An Historical Perspective on the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada

By David C. Slauenwhite

In 1925, A. E. Adams, Arthur Atter and I were driving from Amprior, Ontario, to the conference in London, Ontario. We were motoring along Highway Number 2. At that time, we passed only two places having churches affiliated with The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. These were Kingston (having a mere handful), and Napanee. That night at Napanee, there were only thirteen present, including the carload from Amprior. As we motored through various places, we would remove our hats, and pray that a Pentecostal church would be founded in each of these localities. Then we would continue on our journey.

So wrote James Montgomery.

The Founding Vision

From its inception, the driving force behind The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada has been church planting. Our forefathers believed that this would be the last generation before the return of Christ. Even as the church was born in an outpouring of the Spirit, so would it be raptured while in revival. As in the first century, so in the last, this renewal would result in the conversion of people and the creation of many local congregations. To that end they prayed and laboured.

Their vision came from the Scriptures. When Jesus said to go and make disciples, He provided the gift of the Holy Spirit as the power for effective witness. He said He would build His church. As Pentecostals, we have demonstrated that the "power from on high" is the method the Master uses. The apostles went with an anointing to announce the Good News. Congregations came into being as Pentecostal power penetrated the population centres of that time. And so it continues.

Our charter of 1919 states three very significant purposes for which we exist: "to conduct a place or places of worship; to organize and conduct schools of religious instruction; to carry on home and foreign missionary work for the spread of the gospel." We began with the vision to reach the lost.

This vision was continually cast in every means of communication. The first issue of the Pentecostal Testimony in December 1920, contained a letter by the Secretary-Treasurer, R. E. McAlister, in which he spoke of the "opening up of new Assemblies", and further stated, "Pastors and Assemblies ought to take this phase of the work to heart and lift an offering at least once a year for this very important work. Only as we extend the home work are we in a position to care for the Foreign Missionary enterprise, and we have demonstrated in the past that a hundred dollars spent wisely in the opening up of Home Missions under ordinary conditions will result in a hundred per cent increase to the Foreign work within a year. Every Home Mission opened in turn becomes a factor in the Foreign Missionary enterprise." This statement was followed by a listing of the current churches within the Fellowship. There were 27.

By May 1, 1939, the Pentecostal Testimony was able to report over 300 assemblies affiliated. There were 190 ordained ministers and 52 missionaries. Over a full page was given to report a new church opening in Paris, Ontario. With two pages devoted to missionary news, another two pages reported on church revival and growth in Canada, and yet another full page was an appeal for a Home Mission outreach. The vision of church growth was continuing to carry the new Movement forward.

It is our firm belief, that this same vision is still at the heart of our Fellowship, and still the motivation behind our momentum. We have called the 1930's our Decade of Destiny. In accordance with the faith and foresight of our forefathers, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada has articulated its Mission Statement as "to make disciples everywhere by the proclamation and practice of the gospel of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit; to establish local congregations, and to train spiritual leaders"

Our Beginning

This Fellowship was birthed in revival. At the turn of this century, a fresh wind of the Spirit came upon spiritually hungry people to eventually form new churches and ultimately a new national church body. The early outpouring of the Spirit in Canada can be traced to four particular cities.

The Hebden or East End Mission, on Queen Street East, Toronto, became one of our first Canadian sites where we learn of people baptized in the Spirit after the pattern of Acts chapter 2. Arthur and Ellen Hebden rented a storefront for meetings. While in prayer, Mrs. Hebden began to speak in tongues. Soon others enjoyed the same experience. As news spread, crowds came. The hall became so packed that back partitions were extended to 90 feet.

In that same year of 1906, a Holiness preacher, R. E. McAlister of Ottawa, journeyed to Azusa Street in Los Angeles and there received his personal infilling of the Spirit.

The next year, A. H. Argue, a businessman from Winnipeg, attended William Durham's North Avenue Mission in Chicago where he entered into his personal Pentecost. Using his home for services, he established the assembly which became Calvary Temple of Winnipeg.

Also in 1907, A. G. Ward of Winnipeg was invited to preach at a convention in Kitchener. As people sought God a revival broke out with many being saved, healed and filled with the Spirit. This became the beginning of a Pentecostal outreach in that area.

