Frank W. Sandford and the Holy Ghost and Us Society

8 April, 2010

In the summer of 1900, Charles Fox Parham, founder of the Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, the birthplace of the modern Pentecostal Movement, journeyed throughout the United States visiting various Christian utopias and Bible centers in an effort to identify a community which replicated the Apostolic experience of the New Testament Church. One stop on this spiritual odyssey was Frank Sandford’s commune in Durham, Maine called Holy Ghost and Us Society. Sandford’s work, which he founded in the 1894, emphasized missionary work, sanctification, divine healing, and eschatology, which must have resonated deeply with Charles Parham, who had left the Methodist Episcopal Church to pursue these selfsame teachings. Ultimately, Frank Sandford, like so many other utopian leaders, turned out to be a religious megalomaniac and a dogmatic despot. His Holy Ghost and Us Society was embroiled in deep controversy, and Rev. Sandford was eventually imprisoned for his radical abuse of power and people.

Frank Weston Sandford, who was born in Bowdoinham, Maine on 2 October 1862, graduated from Bates College and attended seminary at Cobb Divinity School, a Freewill Baptist institution. He was ordained and assumed the pastorate at the Baptist Church in Topsham, Maine. He also became the principal of the Topsham schools (Fogarty 88).

Despite his Baptist training, Rev. Sandford became greatly interested in the Higher Life Christian movement and eventually embraced the Holiness teaching of Dwight Moody, founder of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and A.B. Simpson, organizer of the Christian Missionary Alliance. Sandford became a confirmed premillennialist and adopted an impassioned vision of end-time missionary evangelism. In 1893, Sandford claims to have received a brief directive from God: “Go!” In response, he resigned his position at the Baptist Church and organized the Holy Ghost and Us Bible School. In 1894, Sandford and his associate Charles E. Holland broke ground in rural Durham, Maine for the headquarters of his commune, which Sandford claimed as ground zero for the “World’s Evangelicazation [sic] Crusade on Apostolic Principles.” (“Holy Ghosters . . .” 11).

In 1896, Sandford completed the centerpiece of the Holy Ghost and Us compound, the Temple of Truth. The magnificent buildings were constructed by students at the commune at a price of $100,000. Above the Temple flew the flags of the United States and Britain, along with a third banner representing Israel (Fogarty 88). These standards symbolized Sandford’s acceptance of the notion of British Israelism, or the belief that Anglo-Saxons are the direct descendants of the Jewish diaspora and are the rightful heirs of God’s promises. Interestingly, Charles Parham also embraced this idea and was an avowed Zionist.

At the time of Parham’s visit to Sandford’s work, the commune was in its heyday with over 600 residents. Eventually, branch missionary centers were established in New York and Jerusalem, Palestine. But as the intensity of the work increased, so did Sandford’s hubris. One detractor listed Sandford’s outrageous self-assignations as:

Apostle, prophet, overseers of the world’s evangelization, baptizer of all God’s true sheep . . . Elijah—the restorer of all things; and forerunner of the Messiah’s second advent; David, who is to rule the whole earth and prepare the throne for the Messiah; the ‘Branch’; High Priest of the Melchisedech priesthood; and first and chief of the two witnesses . . . (qtd. in Fogarty 91-92)

Conditions in the Holy Ghost and Us Society greatly deteriorated after 1900. Sandford began requiring frequent extended fasts from both food and drink, generally lasting 72 hours. Only pregnant mothers and the sick were permitted to break declared fasts after 36 hours. Even babies were denied food or drink during periods of abstinence (Fogarty 90-91).

In 1904, Sandford was indicted after the death of Leander A. Bartlett, a fourteen-year-old boy who died on 25 January 1903 of diptheria while being forced to fast. According to court records, Bartlett was also denied medical attention because of Sandford’s belief in divine healing (“State of Maine v. Frank W. Sandford”). Ultimately, Sandford was acquitted of manslaughter charges, but he was fined $100 for cruelty to his son, John, who was also forced to participate in communal fasts (Fogarty 92).

Sandford’s most serious trouble involved missionary excursions on the opulent yachts owned by the Holy Ghost and Us Society, aptly named Kingdom, a sobriquet for the Durham community, and Coronet, taken from one translation of Revelation 6:2: “ . . . and a coronet was given unto him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer.” In July 1910, the captain of the Kingdom, A.K. Perry, was arrested after a civil suit was brought against Perry and Sandford by Mrs. Florence Whittaker, wife of one of Sandford’s missionaries, who claimed that she and her four children were detained on the yacht against their will after returning to the United States from a missionary trip to Palestine. (“Special to the NYT” 7 ).

In October 1911, Sandford’s demise was sealed when the Coronet arrived in Portland, Maine after several months at sea with a starving crew and passengers. According to reports, all were reduced to a skeletal state by starvation. Six died and were buried at sea during the voyage, and Rev. Sandford was arrested for the death of one Charles Hughey. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in the federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia. At his sentencing, the delusional Sandford reportedly smiled and said: “I am glad to be just where I am. I am still in His work, and as soon as I reach my new level I shall begin to dig in. In fact, I am even now engaged in my work” (“Sandford to Serve . . . “ 5).

