The Birth of the Nativity Scene

12 December, 2011

The Nativity scene is one of the most cherished remnants of the Christian celebration of Christmas, which is increasingly eclipsed by pagan and secular trappings in our modern, materialistic culture. From live manger scenes with farm and exotic animals to miniature figurines in a moss-covered stable to electric-lighted plastic lawn sets, the contemporary Nativity scene has a long and interesting history dating back to the first commemorations of Christ’s birth in the 3rd and 4th century.

Though the beautiful narrative of Christ’s nativity appears in the gospels of Saints Matthew and Luke, His birth was not widely celebrated nor did it enter the liturgical cycle until the 3rd or 4th century. Ancient Christians were more inclined to focus on the Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi, than the birth of Christ. In his Homilies on Leviticus, Origen, a 2nd century theologian, remarked that “only sinners” marked the day of their birth, citing evil rulers like the Egyptian pharaoh and Herod as examples of vain birthday celebrations. In fact, rather than celebrate birth, it was the tradition of the Church to commemorate the deaths of martyrs and Christian faithful with feast days, so it is not surprising that the Nativity of Christ was unremarked in the earliest centuries of the Faith.

Depictions of the Nativity of the Divine Child appear during the period when the Church first began to widely observe the feast of Christ’s birth on December 25th. The earliest examples are relief sculptures on sarcophagi in Rome and Gaul. They generally show a swaddled baby surrounded by ox and ass, a common motif based on Isaiah 1:3: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib. . .” Some depict the Bethlehem star, the Virgin Mary, the shepherds or Magi and, less often, Joseph. (“Nativity (in Art)“ 1380). The first documented usage of the Nativity in worship occurred in 4th Century Rome at the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where a Christian shrine included boards traditionally associated with the manger which held the Christ Child. One of the three Christmas masses at the basilica was titled Ad Praesepe, or “to the crib” (“Nativity Scene” 407).

Though there are other artistic representations of Christ’s birth carved in ivory, mosaic, and even gems, the modern Nativity scene used in worship, and later in homes, is a direct descendant of a live Nativity conceptualized by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. Francis received papal approval to celebrate a Christmas mass in the first living Nativity scene, which was erected in a cave at Greccio where a local lord, Giovanni di Velita, had given Francis space for a small hermitage. There, Francis installed a wooden manger with straw. Following earlier iconographic tradition, a live ox and ass were also provided to complete the simple scene. At midnight, worshipers came with torches and lanterns, and a priest conducted a mass over the empty, straw-strewn crib. The spiritual celebration was ecstatically received and represented an innovative and contemplative enhancement of the Midnight Mass (Greene 242-243). The Franciscan Nativity was soon adapted throughout Europe and took on a high level of pageantry and celebration. In French and Italian villages costumed villagers made procession to live Nativities and in some cases brought gifts and offerings to present to the Holy Child, a surrogate for Holy Church. By the sixteenth century, many European churches in France, Germany, and Italy annually reenacted the presepio (crib scene) at Christmas and Epiphany (“Nativity Scene” 408).

In the seventeenth century, versions of the Christmas scene began to appear in homes, some mere folk art and others more developed. In eighteenth century Naples, families competed to construct the most intricate and ostentatious Nativity scenes, which expanded far beyond the Holy Family to include villagers, angels, and elaborate scenery, some boasting working waterfalls or erupting volcanoes. Wealthy Neapolitans sometimes hired professional artists to paint scenery, sculpt heads or create extravagant bejeweled clothing for the figures (“Nativity Scene” 409).

In 1803, the first known portable Nativity set appeared at a Christmas fair in Marseille, France. The small clay figurines represented the usual characters from the biblical account (Mary, Joseph, Jesus, angels, shepherds, and Magi) but also included a variety of tradespeople such as a baker, fishmonger, mayor and others. When French migrants came to Canada, they began the tradition of placing the sets beneath the branches of a Christmas tree (“Nativity Scene” 409).

In England and the American Colonies, Christmas celebrations suffered under the ascetic regulations of the Puritans, who outlawed Christmas commemorations, along with other “Holy-dayes” in June 1647, claiming they had been “superstitiously used and observed” (Grapel 26). The Nativity set, then, did not arrive in America until the eighteenth century, when German Moravian immigrants brought the strong European tradition with them (“Nativity Scene” 411).

In modern times, the Nativity scene is a staple of Christmas commemoration and pageantry. Controversy often surrounds the display of the Gospel tableau in public spaces such as courthouse lawns and schoolyards. Political pundits postulate about the impact on the separation of Church and State, and religious bigots harp about the affront to tolerance and diversity. However, through the efforts of tenacious Christian celebrants, the scenes persist from elegant, artistic representations to live reenactments to kitschy lawn ornaments. The simple scene of St. Francis in the small Italian hermit’s chapel is now a fixture of the Faith. This year remember that each crèche, whether grand or humble, is rooted in ancient Christian worship and reminds us of the divine loftiness and incarnated lowliness of the Blessed Divine Child, Jesus Christ.

Sources:

Grapel, William. Church’s Holy-Days the Only Safeguard Against the Desecration of the Lord’s Day. London: Joseph Masters, 1848.

Green, Julien. God’s Fool: the Life and Times of Francis of Assisi. Trans. Peter Heinegg. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983.

“Nativity (in Art).” A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities. Eds. William Smith and Samuel Cheetham. Vol 2. 1880. Print.

“Nativity Scene.” Encyclopedia of Christmas. Ed. Tanya Gulevich. 2000. Print.

The Heavenly Anthem

10 May, 2011

In 1906, the Pentecostals in Los Angeles reported singing in tongues. In addition, they experienced a further Pentecostal phenomenon, which they termed the “Heavenly Anthem” which manifested as an ethereal corporate singing, and many participants and observers claimed to hear celestial accompaniment. Though enthusiastic singing was part of Pentecostal worship from the movement’s beginnings, ecstatic singing in tongues seems to have surfaced among those who eventually formed the Azusa Street Apostolic Faith Mission and added a further dimension of deep spirituality to the meetings at the Mission and beyond.

The inaugural September 1906 issue of the Apostolic Faith, the official organ of the Azusa Street Mission reports:

Many have received the gift of singing as well as speaking in the inspiration of the Spirit. The Lord giving new voices, he translates the songs into new tongues, he gives the music that is being sung by the angels and has a heavenly choir all singing the same heavenly song in harmony. It is beautiful music, no instruments needed in the meetings.

