BETHEL BIBLE COLLEGE
BETHEL BIBLE COLLEGE TIMELINE
1873 (June 4): Charles Fox Parham was born in Muscatine, Iowa.
1888: Parham began teaching Sunday school and holding revival meetings.
1890: Parham entered a Methodist school, Southwestern College, in Winfield, Kansas.
1893: Parham began actively preaching as a supply pastor for the Methodist Churches in Eudora,
Kansas and in Linwood, Kansas.
1895: Parham surrendered his local preacher’s license and walked away from the Methodist Church.
1898 (Autumn): Parham opened Bethel Healing Home at the corner of Fourth and Jackson Streets in Topeka, Kansas.
1899 (March 22): Charles Parham and James Staples published the first issue of a weekly paper entitled The Apostolic Faith .
1900 (summer): Parham took a six-week sabbatical to attend “Shiloh,” a Bible and Ministry training school in Durham, Maine.
1900 (October 15): Parham opened the College of Bethel (which later became Bethel Bible College).
1901 (January 1): Agnes Ozman was the first of many at Bethel Bible College to receive a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit and to speak in tongues.
1901 (July 20): Bethel Bible College lost the lease on its building after it was sold to a new owner who opened it as a roadhouse.
1901 (December 6): Former building of Bethel Bible College was destroyed by fire.
1902 (January): Parham wrote his first book which had a Hebrew title, Kol Kare Bomidbar, meaning “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness.”
1905: Parham opened a ten-week Bible School at the corner of Rusk and Brazos Streets in Houston, Texas and allowed a young black man, William Joseph Seymour, to become a student of the Bible School.
1906 (February): William J. Seymour left Houston to accept a position as a holiness minister in Los Angeles, California.
1906 (April 14): William J. Seymour opened the Azusa Street Mission (Apostolic Faith Mission) in Los Angeles, California.
Charles Fox Parham was born on June 4, 1873 to William M. and Ann Maria Eckel Parham in Muscatine, Iowa. By the time William and Ann’s third son, Charles, was born, William was a horse collar maker and painter by trade. Five years later the family moved from Muscatine County, Iowa to Sedgwick County, Kansas, enabling William to join in the agricultural wheat boom of the area.
The people who lived in rural America experienced years of economic and social depression followed by years of prosperity, which created an atmosphere of uncertainty. Religion offered both hope for a better future and a path to cope with the unstable conditions. Churches were few and far between, but in some areas there were traveling preachers who would visit different areas, though infrequently due to the distances involved. The Parham family brought very few books with them when they relocated to Kansas . Among them were a couple of history books, a few old school books, a dictionary and a Bible.
Within the first decade of his life, Parham suffered many childhood illnesses, including encephalitis, stomach problems, colds and/or flu, possible migraines and a very painful bout of rheumatic fever. By the age of ten Parham was “so emaciated that he could count the bones in his hand by holding it up to the light” (Goff 1988:23). Unable to participate in normal chores expected of a child on the farm, he spent a lot of time with his mother. Parham had felt a call to the ministry from the age of nine, and the Bible became his closest companion. There were times that he would go out into the fields and gather cows around him and give them passionate sermons on the realities of the future (Parham 1902:8).
When his mother, Ann Parham, died during childbirth, he was only twelve years-old, yet he made a promise that he would see her again in heaven. One year later, in 1886, he began attending evening scripture meetings, which he thoroughly enjoyed though he still had not made the decision to become a Christian. The meetings were led by a Brother Lippard of the Congregational Church House. One night Brother Lippard threatened to cancel the meetings unless someone else volunteered to start the meeting. Parham stood at the beginning of the next meeting to volunteer, but he was counted as having converted. He did not correct the misunderstanding. Later on the road home, he felt a deep conviction about not being authentic about converting. He found it difficult to pray, and instead a Gospel hymn came to his mind, “I am Coming to the Cross.” With his face turned skyward he began the third verse and was instantly overcome as: “there flashed from the Heaven, a light above the brightness of the sun; like a stroke of lightning it penetrated, thrilling every tissue and fiber of my being; knowing by experimental knowledge what Peter knew of old, that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Parham 1902:11).
