Healing and Revival
"Healing and Pentecost"
Charles Fox Parham was born in Muscatine, Iowa on June 4, 1873. His mother was a devout Christian. Like many of his contemporaries he had severe health struggles. He was born with a club foot. While a baby he contracted a viral infection that left him physically weakened. His family moved to Kansas in 1878 where, at the age of nine, he got rheumatic fever. This left him in even worse physical condition. It was during this period that he first felt a call to ministry. Parham's mother died in 1885, which was a devastating blow to him. He committed that he "would see her in heaven" and chose to be converted shortly after her death and became saved in a Congregational Church evangelistic meeting. He joined a local Methodist church and began to teach Sunday School. In 1888, at the age of 15, he began holding evangelistic services.
In 1890 Parham went to Southwest Kansas College. He was still struggling with severe bouts of rheumatic fever. Although his initial plan was to study theology he switched to medicine. In 1891 he was debilitated by a very severe attack of rheumatic fever. He thought he might die. He felt that God asked him if he was willing to go and preach. He repented for not following God and was healed. God also healed him of his club foot. Parham became on fire for the truth of Divine Healing. He began to study healing and Weslyan holiness teaching. In 1893 he left school and became an interim pastor of a Methodist church near Lawrence Kansas. He left that church in 1895 and became an independent minister, primarily teaching on healing and praying for the sick. He got married, in 1896, to his wife Sarah Ella. In 1898 Parham visited John Alexander Dowie's healing homes in Chicago. He was so impressed that he returned and founded a healing faith home called Beth-el in Topeka, Kansas. The couple also began to publish a holiness journal called "Apostolic Faith".
In 1900 Parham visited several holiness religious centers. He spent six weeks at Frank W. Sandford's holiness community at Shiloh, Maine. He also visited D. L. Moody in Chicago, A. J. Gordon's church in Boston, Massachusetts and A. B. Simpson in Nyack, New York. Much of the holiness movement was focused on a great end-time outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He heard stories of small outbreaks of tongues among students at Sandford's community in July of 1900. He believed that the gift of tongues would empower missionaries for the great end-times harvest. Parham returned to Topeka and committed to open a bible school where students could be taught to seek the presence of the Holy Spirit in a greater way to fulfill a missionary call.
By September 1900, Parham had found Stones Folly. It was a castle with two towers that had been built and then abandoned. It had been sitting vacant for about 10 years. Parham and a group of about 40 students, their spouses and children lived and worked in the school. They set up one of the two towers as their prayer tower, and prayed 24 hours a day. The building was leaky and drafty and living conditions were difficult. In 1901 Parham went on a trip and encouraged his students to search the scriptures for evidence of the Holy Spirit. When he returned they had decided that speaking in tongues was the evidence. Parham's focus was the belief that tongues was a gift for a specific language which would be given for missionary activities (xenoglossolalia versus glossolalia which is a general gift of an unknown tongue). They began to seek God for this outpouring and they experienced it. Agnes Ozman spoke in what was believed to be Chinese for three days. Word traveled fast and several area ministers were prayed for a received this gift.
The Parhams were forced to leave Stone's Folly when someone else took over the building. The group moved to Kansas City but their message did not catch on. Parham held a revival meeting in Eldorado Springs, Missouri, a local hot springs center where people came to take the "water cure". Mrs Mary A. Arthur, who was visiting the springs with several illnesses, came to Parham's meetings and asked him to pray for her. She was dramatically healed of her problems, including blindness in one eye. Mrs Arthur invited Parham to preach in her home in Galena, Kansas in the Fall of 1903. Services went on for months, thousands of people attended the meetings, a thousand people claimed healings, 800 were converted, and thousands accepted the Pentecostal teaching and new churches began to be established.
Several churches were opened in and around Houston, Texas. In 1905 Parham opened the Houston Bible School. Although it was segregated it was attended by William Seymour, a black Holiness evangelist. He was allowed to sit outside the room while Parham taught and listen through a crack in the door. Seymour took the teaching to Azusa Street in Los Angeles where a revival broke out. Seymour invited Parham to the meetings to help oversee them but he was aghast at the inter-racial mingling and emotionalism he felt was out of control. Parham left the meetings criticizing Seymour and those involved in the Azusa Street outpouring. Pentecostalism was taking hold in a dramatic wave, however. By 1906 there were 8-10,000 members of the Pentecostal churches Parham had established. Parham was a strong supporter of British-Israelism or Angl-Israelism, which taught that Great Britain was the geographical home of the lost tribes of Israel. At some point he wrote a pamphlet titled "Queen Victoria: Heir to King David's Royal Throne." This teaching supported Parham's segregationist views of the spiritual superiority of white races and their special call by God to fulfill His plan for the world.
Parham decided to visit Zion City, Illinois in 1906. John Alexander Dowie was incapacitated, due to a stroke, and the city was being run by Wilbur G. Voliva. Parham saw Zion City as a revival center ripe for the gospel of Pentecostalism. Dowie and Voliva both opposed Parham's teaching on tongues and although he did pick up many converts he did not take hold of the city in the way that he had hoped. In 1907 Parham was arrested for sexual misconduct, but all charges were dropped due to a lack of witnesses. Opponents believed he was guilty and supporters believed he had been set up. Voliva made sure that the controversy was kept before the public and Parham's influence waned. There was also growing doctrinal controversy in the Pentecostal movement which led to a myriad of splits. Parham saw himself as the leader of this fledgling movement, but others did not agree, and the majority of Pentecostal churches did not come under his direction. Sadly there is also evidence that Parham, who had always been a strict segregationist, became involved in the Ku Klux Klan.
The last 20 years of Parham's life were lived in Baxter Springs, Kansas. He moved there in 1909. In 1910 Parham wrote "A Voice Of One Crying in the Wilderness" and "The Everlasting Gospel" in 1911. Surprisingly, Parham became a member of the local Freemason Lodge, something most holiness groups were adamantly opposed to. He continued to preach on Pentecostalism and work as an evangelist and faith healer. Parham constantly traveled to Pentecostal churches and he collapsed during a visit to Temple, Texas. He died on January 29, 1929, at the age of 56. His family, fearing that someone would damage his grave, buried him with a small stone marker that did not even include his name. Years later a memorial was put up by friends. In 1930 Parhams wife wrote a biography titled "The Life of Charles F. Parham: Founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement" and also later published "Sermons of the Late Charles F. Parham."
Parham's legacy is certainly mixed. Many people know the name of William Seymour and Azusa Street, but many fewer know of Parham's role as the spark that launched the Pentecostal Movement. He was faithful to the Pentecostal message, but it was often adulterated by personal beliefs and impoverished character issues. He was a man willing to step out in faith, where few others had gone before. In doing so he helped to change the world.
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