Chronologically, Sis. Jennie Evans Moore, who later married William Seymour, was the first to experience heavenly singing on April 9, 1906 when she became the first woman to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost at prayer meetings on Bonnie Brae Street, she testified: “I sang under the power of the Spirit in many languages . . . “

One of the clearest descriptions of the “Heavenly Anthem” comes from Bro. Frank Bartleman, an itinerant Holiness evangelist who joined the Pentecostal movement and chronicled the advent of the Apostolic Faith in southern California. On June 15, 1906, Bartleman participated in the inspired singing while attending a service at Azusa:

It [the “Heavenly Anthem”] was a spontaneous manifestation and rapture no earthly tongue can describe. In the beginning, this manifestation was wonderfully pure and powerful . . . No one could understand this “gift of song” but those who had it. It was indeed a “new song” in the Spirit.

Bartleman was intrigued by the miraculous melodies :

It was a gift from God of high order, and appeared among us soon after the “Azusa” work began. No one had preached it. The Lord had sovereignly bestowed it with the outpouring of the “reside of oil,” the “Latter Rain” baptism of the Spirit. It was exercised as the Spirit moved the possessors either in solo fashion or by the company. It was sometimes without words, other times in “tongues.” The effect was wonderful on the people. It brought a heavenly atmosphere, as though the angels themselves were present and joining with us. And possibly they were. It seemed to still criticism and opposition, and was hard for even wicked men to gainsay or ridicule.

Missionary George Berg recognized some of the languages used by the singers, including Hindustani and Gujerathi. On Christmas Day 1906, the Azusa saints experienced the phenomenon during an all-day meeting, and the singing was fittingly interpreted: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will to men.” According to Bro. Berg, “People are melted to tears in hearing this singing. It is the harmony of heaven and the Holy Ghost puts music in the voices that are untrained.”

Ever critical of the formalization of the developing Pentecostal movement, Bro. Bartleman attributed the demise of the Heavenly Anthem to the assertion of the “human spirit” and claimed that “they drove it out by hymnbooks, and selected songs by leaders.” The Heavenly Anthem seems to be a lost artifact of the earliest days of American Pentecostalism, though singing in tongues does continue with less frequency today. Ultimately, the miraculous musical manifestation brought a glorious power and presence of God and was evidence of the abandoned spirituality of our Apostolic Faith forefathers.

Frank Emerson Curts: Laborer for Christ

19 April, 2011

Famed Indiana author, Kurt Vonnegut, once wrote: “I don’t know what it is about Hoosiers. But wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.” This was certainly true of the late Superintendent of the Ohio District of the United Pentecostal Church, Bro. Frank Curts, who hailed from Indiana but spent the most productive years of his ministry in Ohio, building First Apostolic Church of Cincinnati and providing important leadership for the growing Oneness movement.

Frank Emerson Curts was born September 16, 1889 to Joseph and Isabelle Curts in Muncie, Indiana, where he spent his boyhood. As a young man, he was employed at the Ontario Silver Company, where he met Helen Warring. The pair were married on May 10, 1913 and moved to Indianapolis a short time later.

In Indianapolis, Helen began attending meetings at L.V. Roberts Holiness mission on East Tenth Street, where she was converted in 1916. She returned home and knelt beside her bed praying that God would save her husband. Bro. Curts testified: God spoke to me in answer to her prayer, and that same night while I was working as night foreman in a bakery, I confessed Jesus as my Saviour to the men that were working with me” (Curts 4). He gladly accepted his wife’s newfound faith and began attending meetings with her at the mission hall, where he was also converted.

Not long after the couple began serving Christ, Bro. Glenn Cook, formerly of the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, brought the message of baptism in Jesus’ Name to the Pentecostal mission. At first, Bro. and Sis. Curts struggled with the new ideas:

It was rather difficult to walk in the new light after having had such a miraculous conversion, being taught sanctification as a definite work of grace, and having been told I had the Holy Ghost. But we took the Apostolic message before the Lord, with the open Bible before us, and we saw that it was according to His Word. We were baptized in the Name of Jesus, and shortly afterward received the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

In 1917, while attending Oak Hill Tabernacle, Bro. Curts felt the call to preach the Gospel message. In the early 1920s, he attended a revival meeting in Greensburg, Indiana. The small group of saints invited Bro. Curts to come and preach to them on weekends, and he and Sis. Curts faithfully made the commute from Indianapolis to Greensburg for the next five years.

In April 1925, the Lord called Bro. and Sis. Curts to Cincinnati, Ohio. With thirteen people, they began services in a converted Saloon at Walnut and McMicken Streets in downtown Cincinnati. To support his wife and daughters, Evelyn and Frances, Bro. Curts worked as a silver polisher while pastoring the church. Despite modest growth in the beginning, Bro. and Sis. Curts saw a real break in revival around 1927. By 1930, the assembly outgrew the mission and moved to a converted garage at 2930 Colerain Avenue renamed Bethlehem Tabernacle (Tredway).

Bro. Curts was determined to root believers in the Word of God. A gifted teacher, Bro. Curts was strongly-committed to Acts 2:38 and saw the divine foreshadowing in the Tabernacle of the Old Testament. He authored a book on the subject and taught Bible classes using large charts to visually demonstrate his points. This created a strong doctrinal backbone for the growing assembly.

Attendance increased so much, that the church had to begin renting local theatres to accommodate the large crowds, sometimes over 900 persons! In 1961, they purchased a former cinema at 4828 Vine Street and began using the name First Apostolic Church. Bro. Curts was very proud of his congregation but took no personal credit for its size or spiritual reputation:

We do not feel that the success of this church with its several hundred members has been due to our ability, but because of the obedience and faithfulness of the people of God here, who are willing to walk with Him according to His word. (Curts 4).

His great love for his congregation was also demonstrated in the construction of a retreat center for the church in nearby Boone Lake, Kentucky. Bro. Curts owned a farm there and converted 20 acres into a veritable camp where the congregation spent much time cultivating deep relationships and enjoying Godly fellowship.

In addition to dutifully serving his local congregation, Bro. Curts served as a presbyter in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ and became the District Superintendent of the Ohio District of the United Pentecostal Church in 1955. He faithfully held that post until his untimely death. On May 8, 1969, Bro. Curts suffered fatal injuries during a car crash at University and Vine Streets, just a few miles from the church. He died on May 11, 1969.

