By Raymond Cox

The following paper was presented to the 1997 annual meeting of the
at Patten College, Oakland, California in March, 1997.

Was Aimee Semple McPherson Pentecostal?

This was a hotly debated question of interest to many Pentecostal believers and fellowships beginning about 1920. Edith Blumhofer reminded the charismatic constituency of the debate in her article "Aimee Semple McPherson and the Decisive Witchita Meeting: The Assemblies of God of the Roaring Twenties Wanted to Know: 'Is Sister McPherson Pentecostal?'" (1) Doubts on the subject persisted among many, perhaps most, hardcore Pentecostals outside her movement until mid-1936 when the question was fully and finally answered.

Now it is easily demonstrable that Sister McPherson was from the beginning of her ministry and throughout her entire career "theologically Pentecostal." By that I mean that she never wavered, as E. S. Seymour had, on her insistence that speaking in tongues was the initial physical evidence of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. Donald Gee emphasized this in his book "The Pentecostal Movement". Regarding her emphasis on the Baptism with the Holy Spirit according to Acts 2:4 he wrote: "...Mrs. McPherson has remained consistently loyal to the distinctive Pentecostal testimony on this matter." (2)

This emphasis appears consistently and emphatically throughout her periodicals ("The Bridal Call", "Bridal Call-Crusader", "Foursquare Crusader" (3), and the "Foursquare Magazine" 1917-1944) and her books, especially "This is That" (Echo Park Evangelistic Association, 1923, Los Angeles) and "The Holy Spirit" (Challpin Publishing Company, 1931, Los Angeles), reprinted 1969 as "Fire From on High", (Heritage Committee, Foursquare Publications, Los Angeles).

Non-Pentecostal pastors who co-operated enthusiastically in her campaigns were made to understand her Pentecostal theology and gladly participated in her meetings throughout America, Canada, and Australia. For example, while she conducted an non-denominational revival at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, several denominational pastors approached her with fervent invitations to minister in their United Brethren, Methodist, and Presbyterian, and other churches. She insisted they hear her Sunday afternoon sermon in which she would proclaim her Pentecostal position before she could act on their invitations. They listened and renewed invitations, several of which she accepted. (4)

Not only in Baltimore, but also in and other cities she previewed her teaching to non-Pentecostal ministers, including initial evidence, and still they supported her enthusiastically. She wrote about the 1922 Melbourne, Australia campaign, "Getting back to fundamental truths concerning the inspiration of the Scriptures, the eternal deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the personality and true baptism of the Holy Spirit, statements and teachings of doctrines occupied the first few days" of the Melbourne meetings." (5) And in her most recent autobiography she recalled, "The great general need in Melbourne was for evangelism and teaching regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit." (6).

Then why was Aimee Semple McPherson suspected of not being truly Pentecostal?

The problem was not theology but practice, manifestations, demonstrations. In the early years of her ministry she tolerated, perhaps even welcomed, most phenomena prominent in Pentecostal circles. This changed early in the 1920's. She wrote regarding her Baltimore, Maryland Revival, "Looking backward, I can see that this meeting marked a turning point not only in my own ministry but in the history of the outpouring of Pentecostal power." (7). Very few understood her new, more conservative position about unbridled emotions, and most Pentecostals severely criticized her for what they called "a quenching of manifestations" (8)

Sister charitably chronicled the conflict,

"In this city were a number of Pentecostal saints, precious people, but some few of them were largely given to fleshly manifestations. A few impostors had brought bitter reproach upon the work. Our task, therefore, was to represent these glorious Bible truths in such a way as would win the respect and confidence of the churches and people. This God enabled us to do in a wonderful way. Some of the mission folk (accustomed only to reproach, and trained to believe that wherever there was power there must be a continuous noise and loud outcry) thought we held our fishing line and tackle in too firm a hand and were quenching the manifestations of the Spirit. Always having stood for the genuine power and demonstrations of the Holy Ghost, this accusation, from those we loved, wounded our hearts deeply." (9)

What provoked the accusation was Sister's objections to a woman's screaming, an incident thoroughly described in "This is That".

As Edith Blumhofer's article about the Witchita campaign describes, criticism of Mrs. McPherson for "quenching the Spirit" intensified among hardcore Pentecostals, some of whom insisted vehemently that she really was not!

