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David du Plessis and the Early Pentecostal Movement in South Africa

This Week in AG History —July 30, 1938

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on AG News, 29 July 2021

David Johannes du Plessis (1905-1987), known as “Mr. Pentecost,” was an effective leader in three of the most influential movements in 20th century Christianity – the Pentecostal movement, the charismatic movement, and the ecumenical movement. When Time magazine surveyed a group of Catholic and Protestant editors in 1974 to list 11 “movers and shakers” of the Christian faith, du Plessis was listed alongside Rosemary Ruether, Don Helder Camara, Billy Graham, Hans Küng, Bernard Lonergan, and Jürgen Moltman. His early experience with the Apostolic Faith Mission revival in South Africa shaped his understanding that the work of the Holy Spirit was for all time and for all people, regardless of their faith tradition within Christianity.

The July 30, 1938, issue of The Pentecostal Evangel printed a report given by du Plessis to the students of Central Bible Institute (CBI, later Central Bible College) in Springfield, Missouri, entitled “Pentecost in South Africa.” Tracing the development of the Pentecostal movement in his home country of South Africa, the 33-year-old general secretary of the Apostolic Faith Movement shared with the CBI student body that reports came to South Africa in 1904 of a great revival taking place in Wales and many began crying out to God to “send us an outpouring of Your Holy Spirit” in our nation.

In 1906, an American evangelist, Daniel Bryant, arrived in South Africa bringing with him a message of divine healing. Du Plessis reported that “God healed so many that literally hundreds accepted that truth, and were baptized by him. The cream of the church, the elders and deacons of the Dutch Reformed Church, local preachers of the Methodist church, were glad to receive this wonderful message.”

In 1908, John G. Lake and Thomas Hezmalhalch came from the United States bringing with them the message of the Pentecostal outpouring. Du Plessis reports that “these two men started out in a native church in Johannesburg and out of curiosity white folk went but they stayed and received the baptism … then a tabernacle was offered in Johannesburg in the center of the city. That place became a revival center … a thousand people crowded in and around it every night of the week … demons were cast out. The sick were raised up in the name of Jesus without a hand being laid upon them. Healings occurred just from a command from the platform.”

This revival greatly influenced the churches around them. “From the Dutch Reformed and the Methodist and every Church in South Africa have been drawn their saintliest men, those people who had been crying to God for a revival, and when the Holy Ghost was poured out in Johannesburg they said, ‘This is what we seek.’ Naturally when the churches saw their best elders and their most deeply spiritual men and women moving into this ‘new sect’ they thought it was time to raise their voices against this awful thing.”

Despite persecution, the movement grew until, in 1913, it organized into the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa. Many classes of people, from the humblest farmer to the wife of the prime minister were among those in the growing church. Du Plessis ended his 1938 message with an invitation to “come and see these things for yourselves . . . As general secretary and editor of the paper (of the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa) I suppose I have had my hand on the pulse of the work more than anybody else. I have traveled more and have visited all the assemblies and I know almost half the members of the mission, if not more, so I am not telling you stories I have heard, but telling you facts I know.”

David du Plessis returned to South Africa after his trip to America and continued in his work with the Apostolic Faith Mission until 1947 when he was asked to assume leadership of the new Pentecostal World Conference, an organization that sought to bring unity, fellowship, and encouragement to global Pentecostalism. After moving to the United States in 1948, he became friends with John Mackay, the president of Princeton Seminary. This friendship opened doors for du Plessis to share the message of the Pentecostal outpouring with many global ecclesiastical representatives. These church leaders began referring to him as “Mr. Pentecost.”

When the charismatic movement began in the 1960s with many leaders in mainstream denominations experiencing the baptism in the Spirit and demonstrating spiritual gifts, including speaking in tongues, du Plessis was already in a place to provide leadership and instruction to ministers in the Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic churches. He was invited to participate in the World Council of Churches Assembly meetings and served as a Pentecostal representative at the Second Vatican Council. Although these relationships were controversial within the Pentecostal movement, du Plessis continued to extend a hand of fellowship to any who were willing to open their minds and hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit.

In his early days in South Africa he preached against the “dead, dry” religion of the mainline churches. In his later years, God used him to bring new life of the Spirit into those same mainline churches and to speak for unity among the Pentecostal global movement. When he died in 1987, at the age of 81, he was serving Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, as resident consultant for Ecumenical Affairs and was an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God.

Read David du Plessis article, “Pentecost in South Africa,” on pages 2-4 of the July 30, 1938, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The End of Human Government” by Harry Steil

• “Praise” by Bernice Lee

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
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Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
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Email: Archives@ag.org

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