The New Testament book of Acts, chapter 2, reports that Christian disciples in Jerusalem were seized by the Holy Spirit on the Jewish festival of Pentecost and received the gift of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues. The modern Pentecostal movement, according to most historians, has its roots in 1906 revivals led by the African American Holiness preacher William J. Seymour at a small mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles.
However, there is evidence of even earlier Pentecostal expression in South Carolina. As early as December 1896, for example, the Iowa Methodist evangelist Benjamin Hardin Irwin conducted meetings in the upstate, where his preaching emphasized not only salvation and sanctification but also the necessity of a third blessing or work of grace, “baptism with the Holy Ghost and Fire.” Irwin was one of the founders of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church, organized in Anderson in 1898.
When the Azusa Street revivals erupted in Los Angeles a decade later, word spread quickly in South Carolina. North Carolinian Gaston Barnabus Cashwell, who went to Azusa Street and subsequently had the experience of speaking in tongues, is responsible for bringing the Pentecostal movement to much of the upstate during a preaching tour in the area in 1907 after he returned from California. Popularly called the “apostle of Pentecost in the South,” Cashwell helped convince onetime Presbyterian Nickels John Holmes of the validity of Pentecostal teaching. In turn, Holmes’s Bible school and church in Greenville became centers of Pentecostal activity in South Carolina.
A popular periodical published in Columbia from 1890 to 1931, The Way of Faith, also helped spread the Pentecostal message throughout the state and region. That weekly carried eyewitness reports of the Azusa Street revivals every week for more than a year.
Among African Americans in the state, Anderson native William E. Fuller was a tireless advocate for the Pentecostal cause, first as an evangelist for the Fire-Baptized Holiness Association and then as bishop (later presiding bishop) of the (Colored) Fire-Baptized Holiness denomination. Fuller is credited with starting more than fifty predominantly African American churches in South Carolina and north Georgia that reflected Pentecostal styles.
In South Carolina in the early twenty-first century, there were several other flourishing denominations that represented Pentecostalism, many with roots in the earlier Holiness movement. Among them were the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the Church of God in Christ, and the Assemblies of God. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, popular televangelists of the 1970s and 1980s, were members of the Assemblies of God. In addition, Pentecostal expression has spread throughout other Christian groups in the state, from Roman Catholics to Southern Baptists, influencing worship styles as well as promoting spiritual gifts such as glossolalia, although Pentecostals remain a minority in these groups.
Although Pentecostals have been receptive to the idea of spiritual gifts, they have not been of a single mind on other theological issues. There has been considerable disagreement among Pentecostals, for example, over the doctrine of the Trinity. Denominations such as the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) and the Assemblies of God are orthodox Trinitarian in orientation and baptize believers using the traditional formula that ends “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Other, smaller groups with congregations in South Carolina, such as the United Pentecostal Church and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, have been referred to as “Oneness” or “Jesus only” groups because they do not use the Trinitarian formula but baptize only in the name of Jesus.
In addition, scores of independent congregations in the state have espoused a Pentecostal approach. Some of those have referred to themselves with the designation “Full Gospel” to denote that they believe adherents should expect to receive all the experiences reported in New Testament Christianity. As well, the few scattered congregations, mostly in the western mountain areas of the state, that have practiced serpent handling have affinities with the larger Pentecostal heritage.
Anderson, Robert Mapes. Vision of the Disinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Hardesty, Nancy A. “The Holiness and Pentecostal Movements.” In Religion in South Carolina, edited by Charles H. Lippy. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.
Synan, Vinson. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1997.