Frank Weston Sandford was released from prison in 1918 and died in 1948 in relative obscurity. His missionary society waned considerably following his arrest, but the church continues today as Shiloh Church in Durham, Maine. Sandford’s vision of worldwide evangelism was never fully realized by the group he formed. But, Charles Fox Parham, who may have adapted some of Sandford’s earlier ideas in the establishment of his own Bible school in Topeka was instrumental in igniting and stoking the missionary fire that spread the Pentecostal message around the globe. Though Parham admired Sandford’s efforts, he returned to Kansas persuaded that Sandford’s work was about to be eclipsed by an even greater Apostolic restoration. On 1 January 1901, the Spirit fell at Bethel Bible College, and the Holy Ghost and Us was indeed superceded by God’s greatest end-time work—the Holy Ghost in Us!

Sources:

Fogarty, Robert S. All Things New: American Communes and Utopian Movements, 1860-1914. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1990.

“HOLY GHOSTERS STARVING :Red Star Liner Lapland Sends a Boatload of Food to the Coronet.. ” New York Times (1857-1922) 2 October 1911 ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006), ProQuest. Web. 12 Dec. 2009.

“SANDFORD TO SERVE TEN YEARS IN PRISON :Shilch Leader Smiles as He Is Sentenced for Causing Six Deaths on Yacht Coronet. STARTS FOR ATLANTA, GA. Gets Maximum Imprisonment on One Count, Five Others Continued -Crowd Bids Him Good-Bye.. ” New York Times (1857-Current file) 19 December 1911 ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006), ProQuest. Web. 12 Dec. 2009.

Special to The New York Times.. “HOLY GHOSTER ARRESTED :Master of Sanford’s Barkentine Kingdom Under Bonds on Mrs. Whittaker’s Suit.. ” New York Times (1857-1922) 26 July 1910 ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2006), ProQuest. Web. 12 Dec. 2009.

STATE OF MAINE v. FRANK W. SANDFORD. SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT OF MAINE, FRANKLIN 99 Me. 441; 59 A. 597; 1905 Me. 3 January 3, 1905, Decided.

John Wesley: He Being Dead Yet Speaketh

22 March, 2010

It is a notable fact that throughout history, sincere Christians who would attempt to divest themselves of tradition and rediscover the model of New Testament Christianity have adopted various restrictions on dress and adornment. There is an incontrovertible continuum of such regulation in the historical record from the apostolic age to the modern era, fully demonstrating that our Pentecostal standard of righteous living is not legalistic innovation but has undeniable historical precedent amongst various groups of seekers and pilgrims who based their directives for Christian modesty on the same Scriptural passages that inspire us to distinguish ourselves in fashion from the world.

John Wesley, founder of Methodism, was very clear on the subject of dress and made a plain address on the subject entitled “Advice to the People Called Methodists, with Regard to Dress.” His movement, which was rooted in Anglicanism, was fundamentally dedicated to reform and a return to Biblical practice and piety and included strong teaching on how the Christian should pursue holiness in dress and adornment.

Wesley provides clear criterion for Methodist plainness—thrift and gravity. Firstly, he argues, that the Christian’s apparel should be “ . . . cheap, not expensive; far cheaper than others in your circumstances wear, or than you would wear if you knew not God.” Secondly, he cautions that modesty is not compatible with superfluity, asking Methodists to select clothing that is “grave, not gay, airy, showy; not in the point of the fashion.”

John Wesley also warns the Methodists against a catalog of ornaments and vanities:

Wear no gold . . . no pearls or precious stones; use no curling of hair, or costly apparel, how grave soever. I advise those who are able to receive this saying, Buy no velvets, no silks, no fine linen, no superfluities, no mere ornaments, though ever so much in fashion. Wear nothing, though you have it already, which is of a glaring colour, or which is any kind gay, glistening, or showy; nothing made in the very height of fashion, nothing apt to attract the eyes of by-standers.

He further forbids the wearing of necklaces, ear-rings, finger rings, and extravagant lace and advises men against “coloured waist-coats, shining stockings, glittering or costly buckles or buttons” and any other “expensive perukes.”

John Wesley concludes with a passionate plea that should yet ring from our Pentecostal pulpits: “Let our seriousness ‘shine before men,’ not our dress. Let all who see us know that we are not of this world. Let our adorning be that which fadeth not away; even righteousness and true holiness.” Ultimately, his message is an indictment against those modern Pentecostals who have transformed the church aisle into a runway! It is high time for the Dagon of fleshly fashion and carnal clothing to fall, crumbling, before the presence of God. More than ever before, let us adopt a simple modesty rooted in heartfelt observance of God’s word and prayerful, personal piety.

