by: Bishop Samuel Smith

In the month of May, 1983, I was privileged to participate in one of the most unique events ever in the history of 20th Century Pentecostalism. The Eli Lilly Foundation had awarded the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University a grant to study the “Pentecostal Experience.” Department head, Professor Stein, working with local pastor, Rev. Kirby Tiller, invited a diverse group of university professors, church historians, authors, and Pentecostal ministers for the purpose of studying the origin, present status, and future direction of the Holy Ghost phenomenon.

The first evening, Dr. Vinson Synon of Oklahoma University, a noted church historian and author, keynoted the seminar with a lecture on the subject of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost at the turn of the century, with signs and wonders following. I found it very interesting that, according to Dr. Synon, from the mid-1880’s throughout the 1890’s there was the prevailing theme in fundamental Christianity, throughout America, that the time was approaching for another “Pentecost” as described in the Book of Acts! The clear message drawn from the lecture was that much faith and soul-searching in the lives of sincere Christians had preceded the out-pouring of the Holy Ghost at Bethel Bible College, Topeka, Kansas, 1901. That event, accompanied by speaking with other tongues, is credited by church historians as the beginning of latter-day Pentecost! I felt personally encouraged to continue preaching with regards to the great end-time Revival to come! The Lord honors faith, evidenced by preparation and proclamation.

During the open discussion that followed, the historians conclusion surfaced that the strength of Pentecostalism was its grass roots appeal, beginning with the individual at the local church level. Professor David Harrelson of the University of Arkansas warned that “Pentecostal denominationalism has peaked out,” with respect to the true experience. He elaborated that material success and prestige can never take the place of the Holy Ghost fire that fell, on the Apostolic Faith Mission, Azusa Street, in Los Angeles, California, in 1906.

The professors and historians reasoned that, in their opinion, the Pentecostal experience occurs today with the greatest similarity to the early 1900’s, where the grass roots effect is the strongest; minorities gathering in missions and storefronts, or wherever the most emphasis is placed in the local assembly upon the spiritual needs of the people.

As the dialogue continued it became more apparent, that when the matter is carefully analyzed from both historical and spiritual standpoints, the greatest missionary outreach originates from the Bible-based, spiritually matured, anointed local church! Life begets life! Without slick Madison Avenue promotion, the early 20th Century Pentecostal Revival spread like a prairie fire, fueled only by the impact of the Holy Spirit upon human beings!

On the second day, Dr. Robert Mapes Anderson, well-known author and professor at Wagner College, New York City, made the interesting observation that the leaders of the early 20th Century Pentecostalism were, for the most part, young, rural, idealistic and usually poor. The late Bishop Robert Little, from Louisville, Kentucky, responded that the profile given by Anderson compared with that of the Apostles of Jesus in the 1st century.

During the seminar, Dr. Synon supplied startling statistics that revealed there are more than 100 million people in the world today who claim the Holy Ghost baptism. These include; oneness, trinitarians, and charismatic. Next to the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church, there are more Pentecostalists than any other single Christian persuasion!

It was the historians opinion that, judging by the present trend in Christianity, (Ecumenicalism and Pentecostalism), by the end of the century there will be two major branches of Christianity in the world; Catholicism, her allies, and Pentecostalism. The statement was made that, so great is the Pope’s concern about the present Pentecostal revival in Central and South America, that his recent visit there was to personally remind the people that their roots are in Roman Catholicism!
As the seminar proceeded, the professors raised the following questions:

1. Was the Pentecostal Revival in the 20th century a product of the poorer class of disinherited Christians striving for their identity; as one put it, a “Religious-Populist movement?”

2. Was Pentecostalism a ladder for the deprived to gain social equality?

3. Was the revival in the early 20th Century an inevitable evolution of the late 19th Century “crisis” preaching?
In response to these points, Rev. Kirby Tiller of Bloomington, Indiana, gave an eloquent account of the indisputable miraculous nature of his father’s conversion. The late Bishop Worthy Rowe of South Bend, Indiana, and then Chairman of the Apostolic World Christian Fellowship, spoke effectively of the sacrifices endured by his minister father and family in the early days. Rev. James Jones of Brownsburg, Indiana, contributed throughout the seminar with his first-hand knowledge of the Holy Ghost Baptism. Thus, the truth prevailed that the Pentecostal experience was not simply the emotional bonanza of unfortunate, misplaced people on a self-gratifying ego trip; but, was instead, the supernatural fulfillment of sincere souls in their honest quest for the fullness of God, often at risk of great personal loss!

Near the end of the final session, I stated my belief that the Pentecostal Revival was not an evolutionary event in the process of crisis preaching in the mid-American Bible-belt, but was the sovereign act of God with worldwide appeal! The reality, gifts and fruit of Pentecost, constitutes a vehicle on which to carry the Christian Gospel with its fullness to all humankind. I continued, that according to Bible Prophecy, we are approaching the end of this era. Armageddon cannot be far off. Within the framework of Joel’s prophecy, “…it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh;” it is apparent that the greatest hour of Christian Revival is ahead. Our world awaits evangelism! I concluded, that empowered by the Holy Ghost we can accomplish the task before us.

Professor Harrelson responded, “Show us.” I left the Indiana University campus feeling that we Pentecostal ministers had been to a modern-day Mars Hill, a seat of religious intellectualism, and been privileged to speak on behalf of the Gift of God in a most dramatic setting to men of high stature with immeasurable influence in the circles of religious study. Relative to defending the faith, I feel that we did well; it now remains to be seen how well we meet the challenge to “show” them the fulfilled promise of end-time Pentecost.

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