William H. Durham and the Beginnings of the Finished Work


Pentecostalism is a restorationist movement, and early Pentecostals were committed to the full recovery of New Testament, Apostolic truth. The rediscovery of the blessed doctrines of speaking in tongues as the evidence of baptism in the Spirit and the revelation of the mighty God in Christ are well-known episodes in the annals of Apostolic history. Less infamous is the original doctrinal schism in the fledgling movement, the “Finished Work of Calvary” and its inceptor, Bro. William H. Durham, pastor of the influential North Avenue Mission, an early Pentecostal work in Chicago.

Bro. Durham had originally rejected the notion of speaking in tongues as evidential of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, writing: “I understood exactly what such a teaching implied and just how widely it reflected on all Christian experience” (Durham, “What is the Evidence . . .” 4). However, he was eventually persuaded to visit the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, where he received his Pentecost on 2 March 1907 (Blumhofer 129). According to Bro. Durham, the experience transformed the North Avenue Mission into a powerful center of Apostolic Faith revival in the Midwest:

People began to come in considerable numbers. Soon our little place would not hold them. Best of all God met those who came. We had meetings that ran on through the night and most of them half the night. It was impossible to close them . . . God would pour His Spirit upon them. One after another God met the seekers. It was nothing unusual to hear people at all hours of the night speaking in tongues and singing in the Spirit. (qtd. in Ewart 87)

Many who were destined to become influential leaders in the Pentecostal movement received the Holy Ghost at the mission, including Eudorus N. Bell, a future general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, and A.H. Argue, who carried Pentecostal revival to Winnipeg, Canada (Ewart 87).

After receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost in 1907, Durham became increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of sanctification as a second spiritual crisis following conversion, a core tenet of the Holiness movement, from which many early Pentecostals emerged. Rather, he became persuaded that Christ sanctified the believer at conversion. Using the term “the finished work of Calvary”, Durham maintained that “when God saves a man, He makes him clean . . . Christ has finished the work in our behalf” (Durham “The Great Battle of 1911″ 7). He declared it impossible that salvation could leave a man filled with sin until he was sanctified.

The doctrine, which he propagated in his publication The Pentecostal Testimony, created a firestorm of disagreement amongst Pentecostal leaders that eventually developed into the first major rupture of the movement. Charles Parham denounced Durham’s views, but the doctrine won popular support amongst many of those who had distanced themselves from Parham after charges of immorality were brought against the leader in 1907. In 1910, Bro. Bell invited Bro. Durham to preach a camp meeting in Malvern, Arkansas, and many there were persuaded of the Finished Work doctrine (Blumhofer 132). The penetration of the message grew, and the names of those who accepted the scriptural truth of the new position read like a veritable roll of early founders of Pentecostal faith, including such prestigious pioneers as: Howard Goss, William Carothers, George B. Studd, D.C.O. Opperman, A.H. Argue, E.N. Bell, Harry VanLoon, and Lemuel C. Hall.

Bro. Durham returned to Los Angeles in 1911 hoping to spread the doctrine but found most of the city’s Pentecostal missions closed to his message. For a short time, he gained access to Azusa Street Mission, but Bro. William J. Seymour eventually locked the mission doors against Bro. Durham (Ewart 90). Undaunted, Durham opened a work known as Seventh Street Mission and successfully broadcast the Finished Work in the birthplace of modern Pentecostalism.

In 1912, Bro. William H. Durham died at the untimely age of 39. His funeral was held in the Seventh Street Mission and was purportedly attended by Pentecostals from across the United States (Ewart 91). The doctrine he championed continued to spread after his death and was officially adopted by the early organizers of the Assemblies of God in 1914 (Ewart 91). While it was rejected by Charles Mason, presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ, who retained the original Holiness view of sanctification, the majority of Pentecostals accepted Durham’s perspective. When the Assemblies of God divided over the issue of Oneness, Apostolic organizers retained the finished work doctrine; and today, a majority of trinitarian and Oneness Pentecostals hold Durham’s view.

