Many of the things people believe about the “Generals” of the Pentecostal movement are based on unsubstantiated stories that have been circulating for a long time.
In many cases, these stories are autobiographical. In other words, these prominent Pentecostals told stories about themselves and now those stories are assumed to be true, regardless of historical facts.
To add the appearance of validity, a handful of Pentecostal publishing companies have printed millions of books repeating these unsubstantiated stories. Once it’s in a book it must be true, right?
These are all people who lived in the recent past and we’ve got detailed information to prove their stories are true, or utterly false.
Here are some good summary articles of Pentecostal history:
The Foundation and History of the Pentecostal Movement (12 page history)
(Note that all of the “Names (dates)”are links to Wikipedia articles)
Edward Irving (1792-1834)
Edward Irving was a precursor to the Pentecostal movement that came roughly 70 years after his own early death. He was a true “megachurch” pastor in London in the early 1800s, but his time of ministry ended in disgrace.
He was convinced that they were living in the last generation before the return of Christ.
He expected new Apostles and speaking in tongues to return as a result of his extreme end-times beliefs.
He permitted and encouraged chaotic “tongues” and “prophecies” to interrupt services in his Presbyterian church, which he was eventually removed from after being charged with teaching heresy.
Irving believed that Jesus had a sinful human nature and that the Holy Spirit kept Jesus from sinning, which he connected to the idea that we, too, could live sinless lives on this earth if we utilized the power of the Holy Spirit enough.
Edward Irving died of tuberculosis at the age of 42. He believed that God was going to miraculously heal him and restore him to his church up until the end.
John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907)
Although Dowie is considered a great miracle-worker, an actual study of history shows him to be a scandalous fraud and cult-leader. The amount of damage he caused is immeasurable, both in his own day and among the many people who took his terrible theology and practices around the world. The standard Pentecostal narrative claims he was mighty man of God who somehow “lost his way” late in his life, but the truth is much darker than that.
Dowie created a luxurious life for himself by collecting tithes from as many people as possible. He prayed to heal people who paid him a fee (“tithe”) and usually refused to offer his services for free.
Dowie invented the thoroughly manipulative system of “faith-healing” that exists to this day.
Dowie used people as “plants” in his audience who pretended to be healed; he had his own entourage of schemers who attended his meetings.
Dowie strategically used crutches and wheelchairs on stage to fake his non-existent healings. This concept was utilized by John G. Lake and countless others ever since.
Dowie had a following of approximately 6,000 people in 1900, and he secretly bought a large amount of real estate with his profits (“tithes”). He announced the founding of the city of Zion City, 40 miles from Chicago where he personally owned everything and would make a huge profit from all properties-he even owned the phony “bank” that everyone was required to deposit their money into.
Dowie established a theocratic political and economic structure and prohibited smoking, drinking, eating pork, and the practice of any form of modern medicine.
Dowie also established a range of businesses, healing homes, and a large Tabernacle. Followers from across the world descended on Zion. Zion has been characterized as “a carefully-devised large-scale platform for securities fraud requiring significant organizational, legal, and propagandistic preparation to carry out.”
Dowie claimed that he was Elijah “the Restorer” (referring to Malachi 4:1) and even wore an elaborate costume to validate his “true identity…”
Dowie became a huge topic of controversy in newspapers all over America in the early 1900s. His egomaniacal proclamations, and cult-leader status made headlines for thousands of articles for a period of years, ending around 1905 when he suffered a stroke and was removed from power in Zion, as his his dubious and fraudulent activity finally caught up with him.
Dowie died in 1907 at the age of 59.
From the rubble of Dowie’s Zion City utopia came leaders who copied many of Dowie’s ideas: John G. Lake, F.F. Bosworth, Gordon Lindsey, and Charles Fox Parham (amongst others).
John Alexander Dowie and the Invention of Modern Faith Healing, 1882-89 (Academic paper from historian Barry Morton)
The Big Con: John Alexander Dowie and the Spread of Zionist Christianity in Southern Africa (Academic paper from historian Barry Morton)
John Alexander Dowie (Great informational page from researcher and author John Andrew Collins)
Frank W. Sanford (1862-1948)
Frank Sanford was a true cult-leader who built his own “end-times” commune in Maine, where he demanded total submission from his followers.
He was greatly influenced by John Alexander Dowie, and like Dowie, he believed he was Elijah.
Sanford believed he was living in the last generation before the return of Christ and that God had ordained him as a specially anointed leader for the entire world.
“Shiloh” was, for a time, a fast-growing movement that tragically lead to the death and sickness of men, woman, and children.
Sanford served jail time for manslaughter due to the deaths that occurred as a result of his horrible leadership.
Charles F. Parham was inspired by Sanford’s vision for “true Christianity” and was a guest teacher at Shiloh in the summer of 1900.
Parham took Sanford’s ideas with him to Topeka, Kansas that autumn where he founded his tiny group of followers who initiated the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues.