Stanley W. Chambers: Profile of a Dedicated Leader

27 February, 2010

During a business meeting at the 1967 General Conference held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, General Superintendent Arthur T. Morgan, unexpectedly died. At the commencement of the meeting, Bro. Morgan told the General Secretary, Stanley Warren Chambers: “I want you to take notes on everything I have to say.” Bro. Chambers dutifully recorded the date and time just before Bro. Morgan fell back across the head table. Thousands of conference attendees who had converged on Tulsa were devastated by the news of Bro. Morgan’s untimely death. But, the constituency of the United Pentecostal Church shortly elected Stanley W. Chambers, who had served as General Secretary since the merger in 1945, to the office. Though Bro. Chambers could not have fathomed this turn of events when he left his home in St. Louis for the annual convention, God had certainly prepared this faithful servant for his new role as leader of the largest Oneness Pentecostal organization in the world.

 

Stanley W. Chambers was introduced to the Pentecostal movement as a young boy at Apostolic Gospel Church in Columbus, Ohio, led by W.T. Witherspoon. Stanley repented and was baptized during a five-week revival in 1927, but he did not receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost until three years on 6 February 1930, at the age of fourteen.

After he was saved, Stanley became very involved in the church. He played violin in the church’s orchestra and sang in the choir, directed by Bro. S.G. Norris. He kept busy in the work of the Lord and looked to Bro. Witherspoon as his father in the Gospel.

In January 1938, Stanley Chambers left Ohio to take on a managerial position in New York City. When he arrived in the teeming metropolis, he was met at the station by Bro. Paul Box, who attended Andrew Urshan’s Satisfaction Gospel Tabernacle in Manhattan. Bro. Box had preached on a number of occasions at the church in Columbus, and their acquaintance was destined to become a deep and lasting friendship.

Through fellowship meetings with area churches, Stanley Chambers met Catherine Strepka, and the pair began dating. Bro. Chambers felt the call of God to preach, and the young couple began to share a drawing toward ministry. Stanley Chambers and Catherine Strepka were united in marriage on 7 September 1940.

In 1942, Bro. Chambers accepted the pastorate of a small work in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Sis. Chambers initially struggled with leaving her native New York City. One night a message in tongues was delivered. After church, Bro. Urshan approached Sis. Chambers and told her that the message was intended for her: “God is confirming your husband’s call to Pennsylvania. You, as his helpmeet, must be willing to go wherever God calls him to work.” Sis. Chambers received the message and dedicated herself to her husband’s calling.

Bro. Chambers developed a radio broadcast in Hazelton, and there were listener invitations to begin Apostolic works in neighboring cities. Bro. Chambers planted a church in Sunbury and eventually resigned the Hazelton work to dedicate himself to the fledgling congregation.

In September 1945, Bro. & Sis. Chambers traveled to St. Louis to attend the annual meeting of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ. This much-anticipated convention solidified the merger of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ with the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated. Bro. Stanley Chambers, who had helped organize the Eastern District of the PAJC, was elected as General Secretary of the newly-formed United Pentecostal Church. At the suggestion of Bro. Fauss, the electorate waived the requirement that the General Secretary be ordained for a minimum of five years. Bro. Stanley Chambers became the youngest member of the General Board of the UPC.

The Chambers family resigned their beloved church in Pennsylvania and moved to St. Louis, making their home in the headquarters building. As General Secretary, Bro. Chambers did a great deal of traveling and corresponding with ministers. He represented the organizational administration at many District Conferences and enjoyed meeting people across the fellowship.

When he became the General Superintendent in 1967, Bro. Chambers felt equipped for the ministry by his close association with his capable predecessors. At the General Conference in Tulsa, Bro. Chambers preached an inaugural message that came to define his administration entitled: “Can the United Pentecostal Church Survive the Onslaught of History?” He challenged the fellowship to retain a vision of unity and revival and led the church through a 10-year period of unprecedented growth. When he retired as General Superintendent in 1977, he remained active in the work of the Lord serving as an interim missionary to Austria, Missouri District Superintendent, and president of Gateway Bible College. Stanley Warren Chambers demonstrated a lifelong commitment to the United Pentecostal Church International, and his ministry was an inspiring chapter in the growth and success of this wonderful Apostolic fellowship!

God’s Property: a Look at 312 Azusa Street

10 February, 2010

In April 1906, William Joseph Seymour and a small band of newly-baptized Pentecostals moved cottage services from a small bungalow on Bonnie Brae Street to the Azusa Street Mission at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California. This humble building was to become the legendary epicenter of the Apostolic Faith movement that emanated in concentric waves of revival from its ramshackle frame structure to the farthest reaches of the world. The story of the building that housed the mighty move of God in the twentieth century is a fascinating chapter in Pentecostal history and reveals God’s penchant for exalting the humble and glorifying the lowly. Azusa Street is a modern euphemism for the boundless faith of our Pentecostal predecessors, who cared nothing for form or fashion but sought the face of God for the mighty revival that we still enjoy today.