William Durham did not live to receive the message of baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ and the Oneness of God, but he articulated and published a powerful truth that was seminal in restoring Pentecostalism to its primitive, New Testament roots. The message, soundly resting on God’s Word, glorifies Jesus Christ and realizes the full capacity of His sacrificial cross to empower the believer to live above the beggarly elements of sin. William H. Durham would surely rejoice to see those who have accepted the overcoming and sanctifying power of Christ’s blood when the reverberating efficaciousness of the Finished Work of Calvary is told in bright eternity where the saints of God shall stand before His throne wholly sanctified and free from sin!

Sources:

Blumhofer, Edith L. The Assemblies of God: a chapter in the story of American Pentecostalism Volume 1-to 1941. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1989.

Durham, William H. “What Is the Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Ghost?” Pentecostal Testimony 2 (1), 4.

Durham, William H. “The Great Battle of 1911″ Pentecostal Testimony 2 (1), 7.

Ewart, Frank J. The Phenomenon of Pentecost. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 2000.

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2 Responses to “William H. Durham and the Beginnings of the Finished Work”

  1. Pentecostal Historian Says:

    This Reply is not presented in any ill manner to anyone personally or to any denomination. It is written in humility, but yet straight forward. I trust the reader will accept it in the same manner as it was written.

    William H Durham was a Baptist preacher, and the North Avenue Mission in Chicago prior to Durham’s going to Azusa Street and receiving the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, was a Baptist Church. Any Church Historian recognizes the fact that there were basically two fundamental/evangelical faiths in America. They were the Baptist and the Holiness. They were in opposition one to the other. The Holiness believed in Sanctification as a second crisis experience and the Baptist did not. So when Durham went to Azusa, his background would automatically put him not in favor of the Holiness’ view of Sanctification. He proposed it on the old Baptist view.

    When he held his revival at Azusa Street and began to preach his Finished Work Doctrine, Wm J Seymour immediately shut his revival down and declared Durham’s doctrine to be of the devil.

    Also, you are incorrect when you state Durham says “Christ sanctified the believer at conversion.” (Paragraph 5) Durham’s theology is that the sanctification process has its origination in salvation, progresses throughout a Christian’s life and then is culminated in glorification, meaning death. Therefore, according to Durham’s doctrine, a Christian is never sanctified in his life, and somehow he supposedly receives a spiritual experience known as sanctification after death.

    You mention that Charles Parham stood in opposition to Durham’s Finished Work Doctrine, which is true. However, you fail to mention that not only did Parham preach against it, every other Pentecostal church and preacher of that day did so as well. Durham stood alone. Anyone can read the old sermons and messages of that era and fully realize that not only did the Pentecostal Movement preach against it, they also declared Durham and his teaching to be of the devil himself. Also, even though you mention the allegation of womanizing against Charles Parham, I notice as well that you do not mention the fact that he was proved innocent and that those allegations were proved false. So I do not understand your reasoning for even bringing that subject up.

    Furthermore, you fail to mention that Rev. Bell and others were of the Baptist background, and when they came into the Pentecostal blessing, [which by the way was initiated from the Holiness Movement, and not the Baptist,] they could not adhere to the existing Pentecostal churches of that day due to their difference regarding the sanctification doctrine of the Holiness Churches.

    You mention that Charles H Mason of Memphis and his Church of God in Christ rejected Durham’s teachings, you have failed to mention that it was Brother Mason and his Church that gave Bell’s group ministerial credentials on two separate occasions.

    Also, you make the fatal mistake by stating that “the majority of Pentecostals accepted Durham’s perspective.” [Paragraph 8] This is simply not true. Again, anyone can study early Pentecostal History in North America and will quickly discover that there was a vast difference between the existing Pentecostal Churches and Durham’s theology. No Pentecostal Church of that day accepted Durham’s Finished Work.

    The simple fact is, Durham’s teaching was not accepted, and that is why the former Baptists who came into the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, surrender their ministerial papers with Charles Mason and his Church of God in Christ, and called a meeting at Hot Springs, Arkansas which culminated in the formation of the Assemblies of God. It was M M Pinson who brought Wm H Durham’s teaching to the forefront and the Finished Work Doctrine became one of the main doctrines of the Assemblies of God.

