Robert E. McAlister: Canadian Pentecostal Pioneer

McAlisterThis Week in AG History — December 6, 1941

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on AG News, 05 December 2019

Robert Edward McAlister (1880-1953) is considered by many to be the father of Canadian Pentecostalism. He was a charter member of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) and served as its General Secretary from its inception in 1919 through 1932. He oversaw the creation of The Pentecostal Testimony (now Testimony/Enrich) in 1920 and served as its editor until 1937.

Born to adherents of the Scottish Presbyterian Holiness movement in Ontario, McAlister experienced a personal conversion at the age of 21. Feeling a call to ministry, he enrolled in God’s Bible School (Cincinnati, Ohio), founded by leading Methodist Holiness minister Martin Wells Knapp. Although illness caused him to leave the school after only one year, he became an evangelist with the Holiness Movement Church, a small Canadian denomination that emphasized the importance of “entire sanctification.”

While preaching in western Canada, McAlister heard about a revival taking place in Los Angeles at the Azusa Street Mission. He arrived at the meetings on Dec. 11, 1906, and experienced his personal Pentecost. Within weeks, he was conducting meetings in Ontario and western Canada, teaching about the baptism in the Holy Spirit accompanied by tongues.

In 1913, McAlister was invited by R. J. Scott to be a speaker, along with Maria Woodworth-Etter, at the Worldwide Apostolic Faith Camp Meeting at the Arroyo Seco campground in Los Angeles in an effort to unite Pentecostal groups. At the end of his sermon, he mentioned an observation that the apostles baptized “in the name of Jesus,” rather than using the Trinitarian formula of “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” While McAlister always embraced Trinitarian doctrine, interestingly, it was this brief observation at the camp meeting that helped to the spark the Oneness Pentecostal movement, which rejected traditional Trinitarian formulations.

Although he lacked much formal theological education, McAlister was respected as a pastor, evangelist, publisher, author, administrator, and preacher over his 50 years of Pentecostal ministry. At that time, any preacher who did not make full use of the entire platform during a vigorous sermon was looked upon with some suspicion, yet McAlister rarely moved about in his presentation. His strength was not in delivery but in content. PAOC historian Gordon Atter said of him, “He never went into the pulpit but what he was completely prepared … when he was through, you would remember that sermon, and his altar calls were tremendous.”

McAlister addressed the 1941 General Council Assemblies of God, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His sermon was printed in the Dec. 6, 1941, issue of The Pentecostal Evangel.

Robert C. Cunningham, in his Oct. 4, 1941, summary of the General Council meetings described the service: “Once again our hearts were thrilled at the music in the opening part of the service. Loren Fox placed ‘The Holy City’ on the organ and it so stirred the heart of R.E. McAlister of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, who was the evening speaker, that before the message he gave a wonderful description of heaven. The message which followed on ‘The Threefold Ministry of Christ’ was much anointed and will not soon be forgotten by the large numbers attending that service.”

After his retirement in 1937, McAlister was succeeded by A.G. Ward (father of Revivaltime speaker C.M. Ward) as the new secretary-treasurer of the PAOC and editor of The Pentecostal Testimony. He remained an in-demand speaker and many pastors continued to consult his God-given wisdom in their own ministries until his death in 1953.

Read the full sermon, “The Threefold Ministry of Christ,” on page 1 of the Dec. 6, 1941, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Praying for Worldwide Revival,” by Stanley H. Frodsham

• “Echoes of Victory,” by H.C. Ball

• “The Secret of True Success,” by E. Hodgson

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200

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