Bro. Curts left behind a powerful legacy of service to God’s kingdom. The First Apostolic Church is still a thriving congregation, currently led by Joel Urshan. His life was lived in answer to God’s call to ministry, and he executed his duties with an excellent spirit. His passing was lamented by the congregation he led, the district he served, and the United Pentecostal Church he loved. The seeds that he planted in faith and obedience continue to bring forth fruit, and Frank Curts will undoubtedly rejoice to witness the bounty of his labors at the coming of the Lord Jesus!

Messages from Azusa Street

29 November, 2010

http://www.azusastreet.org/picts/AFNewspaper.JPGThe Azusa Street Mission is renowned as the epicenter of early Pentecostal revival and as the site of thousands of Spirit baptisms as sinners, Christian pastors, evangelists, workers, and international missionaries flocked to the humble clapboard building in a muddy side street of the teeming city of Los Angeles to take in the Pentecostal outpouring.  In addition to the mighty conversions, healings, and deliverances, Azusa Street also became an auditorium for divine communication as the apostolic gifts of prophecy and tongues and interpretation were restored to the Body of Christ.  Some of these messages were transcribed in The Apostolic Faith, the official organ of the mission published by Elder William Joseph Seymour and were disseminated around the globe through Seymour’s vast mailing list.

In the inaugural issue of The Apostolic Faith, Bro. Seymour indicates that “many have received the gift of singing as well as speaking in the inspiration of the Spirit.  The Lord is giving new voices, he translates old songs into new tongues, he gives the music that is being sung by the angels.”   The phenomenon of singing in tongues was commonly known amongst the early saints as the “heavenly choir” and was deemed one of the most unusual and stunning manifestations of the Spirit at the mission as the congregation would join in singing in unknown tongues.  One such song was interpreted:

With one accord, all heaven rings
With praises to our God and King;
Let earth join in our song of praise,
And ring it out through all the days.

Another heavenly anthem which was “sung through in the Spirit by all” said:

Jesus Christ is made to me
All I need, all I need; 
He alone is all my plea,
He is all I need.

Wisdom, Righteousness and Power
Holiness forevermore
My Redemption full and sure,
He is all I need.

 The Azusa adherents were strongly convinced that the outpouring of the Holy Ghost signaled the last great revival before the return of Christ, and they valued inspired prophecy and found in utterances, visions, and interpretations divine revelation of unfolding events.  One sister, “who is unlearned and works and [sic] washing and ironing for a living” received a message from the Lord prior to the commencement of the Azusa revival predicting the outcome of the Russo-Japanese War.  One Bro. H.M. Allen uniquely interpreted messages he received in tongues by recording them phonetically and consulting foreign language dictionaries to translate the English meanings.    Bro. Allen’s lexical work revealed “ . . . things that are speedily coming on the whole earth. “  While the Holy Ghost told him that he was “not at liberty to tell all,” he was bound to declare that “if He [God] speaks only two words they are well worth listening to.”  Lillian Keyes, daughter of a Los Angeles physician, gave a stirring message on the coming of the Lord in an African dialect recognized by veteran missionary Sister S.K. Mead:  “Jesus is coming again, coming again so soon . . . Prepare your hearts now, for the Lord is coming soon, and ye know not the hour.” 

Many of the messages glorified Christ and the work of the Holy Ghost.  One transcribed message said:  “The Spirit comes in mighty power upon His people.  Look up unto Jesus now and receive from Him.  O Jesus is my Almighty King . . . God came into the world to see and to save that which was lost. He has redeemed us by His own precious Blood.” 

In several issues of The Apostolic Faith, Bro. Seymour made an effort to make important theological clarifications about the gifts of prophecy and tongues.  He appealed to Paul’s writing in I Corinthians 14 to argue that tongues with interpretation is as valuable as prophecy.  Elsewhere, he defends the inclusion of women in the ecstatic gifts, citing I Corinthians 11.  He encourages women to work in humility, admonishing them:  “The more God uses you in the Spirit, the more humbled and meek and tender you are and [t]he more filled with the blessed Holy Spirit.”  To the man, he says:  “We have no right to a lay a straw in her way, but to be men of holiness, purity and virtue, to hold up the standard and encourage the woman in her work . . . It is the same Holy Spirit in the woman as in the man.  When one considers how very new these manifestations were in his church, it is remarkable that he possessed such a mature and orthodox view of the gifts of the Spirit in ecclesiastical context and practical operation.

 In many ways, the freedom of Pentecostals at Azusa to participate in the prophetic established a precedent for the greater movement.  Prophecy and tongues/interpretations remain an integral part of the modern Church.  It is interesting that the messages of the Los Angeles revival were transcribed and preserved, as this publication of interpretation of tongues was not widely continued beyond the first decade or so of the Pentecostal movement.  But, they heard in the inspirative words and songs the voice of the Lord promising revival and His soon return.  Though the utterances recorded in The Apostolic Faith are over a century old, they continue to thrill the soul with their spiritual power and anointed unction.

Glenn Cook: Oneness Apostle

19 October, 2010

As the Azusa Street meetings began to produce concentric waves of revival throughout Los Angeles and Southern California, many holiness ministers visited the mission at 312 Azusa Street to contend with William Seymour, the African American leader of the burgeoning Pentecostal group, concerning his strange new doctrine of speaking in tongues.  One of the early preachers to withstand Bro. Seymour was Glenn A. Cook, who was conducting holiness tent meetings at Seventh and Spring Streets in Los Angeles.  Cook was deeply impressed by Seymour’s humility and patience and began to attend the Pentecostal meetings.  He eventually apologized to Bro. Seymour for his “hard sayings” and spent five weeks in heartfelt repentance and spiritual agony before receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost: 

I felt that I was really lost and unless I received the Holy Ghost and spoke in tongues I would miss all.  When I had just about given up all hope, the Holy Ghost fell on me as I lay in bed at home.  I seemed to be in a trance for about twenty-four hours and the next day in the meeting began to speak in tongues.

Bro. Cook proved to be an important asset to the work of the Azusa Mission and was soon ordained an elder by Bro. Seymour.  A former news reporter and a printer by trade, Cook assisted with the publication of The Apostolic Faith, the mission’s international publication, answered correspondence, and handled the mission’s finances. 

            In December 1906, Bro. Cook began an effective evangelistic campaign throughout the West, Midwest and South, spreading the Pentecostal message.  He arrived in Lamont, Oklahoma where “quite a number were tarrying and waiting for Pentecost.”  Hungry souls traveled to his meetings from over 100 miles away.  Heading eastward, he delivered the doctrine to Mother Mary Moise in St. Louis then on to Chicago.  In Indianapolis, he held powerful meetings, where several members of the Christian Missionary Alliance received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, including the Flower family, defectors from Dowie’s Zion who later became influential leaders in the Assemblies of God.  In an Apostolic Faith report, Cook accurately predicted that Indianapolis would become “a center of power, being an inter-urban railway center like Los Angeles.”  Cook was gladly received by a number of Church of God in Christ adherents in the South, while their bishop, Charles H. Mason, was on site at Azusa receiving the Holy Ghost. 