    Also, you fail to mention that once the Assemblies of God was formed, all of the Pentecostal Churches of that day declared as well that the Assemblies of God was of the devil because they accepted Durham’s theology, and this resulted in the Pentecostal Churches preaching against the Assemblies of God and having no fellowship whatsoever with them.

    The initial proponents of the Finished Work Doctrine were the Assemblies of God and all of the “Oneness Pentecostals”, also known as the “Jesus Only” or “Apostolic Churches” today, one of which is perhaps the largest known as the United Pentecostal Church. The Apostolic Churches came out of the Assemblies of God in the A/G’s early years, so therefore, they would automatically be of Durham’s doctrine as well.

    Therefore, only the Assemblies of God and the Apostolics adhered to The Finished Work doctrine. Various additional church groups such as the Pentecostal Church of God (Joplin, MO) who likewise had their origins in the Assemblies of God, will again be a part of Durham’s theology.

    However, the Pentecostal Holiness, the Church of God (Cleveland TN), the Church of God in Christ, the Fire-Baptized Church, and the Apostolic Faith Mission Churches, all of which are the Pentecostal Churches formed in the early 20th Century, totally rejected the Assemblies of God’s teaching.

    Again, you are incorrect when you state “He declared it impossible that salvation could leave a man filled with sin until he was sanctified. [Paragraph 5]

    This statement reveals the fact that Durham and his adherents do not have a proper understanding of the Doctrine of Sanctification. In fact the opposite is true of the statement you wrote. Durham believed in and propagated Progressive Sanctification, which simply means that a Christian cannot be sanctified until he is glorified. Of course, this results in the fact that a Christian can, and often will, sin everyday. He cannot be free from sin, so therefore, God has made provision to look at Jesus Christ, His Son as the Supreme Sacrifice and therefore, does not see our sins because of the blood.

    It all sounds great, and often First Corinthians 15:31 is quoted in stating, “We must die out to sin every day.”

    However, there is only one basic problem with the Finished Work Doctrine founded by William H. Durham and the continual establishment of this doctrine by the General Council of the Assemblies of God, and that is, there is absolutely no biblical support for any of it.

    I remind every reader that we will all stand before God Almighty on Judgment Day and give account of ourselves to God as to how we have lived according to the Word of God.

    I also remind you that the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, which is one of the most precise languages ever spoken by the human race. Thus, God reveals His will to us in very easy and simple to understand terms. He also says, “At one time God winked at man’s ignorance, but now He commands men everywhere to repent.”

    Koine Greek is so explicit that whereas in the English language, as well as most other modern-day languages of the world, we have three tenses: past, present and future. However, Koine Greek has four tenses, and they are: aorist, past, present and future.

    In every case in the New Testament where Sanctification is discussed, God uses the aorist tense, and not the present tense. If Durham’s theology was correct, God would use the present tense, but He does not. God uses the aorist tense.

    This tense in its application always presents sanctification as a crisis experience, not a prolonged process. Koine Greek also explicitly declares that we are to be sanctified in this life. There is no where in holy scripture where God even remotely relates that we receive a spiritual experience after death and it is called sanctification.

    To give you simple proof, notice in Luke 10, Jesus sent His disciples out and they came back rejoicing that even the devils were subject unto them through the name of Jesus Christ. However, Jesus Himself quickly points out that they were not to rejoice because devils were subject unto them, but “rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” I believe it is a fair assumption to state that these disciples in Luke 10 were saved, because their names were written in heaven.

    However, in John 17, which in chronological order we know that Luke 10 far precedes this particular chapter. It is here where we have Jesus praying to His heavenly Father, and in particular, requesting His Father to sanctify the believers. So if He is asking God to sanctify us, then this is a proven fact that the early disciples were saved, but not as yet sanctified. So where does Durham’s Finished Work fit? It simply does not and therefore is a false doctrine and gives absolutely no hope to any believer.