Well, was she, or wasn't she?

Not until the spring and summer of 1936 did that question get fully and finally answered, although in the light of available evidence from long before that time it would seem that the question hardly needed to be asked.

For example, in the early 1920's, after Sister had relocated in Los Angeles, and while she was using the Victoria Hall Assembly's address (125 S. Spring St., Los Angeles Cal.) as her own on her publications, she published a 241 selections song book compiled for her by Thoro Harris and entitled, "Pentecostal Revivalist." The price was right. On the cover above her name and address the cost was listed for soft back at 35c per copy and for hardback at 45c per copy. Quantity rates listed were per hundred $30 and $45, respectively, prepaid. Since 1917 the masthead of her periodical, The Bridal Call, had sported the description "Pentecostal Monthly." But that would change.

In the early spring of 1936 Aimee Semple McPherson returned to Angelus Temple after a protracted absence. She did not like what she found. She discovered that the church had declined spiritually. She used the words "cold" and "dead" to describe conditions she deplored. Nowadays services and results such as prevailed at the time in the Temple likely would be considered a flaming revival, with hundreds saved, healed, and filled with the Holy Spirit every week. But the state of the church was a far cry from what she left months before. Associate Pastor Rheba Crawford had not been able to maintain the afflatus she formerly had presided over during Mrs. McPherson's previous absences.

Meanwhile, a delegation of blacks who had been involved with the 1906 and subsequent Azusa Street Mission outpourings came to assistant business manager Giles N. Knight and asked if they could use the facilities of Angelus Temple for a week long 30th Anniversary Celebration of the Azusa Street outpouring. Knight responded, "That sounds just like what Sister McPherson would want." Henry and Emma Cotton and others came for a week in April and stayed until October. There followed what I feel was the greatest period of revival I have ever witnessed.

I hardly need, in a paper to an organization like the Society of Pentecostal Studies, to detail the history of the Azusa Street outpouring and its aftermath as the modern beginning of the Pentecostal Movement. H. V. Synan reported, "Practically every early Pentecostal movement in the world can trace its origins directly or indirectly to Seymour's Azusa Street Mission" (10). Donald Gee was even more emphatic in his book, "The Pentecostal Movement". May we say that by thirtieth anniversary celebration the Pentecostal movement had come of age?

I remember well the Sunday Morning of April 12, 1936 in the closing exercises of the Junior Department of Angelus Temple Sunday School. Sister walked into the auditorium unexpectedly and of course departmental superintendent Jeanette Baynham gave her the floor. She earnestly urged all who were present to attend the morning service, explaining about the Azusa Street Mission anniversary celebration beginning that morning in the church. She gave a brief historical review about the mission's importance to the twentieth century Pentecostal outpouring

Many were wondering why Angelus Temple had been chosen to be

the site. "Why not at the mission itself at 312 Azusa Street?" Apparently the mission was no more. C. M. Robeck would write, "W. J. Seymour died on September 1922, and his wife continued to lead the congregation until her health broke. The building was demolished in 1931 and the land lost in foreclosure in 1938." (11) H. V. Synan gives a somewhat different chronology in the same volume, "After Mrs. Seymour's death in 1936, the mission was sold for tax liens and ultimately torn down to make a parking lot in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles (12).

As a result of the Azusa Outpouring Anniversary celebration Sister returned to glorying in being Pentecostal which she had somewhat relaxed when she removed the words "Pentecostal Monthly" (cf. November 1917) in 1921 from the masthead of her Bridal Call magazine, replacing it first with "Full Gospel Evangelism" (cf. September 1921) and finally renaming it the Bridal Call Foursquare (cf. January 1923).