            In 1914, Cook was evangelizing in the east when he received a letter from Frank Ewart, who was conducting meetings in Los Angeles “stating that he and a number of my friends had started a tent meeting and were baptizing people in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Ewart invited Cook to return to Los Angeles to assist in the work.  He accepted Ewart’s scriptural message, and he and Bro. Ewart rebaptized one another in a rented trough.  “During the following months,” wrote Bro. Cook, “the great revival broke out, many hundreds being baptized in the Name of Jesus.” 

            Bro. Cook’s acceptance of the doctrine of the mighty God in Christ placed him in the ranks of the Oneness Pentecostals, who were transforming the movement with a deeper revelation of Jesus Christ.  As a church planter, Cook took up the burden to revisit the works he had helped to found in 1906 and 1907 with the Oneness message:

During the spring of 1915, the call came to me from the Lord to go back East and carry the message to the places where several years before I had carried the message of the Holy Ghost baptism with speaking in tongues.  My first stop was St. Louis, where I visited the Rescue Home of Mother Moise . . . Before leaving St. Louis, Mother Moise, Ben Pemberton, and about forty others were baptized in the Name of Jesus in the Mississippi River.

Afterward, he traveled on to Indianapolis where:

. . . the saints were prepared and hungry for the new message.  Great crowds turned out from the beginning, people coming in from different points in Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois.  During the thirty days of the meeting, I was informed by those who kept a record that some 469 were baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Among those baptized were G.T. Haywood, L.V. Roberts, the new Bishop [Samuel N.] Hancock, Brother [T.C.] Davis, and about all the leaders of that day.  The Lord made a clean sweep, leaving few Pentecostal people in te city who were not baptized in the Name of Jesus.

Throughout his lifetime, Cook continued to promote the powerful message of baptism in the Name of Jesus and the fullness of the Godhead in Christ.  He contributed articles to a number of Apostolic circulars including The Blessed Truth, The Herald of Truth, and Meat in Due Season.  He continued a deep friendship with Bro. Frank Ewart, who introduced him to the Oneness truths, and worked alongside him in Pentecostal ministry in Los Angeles, where he pastored a work in Belvedere.  When he died in 1948, Bro. Glenn A. Cook was memorialized as a trailblazer.  The seeds of truth that he scattered throughout the United States as an apostle of the Faith continue to bring forth a mighty harvest.

 

 

Charles Fox Parham & the Annihilation of the Wicked

1 September, 2010

Charles Fox Parham was theologically eclectic and possessed a sincere, if sometimes misguided, desire to cast tradition to the wind and rediscover an apostolic model for Christianity. Though he was intimately involved in the rediscovery of the Pentecostal experience, evidenced by speaking in other tongues, Parham’s personal tendency toward ecclesiastical eccentricity did much to remove him from the center of influence in the fledgling Pentecostal movement. One of his most controversial doctrines was the annihilation of the wicked, or the idea that the eternal punishment of sinners was simply death. Pentecostals broadly rejected this doctrine, and some boldly anathematized Parham as a heretic.

As a child, Parham was familiar with the Bible but had no strong religious influence in his life and claimed not to have heard “but one or two preachers before reaching the age of thirteen years . . . “ He was proud of this lack of spiritual training, believing that it provided him with a mind open to scriptural truth: “Thus with no preconceived ideas, with no knowledge of what creeds and doctrines meant, not having any traditional spectacles upon the eyes to see through, I scarcely knew anything about church and Sunday School. These facts are stated to show that any early Scriptures were entirely unbiased.” It certainly may account for some of his religious impressionability but hardly recommends him as theologically competent.

Parham’s ideas about the annihilation of the wicked were adopted from his wife’s grandfather, a disfellowshipped Quaker named David Baker. While working under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church, young Charles Fox Parham held a revival at the Pleasant-Valley School House near Tonganoxie, Kansas and was an invited guest in the home of Mr. Baker. Through his own reading of the Bible, David Baker arrived at the conclusion that “eternal torment for the wicked” was not biblical. During the evangelist’s sojourn in Tonganoxie, the pair spent many hours studying the Scriptures, and Parham became convinced of Baker’s perspective. Thereafter, Parham also taught “the destruction of the wicked, though his teaching was rejected by many, and brought much opposition and bitter persecution.”

In the inaugural issue of his paper The Apostolic Faith, Parham propagated the doctrine in an article entitled “Questions on Immortality.” In catechetical style, Parham presented 37 questions on the topic, answered by a simple Bible verse. Following his line of reasoning, Parham teaches that 1) immortality belongs to God alone (I Tm. 1.17); 2) immortality is imparted only to the righteous (Rom. 2.7); 3) Sin brings death (Rom. 6.23); and 4) both the body and soul are destructible (Mt. 10.28). The audience is left to conclude that the sinner is damned only to death. Interestingly, Parham never uses the word “hell” in the article and does not address the many biblical references to eternal punishment.

William Joseph Seymour, who received training in the rudiments of the Pentecostal baptism under Parham in Houston, Texas, strongly denounced his mentor’s perspective in the January 1907 issue of his own paper published in Los Angeles, also named, The Apostolic Faith. Seymour appeals to the Lukan parable of Lazarus and the rich man to establish the premise that “ . . . there is no annihilation in God’s Word for the wicked, but there is a blazing and burning hell awaiting them.” Seymour says that if the destruction of the wicked were true, “then this rich man would have been burned into ashes, and there would be no more of him.” Seymour worries after those taken in the doctrinal error: “Many who have preached a no-hell Gospel will find out better when they die and come to judgment . . . May God help us to turn from sin and wickedness and not try to wrest the Scriptures, but take them just as they are written.” The entire article is a clear renunciation of the heresy of “no-hellism” and an impassioned plea to those who may have a false security about such a finite afterlife to come to repentance, paying heed to “God’s Holy Ghost preachers that are testifying to the Blood that cleanses from sin and warning of an everlasting hell.”

