wilfred to return from ministry in California, while his youngest son, Robert, quit his job to be at his side. After many days fasting and praying, Robert came to Parham’s bedside to tell him he had dedicated his life to the ministry. Parham was filled with joy and a great peace overcame him. He died quietly on January 29, 1929, at the age of fifty-six.