Before her Pentecostal position was challenged (cf. "Is Mrs. McPherson Pentecostal?", unsigned article in the Pentecostal Evangel) (13), Sister had proudly proclaimed her Pentecostalism. But, as quoted above, her hurt from the wounds of accusations by Pentecostals that she was quenching the Spirit caused a reaction. She wrote a tract entitled, "The Narrow Line or Is Mrs. McPherson Pentecostal?" in which she quipped, "Pentecost means 50 and I'm only 31" (14)

Sister had earlier surrendered her Assembly of God credentials. I have photocopies of both her "Certificate of Fellowship with the General Council of the Assemblies of God, Inc." which had been renewed on September 21, 1921, with the notation in her own handwriting at the top, "Returned Jan. 6 - 22. See letter of that date" and also of her two page single-spaced letter to E. N. Bell which accompanied that document's return. That was 1922 and more heat than light doubtless accompanied the discussion about Aimee Semple McPherson's Pentecostal affiliation. But now it was 1936. It would not be correct to say that Sister "came out of the closet" because she was never really in the closet. But in that year she openly championed her Pentecostal associations. Perhaps the most decisive indication concerned a mass meeting in downtown Los Angeles. The Church of the Open Door (Bible Institute of Los Angeles) announced a lecture by Norman B. Harrison to be delivered on August 23, 1936, entitled, "Why I Am Not a Pentecostalist, Why I Am Not Seeking the Baptism, Why I Do Not Talk in With Tongues". This provoked one of only two rebuttals I know of which Sister announced to direct sermonic attacks against her and her faith (the previous was when Bob Shuler (the Old Man) announced he was going to expose the fallacy of Divine Healing in a Sunday afternoon service at Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church South in Los Angeles and Sister asked for 1500 Angelus Temple members who had been healed in answer to prayer to go to that service. Upon hearing of Sister's action Bob Shuler canceled the subject).

Now in August 1936 Sister sent her stenographer, Sadie Wilson, who had replaced Mae Waldron a few years earlier in transcribing in shorthand virtually every word Mrs. McPherson spoke in the pulpit of Angelus Temple until Sister's passing--Sister sent Mrs. Wilson to the Church of the Open Door to transcribe Dr. Harrison's address and on the following two Sunday afternoons Mrs. McPherson's sermon topic was, "Why I Am a Pentecostalist. Why I Did Seek the Baptism. Why I Do Speak in Tongues" (15). Elder Henry and Mother Cotton of the Azusa Outpouring Anniversary were still ministering in weekday services at Angelus Temple.

Sister McPherson to her death in 1944 would continue proclaiming "The Middle of the Road" position which got her in trouble with many Pentecostals in the early 1920's when, particularly in Baltimore and Witchita she put down demonstrations which she considered extremes. I have sometimes wondered why Donald Gee's position as a Pentecostal went unchallenged in spite of his even more restrictive attitude toward demonstrations, but his ministry and writings came much later and he was based in more conservative England (16).

Mrs. McPherson's redefinition of "Middle of the Road" was not as drastic as some imagined. Robert V. P. Steele ("Lately Thomas") in his book "Storming Heaven" captioned a picture of Sister standing on the Angelus Temple platform near several men who lay "under the power," "slain in the Spirit,", "At the 1941 convention of her church, fires fell, delegates shouted, swooned, and spoke in tongues in an old fashioned 'Holy Ghost' revival, an echo to Aimee of her early days." (17) But the demonstrations Steele noted were hardly an "echo". Sister had always, both in her campaigns and at Angelus Temple, welcomed shouting God's praises, people falling prostrate before the Lord (18), and speaking in tongues (spontaneous messages and interpretations had almost always been welcome in Angelus Temple services). From the beginning of her evangelistic ministry in the mid-1910's to her death such revivalistic phenomena persisted in Aimee Semple McPherson's meetings. But in April 1936 some more unusual manifestations broke out in Angelus Temple and several continued past her passing. From the very beginning of the Azusa Anniversary celebration strange sights and sounds accompanied the meetings.

Possibly the strangest manifestations to surface during the Azusa Anniversary were the flashes of light. We literally thought we were beholding the Shekinah. Sister seemed to agree in her article about a notable Sunday afternoon service. The Foursquare Crusader issue of July 1, 1936 sported headlines

which announced:



The reference alluded to the previous Sunday afternoon's service of laying on of hands for licensing and ordaining to the ministry graduates of the Trailblazers' Class of L.I.F.E. Bible School. I commence Aimee Semple McPherson's account of the gathering here: "From the opening moments of the service, a strange, mystical, heart-aweing cloud of heavenly glory began to settle over the great congregation. With each ensuing song and prayer, message and testimony, the visible Presence deepened, saints laughed, wept, shouted, and danced in the spirit, till as in Israel of yore, it was almost impossible for the priests and the Lord's ministers to minister.