Ultimately, Charles Fox Parham’s errors isolated him from the greater Pentecostal movement. His meager remnant following based in Baxter Springs, Kansas continue to teach the annihilation of the wicked, but the doctrine is not espoused by any major Pentecostal body. In fact, “hellfire and brimstone” has become a cultural euphemism for pulpit-thumping Pentecostal preachers determined to spare sinners the awful torments of eternal damnation. Today, we still agree with that old-time maxim: “There is a heaven to gain, and a hell to shun” and continue our mission to see souls filled with the fires of Pentecost that they may escape the fires of Hell.

Bishop Samuel N. Hancock, Founder of the Pentecostal Church of the Apostolic Faith, Inc.

17 July, 2010

In 1957, Bishop Samuel Nathan Hancock left the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW) to start another organization, the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith, Incorporated. The exodus of this charismatic pastor of the 3,000-member Greater Bethlehem Temple in Detroit, Michigan was the culmination of years of contention and disagreement. While some have branded Bishop Hancock a heretic and a schismatic, the facts surrounding his departure seem typical of the organizational fecundity so typical of the Pentecostal movement.

Samuel Nathan Hancock, who was born 9 November 1883 in Adair County, Kentucky, came to Indianapolis, Indiana with his family at the age of 5. In 1914, Samuel Hancock began attending services at G.T. Haywood’s church at 11th and Senate. On 5 September 1914, he received the Holy Ghost and was water baptized (Tyson 37). In 1916, Samuel Hancock was amongst the 465 members of Christ Temple who submitted to rebaptism in the Name of Jesus Christ, following Glenn Cook’s fortuitous campaign throughout the Midwest spreading the message of the mighty God in Christ.

Hancock felt called to the ministry and showed an aptitude for leadership. He was ordained to the ministry by G.T. Haywood and became Bishop Haywood’s assistant pastor in 1917. In 1921, Samuel Hancock was invited to pastor a small group of Apostolic believers in Detroit, Michigan. After much prayer, he agreed to accept the position and declared by faith, “I will do a great thing in Detroit, Michigan.” By 1926, the church had grown to nearly 400 members; and in 1929, a new 1,200-seat sanctuary was built at 2254 Clinton Street. Finally, in 1962, the church purchased the Jewish synagogue, Shaarey Zedek, which continues to be the present home of Clinton Street Greater Bethlehem Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith (“Bishop Samuel Nathan Hancock”).

In 1927, Samuel Hancock had been elevated from the office of District Elder to Bishop within the PAW. Following the untimely death of Presiding Bishop G.T. Haywood in April 1931, his official post was left vacant for a year out of his respect for his incomparable legacy. During this period, the PAW was approached by Howard Goss and other leaders of the Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance. Through some hasty merger discussions, the two organizations combined to form the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ, and Bishop Hancock moved into the newly-formed amalgamation. The merger was ultimately dissatisfactory, and the PAW restored its charter under the leadership of Samuel Grimes (Golder 96-97). However, Hancock, who served as a presbyter in the PAJC, did not return to the PAW until 1938, when many of the Black brethren returned after a General Conference was held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a racially-segregated city.

By 1940, Samuel Hancock had moved to the center of a doctrinal controversy within the PAW, and a special meeting was held in Columbus, Ohio to solidify the biblical standards of faith for the organization. Hancock was accused of teaching that Jesus Christ was only the son of God, not God Himself. Despite this notion, he was named in 1943 as a member of the Board of Directors of Aenon Bible School, the official seminary of the PAW (Golder 121-125). In 1955, Bishop Hancock, along with other members of the Executive Board, signed an affirmation of the Oneness doctrine (Golder 149).

Bishop Morris E. Golder, who wrote an official history of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, portrays Samuel Hancock as doctrinally aberrant, referring to his teachings on the Godhead as “’strange’ ideas far removed from what was held as biblical by our organization.” Golder also notes that the 1955 special meeting of the Executive Board convened specifically to refute the errors of Bishop Hancock. Further, Golder believes Hancock opposed the leadership of Samuel Grimes, believing that he himself should have been appointed Presiding Bishop following the death of Bishop Haywood (140).

On 20 November 1957, Bishop Hancock along with Bishops Heardie Leaston, Willie Lee, and Elder David Collins, officially incorporated the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith. Interestingly, Bishop J.E. Moore, present Presiding Bishop of the PCAF, adamantly declares that Hancock never denied the deity of Christ. According to Bishop Moore, Hancock simply believed that the manifestation of the Son was not properly emphasized in the preaching and teaching of the PAW (“Interview”). Today, the doctrinal statement of the PCAF clearly demonstrates their strong affirmation of the revelation of the mighty God in Christ:

We believe in the oneness of God; that there are three manifestations of the one God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The name by which God is known is Lord Jesus Christ. (“What We Believe”).

In fact, Willie Lee later left the PCAF because he did not believe that Jesus was God, further suggesting that the PCAF position represented Oneness orthodoxy.

When he died on 18 August 1963 after a brief illness, Samuel N. Hancock left behind a thriving organization of nearly 600 churches. Under his leadership, Greater Bethlehem Temple made an important spiritual and humanitarian mark on Detroit. An estimated 100,000 people have been baptized in Jesus Name and filled with the Holy Ghost through the ministry begun by Samuel N. Hancock. Hancock established a soup kitchen to feed the poor throughout the Great Depression, a 52-bedroom Girls’ Home, a Boys’ workshop for teaching carpentry and trade skills, a church-owned supermarket, and a church farm. Hancock also established satellite churches throughout Michigan in New Haven, Port Huron, Jackson, Delray, and another work in Detroit (“Bishop Samuel Nathan Hancock”). Ultimately, Bishop Hancock proved an important leader and innovator, and eternity will accurately tell his undeniable contributions to the Apostolic Pentecostal movement.

Sources:

“Bishop Samuel Nathan Hancock.” Clinton Street Greater Bethlehem Temple of the Apostolic Faith. http://www.templedetroit.org.

Golder, Morris E. History of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Indianapolis: 1973.

Interview (Personal). Bishop J.E. Moore, Presiding Bishop of the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith, Inc. 29 April 2010.

Tyson, James. Earnest Contenders for the Faith. Pentecostal Publications, Indianapolis: 1982.

