Transcript of an address given by Philip Wooffindin on 28th September 1983 at Bethel Evangelistic Centre, Cleethorpes
The Pentecostal movement was not so much born out of doctrine as it was born out of the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. Many of the great denominations of the past have been born from doctrinal issues, but the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit was born out of a dynamic experience which the prepared people of God received and accepted.
In the early days of the twentieth century there was a deep hunger for God. There was a deep hunger for the renewal of the days of the Acts of the Apostles. We read about them meeting together and calling out to God in a way that we perhaps have forgotten — calling out to God for revival, for renewal. Eager believers all over Britain began to seek God in earnest and sustained intercession, spending much time in prayer, asking God to pour out revival upon our land.
And in 1904 we had the glorious Welsh Revival, which fanned into a flame the spirit of expectation in believers all over the country, and not only in this country but also abroad. The people of God expected to see the fulfilment of the promise of Acts chapters 1 and 2 in their day.
There had been in preceding days sporadic outpourings of the Holy Spirit, instances of men being filled with the Spirit and speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. But we are not so much concerned about these, as about the beginnings of a movement of God in the early days of this century, which has gone on to grow until it has reached the proportions it has today, in both “Pentecostal” and “charismatic” circles.
In the spring of 1906 the eyes of the Christian world were focused on Los Angeles, California, USA. A black minister called W. J. Seymour from Houston, Texas, had been invited to take charge of a mission in Los Angeles. He had not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit himself, but he preached it and taught it and was expectantly looking for it. He had been influenced by a young Methodist minister called Charles Parham. As he talked about the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit it came to the stage where the elders of this little church could stand it no longer, and when he arrived at the church he found that the doors were locked. The elders had invited down the president of a Holiness group to come and preach instead that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was simply sanctification. Brother Seymour and his followers, both white and black, listened to what this man had to say, but they remained unconvinced. Being locked out of the church, they began to hold cottage meetings at 214 [North] Bonny Brae Street, Los Angeles, to seek an experience with signs following. On April 9, 1906, it happened: the windows of heaven opened and the power of God swept through the congregation, and one after another they began speaking with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Soon the place was packed and crowds waited outside to get in to see what God was doing in this little place. They had to find alternative accommodation at 312 Azusa Street, a venue which soon became world-famous. It was a two-storeyed whitewashed building near a lumber yard and a stable. What humble beginnings for the Pentecostal revival and the Pentecostal movement! Azusa Street, Los Angeles, became the focus of the attention of the Christian world.
In 1905 an Englishman working in Scandinavia, T. B. Barratt, the pastor of the Methodist City Mission in Oslo, Norway, went to America to raise funds for his church. Apparently, financially his mission was not a success — he didn’t raise the funds that he was looking for — but he returned with something better than money. For while he was there he developed a thirst for God in his soul which became almost unbearable. And on November 15, 1906, God mightily baptised T. B. Barratt with the Holy Spirit, and he returned to Norway transformed by the power of God, speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gave him utterance. Scandinavia responded in a remarkable way, and crowds thronged to his meetings.
Among those who went to the meetings of T. B. Barratt, early in 1907, was the great Swedish Pentecostal statesman of this century. Lewi Pethrus, known as the Elder Statesman of the Pentecostal Movement. He became a world figure. He lived from 1884 to 1974 and died at the age of 90. Having started with 70 people in 1910 in Filadelfia Church, Stockholm, he saw the work grow until over 6000 members belonged to that church, with many branch works. His many ventures included a Christian daily newspaper, EBRA Radio, the World Missionary Outreach, a Bible college, a publishing house, homes for the elderly, and rehabilitation centres for alcoholics and drug addicts. He wrote over 50 books and over 100 hymns. This is what he says in his testimony:
“I was saved at 15 years of age, and baptised in the Holy Spirit” (wait for it!—) “in 1902” (before that mighty outpouring in 1906). “I had a real renewal in 1907, and from that time I had been working as a preacher in the Pentecostal movement. When I got the experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit — I was then 18 years old — it came as a real surprise. I did not know what it was, but I was praising God and speaking in tongues. I did not know anything about the Holy Spirit because it was not preached about at that time. And my pastor warned me for my error when I spoke to him about my experience. But when the teaching about the baptism of the Holy Spirit came to Scandinavia by T. B. Barratt, then I got a new, fresh experience of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and spoke in tongues again — praise God.”In March 1907 the Rev. Alexander Boddy, vicar of All Saints Church, Sunderland, went to Norway to attend Mr. Barratt’s meetings, and to pray for the fullness of the Spirit. On his way back he wrote for several English papers. He didn’t receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but he saw things there that he had to record; and this is what he says concerning the meetings in Oslo:
“My four days in Christiana” (now renamed Oslo) “can never be forgotten. I had stood with Evan Roberts in Tonypandy” (that is, in the Welsh Revival) “but never witnessed such scenes as those in Norway.”He described how, in the upper room of a mission hall in Togarten, boys and girls around him, between seven and twelve years old, saw visions and spoke in tongues.