By the age of fifteen, Parham had begun teaching Sunday school and holding revival meetings. His messages were drawn from the many religious figures and events that had influenced him. These included Dwight L. Moody, who emphasized personal conversion and premillennialism, and the Keswick, England camp meetings. The camp meetings emphasized a special anointing through the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that would enrich their commitment to serve God in whatever ways He led them in Christian service. Parham also accepted the divine healing views of A.J. Gordon and A.B. Simpson (both believed in divine healing through the atoning death of Jesus Christ). However, it was Benjamin Hardin Irwin, a Wesleyan from Lincoln, Nebraska, who most influenced Parham with “Baptism with the Holy Ghost and fire” (Goff 1988:54). Believers who had this experience were often physically overcome with exuberant joy.
In 1890, Parham entered a Methodist school, Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, with the intention of pursuing an education for ministry. He struggled to stay focused on his college studies as he was more inclined to pursue religious work. He soon saw the consequences of his distraction, and, as his grades slipped, he began to question his life in ministry. This was also about the time the Panic of 1893 started. Railroads had been overbuilt and their tenuous finances created a widespread panic that caused many investors to sell their stocks as banks called railroad loans early and many banks failed. Parham began to worry about his financial future in ministry and thus began thinking about a more lucrative profession in medicine. He began to seek a medical degree, turning his back on the ministry.
Parham experienced another round of the rheumatic fever in the spring of 1891, and he suffered for many months despite strong drugs until one day he heard his physician predict that he would not recover this time. He was certain that God had brought back the rheumatic fever as a reminder to him of his promise to dedicate his life to ministry. Remembering the lessons about the healings in the New Testament, he prayed for healing. He recovered from the rheumatism (with the intervention of God, he was convinced) but his ankles were so damaged and weak that he ended up flopping his feet to the side as he walked painfully for months. Finally, in December, 1891, Parham recalled that he had promised God that he would dedicate his life to the ministry. He rededicated his life to ministry and promised God that he would quit college if God would heal his ankles. Strength instantly returned to his ankles, and they appeared to be completely healed. Parham left Southwestern College after three years with a renewed vigor to pursue a life in ministry.
Parham received a call from and was licensed by the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, in March, 1893. He began actively preaching in June of 1893, at the age of twenty, as a supply pastor for the Eudora Methodist Church. A supply pastor is a lay member who is called to perform all the duties of a minister but does not administer the sacraments. The church’s pastor, Werter Renick Davis, who had previously been the first president of Baker University , died suddenly in June of 1893. Parham was asked to continue serving as pastor for the Church for the rest of the year. In addition to his pastoral duties at the Eudora Church , he traveled to the Congregational Church in Linwood where he held revivals. On Sunday mornings he led services in Eudora and in the afternoon he led services in Linwood.
Parham was influenced by the Wesleyan Holiness movement, which taught that current believers could receive a second blessing of sanctification to remove the sin-nature that tempted them to commit sins. This sanctification was in addition to the first act of faith, accepting Jesus Christ as one’s Savior.
Parham gave up his local preacher’s license in March of 1895 and walked away from the Methodist Church after hearing that the new Conference members were not allowed to “preach by direct inspiration” (Goff 1988:36). Some of the subjects that Parham was preaching about were beginning to cause problems for the Methodist Church leaders. He advised people that church membership had nothing to do with salvation and so they should not be too concerned about whether or not to join a church. He believed in conversion and in the second blessing that removed sin-nature. He believed that water baptism was only a ritual but that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was essential.
Charles Parham married Sarah Thistlethwaite on December 31, 1896. Sarah was the daughter of a Quaker family he met in Tonganoxie , Kansas during his first year in the ministry. Her father was influential in teaching Parham about an evangelical view of hell that depicts the total annihilation of the wicked rather than the traditional doctrine of hell of being eternally separated from God.
In September of 1897 Parham developed heart disease, and his young son, Claude, became ill. Doctors prescribed medicines for the child, but nothing was effective. The scripture “Physician, heal thyself” came to mind; Parham prayed for a healing for himself and believed he was healed. He prayed for his son’s healing and discarded his son’s medicine. His son was also healed. Parham believed that his son’s healing was a result of his faith in and dependence on God. He was now convinced that diseases were of a spiritual nature and were caused by a lack of faith in God. Reliance on medical measures simply reinforced that lack of faith. About two months later, the death of a close friend left Parham feeling partly responsible as he had failed to pray for his healing. It was at this point that he dedicated his ministry to working for salvation from sin and sickness. This led him to begin a new ministry of divine healing in Ottawa, Kansas . It was not long before he received requests to come pray for people as far away as Topeka, a city of about thirty thousand. Parham saw the potential for growth of his ministry and moved his family to Topeka during the summer of 1898. He located a building to rent at the corner of Fourth and Jackson Streets, and a few months later Parham opened Bethel Healing Home.