“What We Believe.” Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith, Inc. http://www.pcaf.net

In 1957, Bishop Samuel Nathan Hancock left the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World  (PAW) to start another organization, the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith, Incorporated.  The exodus of this charismatic pastor of the 3,000-member Greater Bethlehem Temple in Detroit, Michigan was the culmination of years of contention and disagreement.  While some have branded Bishop Hancock a heretic and a schismatic, the facts surrounding his departure seem typical of the organizational fecundity so typical of the Pentecostal movement.
Samuel Nathan Hancock, who was born 9 November 1883 in Adair County, Kentucky, came to Indianapolis, Indiana with his family at the age of 5.  In 1914, Samuel Hancock began attending services at G.T. Haywood’s church at 11th and Senate.  On 5 September 1914, he received the Holy Ghost and was water baptized (Tyson 37).  In 1916, Samuel Hancock was amongst the 465 members of Christ Temple who submitted to rebaptism in the Name of Jesus Christ, following Glenn Cook’s fortuitous campaign throughout the Midwest spreading the message of the mighty God in Christ.
Hancock felt called to the ministry and showed an aptitude for leadership.  He was ordained to the ministry by G.T. Haywood and became Bishop Haywood’s assistant pastor in 1917.  In 1921, Samuel Hancock was invited to pastor a small group of Apostolic believers in Detroit, Michigan.  After much prayer, he agreed to accept the position and declared by faith, “I will do a great thing in Detroit, Michigan.”  By 1926, the church had grown to nearly 400 members; and in 1929, a new 1,200-seat sanctuary was built at 2254 Clinton Street.  Finally, in 1962, the church purchased the Jewish synagogue, Shaarey Zedek, which continues to be the present home of Clinton Street Greater Bethlehem Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith (“Bishop Samuel Nathan Hancock”).
In 1927, Samuel Hancock had been elevated from the office of District Elder to Bishop within the PAW.  Following the untimely death of Presiding Bishop G.T. Haywood in April 1931, his official post was left vacant for a year out of his respect for his incomparable legacy.  During this period, the PAW was approached by Howard Goss and other leaders of the Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance.  Through some hasty merger discussions, the two organizations combined to form the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ, and Bishop Hancock moved into the newly-formed amalgamation.  The merger was ultimately dissatisfactory, and the PAW restored its charter under the leadership of Samuel Grimes (Golder 96-97).  However, Hancock, who served as a presbyter in the PAJC, did not return to the PAW until 1938, when many of the Black brethren returned after a General Conference was held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a racially-segregated city.
By 1940, Samuel Hancock had moved to the center of a doctrinal controversy within the PAW, and a special meeting was held in Columbus, Ohio to solidify the biblical standards of faith for the organization.  Hancock was accused of teaching that Jesus Christ was only the son of God, not God Himself.  Despite this notion, he was named in 1943 as a member of the Board of Directors of Aenon Bible School, the official seminary of the PAW (Golder 121-125).  In 1955, Bishop Hancock, along with other members of the Executive Board, signed an affirmation of the Oneness doctrine (Golder 149).
Bishop Morris E. Golder, who wrote an official history of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, portrays  Samuel Hancock as doctrinally aberrant, referring to his teachings on the Godhead as “’strange’ ideas far removed from what was held as biblical by our organization.”  Golder also notes that the 1955 special meeting of the Executive Board convened specifically to refute the errors of Bishop Hancock.  Further, Golder believes Hancock opposed the leadership of Samuel Grimes, believing that he himself should have been appointed Presiding Bishop following the death of Bishop Haywood (140).
On 20 November 1957, Bishop Hancock along with Bishops Heardie Leaston, Willie Lee, and Elder David Collins, officially incorporated the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith.  Interestingly, Bishop J.E. Moore, present Presiding Bishop of the PCAF, adamantly declares that Hancock never denied the deity of Christ.  According to Bishop Moore, Hancock simply believed that the manifestation of the Son was not properly emphasized in the preaching and teaching of the PAW (“Interview”).  Today, the doctrinal statement of the PCAF clearly demonstrates their strong affirmation of the revelation of the mighty God in Christ:
We believe in the oneness of God; that there are three manifestations of the one God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  The name by which God is known is Lord Jesus Christ.  (“What We Believe”).
In fact, Willie Lee later left the PCAF because he did not believe that Jesus was God, further suggesting that the PCAF position represented Oneness orthodoxy.
When he died on 18 August 1963 after a brief illness, Samuel N. Hancock left behind a thriving organization of nearly 600 churches.  Under his leadership, Greater Bethlehem Temple made an important spiritual and humanitarian mark on Detroit.  An estimated 100,000 people have been baptized in Jesus Name and filled with the Holy Ghost through the ministry begun by Samuel N. Hancock.  Hancock established a soup kitchen to feed the poor throughout the Great Depression, a 52-bedroom Girls’ Home, a Boys’ workshop for teaching carpentry and trade skills, a church-owned supermarket, and a church farm.  Hancock also established satellite churches throughout Michigan in New Haven, Port Huron, Jackson, Delray, and another work in Detroit (“Bishop Samuel Nathan Hancock”).  Ultimately, Bishop Hancock proved an important leader and innovator, and eternity will accurately tell his undeniable contributions to the Apostolic Pentecostal movement.
Sources:
“Bishop Samuel Nathan Hancock.”  Clinton Street Greater Bethlehem Temple of the Apostolic Faith.  http://www.templedetroit.org.
Golder, Morris E. History of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Indianapolis: 1973.
Interview (Personal).  Bishop J.E. Moore, Presiding Bishop of the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith, Inc.  29 April 2010.
Tyson, James.  Earnest Contenders for the Faith.  Pentecostal Publications, Indianapolis:  1982.
“What We Believe.”  Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith, Inc.  http://www.pcaf.net

Man with a Mission: Frank Bartleman at Eighth & Maple

2 July, 2010

Frank Bartleman, who was so instrumental in the advent of Pentecost in Los Angeles, was an itinerant in spirit. He was possessed of a mild but mercurial nature, which led him hither and yon working for the cause of the Kingdom. Bro. Bartleman seemed always to be looking for the next deeper move, a sincere body of Christians that would pray, fast, and worship with his same level of intensity and desire. Ultimately, he was often disappointed in those who began in spiritual fervency but dulled to secular formalism. He was terrified of denominationalism; and once he discovered Pentecostal practitioners, Frank Bartleman was even more determined to follow the Spirit, wherever He might lead.

Bro. Bartleman was an early and enthusiastic participant in the Azusa Street Revival. Inspired by reports of the Welsh renewal, led by Evan Roberts, Bartleman had joined prayer bands throughout Los Angeles to seek a Pentecostal outpouring in the city. He prayed diligently, though he had little notion of what Pentecost might look like when it arrived. When William Seymour brought the newly-articulated Apostolic Faith doctrine to a small Holiness mission, it did not take long for word to reach Frank Bartleman, who began attending cottage prayer meetings on Bonnie Brae Street, where some of the first seekers in Los Angeles were filled with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues.