Azusa Street was never much more than a rutted alleyway and has never been longer than about one city block. The street was formerly known as Old Second Street. In 1888, the Stevens African American Episcopal Church was constructed on the site. A small house was moved to the back of the lot and served as a parsonage. The Los Angeles City Directory (1898) reveals that the neighborhood included a mix of African Americans, Jews, and immigrants from Germany, Scandinavia, and Japan. Incipient businesses began to fill in the vacant lots near the church. A lumberyard is clearly marked next door to the A.M.E. church (Robeck “Uncovering . . . “ 12).

A single extant photograph of the Stevens African American Episcopal congregation reveals a large staircase in front of the church that ascended to the sanctuary, located on the 2nd floor of the structure. Three gothic windows are visible across the front of the frame church. In 1903, the congregation outgrew their facility and relocated to 8th and Towne and was renamed First African Methodist Episcopal Church (Robeck, “Uncovering . . . “ 14). Today, the First A.M.E. congregation is still the oldest and largest A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles.

After the church vacated the property, an arsonist set fire to the building, destroying the roof and damaging its structure. In order to sell the real estate, First A.M.E. elected to remodel the building as tenement housing and partitioned the interior 2nd floor into apartments with a central corridor. The first floor became a stable and housed horses and lumber. This was the condition of the building when William J. Seymour negotiated a lease with purchase option from First A.M.E. (Robeck, “Uncovering . . . “ 15).

The Pentecostal mission at Azusa Street was serviceable but far from sumptuous. Arthur Osterberg organized a work crew that consisted of the interracial converts from Bonnie Brae and some Mexican workers, who worked with Bro. Osterberg at the McNeill Construction Company during the week. Much of the debris was hauled away in a wagon, and straw and sawdust were scattered on the mission floor. The walls, which were eventually painted, were exposed down to the studs in the earliest days. The saints decided to worship on the first floor, which had a low ceiling of only 8 or 9 feet. The assembly room was lit by a single row of incandescent lights. Redwood planks supported by nail kegs made up benches, which were shortly supplemented by an assortment of mismatched chairs, which were arranged in a square around the makeshift pulpit. Mr. McNeill, Osterberg’s employer, donated lumber for a proper altar in the mission despite the fact that he was himself Catholic (Robeck 72-73).

Other interesting fixtures in the building included a mailbox inside the entrance for offerings. Following the precedent of his mentor Charles Parham, Bro. Seymour did not receive offerings in the mission. As miracles began to take place, walls were covered with the leavings of the healed and delivered, including crutches, braces, and smoking pipes. This tradition also had precedent amongst others in the earlier holiness movement.

There was also some signage in the mission. Interestingly, the words of God’s judgment to Belshazzar “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharisin” were displayed in the mission, painted in green (Robeck 74). A sign hung in the upstairs tarrying room where many prayed for Spirit baptism that read: “No talking above a whisper” (Bartleman 62). The most controversial sign at Azusa proved to be the crudely painted name of the mission: “Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission.” Many early Pentecostals were fiercely anti-denominational, and some feared that this nomenclature indicated sectarianism. Bro. Bartleman, who chronicled the early revival in Los Angeles, lamented:

The truth be told, “Azusa” began to fail the Lord also, early in her history. God showed me one day that they were going to organize, though not a word had been said in my hearing about it . . . Sure enough, the next day after I dropped this warning in the meeting, I found a sign outside “Azusa” reading “Apostolic Faith Mission.” The Lord said, “That is what I told you.” They had done it. Surely a “party spirit” cannot be “Pentecostal.” (Bartleman 78-79)

All said, the Azusa Street Mission was never to grow into an ecclesiastical showplace. The people were hungry for God and eschewed the trappings of denominational decorum—no stained glass, organs, or choir robes for these humble people! Money was not used to embellish the edifice but to build the Kingdom of God—to send forth missionaries and to distribute the Apostolic Faith, a free publication that was instrumental in disseminating the Pentecostal message around the world.

 

Despite its initial status as the focus of Pentecostal revivalism, Azusa Street was not destined to remain at the center of the spreading movement. The very evangelistic nature of Pentecostalism meant that revival was carried place to place, and the enthusiasm of Azusa was replicated over and over again around the globe. After 1915, the mission reverted to the home of a small, mainly black congregation led by William J. Seymour. After Seymour’s death in 1922, he was succeeded by his wife, Jennie Evans Moore Seymour, who continued to lead the Apostolic Faith Mission. In 1931, the old mission, which had fallen into greater disrepair, was declared unfit for use as a church by the Building Department of the City of Los Angeles. The small congregation vacated the structure. The property was offered for sale to the Assemblies of God for preservation, but church leaders reportedly said: “We are not interested in relics” (Synan xxxiii). Sadly, only a commemorative plaque marks the spot of the Azusa Street Mission in modern Los Angeles. It is perhaps fitting that God chose this ephemeral edifice as a tinderbox for Pentecostal fire. Christ seems to have a penchant for humble abodes. He, who was born in a stable, returned to a converted stable in Los Angeles, favoring a rundown construction over an opulent cathedral.

Sources:

Bartleman, Frank. Azusa Street, an Eyewitness Account: the Roots of Modern-day Pentecost. Alachua, FL: Bridge-Logos, 1980.

