Santa Cruz County History - Religion & Spirituality

Santa Cruz Spirituality: Pentecostalism
by Paul Tutwiler


The descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the resurrection of Jesus, is a New Testament event that has always had a prominent place in Christian belief and ritual. The Apostles, according to The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2, spoke in foreign languages, preaching persuasively to people of many countries and languages. As we are told in the Epistle I Corinthians, there were also other Gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as healing, performing miracles, and prophesying, but common belief among Christians after the early centuries of the church was that the particular phenomena of Pentecost day were given by God in order to speed the spread of Christianity, and they occurred no longer.

During the nineteenth century, however, there was a reaction to dry, intellectual religion among many American Protestants; their worship took on emotional, demonstrative forms. (This reaction appears under Methodist family, Holiness family, and Classical American Spiritualism.) An emotional giving of self was strikingly visible in one way in the conversions of Revivalism, which has been defined as "a form of [evangelical] activism, involvement in a movement producing conversions not in ones and twos, but en masse." ( 2006.) In another way this emotional giving of self was to be seen in the personalized good works of Holiness activities. In the last third of the century, too, the demonstrative emotional quality of African religion in the African American population joined the mainstream of American religious life.


The scene was set, then, around 1900 for some American Christian leaders to point to the Pentecostal experience. If the Apostles did these things in order to convert the world to Christ and prepare it for His return, and it was recorded that other early Christians did the same, why should Christians not do this now? Rev. Charles Parham of Kansas was teaching the essence of this belief in 1901, and he called it the "Pentecostal Blessing," (Melton, Encyclopedia, p. 41) but the emotional impact of it burst onto the religious scene in Los Angeles in 1906 in a church named the Apostolic Faith Mission on Azusa Street. Christians, black and white, came there from varied denominations. They spoke and sang in foreign languages; they felt the Holy Spirit come to them and seize them; they healed the sick. (Anderson, Pentecostalism, pp.188-189) From Los Angeles they went forth in all directions, and within two years they were missionaries on all continents. (Anderson, Pentecostalism, pp. 57-58) It is also true that independently of Azusa Street a notable emergence of Pentecostalism occurred about this same time in South America, Africa, and Asia. (Anderson, Pentecostalism, pp. 35-38)


Although speaking in unknown languages has been the hallmark of Pentecostalism, the movement is based on the experience of the power of the Holy Spirit rather than on any specific manifestation of this. Pentecostals share their conviction of being recipients of the power of the Holy Spirit, but they have divided sharply among themselves on theological issues and have separated into many diverse groups.

Three types of American Pentecostals can be distinguished (this division originated with Dr. H. Vincent Synan, and is to be found on p. 307 of Mead, Handbook):

  1. Holiness-Pentecostals, who hold to a three-stage development of Christian experience — conversion, sanctification, and baptism of the Holy Spirit. Among these are the Church of God in Christ of Memphis, Tennessee; the Church of God of Cleveland, Tennessee; and the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.
  2. Baptistic-Pentecostals, who believe in a two-stage development — conversion and baptism of the Holy Spirit. Among these are the Assemblies of God, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and the Pentecostal Church of God of Joplin, Missouri.
  3. Oneness-Pentecostals, who deny the traditional concept of the Trinity and teach that Jesus Christ alone is God. These include the United Pentecostal Church International of Hazelwood, Missouri.

A secondary cleavage among American Pentecostals has been racial, between Whites and Blacks, but I think this is properly attributed to styles of worship rather than to social discrimination.

The number of Pentecostals in the United States appears to be about 10,000,000. ( 2006) Half of all of these belong to the Church of God in Christ of Memphis, Tennessee, which is predominantly composed of African Americans. After this the two largest Pentecostal churches are the Church of God of Cleveland, Tennessee and the Assemblies of God.

Pentecostalism's essential characteristic of experience rather than doctrine marks it as differing from Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. It is nevertheless true that some Pentecostal denominations do belong to the National Association of Evangelicals and some Pentecostals are Fundamentalist in much of their outlook.

It has been observed that the Pentecostal religious experience is less suited to Americans than it is to the people of Africa, Latin America, and some parts of Asia. (Anderson, Pentecostalism, p. 235) The fact is that although the world-wide movement of Pentecostalism was born in the U. S., its numbers are increasing at a great rate outside the United States, so that currently about nine tenths of its members are on other continents. (Anderson, Pentecostalism, pp. 10-13, which presents several estimates of world-wide Pentecostal membership, but makes it clear that the figure of 115,000,000 is the proper one to compare with the U. S. 10,000,000.)

The only notable current increase in the number of American Pentecostals is in the Latino communities. (Anderson, Pentecostalism, p. 59) An extensive survey shows that the great majority of them were Pentecostal in their country of origin and that few of them convert from Catholicism to Pentecostalism after their arrival in the U. S. (Díaz-Stevens, Latino Resurgence, pp. 216-217) On the other hand,

Pentecostal Protestant churches with Hispanic ministers and Spanish-language services were making substantial inroads into traditional Hispanic Catholic territory. Surveys conducted in the '70s indicate the conversion of perhaps a fifth of Spanish-surname Catholics in Los Angeles to other religions during the decade, twice the loss nationwide. Evangelicals defended their proselytizing by maintaining that up to 80 percent of Latinos lacked an active relationship with the Church. (Kay Alexander, Californian Catholicism, p. 73)

Charismatic movement

The Pentecostal movement in the United States drew members from the existing Protestant denominations, but at no time has its growth been sufficient to upset the mainstream status quo. Neither has it affected Catholicism and other Christian branches, but in the 1960s something new developed: the Charismatic Movement. This shared with Pentecostalism the experience of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, but placed it within the theological context of the respective churches. Catholic charismatics, Episcopalian and Methodist charismatics, even Baptist charismatics, united spiritually in their emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit. The impetus in the Charismatic Movement seems to have arisen from the generally broad thinking of the 1960s. The spirit of the times led to Christians' sharing of their religious experiences across denominational lines in interfaith activities. Moreover, many Christians thought that if it was the Age of Aquarius on the outside of religion, it was the Age of the Holy Spirit on the inside. The Catholic Church was in the forefront of the movement, considering the Second Vatican Council, which was held at this time, to be the work of the Holy Spirit.

