Pentecostals generally trace their heritage to CHARLES PARHAM'S Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, where Agnes Ozman began to speak in "tongues" in 1901 when hands were laid on her.
It was claimed (though not credibly confirmed) that Ozman spoke in Chinese for three days, unable to speak English, and on the second day she spoke in Bohemian. Soon, most of the others at the school were speaking and singing "in tongues."
Parham claimed that language professors and other linguistically educated people confirmed that the tongues were languages, but this was not confirmed outside of the movement. Newspaper reporters of the day described the phenomenon merely as "gibberish." In 1914, Charles Shumway diligently sought evidence to prove that early Pentecostal tongues were real languages. He failed to find even one person to corroborate the claims which had been made (James Goff, Jr., Fields White Unto Harvest, Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1988, p. 76). "In his 1919 Ph.D. dissertation, Shumway censured the local Houston Chronicle for credulous reporting and stated that 'letters are on hand from several men who were government interpreters in or near Houston at the time [when Parham conducted a Bible school there], and they are unanimous in denying all knowledge of the alleged facts'" (Goff, p. 98). Parham's Bible school students jotted down strange writings which they claimed were the product of the gift of tongues. They claimed these writings were foreign languages, such as Chinese, but when they were examined by knowledgeable people, they were found to be mere indecipherable scratchings (Goff, p. 76). The press called these writings "quaint and indistinguishable hieroglyphics" (Ibid., p. 80).
Parham was so enthused that he said missionaries would go to the ends of the earth and would not have to learn the languages. In fact, most of the early Pentecostals believed this. It didn't work that way, though. When A.G. Garr traveled to India and attempted to speak to the people in supernatural tongues, he quickly found that he could not communicate.
As we saw at the beginning of this report, Parham, the founder of Pentecostalism, was riddled with doctrinal heresies. He believed in annihilation of the unsaved and denied the Bible doctrine of eternal torment. He believed in the unscriptural doctrine of anglo-Israelism. He taught that there were two separate creations, and that Adam and Eve were of a different race than people who allegedly lived outside of the Garden of Eden. The first race of men did not have souls, he claimed, and this race of unsouled people was destroyed in the flood. Parham believed that those who received the latter days spirit baptism and spoke in tongues would make up the bride of Christ and would have a special place of authority at Christ's return. He believed in a partial rapture composed of tongues speakers.
Parham believed that physical healing is the Christian's birthright. A recent issue of Christian History magazine (Issue 58, Vol. XVII, No. 2, 1998) contains a photo of Parham and seven of his followers standing on the steps of the Carthage, Missouri, courthouse. The year was 1906. Parham is holding a flagpole with banners reading "Apostolic Unity." The others are holding banners reading "Truth, Faith, Life, Victory, HEALTH." They were making a statement of their doctrinal position that health is a guaranteed part of the apostolic Christian life.
In spite of his teaching that it was always God's will to heal and that medicine and doctors must be shunned, one of Parham's sons died at age 16 of a sickness which was not healed. His other son died at age 37. Most of those who attended Parham's meetings were not healed. In October 1904 a nine-year-old girl named Nettie Smith died. Her father was an avid follower of Parham and refused medical treatment for his daughter. Nettie's death turned local public opinion against Parham because the little girl's sickness was treatable and the community therefore considered her death unnecessary. Parham himself suffered various sicknesses throughout his life and at times was too sick to preach or travel. For example, he spent the entire winter of 1904-05 sick and bedridden (James Goff Jr., Fields White Unto Harvest, p. 94), in spite of his own preaching that healing is guaranteed in the atonement. Parham was the first Pentecostal preacher to pray over handkerchiefs and mail them to those who desired his ministrations (Goff, p. 104).
In 1908 Parham raised funds to travel to the Holy Land on an archaeological expedition to search for the lost ark of the covenant. He claimed to the press that he had information about its location and that his finding the ark would fit into the end times biblical scheme. By December he announced that he had sufficient funds and he traveled to New York allegedly to begin his journey to Jerusalem. He never purchased a ticket to the Middle East and returned home dejectedly in January, claiming he was robbed after arriving in New York.
Parham attempted to influence or possibly even take over the strange ministry of Alexander Dowie, the man the Dictionary of Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements calls the father of modern healing evangelism, at his Zion City north of Chicago. Dowie had proclaimed himself Elijah the Restorer and the first apostle of the end times church.
In most Pentecostal histories Parham is listed as one of the chief founding fathers of Pentecostalism.