I recently got a pre-release copy of Charles Fox Parham: The unlikely Father of Modern Pentecostalism by Dr. Larry Martin. While knowing a lot about Pentecostal history, I learned some things about Parham that I did not know. The truth remains: he was a man that spearheaded much but ended with some crazy ideas about theology.
Charles Fox Parham plays a very important part in the formation of the modern Pentecostal movement. Without the Topeka Outpouring, there is no Azusa Street. Yes, some could say that there is the biblical norm of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in pockets of the Methodist churches, it was really what happen in Topeka that started what we see today.
It was at the turn of the century that the students of Parham came to believe that praying in tongues was the initial physical evidence of the Holy Spirit baptism. They got this from studies of the book of Acts.
Now, back to the book by Dr. Larry Martin. He goes into great detail to say while anointed, he was a very flawed man. The flaws are more than just theological too. Some of them seem relayed to trauma. The book is not related to PTSD but coming from my background, it is clear it is there.
I am not sure most people want to know but he got very little right. For example, he hold that people baptized in the Holy Spirit would be the 144,000 in Revelation. The problem with this is, of course, there is far more than 144,000 Pentecostals today!
Then, you have British-Israelism. This was a heretical view that people who were Anglo-Saxon were actual the people of ancient Israel. Parham’s tried to say that King Edward VII’s throne was actually the throne of David and there was linage from Adam to Victoria.
After saying that the world would end by 1898 and then Jesus would come back by 1925; he took the ideas of dispensationalism to a whole new level: the seals in Revelation where periods of history. In his view, we are currently in the fifth seal awaiting the sixth seal which is nuke warfare. (Wonder what he would have thought of World War II?)
It gets more crazy. He believed that the Kingdom age would be a 1,000 year courtroom that God would be the judge but Parham and his followers would be the jury! Even more odd, unbelievers would not be judged based on their decision about Christ but only their works in this life!
I am sure it would not fly today but only white people could be part of the Bride of Christ. In fact, the judgements of God would a result of inter-marriage between white people and minorities. His view of racial superiority is without denial.
It seems odd for the time that Parham was alive but he was very soft on divorce and re-marriage. He took no issue with people and even leaders have a former living spouse. This is, of course, not in line with the Word of God says about re-marriage. It is, biblically speaking, adultery.
Many would put to the issues of not once but twice, he was assuced by child molestation. While these, for the most part, can’t be proved. Was there sexual sins? Maybe. Was it made into more than it really was? Probably. He had his haters, no doubt.
The first case was while he was attending Southwestern College, the Methodist bible school. It was said that he had committed Sodomy while there and it caused quite the drama in the town. However, to my knowledge (and it seems to Martin as well) there is no record of an arrest or anything with the church. History will never know what really happened.
Now, the second case we know much more about. He was accused of having sex with a 22 year old in San Antonio. he was arrested and signed a confession. He was released and the case never went to court. However, it is clear that something did happen with the young man.
There is also a third case in Zion City but this might have been a smear job. It seems that was more a witch hunt over theology that became a character attack than anything else to me.
So what we do make of these? At the very least, he should have used much more wisdom and not allowed himself in the position to be made into being a homosexual. To be honest, I don’t know what I believe.
As promised, I want to ask the question about PTSD, something they did not know about in the late 1800’s. We don’t know much about Charles Fox Parham before we know him as a preacher. However, there seems some serious traumatic experiences before, during and after.
There is evidence that supports that Parham was very sick as a youth. He also had what some people considered an “eccentric” mind. To make matters worse, his mother died when he was 12 years old. By his own admission, he never remembered a day without pain until he was 18 years old.
His new mother, Harriet, was a zealot. She lived, breathed and sleep “old time religion. (Though she divorced his first husband which does not add up to her testimony) It was a major life change because his parents did not seem to more than “Sunday Christians.”
So if you consider the sickness, the social rejection and the death of his mother; it is very possible that there are serious trauma that lasted for years to come. The foundation of PTSD was setting that would later become the driver for many things.
I would suggest that it is very possible that much of the crazy idea to sound “prophetic” and even the integrity issues were a result of the PTSD that was not understood in the early 1900’s. I am not saying we excuse his sinfulness and heretical teachings, but we have empathy for someone who was raised in the bedrock of trauma and had no idea how to relate to God or man as a result.
Peter Vandever is a Pentecostal Evangelist to the nations and a prophetic voice to the American Pentecostal movement. He is currently based in Kansas City, Missouri.