Robeck, Cecil M. “Uncovering the Forgotten Story of the Azusa Street Mission.” Heritage (11 Dec 2005), 12-17.

Robeck, Cecil. Azusa Street Mission and Revival: the Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2006.

Synan, Vinson. Frank Bartleman and Azusa Street. Azusa Street, an Eyewitness Account: the Roots of Modern-day Pentecost. By Frank Bartleman. Alachua, FL: Bridge-Logos, 1980.

West Side Story: the Heritage of One Indianapolis Congregation

14 December, 2009

West Side Pentecostal Church is one of the oldest Apostolic assemblies in the city of Indianapolis, beginning in 1912, just a few short years after the Pentecostal message was introduced to the city. In January 1907, Bro. Glenn Cook, an evangelist from the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, began holding Pentecostal meetings in the on Shelby Street in the Fountain Square area of Indianapolis. Another evangelistic party arrived from Azusa in March, including Thomas Hezmalhalch, Fred Dexheimer, Celia Smock, and Lenora Hall. These early workers helped spread the revival, and congregations began to form throughout the city (Flower 5-6).

The roots of West Side Pentecostal Church begin with Bro. Joseph Rodgers, who opened a mission in 1912 on the corners of West Ohio and Minker Street (now Reisner Street). A Bro. Edwards served as Assistant Pastor of the fledgling congregation, and the work was called Apostolic Faith Helping Hands Mission. It is interesting to note that Bro. Rodgers chose to name the mission. Many Pentecostal assemblies were simply known only by their location, a nomenclative tradition, which grew out of early Pentecostal suspicions about denominationalism and formal organization. Bishop G.T. Haywood’s large Indianapolis church was simply known as 11th and Senate. Additionally, in August 1912, E.N. Bell published an article in Word and Witness, a widely-read Pentecostal circular, asking ministers not to use the terms “mission” or “Apostolic Faith” in their church names: “Nowhere in the Bible is a congregation of believers in Christ called a ‘mission’ nor an ‘Apostolic mission’ but we read of the ‘Church of God at Corinth.’” Bell favored “Church of God in Christ” as a suitable name, which undoubtedly reflects some of the early ministerial connections with the organization of that name (Bell 2).

Bro. Rodgers continued to lead the church that he started, and the congregation steadily grew under his leadership. Unfortunately, the pastor, who was an interior decorator by trade, was tragically killed while working on a church. The scaffolding collapsed, and he fell to his death.

Part of the church’s history is rather nebulous, but it is likely that the church joined the Assemblies of God at its formation in 1914. Following naming conventions of that fellowship, the church name became West Side Assembly Church. However, Bro. Jim Jackson, who succeeded Bro. Rodgers, must have been a key figure in moving the church into the Oneness camp when the message came to Indianapolis in 1915.

Bro. Jackson’s pastorate was followed by the ministry of Bro. Hedges, who was saved at West Side Assembly. After only a few years at the church, Bro. Hedges became ill and called on the help of Bro. Delbert Spall, a young minister from Christian Tabernacle, one of the most well-established Apostolic assemblies in Indianapolis. When Bro. Hedges went to be with the Lord on 15 July 1954, Bro. Spall became the pastor. Bro. Spall recalled that the last time Bro. Hedges ministered in the West Side pulpit, he felt the spiritual mantle from Bro. Hedges pass to him.

Bro. Delbert Spall was born in Carothersville, Indiana in 1919. As a child, Bro. Spall had attended Christian Tabernacle with his parents Freeman and Freda, a dynamic Apostolic church led by Sis. Lena Spillman. At the age of 17, Bro. Spall had an attack that brought him near to death. His family called for Sis. Spillman to come and pray. The young man received the Holy Ghost and was healed and became a faithful member of Christian Tabernacle. In 1950, Bro. Spall recognized his call to the ministry.

Bro. Spall’s wife, Mary Ellen (McMorris) also has a wonderful Pentecostal heritage. As a baby, her first trip outside of the house was to Oak Hill Tabernacle, one of the oldest Pentecostal works in Indianapolis led by Bro. L.V. Roberts. Sis. Spall’s mother, Dora McMorris, was purportedly amongst the first group of Indianapolis Pentecostals to be immersed in the Name of Jesus by Bro. Glenn Cook on 6 March 1915.

This wonderful couple led West Side Pentecostal through decades of Holy Ghost revival, completing a new sanctuary in 1959. In May of 1989, they retired from full-time ministry, but both are still living and are wholly committed to the Lord.

Bro. Donald Winters became the pastor of West Side at the Spalls’ retirement. Recently, his son, Donald Jo Winters assumed the pastorate, and Bro. Anthony Oliver is his Assistant Pastor.

The West Side Pentecostal Church continues to stand strong on its historic foundations of faith and service. From its most humble beginnings as a small Apostolic Faith mission to a well-established Pentecostal congregation, West Side Pentecostal Church is undoubtedly the oldest Indianapolis congregation in the fellowship of the United Pentecostal Church International. Their unwavering commitment to the cherished doctrines of Bible salvation, holiness, and the mighty God in Christ are a testament to generations of solid, anointed leadership as they continue to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jud. 1.3).