Bethel Healing Home was a combination home and Bible School where the only textbook was the Bible. Parham led the classes in healing, prophecy and various other topics mainly focused on teaching those who were previously involved in religious work. The Healing Home also offered a temporary orphanage that helped to find Christian homes for the orphan children. An ad hoc employment bureau focused on connecting Christian employees with Christian employers. There were fourteen rooms on the second floor that served as living quarters for the Parham family and for the ill and disabled residents. Resident fees ranged from four to seven dollars per week depending on ability to pay; however, there were other options if a person or family was too poor to pay the fees.
In an attempt to help cover some of the costs of the Healing Home that were not covered by resident fees, Charles Parham and James A. Staples, a local publisher, began publishing a weekly paper entitled The Apostolic Faith . The first issue of the paper was released on March 22, 1899; it contained articles on the holiness movement and healing testimonies as well as religious advertisements. Two months later, Staples suggested changing the frequency to monthly publication, but Parham refused and Staples relinquished his share of the publication. Parham continued as editor and publisher, but by August he had reduced the subscription fee and began publishing the paper semimonthly. Many free issues were distributed, and it was noted that people as far away as New Orleans had subscribed to the publication. The Apostolic Faith became known as the first Pentecostal journal and was published between March 22, 1899 and April 15, 1900.
During the summer of 1900 Parham and about eight others from the Topeka mission attended a six-week session at “Shiloh,” a Bible and Missionary training school founded by Frank W. Sandford’s “Holy Ghost and Us” society in Durham, Maine. When the group returned to the Bethel Healing Home, they were denied access by the people that Parham had left in charge during his absence. Many people encouraged Parham to seek revenge on his former colleagues, but he refused and instead he prayed and looked for God’s provision to keep the ministry going.
A few months later someone affiliated with the American Bible Society of Philadelphia, who knew of Parham’s healing ministry,offered him the opportunity to rent an unfinished mansion in Topeka, often referred to as “Stone’s Folly,” which they had purchased from its previous owner, Erastus R. Stone. Parham agreed to rent the mansion from the Society. On October 15, 1900, he opened Bethel Bible College “with about three dozen persons, including “students” and their children in attendance. Most all of them were ministers or religious workers from Methodist, Baptist, Quaker and independent Holiness Churches and Missions and all were seeking a new experience of the Spirit for evangelistic work” (Anderson 1979:51).
Bethel Bible College held prayer meetings in the tower rooms, twenty-four hours a day, with students participating in three-hour shifts. The students canvassed houses during the day and then held worship services in the evenings in a downtown mission. Several of the rooms were set aside for healing and prayer, and fasting was encouraged. All material possessions and money were shared; everyone ate at a common table, performed chores, worked in the mission and studied with the goal of totally obeying the commandments of Jesus.
Prior to leaving for a three-day revival in Kansas City in late December, 1900, Parham instructed each member of the Bethel group to read the book of Acts and to study the subject of baptism looking for outward evidence of the true baptism. When he returned, he asked what the students had discovered. All of them reported that they believed that speaking in tongues was the evidence of the true baptism of the Holy Spirit. The group believed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit would prepare them with the languages needed for missionary work in all parts of the world.
Watch night services began on New Year’s Eve with prayer, fasting and welcoming of the expected imminent coming of the Holy Spirit. On the next day around 11:00 P.M., Agnes Ozman, at student at the college, had an intense desire to receive the Holy Spirit, and so she asked for prayer and the laying of hands upon her. She soon began glorifying God as she spoke in tongues which she believed sounded like various Chinese dialects. Those present believed that this phenomenon was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and was causing people to speak in other tongues in preparation for ministry in foreign lands.
Two days later, Parham held a meeting at the Free Methodist Church in Topeka, Kansas. He told the congregation about the recent events at Bethel Bible College and that he anticipated all of the students would be speaking in tongues as they were baptized with the Holy Spirit. When he returned from the meeting, he saw a white light glowing in the second floor room of the college as twelve ministers filled with the Holy Spirit were calmly speaking in other tongues. Parham knelt and prayed for the same blessing. He began to speak first in what he believed sounded like a version of the Swedish language and then later in other languages.