"Came at last the amazing moment when the clean cut, consecrated candidates rose to wait for 'imposition of hands.'

"Then a strange thing happened: Those gazing upon the transcendent scene from balconies and main floor, trembled and burst into heavenly singing and spake with other tongues as their eyes shone through misty tears.

"The gathering cloud of glory broke! The hovering Shekinah fell upon each and every candidate" (19).

During this phenomena I was standing at the railing of the second balcony astonished to see the flashes of light across the organ grill above the proscenium arch. This experience truly dissipated my resistance to the new wave of revival in the Temple and I began to seek the Baptism with the Holy Spirit which I would received at the Third Holy Ghost Rally on July 17. What a day that was, the most glorious, thought Sister, in all the history of Angelus Temple.

The Holy Ghost Rallies which commenced in May became the talk of the Pentecostal World. These were initiated monthly, 18 hour marathons of singing, praising, ministry from "dawn to midnight." A different speaker was scheduled for each hour, beginning with Sister at 6 a.m. and for several months climaxing with the "triple whammy" of A. Earl Lee, Ora B. (Hurricane) Hurley, and J. D. Long. In the pages of the Foursquare Crusader Sister hailed them as far and away the most wonderful and unusual meetings ever experienced in the Temple. "We saw the Shekinah," many enthused.

Sister's write-up of the third such rally, appeared in the "Foursquare Crusader" of July 22, 1936 She stated:

"Laughter and song, weeping and prayers, tongues and interpretation, preaching and travail, heavenly singing and altar calls marked the third Holy Ghost Rally at Angelus Temple.

"Never in the annals of its fourteen year history have such sights and sounds rocked the place.

"Frequently it was impossible for the priests and the Lord's ministers to minister by reason of the glory of the Lord, for the people stood blessing and praising God, making one sound to be heard in the Temple.

"The miraculous happenings of that day defy verbal description. Again and again I found myself shaken as with an ague and weeping uncontrollably. The aisles were often choken with the praying saints who lay flat on their faces in travail for the Nation and the Church at large. At one time some 350 lay stretched out under the power seeking the Baptism, and it is estimated that at least one third of that number received a clear Pentecostal experience with Bible evidence of Acts 2:4 in one hour.

"It is a strange, awesome, never-to-be forgotten sight to see a multitude dancing in the Spirit at one time. Even our staid Charles Walkem, Radio Manager and Bible Teacher, leaped for joy like King David when the ark was coming up the road" (20)

I well remember that incident involving Dr Walkem. It occurred during the final sermon of the rally, preached by the Rev J. D. Long. His subject was "The Rapture!" And for a moment we thought the preacher was taking off! At one point in the sermon he took a leap straight up, and honestly, his feet cleared the pulpit. Dr Walkem had been sitting near Sister McPherson, just off the platform in the general area the kettle drums occupy today. With a bound he was on the platform, embracing the speaker. It brought down the house! Seldom has such an ovation of praise to God ever erupted from a mighty multitude this side of the throne and the sea of glass!

I could go on and on, reporting about the Pentecostal phenomena which Sister McPherson welcomed in the Azusa Anniversary and Holy Ghost Rally services. The fourth rally took place on August 7, 1936. Here is Sister's report from the next Wednesday's "Crusader":

"Flashing visions, flaming messages in tongues and interpretation, signs of billowing smoke, sheets of living fire, and floods of prophecies rocked the Temple . . .

"So heavy was the cloud of glory that it was at times visible to the audience as a great billowing smoke cloud and again as a sheetlike pillar of fire. The final speaker (J.D. Long again), who had been preparing his message in prayer for hours, fell to the floor under the power after he had uttered but a few sentences.

"Springing to their feet, the entire audience lifted hearts, voices, and hands to heaven. The sound rose to a might volume which caused the very clouds in the blue dome to tremble. Never has the Temple witnessed such a divine manifestation. The description thereof beggars words.

"Then the prostrate speaker leaped up and cried out: 'If you want to be saved, filled with the Spirit, and get ready to meet Him -- if you want to make amends for wrongs done, you had better come running.'