But, somewhat characteristically, Frank Bartleman became disenchanted with the Azusa Mission. According to him, the Spirit revealed a dangerous pitfall for the mission—the “party” spirit, which was Bartleman’s euphemism for denominational sectarianism. He delivered a message at Azusa, warning the saints to avoid becoming “entangled again in a yoke of (ecclesiastical) bondage.” He firmly believed that sectarianism had “been the curse and death of every revival body sooner or later.” If Azusa was to succeed where others had failed, she would have to contend for unity and resist organization and formalism.

Bartleman’s worst fears for the mission were realized when the day after he delivered his portentous sermon to the Azusa congregation, the words “Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission” were crudely painted on the building’s clapboard side. According to Bartleman, the Lord said to him: “This is what I told you.” This was enough for Bartleman to declare: “They had done it.” There is a sense of grave disappointment in Bartleman’s record of the change, which seemed so significant to him. He even declared: “The truth must be told. ‘Azusa’ began to fail the Lord also, early in her history.”

Disillusioned by the move, Bartleman began his own Pentecostal mission in an old German Church at Eighth and Maple about a mile from Azusa in August 1906. The Lord had led him to the building back in February of 1906, two months prior to the commencement of meetings at Azusa, but it had been occupied by the Pillar of Fire, a Holiness group led by Alma White, a fierce opponent of the spreading Pentecostal revival. However, by August, Bro. Bartleman says “The ‘Pillar of Fire’ had gone up in smoke, not able to raise the rent.” Bro. Fred Shephard provided Bartleman with the $50.00 for the first month’s rent, and the first service was held on 12 August.

Eighth and Maple, as the mission continued to be generically known, became another center of Pentecostal revival in the city. Bro. Bartleman described mighty outpourings in the church: “The atmosphere was almost too sacred and holy to attempt to minister in. Like the priests in the Tabernacle of old we could not minister for the glory.” Many were converted, and Bartleman said that the “atmosphere was terrible for sinners and backsliders. One had to get right in order to remain at Eighth and Maple.”

Frank Bartleman craved Spirit control. He had no tolerance for fleshly interruptions or the trappings of order. In his view, a Pentecostal service constituted hours of prayer, inspired exhortations, groaning and travail, and spontaneous manifestations of humility and ecstasy. He often remained prone on the floor throughout the services “while God ran the meetings.”

Though he had many times felt the control of the Spirit during his Christian experience, Bro. Bartleman received the Holy Ghost on 16 August 1906, while pastoring a Pentecostal work. Like Seymour, who received his own baptism after preaching it to others, Bartleman had witnessed several seekers filled at Eighth and Maple in the first few days of services when he had yet to acquire the Spirit himself.

In September, Eighth and Maple grew exponentially when an entire Holiness congregation of about 40 members merged with Bartleman’s mission after their pastor, William Pendleton, was excommunicated from the Holiness group for speaking in tongues. Shortly after this merger, Bro. Bartleman turned the mission over to Bro. Pendleton and resumed evangelization throughout southern California. Eighth and Maple continued to be a significant participant in the Apostolic Faith movement in Los Angeles and worked in good fellowship with Azusa and other Pentecostal works to spread the fires of revival that emanated from Los Angeles throughout the world.

Source:

Bartleman, Frank.  Witness to Pentecost:  the Life of Frank Bartleman.  New York:  Garland Publishing Inc., 1985.

The Pentecostal Experience of William Booth-Clibborn

11 June, 2010

In 1921, William Edmond Booth-Clibborn preached a successful tent revival in Lodi, California. Inspired by the results, Bro. Booth-Clibborn suggested that the revival party continue meetings further south and set up a tent in Holtville. After acquiring the necessary permits and lighting, they began services. Sadly, heavy rains and low attendance literally quenched the fiery services. Unable to pay the light bill for the week of disappointing meetings, Booth-Clibborn and his comrades took temporary jobs as field hands, harvesting corn. The evangelist, unused to such labor and forlorn by his failure, did little work. Finally, he sat down, crestfallen and dejected.

In this moment of self-pity, the Lord began to deal with him. As heavent-sent words began to flow in his spirit, Bro. Booth-Clibborn began to sing the words to one of the greatest anthems of the Apostolic Church:

Down from His glory,

Ever living story,

My God and Savior came,

And Jesus was His name.

Born in a manger,

To His own a stranger,

A Man of sorrows, tears and agony.

O how I love Him! How I adore Him!

My breath, my sunshine, my all in all!

The great Creator became my Savior,

And all God’s fulness dwelleth in Him.

What condescension,

Bringing us redemption;

That in the dead of night,

Not one faint hope in sight,

God, gracious, tender,

Laid aside His splendor,

Stooping to woo, to win, to save my soul.

Without reluctance,

Flesh and blood His substance

He took the form of man,

Revealed the hidden plan.

O glorious myst’ry,

Sacrifice of Calv’ry,

And now I know Thou art the great “I AM.”

This beloved song, which so gloriously articulates the revelation of the Mighty God in Christ, has inspired generations of Oneness Pentecostals and was perhaps Bro. Booth-Clibborn’s most enduring contribution to the movement.

William Booth-Clibborn was the grandson of General William Booth, British founder of the Salvation Army. Booth-Clibborn’s mother, Catherine, was a dynamic Salvation Army preacher and commanded the group’s work in France, Holland, and Belgium. William, named for her father, was born in France.

When William was a boy, his mother and father, Arthur, resigned their positions with the Salvation Army to pursue a more radical path. In 1902, the family joined Zion, Illinois, the utopian community led by John Alexander Dowie, a famous healing evangelist. Arthur was greatly influenced by Dowie’s message and began preaching holiness and healing on his return to England. Catherine also distinguished herself as an international evangelist and traveled extensively preaching amongst various evangelical groups.

In 1908, Arthur Booth-Clibborn learned of a burgeoning group of Pentecostals holding meetings in the Plumstead District of London. He persuaded his youngest son, William, to join him on the trip to London. On the train ride, Arthur asked his 15-year-old son, “William, don’t you think you ought to yield your heart to God afresh?” The question pricked his young heart. He had lost the zeal of his repentance experience at boarding school, and he approached the meeting in a small London mission hall with a renewed hunger for the Lord!

The service was led by a Mrs. Cantell, and the young William was transfixed by the passionate singing and speaking in tongues. Arthur Booth-Clibborn spoke eight languages, and William spoke five. The “strange language” was not recognizable to either, but Mr. Booth-Clibborn assured his son that “This is the unknown tongue you read about in Scripture.”

