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.
“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