The movement was not of theology, but of experience, and rather than become Pentecostals, the charismatics became more devout Catholics, Episcopalians, etc. The Charismatic Movement peaked in the 1970s, but it is still a force in Christian religious life, particularly because of the proliferation of independent charismatic congregations which avoid being categorized according to the denominational structure of typical American Christianity. (Anderson, Pentecostalism, pp. 155-159)

Overview of Pentecostalism in Santa Cruz

All the Pentecostal associations named above are or have been represented in Santa Cruz County. Throughout the years, however, many small Pentecostal congregations with no apparent denominational affiliations have appeared. Many of these I can identify as Pentecostal only by their names. "Full Gospel," for instance, is a technical Pentecostal expression which means "that the preaching of the Word in evangelism should be accompanied by 'signs and wonders,' and divine healing in particular is an indispensable part of their evangelistic strategy." (Anderson, Pentecostalism, p. 211) "Apostolic" and "Bethel" in the title of a church are fairly reliable indicators of the congregation's being Pentecostal. Many of these independent congregations have also disappeared, leaving little trace for the historian to follow.

The sevenfold division of Santa Cruz Pentecostalism which I use in the list of associations is roughly in historical order. The number of congregations in the headings shows that the Assemblies of God are strong in the area, and that the largest of the Pentecostal denominations, the Church of God in Christ of Memphis, Tennessee, seems to be represented by only two congregations, one of which no longer exists. This local divergence from the general statistics of Pentecostalism is no doubt due to the small African American population of the area. Another major Pentecostal church which has been little represented in the county is the Church of God of Cleveland, Tennessee. Because there are so few of these two churches to list, I have not given them separate headings as I have the other five main Pentecostal groups, but they are found under Various Pentecostal, no longer in existence, and Various Pentecostal.

The earliest Pentecostal congregation I have found in Santa Cruz County dates to 1909, and it seems to have been of short duration (Pentecostal Tabernacle under Various Pentecostal, no longer in existence). Pentecostals were probably not very welcome in the conservative Santa Cruz of the time, as one may surmise from reading the following quote from an early California Pentecostal pastor:

The most violent persecution for those filled with the Holy Spirit came between 1906 and 1916. Many of us were thrown into jail. Others were horsewhipped, clubbed, or stoned and seriously injured, or even killed. Around 1916, when Pentecostal churches became more prevalent, persecution began to be less violent. Serious persecution of the post-Azusa days will never leave my memory. (A. C. Valdez, Fire on Azusa Street. Costa Mesa CA: Gift Publications, 1980, p. 47.)

Between the 1909-1910 dates of the Pentecostal Tabernacle and the year 1946 only five Pentecostal Congregations were, as far as I can tell, established in the County. Two of these, both founded in the early 1920s, still exist, and three are defunct. During the Depression years of the 1930s many Pentecostals came to California from the Dust Bowl area of the Southern Great Plains, notably Oklahoma, the "Okies." Pentecostalism was strong among these, and they brought it with them, but mainly to Southern California and the interior valleys. (Morton Szasz, Religion in the Modern American West. p. 83) After World War II many Pentecostal congregations were established in the County.

An extensive treatment of the religion of this group of immigrants is found in American Exodus, by James N. Gregory. On p. 41 Gregory presents in graphic format a fact about the group from a study by Donald J. Bogue, Henry S. Shryock, and Siegfried A. Hovermann, Subregional Migration in the United States, 1935-1940: of the 251,956 who moved to California in the period 1935-1940, only 11,291 settled in the Central Coast, from San Mateo County to Ventura County, including all of the Salinas Valley. In Chapter 7, "Special to God," pp. 191-221, Gregory shows that the great majority of these immigrants — more properly, according to him, called "Southwesterners" — were fundamentalist evangelicals, and the largest denomination among them was Southern Baptist. Other large groups were Southern Methodist and Holiness and Pentecostal, the latter two being of various kinds. There was a great loss of religious continuity in the lives of these immigrants, principally because the Southern Baptist Convention had not yet been formally organized in California at that time and the Southern Methodists and Northern Methodists were in the process of formally reuniting. All through California the immigrants did not account for the founding of many congregations until the end of World War II, although the Church of the Nazarene (Holiness) and Assemblies of God (Pentecostal) served as spiritual homes for disoriented Baptists, many of whom, however, returned to their Southern Baptist allegiance when that became possible.

Bibliography on Pentecostalism

Anderson, Allan. An Introduction to Pentecostalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Blumhofer, Edith L., Russell P. Spittler, and Grant A. Wacker, Eds. Pentecostal Currents in American Protestantism. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Díaz-Stevens, Ana María, and Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo. Recognizing the Latino Resurgence in U. S. Religion. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998.

In addition to these specific sources, Melton, Encyclopedia and Mead, Handbook present basic facts about American Pentecostalism and its spread.


Church of God. Church of God International Offices. 2006

Church of God in Christ, Inc. The Church of God in Christ. 2006

IPHC Ministries. International Pentecostal Holiness Church. 2006

Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America. Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America. 2006 (The Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America is an umbrella group for many Pentecostal churches)

United Pentecostal Church International. United Pentecostal Church International. 2006

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