Organized and Chartered

The early Canadian Pentecostals found themselves in controversy over creating any kind of organization. Mr. and Mrs. Hebden of the Toronto mission outreach stated "most emphatically... we have no connection whatever with any general organization of the Pentecostal people in Canada," and went on to make it clear that to them all organization was a snare of Satan. It was primarily fear of a loss of the revival to man-made structures and power that caused such opposition. But as growth occurred it became clear that for the best administration of funds, for the protection of assemblies from false teachers and doctrine, and for the full coordination of efforts to evangelize, at least some sort of minimal organization was required.

An attempt in the East in 1909 failed. In 1918 a decision was made to form a national entity but to join it with an American body, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Contact was never made and so nothing materialized.

Our historic day is May 17, 1919. The government of Canada issued a Charter incorporating The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Seven charter members stand as our founding fathers, namely: R. E. McAlister, Frank Small, G. A. Chambers, Harvey McAlister, Arthur Miles Pattison, R. E. Sternall, and William Draffin.

The first chairman was George A. Chambers. On November 25, 1919, the first General Assembly was convened in Kitchener, Ontario.

For a few years, the new organization had an uncertain future. Pentecostals in the Canadian Prairies joined the Assemblies of God of the USA, becoming the Western Canadian District Council of that organization. In 1920 the PAOC meeting in Montreal voted to join the Assemblies of God as a District Council. During 1925 that union was dissolved and The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada became a truly Canadian entity.

Developmental History

Ron Kydd writes that "the first two decades of the movement's life was characterized by what has got to be called extremely slow growth. This picked up to a more moderate rate from 1921 to 1941, but then fell back to slow during the next decade. It slowed even further between 1951 and 1961, but increased to moderate over the next ten years. The decade 1971-81, surprisingly, saw extremely fast growth - the fastest in the movement's history. "Canada Statistics has shown the Canadian Pentecostal movement to have grown by 29% in the decade 1981-91."

As a church planting movement in both national and international missions outreach, we have a passion to grow. Beginning with 25 local churches in 1919, we now list over 1,100 with an additional 10,000 overseas. Our 4,500 original adherents have multiplied to over 220,000 in Canada and another 1.2 million around the world. The average number of members per church is over 200.

Enthusiasm for missions is always a mark of a Pentecostal. Jesus said to go into all the world. The Spirit came to empower us as witnesses. The Canadian Pentecostal was and will be a world missions Christian. Currently we operate in 30 countries with about 300 missionaries. Missions is central in our giving, in our praying and in our working. A deep conviction continually constrains us, that the love of God poured out on Canada and its Pentecostals is meant to be shared around the world. Therefore we have diversified our ministry beyond traditional vocational missionaries to include short termers, task forces, youth teams, and whoever can go to wherever we can. Continually we call for Canada to complete the Great Commission.

Reasons for our Growth

The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada has been a dynamic movement. What has contributed to the movement's growth and stability? Church Historian Ron Kydd lists three factors from his study of the PAOC.

First, it had strong leadership. He lists a number who transferred from pastoral ministry in other denominations, such as G. A. Cham bers, A. G. Ward, R. L. Dutaud, J. C. Ball, and F. M. Bell Smith. Further he mentions business men who became leaders, such as A. H. Argue and C. E. Baker. He states that it was "their religious experiences, their understanding of Scripture, and their life experiences which defined the nature of the emerging movement." An influx of new leaders came in the 1920's: T. T. Latto, D. N. Buntain, J. E. Purdie and J. W. McKillop. "They all brought ministerial and administrative experience, and they possessed educational back grounds which were above average for society of their time.

A second factor was the organizational structure which evolved. A. G. Ward in 1935 stated, "I feel we must not fail to recognize that as a Movement grows numerically and new departments are opened up, of necessity it must be carried on in the most efficient business-like way. We have certainly outgrown some of our former policies and methods of conducting affairs, and now we must either make the necessary changes and improvements or be forced into retrogression". As a movement, we have remained on the cutting edge of evangelistic outreach and growth because of our creative methods to meet the changing needs of society with the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been open to the voice of the Spirit as He has led us into new ways of responding to the challenges of the day. At the same time, we have stood faithfully upon the Scriptures as our only authority in matters of faith and practice.

The third factor was the emphasis on ministerial training. In 1925, a motion at the General Conference established a temporary Bible School in Winnipeg. Under the leadership of J. E. Purdie it served to train leaders until it closed in 1950. Probably nothing did more to shape the character, nature and destiny of the PAOC than that school and that man. From that beginning, we have expanded to Bible Colleges serving English, French, Spanish and Native components of our constituency. A seminary is in formation stages. As well we serve literally hundreds more through our several correspondence programs.

