Aimee's biggest and most enduring legacy was the church she founded, The Foursquare Church. The churches foundation is based on her Foursquare Gospel. According to the the church web site (www.foursquare.org), it is called the Foursquare Gospel because it is based on the four tenets of her message which are:
- Jesus is the Savior
- Jesus is the healer
- Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit
- Jesus is coming again
The Foursquare Church is classified as a pentecostal denomination. Pentecostalism is characterized by practicing and believing in the gifts of the spirit after being "baptized in the spirit". At the time of conversion, Pentecostals believe that the Holy Spirit fills the believer and lives, or indwells, within the believer. That indwelling opens the believer to the Spiritual gifts.
In Pentecostal belief, the first sign of spiritual baptism is speaking in tongues. When speaking in tongues, the language can, allegedly, be a known language such as Spanish or Chinese but there are other times when the language is nothing anyone has heard before. If the message is presented to a congregation, it requires a interpreter so that people can understand the message. If a person speaks in tongues in prayer or if a congregation sings in tongues, it is considered praise and does not require interpretation.
While speaking in tongues is one sign, it isn't the only sign. Other signs of the spirit are healing, prophecy, words of wisdom, interpreting tongues and several others. These gifts can manifest themselves in various ways. For instance, healing can take place in a service by laying on hands in addition to praying for the sick. Other physical manifestations of the spirit include dancing in the Spirit. However, one of the most dramatic manifestations is being slain in the Spirit where a person seems to either faint or fall down writhing on the ground.
A Pentecostal service can be very energetic. People who are not accustomed to a Pentecostal service can often find it disturbing and disorienting.
In the early part of her ministry, Aimee tried to discourage the Pentecostal label. After World War I, Pentecostalism was not in favor but her services featured many aspects of Pentecostalism including healing and speaking in tongues. Aimee kept a museum of wheelchairs, crutches and other items representing all of those she healed.
Most Pentecostals at the time were very conservative and believed that the faith should permeate all parts of the believers life from school to work to home. They also believed that people should shun the secular world. However, Aimee's conservative message was presented using very modern methods. For example, Aimee was the first woman granted a broadcast license for a radio station and she was the first woman to deliver a sermon on the radio.
Additionally, she was very non-traditional. First she was a woman, a single mother who was a widow and who had been divorced. She traveled across the country in a car with her mother and two children who were very young holding tent revivals, speaking in tongues sometimes and performing acts of faith healing. Many of those things were enough to turn off many potential followers but her following grew larger.
When she settled in Los Angeles and built the Angelus Temple, people flocked to Echo Park to see as well as listen to her sermons. She was a promoter and a showman. For example, when Angelus Temple opened January 1, 1923 a replica of the temple appeared as a float in the Rose Bowl Parade that day to promote the opening of the building. Her sermons were sometimes a theatrical experience with lavish sets and costumes plus actors to help illustrate the sermon.
Her showmanship seemed in stark contrast to the rejection of the secular world that was part of the belief system of the Foursquare denomination. The following she had, possibly even cultivated, included thousands of people from the Los Angeles area from the humble, every-man to movie stars. Her celebrity and her perceived (or actual) pursuit of fame earned her many critics. Still, her ministry grew.
Minnie Kennedy grew up in the Salvation Army and took a young Aimee with her to services and to serve. Aimee took that idea of service with her throughout her career. As a matter of fact her career started with service after she married Robert Semple with service in Chicago and, finally, in China. The first thing she did after moving to Los Angeles was to work ministering to people.
During the Depression, Aimee worked hard to set up soup kitchens and free clinics for people who were affected by the events of the 1930s. During World War II she participated in war bond rallies, always helping where she could.
Like many other ministers, Sister Aimee had her share of scandals. There were allegations of a love nest, her third marriage was considered scandalous, and she had dissension within her family that was very public. Just the fact that Sister Aimee was a woman with a pulpit was enough to scandalize many people who believed that a woman had no business preaching.
Aimee's entire life was an exercise in contrasts. Here was a woman who preached a message of simplicity and obedience to God. But this is a woman who wore designer gowns from Paris. She loved beautiful clothes and with charge accounts at boutiques all over Los Angeles, she could indulge that urge. Aimee was considered a beautiful woman and used cosmetics to enhance that beauty which was often discouraged in Pentecostal denominations. She cut her hair and dyed it blond. If a short description is required, it would have to be - Aimee was flashy.
Aimee's home was as ostentatious as she was. She was given some land by a realty company in the hopes that, if she built in the development, other celebrities and wealthy people would follow and build in the area. Her home was a 14-room 4,400 square foot castle in the Moorish style with minarets and domes.
All of these things were enough to bother many people who thought that ministers shouldn't be flashy, but should be pious and reflective. Her sermons also came under fire, not necessarily for the message, but for the delivery. Some of the sermons she delivered were more theater than theology. Maybe that isn't a fair way to say it but, according to some critics, it was sometimes difficult to get past the spectacle to find the message.
That can be a fair criticism when Aimee is riding a motorcycle down the aisle or when there is a marching band. Aimee called these spectaculars "illustrated sermons". There were sets, costumes and music to support it all. The thinking behind the the illustrated sermons and spectaculars was to attract people to the Temple and keep them with the message. That can be a valid strategy but, in religious circles, over-the-top presentation isn't exactly encouraged. One of the criticisms is that this way of presenting a sermon was more about glorifying Aimee and less about glorifying God.