Parham’s March 22, 1899, issue of “the Apostolic Faith listed the Hliness beliefs of the Bethel Healing Home as “salvation by faith; healing by faith; laying on of hands, and prayer; sanctification by faith; coming (pre-millennium)[sic] of Christ; the baptism of the Holy Ghost and Fire, which seals the Bride and bestows the gifts” (Goff 1988:55). At Bethel Bible College, students followed the “teaching by the Holy Spirit directly through “prophecy,” and through “messages” in tongues and interpretation” (Anderson 1979:60).
Prayer meetings were held in the tower rooms, twenty-four hours a day, with the students participating in three hour shifts. They believed that speaking in tongues was the evidence of true baptism of the Holy Spirit. They desired and anticipated being recipients of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as had happened at Pentecost and had been written about in the book of Acts in the Bible. The students canvassed houses during the day and then held worship services in the evenings in a downtown mission. Several of the rooms were set aside for healing. Prayer and fasting were encouraged. All material possessions and money were shared; everyone ate at a common table, performed chores, and studied in the mission with the goal of totally obeying the commandments of Jesus. Late in Parham’s ministry of healing there was such a high demand for his prayers of healing that he prayed over handkerchiefs and sent them to the people who requested prayers of healing.
For weeks afterward, many newspaper reporters came to Topeka to report on the new Pentecost. Parham decided to travel the country spreading the message. He and seven workers traveled to Kansas City and received considerable publicity from the newspapers. Soon afterward, he led a group of twenty people to Lawrence to pray and talk with people and encourage them to attend the evening meetings, which were being held in an old theater. During the meetings, “some were saved, the sick were healed, and a number received the Holy Ghost and spoke in tongues” (Martin 1997:88).
Bethel Healing Home began as a combination home and Bible school. The textbook was the Bible and classes in healing, prophecy and other topics were taught by Parham to students who had previously been involved in religious work. A temporary orphanage helped to find Christian homes for orphan children. An ad hoc employment bureau focused on connecting Christian employees with Christian employers. There were fourteen rooms on the second floor which served as living quarters for the Parham family and for the ill and disabled residents.
Bethel Bible College operated on faith. Students had previously been active in different religious denominations, though most were from the Holiness movement. They shared a common bond of a desire for a meaningful experience of the Holy Spirit and looked forward to carrying that passion into their evangelistic work.
It is interesting to note that the building that housed the Bethel Healing Home was purchased in 2013 by Topeka Storm Ministries.That congregation began the process of having the building listed on the National Historic Register. Members have restored the chapel and regular worship services are being held on Sundays and Wednesdays under the name of Tree of Life Fellowship. There are plans to continue restoring the rest of the building to its original design. Healing rooms and a memorabilia room are expected to open as part of the continuing restoration.
ISSUES / CHALLENGES
Bethel Bible College lost the lease to the building when it expired on July 20, 1901 as the owners had sold the property to Harry Croft. The new owner converted the building into a roadhouse where liquor was unlawfully sold; the establishment was often raided by police. On December 6, 1901, the building was mysteriously destroyed by fire, leaving only the foundation and a few pieces of wood and trim. The property where Bethel Bible College was located later became the site for The Most Pure Heart of Mary Catholic Parish.
Parham, his wife, and her sister traveled to Kansas City to open another Bible school, which was located in a building at the corner of Eleventh and Oak Streets in downtown Kansas City. However, the family closed the school after only four months and moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where they lived for the next one and a half years. It was during this time that Parham wrote his first book, Kol Kare Bomidbar, Hebrew for “A Voice Crying in the Wilderness,” which he published in January, 1902. And so, “The physical structure most closely identified with the new Pentecostal movement had been destroyed. In its place a more enduring monument had been erected; Parham’s book marked the first published example of Pentecostal theology in history” (Goff 1988:86).
In the Autumn of 1902, he shifted his emphasis back to healing and held revivals in various parts of the local area until 1903 when they moved to the mining region of the tri-state district, located at the intersection of Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Parham held revival meetings twice a day in huge warehouses that accommodated up to 2,000 people. There were news articles reporting many people being converted, healed, baptized and speaking in tongues (Anderson 1979:59). Numerous Apostolic Faith missions were established as converts and workers spread the message in various parts of the tri-state district.