Sources:

Bell, Eudorus N. “Not Missions, but Churches of God in Christ.” Word & Witness Vol. 8, Is. 6. 20 August 1912, p. 2.

Flower, Alice Reynolds. “When Pentecost Came to Indianapolis, a First-Hand Report of the Revival which Began in 1907.” Heritage 5 (4) Winter 1985/1986, pp. 5-6.

*Special thanks to the Spall family for conducting this interview at a difficult time.

Revisiting the Upper Room

30 November, 2009

‘And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room . . . ‘ (Acts 1:13)

The Day of Pentecost marks the birth of the apostolic Church of the New Testament. According to the Lukan narrative in the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Ghost swept into the Upper Room where the disciples abode and where the disciples gathered with the female followers and relatives of Christ, including His mother. In this sacred space, cloven tongues of fire appeared above those who tarried for the Father’s promise, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost, speaking in other tongues. In this dramatic moment, the everlasting Church was established, and the Upper Room became one of the most hallowed sites of Christianity.

Today, pilgrims and tourists daily fill a 45’ x 29.5 ‘Gothic room built in the 14th century to commemorate the descent of the Spirit following Christ’s resurrection. In Catholic tradition the Upper Room is known as the Cenacle, derived from a Latin word for dining and is believed to be the site of the Last Supper and the place where the Apostles gathered and lived. As such, the ancient building that stood in the chapel’s place was the site of many of the most important events in the Gospel, including the washing of the disciples’ feet, the appearance of Christ after His resurrection, and the ratification of Matthias as a replacement for Judas Iscariot (Meagher 232). The Upper Room is hailed as the epicenter of formative Christianity and the worldwide revival that emanated from the initial descent of the Holy Ghost in Acts 2.1-4.

Eusebius (d. 339), who chronicled early Christian history, is credited with identifying the site as the “Holy Church of God.” In his Catechetical Lectures, Cyril (d. 386) called the building “the Upper Church of the Apostles.” Epiphanus (d. 403), who was Bishop of Caesarea, said that the small church survived the decimating attacks of Titus and Hadrian on Jerusalem. Theodosius called the Cenacle “mater omnium ecclesarium,” the “Mother of all Churches.”

Following the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., it was St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, who went to Jerusalem in an effort to rediscover the ancient Christian landmarks. Under her direction, the Cenacle was purified and consecrated, and masses were said in the small church (Meagher 233). In 350 A.D., the church was restored; and in 390, a large basilica known as Hagia Sion (Holy Zion) was erected nearby (Lussier 332-333). The traditional Upper Room became a cathedral and flourished until 636 A.D., when Jerusalem was overtaken by the Moslem invaders. Omar, cousin of the Mohammed, negotiated with the Jerusalem Christians and allowed them to retain the Cenacle as a church, but the influence of Christianity was stymied by the Moslem occupancy (Meagher 233).

When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099, they found the Upper Room and Holy Zion in ruins. A Romanesque structure was erected at the site of the basilica, but this was again destroyed by invaders when the Sultan of Damascus conquered Jerusalem in 1219 (Lussier 332-333).

In 1342, the Franciscans were granted perpetual custody of the Cenacle by a papal bull issued by Clement VI. The order erected the present Gothic chapel. Interestingly, during the Byzantine period, it became popularly believed that King David was also entombed at the site of the Upper Room. When the occupying Moslems learned of the tradition, Suliman the Magnificent, hastily ejected the Franciscans, an effort to protect the sacred soil of David’s bones. In a missal to the Governor of Damascus, he wrote:

By the receipt of this august and imperial sign, know that by the request addressed to our Sublime Porte we have been made aware that near to the noble city of Jerusalem there is the tomb of the Prophet David . . . and that the convent and church of Mount Sion, possessed and inhabited by the religious Franks, are next to the tomb. The latter, in making the processions required by their false beliefs, cross the earth, which covers the tomb of the Prophet David—may peace be upon him. It is neither just nor appropriate that this most noble place remain in the hands of the infidels, and that in obedience to their impious customs, their feet foul the places sanctified by the prophets who have a right to our complete veneration. We order, then, upon receipt of this august order, that you expel from the church and convent immediately and without delay the religious and all those who reside there. (qtd. in Cunliffe 105)

For a time, Franciscans were still allowed to live in a nearby house but were finally evicted in 1551. In 1936, the Franciscans were permitted to return to a monastery near the Cenacle, but they evacuated during the conflicts of 1948. In 1960, they regained occupancy of both the monastery and the Cenacle, which had been badly damaged by mortar fire and continue as custodians of the structure today (Lussier 332-333).

