“In the Church-world, just before the turn of the century, minister and layman alike were impressed that the dawning of the new century  would be accompanied by something significant. The prevalence of this feeling among the churches had been picked up, and publicized by the press.” – From ‘The Winds of God’ by Ethel E. Goss
Dispensationalism had caught on in mainline evangelical Christianity in the latter half of the 1800s through the endorsement of the ministry of evangelist D.L. Moody (whose influence on evangelical Christianity world-wide was far in excess of the influence that Billy Graham would later have on the same demographic in the mid to late 1900s). C.I. Scofield’s bible commentary had become widely circulated and trusted throughout mainline evangelical denominations.
Not only had Scofield’s dispensationalism become the accepted base-line theology of ‘non-denominational’ and interdenominational evangelical Christianity, but it was also accepted by American cult-founders. The turn of the century became the focal point of some of the earliest rapture predictions.
American Evangelical dispensationalism combined with heavy emphasis on the turn of the century as some great spiritual event created an immense anticipation for the rapture to occur.
Interestingly, the rapture fixation, and millennialism seems to have also coincided with the outset of the first Pentecostal revivals. The quotation above, as referenced is from the book ‘The Winds of God,’ which book chronicles the early Pentecostal experiences of Howard A. Goss, who was affiliated with Charles Parham, and his evangelistic meetings shortly after the historic occurrence of the ‘American Pentecost’ in Kansas at a building called ‘Stone’s Folly’ (which may possibly have prophetic meaning that has not occurred to us).
It is interesting to note that, according to the authors of this book which is about early Pentecostalism, that the outpouring was largely attributed to a general millennialist expectation. Now, let me make the caveat here that I consider myself to be Pentecostal, and am in no-wise disparaging the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, nor am I belittling these early believers who began to experience it, rather, I am pointing out a dynamic that took place as a catalyst for the Pentecostal movement.
While the whole of American Evangelicalism had very recently accepted the theology of dispensationalism, and the rapture, it caused Christians by and large to be in a state of EXPECTATION when the turn of the century arrived.
While many Christians were anticipating the rapture, itself, many more prudent Christians understood that the rapture would probably not occur at the turn of the century, because there was a general anticipation of it, and the Lord had declared that of that day and hour no man knows. Nevertheless these were taken with a sense of general anticipation about the millennium. I notice that the book I quoted does not include a reference to indicate that the Christians, generally, were anticipating the rapture specifically. Now perhaps this point was omitted by the author because they believed those of the Pentecostal move were prudent enough to not have been caught up on rapture predictions (I lived through the Y2K, and notice that none of the people who were adamantly convinced there would be a global computer catastrophe are willing to talk about that today).
One thing did happen – I believe – as a legitimate result of the expectation, and that was: quite specifically the Pentecostal revivals.
Was the Lord going to do something sovereignly in the earth because it was 1900? No; I don’t think God is really concerned with the changing of our calendar date to an even number. But through the centuries there has very frequently been a significant emphasis placed on the change of the century.
What do I think caused the Pentecostal revivals to take place then? The EXPECTATION OF GOD TO DO SOMETHING. People had developed (based on wrong theology) an EXPECTATION of a move of God. Their perspective wasn’t accurate, but it led them to have FAITH. They believed that God would do something BIG because it was 1900, therefore, they sought the Lord, sought to be in cooperation with Him in His next big move.
Due to the fact that dispensationalism had already become widely accepted in Evangelical Christianity, it became quite literally a founding tenant of the Pentecostal movement. Their expectation NOW was that this outpouring of the Holy Spirit as in the book of Acts was a sign of the last days: that Jesus’ coming was just around the corner. He was pouring out His Spirit as He had done at the first to make the church ready for His soon return.
Wow… you know, that isn’t all wrong. But it is mistaken in a few points… well, all the points under which it is based on dispensationalism. Jesus never stopped pouring out His Spirit – according to the Apostle Peter, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was indeed for the last days… which started when Jesus ascended, and ends when He returns. For the whole of the church age:
38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was never supposed to end. It is part of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ’s blood.
What had happened in ecclesiastical history is that the DOCTRINE of the baptism of the Holy Spirit had been lost. People didn’t believe it because the clergy didn’t teach it, so they didn’t obtain it. It is very much like the original Lutheran Reformation: the doctrine of salvation through faith alone had been lost in the church, the clergy (generally) didn’t teach it (some did, yes, some even among the Roman Catholics did); by-and-large the doctrine wasn’t taught in most places; that doesn’t mean that Christ stopped saving them that believed, it just meant that someone needed to come along and start teaching salvation through faith in Christ.
Likewise it was with the Pentecostal revivals; the early Pentecostals were pioneers, like Martin Luther, who discovered a doctrine that has been for the church since Christ ascended… but no one they knew had ever experienced the Holy Ghost Baptism, so they thought that it was a ‘latter rain’ experience: i.e. they taught that the Holy Ghost was only just now being poured out again because of the soon-return – whereas the Holy Ghost had never ceased to be poured out, they just hadn’t experienced it.
Here’s a good historic example: in England in the 1600s, when Christians began to be able to read the bible in their own language, did you know that many Christians began to experience the Baptism of the Holy Ghost then? People prophesied, healed the sick, cast out demons, spoke in tongues, all that stuff started happening because people learn from the scriptures themselves. Loads of them got arrested, tortured and killed for being ‘independent’ Christians, not in submission to the Church of England. If you want to know about early Pentecostals of the reformation, study some Quaker history.
That also doesn’t take into account those who believed, taught, and experienced the Holy Spirit outpouring during the revivals of the Great Awakenings. It was testified of Charles S. Price (a Pentecostal evangelist of the 1920s) that those who had experienced revivals of the 1800s could only compare the Pentecostal power of Price’s meetings with the revivals of Charles Finney (a revivalist of the 1800s who claimed, and taught the Baptism of the Holy Spirit). (That’s not to mention that there were many reports of people speaking in tongues during some of the D.L. Moody meetings.)
The fact that the early Pentecostal movement rode on the heels of an error (dispensationalism) doesn’t mean that they had not made a legitimate discovery: the doctrine of the Holy Spirit baptism. But neither does it justify their erroneous theology, rather, they took their dispensationalist, millennialist view, and turned it into faith for revival. And faith… well now, that’s something God can work with.
I’m also convinced that the reason that speaking in tongues became the key sign of the Pentecostal movement was because they taught that everyone who was baptized in the Holy Ghost would speak in tongues. There is no plain-statement scripture declaring that to be the case, however, in fact Paul asked the rhetorical question (speaking to believers who were baptized in the Holy Ghost): ‘Do all speak with tongues?’ (1 Cor 12:30) Clearly in context, Paul was implying that, no, not everyone has the gift of tongues, however, the early Pentecostals taught (erroneously) that everyone did, so they all had faith for speaking in tongues.
We live in the age of the New Covenant, the era in which all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. The dispensation of our era is the full-Gospel, and it will not change until the resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgment. This is the Pentecostal age, and it has been from the initial outpouring on the day of Pentecost.
We should be able to learn, however, that we can come together with corporate faith for revival, and see a mighty move of God as the early Pentecostals did. Would that we learned their faith!