Nature of Canadian Pentecostals

Canadian Pentecostals are innovative pragmatists when it comes to evangelism. While very tight doctrinally, we have been very loose in methodology. We want what works. Often this has been a strength in helping us to accomplish our task. At times it has exposed us to danger where fads have been tolerated or taken on.

We have been quick to exploit technological advances. First there was the press. In 1907 A. H. Argue put out "The Apostolic Messenger" with 30,000 copies. Over the years various other publications have arisen, with The Pentecostal Testimony as our journalistic flag ship. Then came the radio. The Pentecostal Testimony of May 1, 1939 published a Radio Log showing 17 stations carrying local church broadcasts. Television, including local cable stations, was used as it came on the scene as well. Now we are entering the era of computers, and true to form, using such we are already developing exciting new programs for ministerial training.

Canada is a diverse country composed of many cultures and traditions. Ambitious and aggressive outreach among all groups has always been our trait. The 1939 Pentecostal Testimony mentions outreach among Western Ukrainians. Today The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada is Chinese, Korean, Spanish, French, English, Native, German, Ukrainian... or whatever else makes a Canadian. Most new church growth is among our ethnic population. Truly we are Pentecostal in composition... that is, we are made up of peoples of many languages, races and cultures, even as God has intended the church to be.

Pentecost by its very name puts us in the atmosphere of the book of Acts. The coming of the Spirit serves as the context for all that we are and attempt to accomplish. Mere sociological factors are inadequate in describing the essence of what it is to be a Pentecostal. Furthermore, we are more than even just another church denomination on the scene. While we have al the usual religious mechanics of church governmental structures, educational programs, youth and children's ministries, social betterment concerns and actions, evangelism and missions outreaches, along with other such things, yet this is all secondary to the heart of what we are and do. We were born in an upper room experience. We are a revival movement. Everything in our history is marked by this. Everything we are today is motivated by this. And everything we plan for the future is made for this.

It was a hunger for more of God that drove our forefathers to spend hours in prayer. The power of the Spirit that came upon them drove them forth to be evangelists, missionaries, church planters, pastors and Christian workers. Administrative functions were only added to more effectively and aggressively push forward. Programs were created not just to meet needs, but to strengthen our experience of Pentecost in the local church and to enable us to expand by the creation of new churches.

All that we have done must be seen in this light. Camps, a central part of our yearly church life, are for fostering revival and promoting outreach. Even our colleges were created for more than just the providing of a theological education for aspiring ministerial applicants. They are to perpetuate Pentecost in our preachers by an environment that is Spirit-dominated because of Spirit-filled teachers.

Many of our early leaders came from Holiness backgrounds. Bringing this emphasis with them, brought into The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada an increased attention on the work of the Spirit in sanctification. A true revival was seen as more than a blessing felt. It was a life of holiness bringing peace to the soul and demonstrating the power of Christ to the world.

We can only be understood within the context of a Pentecostal experience. It flavours all that we are. We are a church that was created by, has lived in and works from a context of continual revival. Thus, whenever we find ourselves in a difficulty, our first call is always for a renewed passion. We are convinced that renewal is the answer for the church, and that a revived church is the answer for the world.

Revival should result in evangelism. The Spirit comes to send us out. While Pentecost blesses the church, it is ultimately meant to empower the believer to do the works of God. That is why church planting is our mission. We create congregations because we are soul winners, and we are evangelists because we have been revived and this because the Spirit has come upon us. His presence and power have made us Christ-centred in our living and our working.

The marks of a Pentecostal church are therefore clear. Prayer is our atmosphere and is done in the Spirit with intercession for souls. Holy living is our calling, through a Spirit-filled life meant to be a witness that Jesus saves. Preaching is our method, under the anointing of the Spirit, with an evangelistic intent. Manifestations of the Spirit's presence and demonstrations of His giftings are expected and encouraged, so that we may effectively reach others with the gospel.

As the early church, we seek for outpourings of the Spirit, that He is in fact, among us to work in power for the glory of God. We want the Pentecostal fire of purity to refine our doctrinal knowledge, our life, and our speech. We desire the Pentecostal wind of power to blow through our lives and churches to send us forth to boldly preach, heal the sick and set the captive free. We crave to have the Pentecostal tongue of praise, so that Christ may be glorified in our worship and our prophetic proclamation of His Word.

