The Foursquare Gospel Church was founded earlier this century by Aimee Semple McPherson. Born Aimee Kennedy in Ontario, Canada in 1890, at 17 she experienced a conversion under the preaching of evangelist Robert Semple. After marrying Semple, she went to work with him as a missionary in Hong Kong. In 1911, after his death, she returned to the United States with her infant daughter and began preaching. In Florida she married a grocer named Harold McPherson, but the two divorced. A third marriage, in 1931 to a member of her choir, lasted only four months.
In 1918 McPherson moved to Los Angeles, bringing along her daughter and new son. Once there she began to build a large auditorium (5,300 seats) named the Angelus Temple; it was dedicated January 1, 1923.
In 1921 McPherson was ordained as pastor of First Baptist Church in San Jose, California, but her association with this church was loose. She founded the Echo Park Evangelistic Association and L.I.F.E. Bible College. Eventually, she founded the denomination known as the Foursquare Gospel Church.
As understood by her, the “Foursquare Gospel” reflects four aspects of Christ’s character in relationship to the Christian: Jesus Christ the Savior, the Healer, the Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, and the Coming King. Theologically the Foursquare Gospel Church is Pentecostal. It believes in Spirit baptism as a separate and distinct work of grace, subsequent to the believer’s conversion. Those who experience Spirit baptism will give initial evidence of this by speaking in tongues. The Foursquare Gospel Church also places emphasis on faith healing, on the pre-millennial coming of Christ, and on Christian holiness.
McPherson was a very popular preacher in Los Angeles, though her flamboyant antics attracted criticism. Once, dressed as a policeman, she drove a motorcycle to the front of the sanctuary at Angelus Temple and shouted, “Stop! You’re going to hell!” Another time she dressed in a football player’s uniform and depicted the conflict between God and the devil as a football game.
McPherson’s movement was rocked by sex scandal in 1926 when she suddenly disappeared. Later she claimed to have been kidnapped, but it was revealed that she had been on a “love retreat” with a man to whom she was not married.
Her movement also was jolted by financial scandals involving charges of misappropriation of funds. From 1927 to 1931 McPherson had to battle her mother for control of Angelus Temple; she ultimately won and retained control of the denomination until her death in 1944, when leadership was assumed by her son, Rolf.
Currently the Foursquare Gospel Church has 200,000 members in the United States, though due to emphasis on world missions, the worldwide membership is much larger, with 1.5 million members in sixty countries.