A Pilgrimage to Hot Springs

Returning home from vacation this week, I was able to make a pilgrimage to the site in Hot Springs Arkansas where the Assemblies of God began in 1914. I had wanted to go there for years, but never had the opportunity until we were driving back from Florida. This was finally my chance to see the place that I had so often studied in my research.

On April 2nd, 1914, three hundred Pentecostal ministers and laypeople gathered in Hot Springs, Arkansas for what would become the first General Council of the Assemblies of God. The stated purpose of this council was five fold: unity in message through biblical doctrine, unity in ministry through cooperation, unity in missions through organization, unity in legal matters through ministerial credentials, and unity in ministerial training. What resulted was a new Pentecostal group that today numbers 3.2 million adherents in over 13,000 churches across the US and 63 million world wide.


Why Hot Springs?

E.N. Bell

To understand why the AG started in Hot Springs, you have to go back a few years before 1914. In 1910, William Durham had differentiated himself from the holiness Pentecostals with his non-holiness “finished work” view of sanctification.  AG founder, E.N. Bell was baptized in the Spirit under Durham in Chicago in 1910. Bell would quickly become a recognized leader in the Parham’s Apostolic Faith movement and became the editor his Apostolic Faith in the South.

At some point in 1910, Bell made his way to Malvern Arkansas, a small town just down the railroad line from Hot Springs. Howard Goss also started a Pentecostal work in  Hot Springs, a bustling little town known for its healing waters. The town had  large hotels, sanitariums,  bath houses, and an opera house.  In September 1910, Bell and Goss invited Durham to preach a camp meeting in Malvern for the Arkansas Apostolic Faith churches. [1]

Trouble surrounding Parham’s claims to be the leader of the movement led Bell to distance himself and the groups he was leading in the south from Parham and the Apostolic Faith. Bell and Goss looked to Durham’s leadership and the Finished Work message was their new banner. Bell changed the Apostolic Faith paper to the Word and Witness and continued to publish it from Malvern.

Following the death of William Durham in 1912, E.N. Bell and Howard Goss inherited the mantle of leadership  for the finished work churches but backed off of Durham’s rigidity and divisiveness. They wanted to bring ministers back together in cooperation but because neither Durham nor Parham believed in organization or credentials, Goss and Bell received permission to offer credentials through C.H. Mason’s Church of God in Christ. But I believe they had it in their mind they would eventually need to start their own organization.

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1912 Tri-State Apostolic Faith Campmeeing

By 1912, to further locate Arkansas as the new center for Apostolic Pentecostalism in the south, Bell, Goss, and M.M. Pinson hosted conventions for ministers from the surrounding states in various towns including  Eureka Springs, Ozark, Little Rock and Hot Springs.

 

In 1913, a major fire devastated part of the town, but Goss declared “the burning out of half of Hot Springs recently by fire is no wise to stop the fire of the gospel guns upon the remainder of the city still standing.” [2]  To add to the “fire” in Hot Springs, in 1913 famed revivalst Maria Woolworth-Etter and Cyrus B. Fockler (another early AG leader) showed up to hold meetings. [3]  “Hundreds if not thousands” were being saved and filled with the Holy Ghost in Hot Springs.

The center of gravity for the Parham’s formerly Apostolic Faith groups was shifting from Texas to Arkansas, so much so that Houston Bible School leader, D.C.O. Opperman, decided start a Bible School in Hot Springs at the Opera House to open January 1914. Thus, when the call for the meeting was published in the Word and Witness in December of 1913, four of the five signers of the original call—Pinson, Goss, Opperman, Bell—were located already in the area surrounding Hot Springs.

On April 2-14, 1914, 300 Pentecostal ministers and laypeople from throughout the southwest met together in the old Opera House at 200 Central Ave. in historic down town Hot Springs. By the end of the week, they had formed a constitution and gave the new group a name, “The Assemblies of God”, a name proposed by T.K. Leonard because it was a “biblical name.” Bell and Goss no longer needed to use the Church of God in Christ credentials because they were now incorporated as their own separate group.[4] Bell was elected as the first general superintendent of the AG.  They were not trying to start a denomination; rather, they were wanting to unify the finished work churches together and continue what God had started a decade before. Little did they know that what the started that day would impact the nations with the gospel.

Hot Springs Today

Today, all that is left of the spark that has blossomed into 63 million adherents world wide is a plaque that was created in commemoration of the 2014 Centennial celebration. The opera house is no longer there. All that is left is a drive way, a parking lot, and a ugly power transformer. Below is the photo of me with the plaque. But the buildings surround the site are very much like they were a century ago.  The hotel across the street may have housed some of those first AG leaders. The springs water house next door could have been where they retreated after the meetings. The hills where the that famous photo took place are still there. Below is the picture of me where that could have been taken.  As someone who has spent years writing about AG history, it was such a joy to stand and look at the place where it all happened.  I wish there were more there to see today. But for me, it was enough and was well worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more AG history, this short video by the AG tells rest of the story.

AG Timeline – 6 minutes from Assemblies of God USA on Vimeo.


[1] “State Encampment,” Pentecostal Testimony (July 1, 1910), 10.

[2] “Hot Springs Under Fire,” Word and Witness (Sept 1, 1913), 1.

[3] Word and Witness, (Oct 1913), p. 1.

[4]  For a discussion on the reasons for this separation, see David D. Daniels, ‘Charles Harrison Mason: The Interracial Impulse’ Portraits of a Generation, James R. Goff and Grant Wacker (eds.) (Fayetteville, AK: University of Arkansas Press, 2002), pp. 254-270.

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