Encouraged by the successful revivals in the tri-state district, in July, 1905, Parham and about two dozen others traveled to Houston, which at the time was the largest city in Texas. In December, 1905, he opened a ten-week Bible school in a large house on the corner of Rusk and Brazos Streets.
A black holiness minister, William Joseph Seymour, learned about the Bible school and requested admission. The local Jim Crow statutes (not allowing black people to be in the same rooms as white people) caused Parham to be cautious with Seymour ‘s request. Over the years, Parham had developed a paternal concern for the races that he felt were inferior and allowed Seymour to attend the school with the condition that he had to sit in the hallway. Eventually Parham and Seymour preached together to various groups of African Americans at several locations in Houston.
After about five weeks of training at the school, Seymour was offered a position as a holiness minister in Los Angeles, California. Parham tried to discourage Seymour from taking the position as he felt that Seymour was needed in Houston , but Seymour felt he was being led by the Holy Spirit. Soon, Parham gave him his blessing and additionally helped with some of his travel expenses. Seymour left Houston in February of 1906 without having personally received the blessing of speaking in tongues. He traveled to California, thoroughly believing that “a third religious work evidenced by tongue-speaking would revolutionize the world through spiritual power and missionary zeal” (Goff 1988:111).
Seymour arrived in Los Angeles with an invitation by Julia Hutchins to preach at the small mission she had founded on Santa Fe
Street. Seymour not only preached Parham’s apostolic faith message that speaking in tongues (glossolalia) was evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit but someone with Seymour began to speak in tongues, which made Hutchins and the Church elders quite uncomfortable. They reported him to the Holiness Association because they felt the message he preached was contrary to the Holiness doctrine that sanctification and baptism of the Holy Spirit were the same thing. When he returned the next week to preach, he was barred from entry to the mission.
Neely Terry, a member of the Santa Fe Street mission, asked Seymour to lead prayer meetings at the Bonnie Brae Street home of her cousins, Richard and Ruth Asberry. Many who attended the prayer meetings were moved to speak in tongues, and as the news spread about the prayer meetings more people began attending than the space could accommodate. Searching for other options available in the area, Seymour found an abandoned church building, located at 312 Azusa Street. He and his small prayer group prayed for a spiritual sign and on April 12, 1906, Seymour and others received the answer to their prayers and “prayed their way through to Pentecost” (Goff 1988:112). On April 14, 1906, Seymour opened the Azusa Street Mission (Apostolic Faith Mission) where he was able to continue preaching the apostolic faith message. Attendance was scattered at the beginning, but just four months later in August, there were around 1,200 people attending the evening services at the mission. The Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles soon became the largest center of Pentecostal expansion. Holiness leaders from all over the country came to listen, learn, and carry the message throughout the United States and eventually around the world as well.
Anderson, Robert Mapes 1979. Vision of the Disinherited. New York : Oxford University Press.
Bearman, Alan F. and Mills, Jennifer L. 2009. “Charles M. Sheldon and Charles F. Parham Adapting Christianity to the Challenges of the American West.” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 32:106-23 . Accessed from www.kshs.org/publicat/history/2009summer_bearman.pdf on 10 November 2013.
Goff, James R., Jr. 1988. Fields White Unto Harvest. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press.
Kansas Historical Society. 2013. “Apostolic Faith 03/22/1899 – 04/15/1900.” Accessed from http://www.kshs.org/newspaper/newspaper_reels/search/city:/title:Apostolic%20Faith/county:/state:KS/begyr:1899/endyr:1900/arrange:title/submit:SEARCH on 28 October 2013.
Kansas Historical Society. 207-2013. “Stone’s Folly, Topeka, Kansas.” Accessed from www.kansasmemory.org/item/216406 on 28 October 2013.
Martin, Larry E. 1997. The Topeka Outpouring of 1901. Joplin: Christian Life Books.
Parham, Charles F. 1911. The Everlasting Gospel. Lexington: Pentecostalbooks.
Parham, Charles Fox 1902. A Voice Crying in the Wilderness. Lexington: Pentecostalbooks.
Topeka Storm Ministries. n.d. “Restoration Project: Charles Parham’s – Bethel Healing Home.” Accessed from http://www.topekastorm.org/restoration/index.cfm?page=restoration on 21 October 2013.
Jan Downing Tyner
29 March 2014