Yet we never forget that Pentecost does not exist on its own terms. It is the promise of the Father that He would send the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit speaks not of nor from Himself, but of Christ. It is Jesus who is exalted, and who has sent to us the Spirit. Through the Spirit He exercises His headship of the church. By the Spirit's work in us we are revived to live the gospel, and from His work upon us we are empowered to go and preach the gospel. Thus a Pentecostal church lives in revival so that it may evangelize in power.

Fresh Breezes

We sense that it is time for a fresh breeze of the Spirit to blow across our land. Therefore we have called the nineties the Decade of Destiny. We are aware that we have grown, not only in numbers, but in spiritual maturity, in resources, and in understanding. But with that growth, has also come certain signs of aging. And we are concerned. We are resolved that we will not surrender to sluggishness of spirit, stagnation in growth, selfishness in attitude, and slowness in giving.

We are aware of our need. It is time to seek the Lord. Without a revival for today, we have no tomorrow. If we stop growing, it will be because we have stopped living. The answer is a fresh touch of fire upon our soul, a new wind of power within our churches and a liberated tongue of praise. Pentecost is still the only description of a New Testament church.

We humbly ask God to help us balance doctrine with duty. We implore Him to keep us true to the traditions of the faith while ready to move forward in faith. We beseech Him to replenish our resources that we might renew our sacrifices. We look for guidance as we seek to be governed by God, not man. We want wisdom that we might walk in His ways. We groan in our spirits for the Spirit to restore our ability to intercede with tears for those who are lost and dying. We call out from the depths of our hearts that God would answer from on high and come forth in power to revive us and heal our land.

May God grant us ministers who have love as well as learning. May He give us churches which have the fire of Pentecost as well as the faith of the Scriptures. May the Lord go with us as well as direct us. May Jesus be not only th Head of our church, but the Heart of our wor ship, and the Hope of our lives.

Canada at the Crossroads

Our country is at a crossroads. We live in critical times. Our challenge is to be truly Pentecostal, where with diverse and different tongues, God nonetheless has a people who are all in one place in one accord. The world is still in a state of Babel where confusion reigns and conflict destroys. God has brought us, The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, to this point in time and to this place in history to speak hope to our nation.

We began with a vision. It still holds us in its power. The 1987 Congress on Pentecostal Leadership concluded with a challenge, which many of us signed, that we would be willing "to go anywhere, do anything, and sacrifice any thing that God requires of us in the fulfilment of the Great Commission."

The words of J. E. Purdie of many years ago still stir us today, "With the vision glorious, may not the Church press forward to greater and more far-reaching practical work both at home and abroad! There are unique openings and opportunities to enlarge and extend the borders of the Church through good, sane, aggressive and definitely planned continuous evangelistic work, and to push fonvard today and take new lands for God. To do this effectively, we must have the vision borne in upon us by the power of the Holy Spirit Himself."

Our Prayer

Oh God, of gracious might and saving love, open our eyes but once again, that we may see Jesus, and then through His eyes, see the world for which He died. Renew our vision, revive our spirit, restore our land. Send a fresh breeze of your Spirit on our souls. Do this for the glory of your Name. Amen.

Sources of Quotes or References made:

Kulbeck, Gloria G. What God Hath Wrought. Toronto: The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. 1958.

The Pentecostal Testimony, December 1920.

Kydd, Ron. "Pentecostals, Charismatics and the Canadian Denominations", in Englise et Theologie, 13 (1982)

Kydd, Ron. Canadian Pentecostalism as a Renewal Movement, Feb. 1982. (unpublished paper)

"A. G. Ward to J. W. McKillop, December 18, 1935," 4, Papers of the General Secretary, (PAOC Archives).

Purdie, J. Eustace. "The Vision Glorious," The Gleaner, 11:20, April, 1950.

First Printing - June, 1996

Copyright - The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada / Department of Spiritual Life / David C. Slauenwhite / 1996

This article was first distributed in August, 1994 to delegates attending the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada General Conference in Calgary, Alberta on the occasion of our 75th Anniversary as a Fellowship.

Used by permission
of Rev. David C. Slauenwhite
and of Rev. David Ball,
General Secretary-Treasurer of the PAOC
received on 10/27/98