“A university student cried out in the power of the Spirit and at the same time a dozen people spoke and prayed in tongues, and praised the Lord. Singing and praising the Lord in the Spirit rose to a great doxology.That’s the cradle of the Pentecostal revival in Europe, in the meetings of T. B. Barratt in Oslo.
Mr. Boddy repeatedly invited T. B. Barratt to visit Britain, and he came in August 1907. And the same supernatural phenomena that had been witnessed in Los Angeles, USA, in Scandinavia — for this message had gone from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and even into Europe — the same phenomena were evidenced in this country in 1907. T. B. Barratt records this is his journals, concerning his meetings at All Saints’ Church, Sunderland, in August and September 1907:
“Meetings are held every day in the great parish hall at 3 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. We have a ‘waiting meeting’ in the vestry after each service. The fire falls every day — hallelujah! The meeting last night” (that is, September 3, 1907) “lasted till 3 o’clock this morning.”Mrs. Boddy received her “personal Pentecost” on September 7, but it was not until December 2 that Mr. Boddy received it; and the strange thing is that it is recorded that Alexander Boddy was laying hands with T. B. Barratt on people, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit while Alexander Boddy himself had still not received the Holy Ghost. (God sometimes overturns our ideas and plans.) Alexander Boddy himself said:
“I believe that God was teaching me something by making me wait. But when I got it, it was well worth it.”It is recorded that he went out by the seashore, and he began praising God, and his voice got strong, far stronger than it had ever been, and over the North Sea he began to praise God in tongues and sing in the Spirit. He really let himself go; it was a marvellous experience. He had received the baptism in the Holy Ghost. And one well-known interesting side-effect of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Sunderland in 1907, was that the debt they had had on the church hall for some time with no hope of ever repaying was cleared without an offering being taken. A plaque on the building — which certainly stood quite recently, and as far as is known still stands today — says:
“When the fire of the Lord fell, it burned up the debt.”Alexander Boddy received his “personal Pentecost”, and was destined to become one of the two main leaders of the Pentecostal movement early this century.
Meanwhile, Cecil Polhill of the China Inland Mission — who was one of the Cambridge Seven, which had included C. T. Studd; he was the squire of Hoebury Hall, Bedford, a very wealthy man — had heard what was happening in the USA.
Instead of going to Norway, he made the journey to California to see what was really happening in Azusa Street, Los Angeles. He went to the meetings there, and while he was staying nearby, in a private house, Cecil Polhill received his own personal baptism and spoke with tongues as the Spirit gave utterance. He came back to England full of the Holy Ghost, and soon he met up with and became very friendly with Alexander Boddy. And these two men led the Pentecostal movement for the next seventeen years, from 1907 to 1924. Mr. Polhill spent freely of his wealth in renting halls and in financing conventions.
The Pentecostal testimony spread like wildfire. There were great conventions that were held. At one in May 1909 in Sion College, London, the platform party included Alexander Boddy, Cecil Polhill, T. B. Barratt, and A. S. Booth Plymouth who was the son-in-law of General Booth. In 1908, right down in Cardiff, South Wales, the Cardiff Echo offered cheap excursions to Sunderland for the Whitsuntide convention, such was the fame of Sunderland as the convention centre of the Pentecostal movement. Soon afterwards Thomas Cook & Sons, the well-known travel agent who are still in business today, offered full information to anyone in any part of the world or place in Great Britain as to the most direct and cheapest way to travel to Sunderland for the convention. It became world-famed.
By August 1911 between five and six thousand copies of the magazine Confidence, of which Alexander Boddy was editor, were being sent out from Sunderland to all parts of the world.