"Instantly every aisle was blocked with hundreds who not only ran but raced down every aisle, choked the altar spaces, or fell where they were.

"Till 3 a.m. hundreds still remained praying, praising, and admonishing one another" (21)

Two Pentecostal manifestations in particular, neither of which had been witnessed before in Angelus Temple, became conspicuous in almost every service of the Azusa Anniversary meeting, often touched off when Larry Newsome led the Temple congregation in the new chorus he introduced which quickly became one of the three favorites of the revival, along with Ora Hurley's. "It's All Over Me," and Emma Cotton's "John Saw That Number":

"We need the rain. We need the rain. We need the Latter Rain" (Repeat).

A number of extra stanzas were sung to the same tune, the most frequent of which were "Singing in the Rain" and "Dancing in the Rain." The series usually ended with "He's Coming in the Rain" and "We'll Meet Him in the Rain."

The demonstration of singing in the Spirit struck a nostalgic tone for Mrs. McPherson. She rhapsodized,

"The 'Heavenly Choir', or 'Heavenly Singing', as it is sometimes called, has visited the Temple.

"I have longed for this for years, ever since the days of the Wm. 'Durham' Mission in Chicago, with its Azusa day aftermath. And now it is here! Here, like a mantle of benediction, rests a Shekinah of glory; a crowning manifestation of the presence of the Lord.

"Have you ever heard it? Have you ever been swept up and up, upon its lilting crest? Has your voice ever threaded its intricate, buoyant, enraptured, unforgettable, indescribably windings and twistings crescendos and innuendoes, risings and fallings? Then you know that it is truly that song which no man can learn except the Spirit give it to him.

"Old folk whose voice could not possibly be expected to soar to the heights of clean, sweep soprano notes or whose bass could never descend to the depths of melody of yesterday, become sweet and strong and ring with an unearthly sweetness the arias which one might expect to hear about the Throne.

"Listening to the bewildering loveliness, the soul-tingling quality of it all, one feels that the Song of Moses and the Lamb have already begun, and that one is not sure whether this is earth or whether it be heaven.

Each service at the Temple has lately been

graced with the breath-taking loveliness, the haunting melody of this heavenly singing. Many have come through to the baptism in this manner; namely, by just opening their mouths and beginning to sing in other languages as the spirit gives utterance.

"The melody follows no earthly tune, yet is runs the gamut of celestial ecstasies and sweeps the aeolian harp strings of spiritual emotion (22)

In another write-up Sister likened the melody to "the strumming of angel fingers upon a harp of a thousand strings" (23)

The favorite stanza for "We Need the Rain" among the children was "Dancing in the Rain." And how enthusiastically we danced! I had never seen this exercise which we came to call "dancing in the Spirit" in Angelus Temple before the Azusa Anniversary. Sister McPherson had personally practiced it in her meetings from the beginning up to the time she ministered in Victoria Hall in downtown Los Angeles in 1919. But then the Lord cautioned her that the power of God did not require dancing her hair down, and she ceased the practice. But it took the Azusa Anniversary revival for the Holy Ghost to set our feet to dancing, as the later song rhapsodized, and Sister beamed her approval. Dancing soon broke out all over the congregations on all three levels of Angelus Temple, main floor (seating 2300), first balcony (1700), and top balcony (1300). Before I got swept into it with the hundred or so "kids" who thronged the front of the auditorium on the right side of the pipe organ (Sister soon appointed me the usher for the "kids") I often turned to watch hundreds bouncing on all three floors. I never saw Sister dance in the spirit in any of the services but she often encouraged others to engage in worship with their feet.

Elder and Mother Cotton brought Azusa St. Mission veterans back to Angelus Temple for the thirty-third anniversary in April 1939, with equally glorious results. But the revival from 1936 had lasted in the church. (24) To the very end of her life Aimee Semple McPherson welcomed demonstrations of Pentecost which were more enthusiastic than what she had encouraged between 1921 and 1936. Had she become more Pentecostal? Hardly in doctrine. She hewed the line insisting that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and candidates for license and ordination by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel are to this day examined about Pentecostal orthodoxy. But Sister definitely became more Pentecostal in her encouragement of Pentecostal manifestations. I remember her remarking several times before the Azusa revivalists came in April 1936 that some of her friends had objected to them being scheduled, warning, "They will roll on the floor." She stated her reply to the effect, "As cold as things have gotten around here, if they do, I'll get down and roll with them." They didn't, and she didn't, but almost every manifestation of historic revivals except the "barks" did surface in the glorious renewal of Azusa outpouring experience.

