By Ralph Hood, W. Paul Williamson
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Extra resources for Them That Believe: The Power and Meaning of the Christian Serpent-Handling Tradition
It simply attempts to place them in proper historical context by clarifying how they were understood by those who experienced them at that time rather than glossing 30 History of Pentecostalism them as reinterpretations of those events decades later (Conn, 1996; Bowdle, 1999; Stone, 1977; Davidson, 1973; Book of minutes, 1922). The evidence is clear, however, that after Tomlinson’s 1908 experience the Church of God became more markedly Pentecostal in nature and, from that time, widely preached and defended the Pentecostal doctrine of Holy Ghost baptism signified solely by glossolalia.
A number were sanctified and some baptized with the Holy Ghost. (Cotton, 1910, p. 7) Such reported manifestations of the Holy Ghost as these—speaking in tongues, healing the sick, casting out of devils—were important for much of the success enjoyed by the Church of God in the early twentieth century (Crews, 1990). However, when one begins to link speaking in tongues, laying hands on the sick, and casting out devils, it is not far from the foundational passage most linked to the justification of serpent handling.
As Creech (1996) has noted, Pentecostalism bifurcated into subcultures: a more conservative one in the Midwest and Southwest, which distanced itself from Azusa Street; and a less conservative one in the Southeast, which acknowledged its ties to Azusa Street. The phenomenon of Azusa Street was characterized by egalitarianism and ethical restoration; discrimination in regard to education, race, social status, and gender was erased in a worship context given to spontaneity and ecstasy. According to Creech, the western, more conservative arm of the movement, led initially by Parham, was primarily concerned with forging the order of a new Pentecostal denomination that would eventually resurrect the pre–Azusa Street issues of education, race, and social sta- History of Pentecostalism 23 tus—all of which would seemingly lead to the loss of much of the spontaneity and ecstasy in worship.