In 1914 the Sunderland convention speakers included three from America, four from Germany, one from the Tibetan border, one from India, one from Africa, one from Holland, two from Ireland and two from London. The movement was now a world-wide movement. God was moving in mighty power.
“Pentecostal meetings in the early days were small, often in private. Their leaders were mostly men of spiritual maturity who had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit while still members of their respective denominations. Very few indeed were wholly engaged in the ministry. Most meetings closed with unhurried times of waiting on God. Time was given to self-emptying and intense prayer. Speaking with tongues was a characteristic feature of all these meetings. It was from such gatherings that the fellowship of Assemblies of God was brought to birth.”
In the early days of the Pentecostal movement in this country, there were men of education and culture such as Rev. Boddy and Mr. Polhill, but there were also men from ordinary walks of life, such as Smith Wigglesworth. He was born in a humble home in Menston, Yorkshire, and he was working in the fields cleaning turnips at six years of age. At seven he was working in the woollen mills and at nine he was in full-time employment there. He was denied even the benefits of an elementary education. At 18 he became a plumber and at 23 he opened his own plumbing business in Bradford. While God on the one hand was singling out men like Alexander Boddy, on the other hand he was lifting up an uneducated man like Smith Wigglesworth. At 16 Smith Wigglesworth had joined the Salvation Army, but he had looked to his business interests and he had lost his love for the Lord, or at least it had waned. But later he became really interested in the things of God, and in particular in divine healing. Very soon a work at Bolam Street, Bradford, was established.
Smith Wigglesworth heard of the Sunderland meetings, and in 1907 he received his baptism at 11 a.m., one Tuesday morning, while he was alone with God at All Saints vicarage. Smith Wigglesworth was the man who said, “Only believe, all things are possible.” This is his testimony:
“I was saved among the Methodists when I was about eight years old. A little later I was confirmed by a bishop of the Church of England. Later I was immersed as a Baptist. I had a grounding in Bible teaching along with the Plymouth Brethren. I marched under the ‘Blood and Fire’ banner of the Salvation Army, learning to win souls in the open air. I received the Second Blessing of Sanctification and a clean heart under the teaching of Reader Harris and the Pentecostal League. I claimed the gift of the Holy Spirit by faith as I waited ten days before the Lord. But in Sunderland in 1907 I knelt before God and had an Acts 2:4 experience. The Holy Spirit came, and I spoke with new tongues as did the company in the upper room. That put my experience outside the range of argument but inside the record of God’s holy Word. God gave me the Holy Spirit as he did to them at the beginning. I want harmony, unity and oneness, but I want them in God’s way. In the Acts of the Apostles speaking with new tongues was the sign of the infilling and outflowing of the Holy Spirit, and I do not believe that God has changed his method.”In 1908 the fire fell in the Westport Hall, Kilsyth, and it is said concerning that, that on the first night about twenty people were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with tongues. Soon others were prostrated under the power of God. One night, hearing vehement cries of praise from within the hall, outsiders began to gather round. A sympathetic policeman whose wife and daughter had received the blessing and were inside was guarding the door. At last he cried, “Lads, I can stand it no longer!” and flinging open the door he put down his helmet and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit there and then, speaking with tongues. Soon crowds flocked to the hall, and those who could not gain entrance climbed up to the windows. One practical outcome of this revival was a spate of folk who had received the blessing, making restitution for past offences. One butcher was heard to remark, “Westport Hall is doing a good work. I got seven shillings today which has been standing fifteen years.” The work at Kilsyth still flourishes as an independent church, having strong links with Assemblies of God.
Alexander Boddy, as editor of Confidence magazine, in its first issue in April 1908, mentions that there were then Pentecostal meetings at Lytham, Bradford (where Smith Wigglesworth was), London, Cudworth (near Barnsley), Carlisle and in Southsea. There were testimonies in the magazine from people in South Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. By July 1908 there were two fellowships in Ireland, three in Wales, eleven in Scotland, three in London and fifteen in the rest of England. The movement was beginning to grow.
Concerning the fellowship of Assemblies of God, the man who really brought it to birth was John Nelson Parr who in 1908 began to attend a Friday prayer meeting for revival in the home of a Mr. Dan Parsley. Hearing of the Pentecostal outpouring the fellowship sent Mr. Parr to Sunderland to find out what was happening. He returned to them saying: “This revival is from God.” And on December 25, 1910, John Nelson Parr got the best Christmas present ever: he was filled with the Holy Ghost. In 1917 he was invited to the pastorate of a Pentecostal meeting in Manchester. It is well known what a great man he became, what a great job he did for God in Manchester.