Sister presided over a re-definition of her much heralded 1920's "Middle of the Road" position between cold formality on one side and wild-fire on the other, but her experience in time convinced her that it was easier to restrain a fanatic than to resurrect a corpse. So perhaps wild fire is better than no fire at all?


1. A/G "Heritage", Spring 1993 pp. 18-27.

2. p. 118. Donald Gee, THE PENTECOSTAL MOVEMENT, Elim Publishing Company, Ltd. Clapham Crescent, London, S. W. 4, 1949.

3. Cf. Aimee Semple McPherson, "Is There Any Bible Evidence? (Concerning the Baptism of the Holy Spirit", Foursquare Crusader, February 12, 1936, pp. 1,2, 8.

4. Cf. This is That, pp 176-177

5. This is That, p. 502

6. "The Story of My Life," p. 116, WORD, Waco, Texas 1973

7. This is That, p. 179.

8. (ibid).

9. op. cit. p. 174. Cf. pp. 177-178.

10. H. V. Synan, article SEYMOUR, WILLIAM JOSEPH in Dictionary of Pentecostal Movements, p. 781. Regency (Zondervan) 1987

11. C. M. Robeck, Jr. DPCM p. 35. Article AZUSA STREET REVIVAL.

12. H. V. Synan, article SEYMOUR, WILLIAM JOSEPH in DPCM p. 781.

13. June 10, 1922 p. 9. It needs to be noticed that when Mrs. McPherson was thought to have perished in the surf at Ocean Park, California the Pentecostal Evangel printed her picture captioned "Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, A Gift from God" on its June 5, 1926 cover and included a most complimentary article, "Aimee Semple McPherson", by editor Stanley Frodsham on pages 2 & 3.

14. P. 9, Foursquare Gospel Publications, Los Angeles, 1922

15. Her 37 point rebuttal was printed in the Foursquare Crusaders of September 16, pp. 3, 6 and September 23, pp. 3, 6.

16. His May 27, 1965 letter to me expressing appreciation for the content of my Alumni Lectureship that year at LIFE Bible College, Los Angeles, "Pentecostal Preaching Produces Pentecostal Churches" (Gee had delivered the Alumni Lectureship there two years earlier). In his letter he wrote, "It is very easy, as I know to my shame, to let the necessity of correction in some points so fill our hearts and minds that we become unwittingly negative."

17. p. 333, Morrow, New York, 1970

18. Almost every person Mrs. McPherson anointed fell under the power throughout her entire ministry. Cf. Raymond Cox, "Prostrate Before the Lord", Paraclete," Spring 1973, p. 9ff.

19. p. 1

20. p 3

21. Foursquare Crusader, August 12, 1936, p 1

22. Foursquare Crusader, May 6, 1936, pp 6-7

23. Foursquare Crusader, May 13, 1936, p 3

24. In July 1943 Sister McPherson brought to the Temple another veteran of the Azusa Street revival who had not preached therepreviously, Kelso R. Glover, and his ministry there continued for more than a decade after Mrs. McPherson's passing. I do not recall ever hearing him referred to publicly as Associate Pastor, but his business card so identified him. Dr. Glover often alluded to receiving the Baptism of the Holy Ghost at the Azusa Street mission. He was a student at the University of California at the time. Glover testified that he received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit on the floor behind the piano! He related his experience in his booklet, "Fifty Years in Pentecost", 1956.

Until Glover Angelus Temple did not have an associate pastor after Dr. Giles Knight terminated Rheba Crawford's contract in July 1936. He had come to believe, as Sister and most of the Temple staff believed, correctly I still think, that Rheba Crawford had become involved in a conspiracy to take the Temple away from Sister McPherson. A great many Foursquare ministers and members credited Knight with saving the church for Sister.

Is it possible that the spiritual decline alluded to on page 6 of this paper was a consequence of such a conspiracy by the associate pastor?

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