    I will say; however, that many of the classical Pentecostal Churches today are leaning toward the Assemblies of God’s doctrine on the Finished Work. Even though many of the Pentecostal Churches that have come out of the Holiness Movement of the 19th Century may be going in this new direction, it nevertheless does not change the Word of God. I encourage every believer to go to Bible school and study the Greek New Testament with an open mind and see for yourself what God declares in His Word.

  2. Joe Says:

    Though my response might be simplistic one might ask what is the consequence of the Finished Work teaching in the churches of today. It seems to me that Azusa taught “Third Blessing-ism” that is, 1. Conversion followed by 2. Sanctification and then 3. Baptism by the Holy Spirit. The idea was that a person had to really deal with God for God to come and root the sin out of them and transform them. Once the temple was cleansed then God could move in–that His kingdom would come in and rule and reign through the person.

    The teaching in AG/PAOC churches minimized teaching on the deep and necessary work of Sanctification and thus departed from the truths and emphasis that God brought to light through the Wesleyian, Keswick movements. Wesley was himself influenced by the Moravians, Pietists and Eastern Orthodox (as opposed to Western) athrological anthropology, soteriology and teaching on God’s aim of THEOSIS. And so in these subsequent Pentecostal churches the talk again fell on a “second work of grace” being 1. Conversion followed by 2. Spirit Baptism (evidenced by speaking in tongues). (in contrast with Azusa- http://www.azusastreet.org/WilliamJSeymourDiscipline.htm

    http://books.google.ca/books?id=1_-urDtsCL8C&pg=PA123&lpg=PA123&dq=#v=onepage&q&f=false ) The teaching of those from the diapora of Zion Illinois (e.g. Martha Wing Robinson) should also be noted.

    William Durham married the infamous Aimee Semple. His Finished Works of Christ teaching arguably carries on with subsequent Word of Faith teachers. Indeed Jesus accomplished all that He intended. The issue is in its application. The assumption is that all of the riches of heaven become me if I only say that is so. The legacy of the continual scandals amongst Word of Faith teachers suggest this is not the case.

    In the latest incarnation of the Pentecostal movement with the Neo-Charismatic/Third Wave movement Durham’s legacy lives on. Their view is one of 1. Conversion (or 1/2 conversion often through a ritualistic repetition of the sinner’s prayer and not a repentance through the changing of one’s life) followed by an immediate seeking for 2. Signs and Wonders (prophecy, visions etc). The idea here is that immediately upon conversion one has access to all the powers of heaven. Coupled with this is a mistaken eschatology that assumes that in quoting Joel 2 in Acts 2 that Peter was not saying that it was then fulfilled and that in his understanding that they were not then living in the last days of the AGE. Since Third Wavers consider themselves to be presently living in the last days of the world they believe that ALL must now see visions and prophecy. The authenticity of these visions and “prophecies” is thus secondary to them. The gift of discerment is muted and calls to “judge not” are raised. Toronto Vineyard (TACF), Brownsville and Lakeland are examples of this.

    And so what we have is a subversion that is occuring within the Pentecostal and neo-Charismatic movement. Quantity is hyped above quality. Outwardness is sought above deep and lasting inward change. The momentum of the Pentecostal movement in the world might already contain within its very creeds the seeds of its own destruction.

    How can evangelicals speak of “the gospel of the kingdom” and fulfilling the “great comission” when they in turn say it is impossible to “observe all that I have commanded you”?

    Let us go back to what we know was true. Let us find the truth in non-Augustinian Eastern THEOSIS, of Wesley and Whitfield, Keswick and Evan Roberts, of Azusa and the diapora of Zion Illinois before this detour happened. And yes let us also return to a pre-Scofield teaching a teaching whose fruit now promotes murder, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

    It is not a matter of what is in the Bible but rather it is a matter of the traditions that we now read into it and out of it that is not there. Perhaps if we can identify these teachings which are taught with ease then we can work to avoid them. God works by bearing witness to the truth.

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