 According to John Nelson Parr’s autobiography Incredible, chapter 4, it was Dan Parsley whom the fellowship sent.We decided to send Brother Dan Parsley to this convention and bring back a report. He came back and told us it was just like the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus was gloriously magnified, many were speaking in other tongues, many miracles of healing were seen in the name of Jesus and he definitely said “this revival is from God”.
The war years were very difficult for the infant Pentecostal movement because many of the leaders decided to be conscientious objectors and were either put in prison or sent into the country to work on the farms.
Brother Boddy got more and more immersed in what was happening in the war and less and less involved in what was happening in the Pentecostal movement.
But after those difficult war years there was an emergence of leadership and personalities. By then there was Thomas Myerscough who was working for God in Preston; there were Donald Gee and Leslie Woodford who were connected with the work in London; W. T. Greenstreet was in Plumstead; E. W. Moser was in Southsea; Mrs. Cantell was leading a meeting in Highbury New Park; Howard and John Carter, who had commenced working together in Birmingham, were also soon to come together in London; Charles Buckley was labouring in Chesterfield; Charles Flower in Derby; Wilfred Richardson was in Wakefield; William Armstrong was in Bristol; and others were in South Wales: men whom God was going to use to bring into being the fellowship of Assemblies of God.
The Rev. Alexander Boddy and Mr. Polhill were resolutely determined to remain in the Anglican communion, and wanted others to stay with them. That was leaving the Pentecostal groups without overall direction. By now it had been made clear that they were not welcome within the denominations, and so they were having to meet together separately.
In 1924 John Nelson Parr was instrumental in God’s hands in bringing to birth the fellowship of Assemblies of God. It happened in this way: a visiting preacher from South Africa, Archibald Cooper, had visited a number of independent churches up and down the country, and had sounded the leaders out on the subject of a united fellowship. His report to Mr. Parr was favourable and resulted in a first circular letter being sent to a few of these leaders on 22 November 1923. This was followed by a further circular letter written by Mr. Parr, and signed by E. W. Moser, J. Douglas, Thomas Myerscough, Tom Mercy, Donald Gee, Howard Carter, Charles Buckley, Mr. Blackman, Fred Watson, Albert Watkinson, Arthur Inman and Harold Webster. This invited leaders of independent works to establish a fellowship. The reasons for such a step were fivefold:
“1. To preserve the testimony of the Full Gospel including the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with signs following and to save the work from false teaching.” (They wanted to band together to protect the testimony.)These leaders realised that there could be “union without legislative authority, without centralisation, without interference in local church government from any council or committee that the assemblies may see fit to appoint for advisory or executive purposes.” It was suggested that December 1923 should be set aside by all the assemblies for special prayer and fasting. And the very first meeting of Assemblies of God was held on 1 February 1924 in a small upper room over a garage, at 12 and 14 Whitehead Road, Aston, Birmingham, owned by Mr. H. Rowe and furnished for Pentecostal meetings.
In his report of the meeting Mr. Parr wrote, “It is with joy that we acknowledge the wonderful blessing of God upon our first meeting.” As a result of that meeting there were 26 Assemblies which came into fellowship, in addition to 34 Welsh Assemblies which now joined. The Welsh Assemblies had been a little quicker at banding themselves together, and they had become the South Wales District Council of the Assemblies of God, USA(!). So the South Wales Council of the Assemblies of God USA, Springfield, Missouri, became part of Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Ireland.
The first conference of Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Ireland was held at 73 Highbury New Park, London, on May 8 and 9, 1924, attended by about 80 people. There were 38 Assemblies in England and 36 in South Wales which were recognised in fellowship.
It must be stressed that this movement which began then, was born out of the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, out of the Acts 2:4 experience that these dear people had received and wanted to hold on to.
In contrast to those early beginnings, in 1983 there are 584 Assemblies affiliated to Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Ireland, not including pioneer works; there are 675 members of the General Council on the Ministerial List; and some 6500 attended the 60th General Conference at Minehead.
The principles of the founding fathers remain to this day.