Frank Sanford Information Page (from Researcher & Author, John Andrew Collins)
Fair, Clear, and Terrible: the Story of Shiloh Maine (Book written by Shirley Nelson, whose parents and grandparents were part of the Shiloh cult)
Charles Fox Parham (1873-1929)
Parham is the father of Pentecostalism. His actual life story, however, is filled with scandals, false prophecies, and even overt racism.
Parham believed that they were living in the last generation before the return of Christ
Parham expected new Apostles and speaking in tongues to return as a result of his extreme end-times beliefs.
Parham did not believe in the very common unintelligible tongues of today-he believed that tongues would be supernaturally speaking a foreign language for the purpose of spreading Christianity.
Parham raised money and sent his tongues-speaking students to China where they discovered that they were not speaking Chinese (or any other known language).
Here’s the plaque commemorating Parham at the Assemblies of God museum of Pentecostal history:
Were Tongues Real Languages? (very interesting article with information about Parham and his followers)
Charles Fox Parham Information Page (from Researcher & Author, John Andrew Collins)
John G. Lake (1870-1935)
Lake is referred to as a role model for his healing ministry, but this is all based on unsubstantiated stories from Lake and his promoters. In reality, John G. Lake was a con man and relentless self-promoter who hurt countless people with his fraudulent activity.
Perhaps more than any other person in this article, John G. Lake’s ideas laid the foundation for today’s Word of Faith and New Apostolic Reformation movements.
John G. Lake got his start under John Alexander Dowie. In 1898 Lake opened a small chapter of Dowie’s Christian Catholic Church in Sault Ste Marie and held meetings in the attic of his parents’ home. In 1901 he relocated his family to Zion, Illinois, where he worked in the theocratic town’s construction department. When Dowie was removed from power in 1905 there was a struggle for power that lead to the burgeoning careers of John G. Lake, F.F. Bosworth, and others. In 1907 Charles Fox Parham came to Zion City and tried to gain leadership of the confused community by having a tent revival; at one of those meetings John G. Lake converted to a tongue-speaking Pentecost faith that would characterize his life from that point forward. The followers of Parham in Zion City became notorious for killing people in the name of exorcizing demons.
Read the following quotes and notice how Lake’s ideas sound almost exactly like Bill Johnson, Kenneth Copeland and Todd White:
John G. Lake made the claim that he was a very wealthy businessman and member of the Chicago Board of Trade, but there are records of who was on the Chicago Board of Trade and Lake is not listed.
John G. Lake’s Formative Years 1870-1908; The Making of a Con Man (Academic paper from historian Barry Morton)
Yes, John G. Lake was a con man (Academic paper from historian Barry Morten)
‘The Devil Who Heals’: Fraud and Falsification in the Evangelical Career of John G Lake, Missionary to South Africa 1908–1913 (Academic paper from historian Barry Morton)
The Revival Of John G. Lake’s Ministry (Research paper/PDF from Christian Research Ministries Newsletter in Spokane Washington)
William M. Branham (1909-1965)
Branham is such a profound and influential false teacher that two entire websites are devoted to exposing his errors: William-Branham.org and BelieveTheSign.com. These websites feature extensive and exhaustive research, done by former members of the Branham cult.
William Branham was not a great man of God. Branham was so detached from Biblical Christianity that even Word of Faith founder Kenneth Hagin called him a false teacher and predicted he would die two years before it happened from a car accident in 1965. Although he died on Dec. 24, 1965, Branham’s followers refused to bury his body since they believed he would rise from the dead. They finally gave up and buried him on April 11th of the next year.
Branham didn’t believe in the Trinity.
Branham believed he was the end-time “Elijah.”
Branham taught that Eve and the serpent had sexual intercourse and Cain was born as a result, and that consequently every woman potentially carried the literal seed of the devil, so he always believed women to be inferior and untrustworthy.
Branham was a pathological liar who told many variations of stories for decades with conflicting details. Branham’s lies are recorded on tape.
Many of the most prominent New Apostolic Reformation leaders refer to William Branham as a great man of god who should be emulated:
William Branham was a professional story-teller (also known as a pathological liar) and he claimed to be a former Baptist who eventually embraced Pentecostalism; except that his “Baptist” church was actually a “Baptist-Pentecostal” church.
Today’s New Apostolic Reformation leaders all spread the same falsehoods and wild exaggerations that Branham started:
Here’s a big article that proves that William Branham preached to Pentecostals and his own church was called “Pentecostal Tabernacle” or the “Branham Tabernacle” right from the beginning: Preaching at Pentecostal Churches.
Here’s a big article that shows how Branham had an almost infinite number of contradictory stories about his father dying: Charles Branham’s death.
Branham was the most prominent leader associated with the “New Order of the Latter Rain” movement, but he should be more accurately known as a member of the Healing Revival that took place from 1947 to 1958. The Latter Rain movement was declared unbiblical by the Assemblies of God in 1949, but those bad ideas have re-emerged today as the New Apostolic Reformation. Here is the Assemblies of God Resolution No. 7 from 1949:
William Branham Information Page (from Researcher & Author John Collins)