Though the biblical site of the Upper Room described in Acts 2 is in some doubt, the legacy of that sacred space is unquestionable. Whether the Spirit fell in the exact location of today’s Franciscan chapel or on another Jerusalem tract, we know that the chamber where the 120 followers of the resurrected Christ gathered became the birthing room of the invincible Apostolic Church. With rushing wind and cloven tongues of fire, the Jerusalem saints were baptized with the Spirit. The tourist experience of standing in a place that may have been the point of that first Pentecostal visitation pales in comparison to the Upper Room experience recreated in countless lives as the miracle of Pentecost is repeated in the seeking souls and the believing hearts of the faithful. Every time we witness the outpouring of God’s Spirit, evidenced by speaking in tongues, we return to the Upper Room and relive the seminal moment when the Holy Ghost first empowered the Church with the enflaming presence of the Comforter and began the spiritual conflagration that now engulfs the globe in end-time revival! The authenticity of the Cenacle is in dispute but the authenticity of the Apostolic experience is incontrovertible.

Sources:

Cunliffe, Barry, ed. Oxford Archaeological Guides: the Holy Land. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Germano, Michael P. “The Ancient Church of the Apostles: Revisiting Jerusalem’s Cenacle and David’s Tomb.” Biblical Archaeology.

Lussier, E. “Cenacle.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 332-333. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Ball State University. 9 Nov. 2009 <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=GVRL&u=munc80314&gt;.

Meagher, James. How Christ Said the First Mass, or the Lord’s Last Supper. New York: Christian Press Association Publishing Company, 1908.

D.C.O. Opperman: Pentecostal Pioneer and Pedagogue

24 October, 2009

September 15, 1926, Daniel Charles Owen Opperman was tragically killed in a car accident on his way to preach an evening service in the Baldwin Park area of Los Angeles.  After the Sunday morning service, Bro. Opperman was invited to dinner at the home of the Hoag family.  A daughter-in-law of the couple was driving a carload back to the church.  Crossing a track, the car was struck by a train.  Bro. Opperman was thrown from the vehicle, and his neck was broken.  His Bible lay beside him, and the coroner remarked at his dignified appearance, suspecting he was a doctor or lawyer.  So departed a great Pentecostal pioneer who was a dedicated teacher, evangelist, and pastor.

Charles Owen Opperman was born in Goshen, Indiana on July 13, 1872.  His parents, German immigrants, were members of the Dunkers, a sect that had left Prussia because of religious persecution.  Charles was raised to be God-fearing and developed a sober spirit.  When his father died, Charles was only fifteen and assumed responsibility for his widowed mother, two brothers and one sister.

Charles Opperman was hungry for knowledge.  In 1890, he graduated from Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, where he met Ella Syler, who he married on March 10, 1890.  Charles Opperman taught in several schools from 1892.

In 1899, Opperman was attending the famous Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and became acquainted with the work of John Alexander Dowie, an Australian evangelist whose meetings attracted thousands nightly.  In 1900, Dowie began Zion City, Illinois as a permanent home for his Christian Catholic Apostolic Church and a spiritual haven for his followers.  Drawn to Dowie’s message of holiness and healing, Opperman joined the community and added Daniel to his name.  He began teaching in the Zion school.  He also taught in the city’s college and was later named the Superintendent of Zion’s schools.  On the first Sunday in January 1902, John Alexander Dowie ordained D.C.O. Opperman as a deacon in the Chicago Auditorium.  Bro. Opperman said:  “God confirmed with a remarkable healing on the following Wednesday.  Mr. J.J. Smith was instantly healed of the grippe [influenza] in answer to prayer.”

Opperman was very active in the Zion work.  He was part of Dowie’s monumental campaign in New York City in October 1903.  Suffering from tuberculosis, D.C.O. Opperman resettled for a short time in San Antonio, Texas and worked alongside a Zion elder named Lemuel C. Hall.  Despite his failing health, Bro. Opperman was determined to preach.  He describes his miraculous healing in San Antonio:

In March 1905 went to San Antonio, Texas.  Health in a very dangerous condition.  Climate helped me some, but God helped me more.  Partial deliverances [sic] in answer to prayer.  On April 8, 1905 at about 7:30 P.M. stepped into Houston St. San Antonio near P.O. [post office] to herald the gospel of the kingdom.  God marvelously healed me and sanctified me.  God gave me great joy in my ministry in the street.

He returned to Zion in April but went back to Texas in March 1906 to preach at Zion gatherings in Houston.
In Houston, he became acquainted with Charles Fox Parham, who had moved Apostolic Faith operations from Topeka, Kansas.  Parham was preaching the Pentecostal baptism, and Opperman believed the message, though he did not initially receive the actual baptism.  He sent letters to Zion, urging followers to accept the Bible teaching of speaking in tongues.  In June 1906, Bro. Opperman traveled with Charles Parham to an Apostolic Faith convention in Galena, Kansas.  After those meetings, Parham accompanied Opperman to Kansas City, Missouri and spent five weeks preaching the Pentecostal message to the Zion faithful there.