Unfortunately, 1924, which saw the birth of the fellowship of Assemblies of God, also saw the separation of two main groups in this country. By 1924 the evangelistic efforts of George Jeffreys and those who had banded round him, had resulted in the formation of the Elim Alliance (now known as the Elim Pentecostal Church). The work was first centred in Northern Ireland, but now had in addition about 14 meetings in England and Wales. When George Jeffreys heard of the conference meetings he expressed interest, and thus by invitation George Jeffreys, E. J. Phillips, E. C. Boulton and William Henderson attended the conference on the second day, representing the Elim churches, to discuss a possible merger. There was some suggestion that the Elim evangelistic band directed by George Jeffreys might become the evangelistic section of Assemblies of God. But difficulties arose due to the fact that the Elim work was by this time well established whereas Assemblies of God was only in the process of formation. The Elim movement already owned properties; Assemblies of God was committed to the principle of local autonomy. So the two churches, while remaining close together in principle, went their separate ways and developed side by side in this country, whereas in most other countries the Pentecostal testimony has stayed within one group.
John Nelson Parr was the first editor of Redemption Tidings, the official magazine of Assemblies of God. In the first issue, which appeared in July 1924, he wrote in the Editorial:
“About 1907 the Holy Spirit commenced to fall upon believers throughout this country. Those who were filled with the Holy Spirit commenced to speak with tongues as He gave them utterance. During the intervening years thousands have been able to say, ‘God has put no difference between us and them at the beginning, having also baptised us in the Holy Spirit.’ Meetings have sprung up in villages, towns and cities, and these meetings do not recognise denominational bounds or other sectarian limitations, but being separated from all carnal pleasures and influences seek to worship the Lord in simplicity and apostolic primitiveness by gathering round what they term as ‘The Lord’s Table’. They refuse all ordination as being of human origin, but recognise the gifts which the great Ordainer Jesus Christ has given to the church (Ephesians 4:10–13). Their workers, pastors, evangelists and teachers accept no salary but are supported by the freewill offerings of the redeemed people of God. They have recognised themselves now as the Assemblies of God, because this appears to be the designation given by the Spirit of God to similar gatherings in the days of the early church. See 1 Cor. 11:16, 1 Thess. 1:14, 1 Cor. 1:1. The word itself, i.e. ‘ekklesia’ means both ‘church’ and ‘assembly’, but literally it means ‘that which is called out’. There is undoubtedly divine wisdom in the choice of this word, which is not so much as a name as a designation of those who constitute the assemblies. Our message will be: ‘Redemption through the blood of Christ, full and complete, of spirit, soul and body.’ What a glorious theme! It takes us back to the time when the Word was with God, and in the foreknowledge of God the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. Let the echo of that song which John heard sound again! Let heavenly harps ring out their charming melody! ‘Thou art worthy to take the book and open the seals thereof, for thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation, and hast made us unto our God a kingdom of priests, and we shall reign on the earth.’”So wrote John Nelson Parr in the first editorial of Redemption Tidings. Thank God for men like that, the founding fathers of the Pentecostal movement, who were prepared to put up with ridicule, prepared to be thrown out of their traditional denominations for the sake of the testimony they bore, for the sake of the experience that they enjoyed. They were prepared to stand, they were prepared to band together and see the Pentecostal testimony expand throughout the world. We owe so much to them, who laid down the principles — but throughout the years, in God, we have had men and women who have been prepared to stick to those principles. And now, I suppose, the first generation of Pentecostals has gone on; there are a few of the second generation still with us, and we thank God for them; I suppose I represent the third generation of Pentecostals — and some of you dear young folk are the fourth generation of Pentecostals. The same zeal and the same fervour and the same baptism in the Holy Spirit, the same speaking in other tongues, the same witness of the Spirit of God, is here today — the dynamic of the Holy Spirit, the dynamic of the fellowship of Assemblies of God, the Holy Spirit’s baptism and outpouring, and His work in His church which holds us together as a fellowship as much as the doctrine.
“This is that—” Peter said on that day. “This is that” that the leaders of the movement received in the early days of this century. Thank God for men and women who were prepared to seek God for revival.
If we could only catch that same zeal that they caught, of spending time in intercession for revival, then revival would come to our land.
It is happening all over the world; it will happen here. Again the Lord will open those windows of heaven, and pour out such a blessing that there will not be room to contain it.
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