Mr. Alexander Moncur Niblock, a Baptist convert who had just received the Holy Ghost a few days before, was the speaker at the Booth-Clibborn’s first service. At the altar invitation, William made a strong repentance, praying from 10 PM ‘til 1 AM. He experienced a return of his zeal and desire for the Lord.

On Sunday, William and his father attended more Spirit-filled meetings at the Plumstead home of Mr. Bristow. At the evening service, William became insatiably hungry for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At the altar, he was enraptured by the presence of God, praying fervently, hungrily for the Holy Ghost:

I found myself singing in a beautiful language entirely foreign to me. Its charm and surprising sounds saturated me with an indescribable ecstasy. Every sweet sentence fully & adequately expressed the pent-up feelings of my inflamed heart . . . Direct from the altar of my heart, rising in surging burning billows, the most pleasing incense was reaching the Throne!

So began the experience of faith that led William Booth-Clibborn into an anointed ministry. He was later baptized in Jesus’ Name and proclaimed the great truth of the Oneness of God, joining the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Disillusioned with some of the later fragmentation of the Pentecostal movement, Booth-Clibborn eventually became less organizationally exclusive but maintained his Oneness stand, developing a remarkable Pentecostal ministry throughout his life. He founded several churches and led Immanuel Temple in Portland, Oregon until his death in 1969 at the age of seventy-six.

*Special thanks to Pat Clibborn, daughter-in-law of W.E. Clibborn, for granting an interview for this article.

Agnes Ozman and the Topeka Outpouring

27 April, 2010

On January 1, 1901, Agnes Nevada Ozman became the first member of the student body at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues. Her experience historically marks the beginning of modern Pentecostalism and becomes a significant flashpoint from which the initial revival spread through the school, which produced the first band of Pentecostal workers, who spread their message throughout Kansas to Texas and beyond.

According to her autobiography, What God Hath Wrought, Agnes Ozman was thirty years old when she received the Holy Ghost. In many ways, her experience at Bethel was the culmination of a lifetime of spiritual seeking. As a girl, she had attended a Methodist Church with her family and appreciated “the joy, rejoicing and shouts of victory.”

At the age of 20, Agnes Ozman became very ill with La Grippe (influenza) and pneumonia. At the worst point of her illness, Ozman believes that she “traveled the way to heaven” but was sent back on the strength of her Methodist pastor’s prayers, who believed God had more in store for this young Christian woman. After much prayer, Agnes did miraculously recover. Fully convinced that God had spared her to accomplish a greater purpose in her life, Agnes centered her life on her faith. She joined the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and participated in a Bible study group where she learned the “Bible teachings” on water baptism, the Second Coming of Christ, and divine healing.

In 1892, she joined Thomas Corwin Horton’s Bible school in St. Paul, Minnesota. Horton was a Presbyterian, who was deeply involved in the work of the YMCA. Horton was also strongly fundamentalist, and his school was permeated with his dispensational premillennialist ideas, which must have greatly inculcated Ozman.

In fall of 1894, Horton announced his intention to take up evangelism, and Ozman again began looking for another Bible school to attend. She settled on Albert B. Simpson’s Bible School in Nyack, New York. Simpson was the founder of the Christian Missionary Alliance and maintained a strong position on Wesleyan holiness, teaching students that after conversion there remained a second crisis of sanctification that removed the carnal nature and which he equated with the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

Eventually, Agnes returned to her family in Nebraska. On her way West, she stopped at John Alexander Dowie’s Chicago work and received prayer and healing from “chills and night sweats.” In Nebraska, Agnes Ozman continued the type of mission work that she had done in New York and encountered Charles Fox Parham, who was holding meetings in Kansas City. Parham, a former Methodist Episcopal minister who stressed divine healing, planned to open a Bible College in Topeka, Kansas. Ozman fleeced the Lord for her fare and received two separate donations of $5.00 from “one sister.” Certain that God was directing her to Topeka, she purchased train tickets and arrived at Bethel Bible College, along with some other Kansas City companions, in October 1900.

At Bethel, Ozman achieved the zenith of her spiritual experience, receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost during a late-night tarrying service at the school. In a 1922 letter to Eudorus N. Bell, Ozman claims that she did not understand tongues to be the evidence of the Spirit prior to her infilling: “Before receiving the Comforter, I did not know that I would speak in tongues when I received the Holy Ghost for I did not know it was Bible. But after I received the Holy Spirit speaking in tongues it was revealed to me that I had the promise of the Father as it is written and as Jesus said.” She continues:

The next morning after receiving this mighty gift, I was accosted with questions about my experience the night before . . . I pointed out Bible references to show that I had received the Baptism as Acts 2.4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance . . .

Agnes Ozman’s initial experience was particularly unique in the annals of early Pentecostalism. Even after a night’s sleep, Ozman was unable to speak English the following morning. According to Parham, her speaking in tongues continued for three days. Attempting to communicate with the inquisitive students, she says that she motioned for a pencil: “When I began to write, I wrote characters of other languages and joyed [sic] with the Lord talking in tongues. Some of the writing has been interpreted and is a wonderful message.” Parham believed the characters to be Chinese. In an interview with The Kansas City Times, Parham also claimed that other Spirit-filled students were now able “to write by inspiration.”

The night after commencing speaking in tongues, Ozman’s utterances were understood by a Bohemian, who heard her speaking in a service at the school’s mission in downtown Topeka. This incident confirmed to the Parham and his students that at least some of the tongue-speaking were intelligible foreign languages. Certainly, Parham believed that this was the method by which the Spirit would aid the Church in the evangelization of the earth.

When the Bethel school disbanded, Agnes Ozman continued Gospel Missions work. Later, she met and married Philemon M. LaBerge, and both were ordained ministers of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. Like so many early pioneers of Pentecostalism, she consistently demonstrated an insatiable hunger for God and a desire to be completely surrendered to the work of His Kingdom. Her experience at Bethel became a powerful precedent for the fledgling Apostolic Faith movement and encouraged many others to wade into the deeper waters of Spirit-filled revival. Despite the fact that she never received the revelation of the Mighty God in Christ, Agnes Ozman’s role as a key player in the recovery of the apostolic teaching of tongues as the Bible evidence of Holy Spirit baptism should not be forgotten. The cloven flames of Pentecost have spread from the Bethel’s turrets in Topeka to a global wildfire, and the power of the Holy Ghost, evidenced by speaking in tongues, which first ignited in the soul of a thirty-year-old pioneer of the plains, now burns in the hearts of multiplied millions.


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