In October 1906, Bro. Opperman began joint meetings of Zion and Apostolic Faith people in San Antonio.  He says: “Turned work over to Bro. Farr in November.  About 15 saved, several sanctified, several healed, and seven Pentecosts.”  Bro. Opperman did not personally receive the Holy Ghost until 1908.  His grave personality may have hindered him from yielding to God; but on January 13, 1908, he spoke in tongues privately for the first time in Belton, Texas. Bro. Opperman recorded twenty other “Pentecosts” during the nine-week Belton campaign. But on March 5, 1908, he spoke publicly in tongues at a meeting in San Antonio in an American Indian language that was translated.

On July 28, 1907, D.C.O. Opperman, who had lost his first wife in childbirth, married Hattie Ruth Allen, a young Pentecostal from San Antonio.  A year later, in July 1908, Bro. Opperman assumed duties as the State Director of the Apostolic Faith Movement in Texas and began traveling throughout the district, encouraging the fledgling missions and spurring revival.

Bro. D.C.O. Opperman is probably best remembered for his role in beginning Bible training schools for Pentecostal workers.  He conducted many short-term schools where Holy Ghost-filled saints were transformed in Gospel missionaries.  Many future leaders in the Pentecostal movement attended Opperman’s schools, including Ralph M. Riggs, who later became a General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.  Originally known as Schools of the Prophets, Opperman’s training centers were run along the faith line—no tuition.  Attendees prayed for what they got and got what they prayed for!  He assembled schools in such diverse places as Houston, Texas, Joplin, Missouri, Anniston, Alabama, Des Moines, Iowa, and Hot Springs, Arkansas.  In October 1915, Bro. Opperman organized the Ozark Bible and Literary School, a permanent Bible training institution under the auspices of the Assemblies of God, which he served as an executive presbyter.

When the revelation of the mighty God in Christ spread throughout the Pentecostal movement, Bro. Opperman accepted the message and was rebaptized in Jesus’ Name on September 12, 1915.  Interestingly, a final announcement of the Ozark school still appears a year later in August 1916 in The Latter Rain Evangel, a Trinitarian Pentecostal publication. Bro. Opperman began publishing his own paper, The Blessed Truth, propagating the Oneness message.  With the exodus of the Jesus-Only faction from the Assemblies of God in 1916, Opperman assumed the role of chairman in the General Assembly of Apostolic Assemblies. The Ozark school followed D.C.O. Opperman into the Oneness movement and became the Pentecostal Bible and Literary School with the GAAA’s merger with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World in 1917. Bro. Opperman continued to labor for the Lord and led a German congregation in Lodi, California from 1923 to 1925.  His untimely death was sadly remarked by Bro. Howard Goss, who described him as “a handsome and commanding figure amongst us, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.”  Eternity will measure the extent of his Godly influence on the Pentecostal movement and the multitude of lives changed through the seeds of faith and knowledge that he sowed throughout his remarkable life.

Andrew Urshan and Apostolic Baptism

7 September, 2009

 

http://www.ugst.org/uploaded/photos/A-Urshan.jpg

In the April 19, 1919 issue of Christian Evangel, Eudorus N. Bell, first chairman of the Assemblies of God, published an article entitled, “Andrew Urshan’s New Stand, a Bit of Sad News,” confirming Bro. Urshan’s alignment with the “New Issue”, or Oneness, Pentecostals. While Bell expresses sincere concern for Bro. Urshan and appeals to readers to “pray for God to guide Bro. Urshan,” it is clear that Bro. Urshan’s declaration for the truth of the mighty God in Christ signaled his complete disassociation with the Assemblies of God. Bell writes: “Brother Urshan has offered to turn in his credentials held from the General Council, if they cannot endorse his teaching, and I am sure they cannot endorse it.”

It is interesting that Bro. Urshan remained in the Assemblies of God following the 1916 General Council, which ratified a strongly Trinitarian statement of faith and forced the withdrawal of Oneness adherents. Though he remained in the Assemblies of God, Bro. Urshan was suspected of Oneness leanings. He issued a “Confession of Faith” in 1918 answering accusations of his sympathy with the “New Issue” proponents. He said: “This is absolutely not so.” By April 1919, Bro. Urshan was publishing overtly Oneness views. E.N. Bell quotes a tract by Bro. Urshan reading:

The name of the Father, as we said first, is JEHOVAH, the Lord—thank God! Jesus has that name now; so to be baptized into—or in—the NAME OF JESUS CHRIST, LORD, is the exact Holy Ghost interpretation and application for Matt. 28:19.

According to his autobiography, he had been employing the Jesus’ Name baptismal invocation since 1910, when God showed him that “’The Lord Jesus Christ” is the one proper Name of God for this gospel dispensation.” In his missionary work in Persia and Russia, he was undoubtedly somewhat removed from the raging controversies in America, but Bro. Urshan was aware of the growing schism in the Pentecostal movement. After preaching in St. Petersburg, Russia at the Free Protestant Mission, many wished to be water baptized. Bro. Urshan prayed:

Oh Lord, if Thou art going to make me baptize converts in this meeting, and if Thou will have me to baptize them in the Name of the Lord Jesus, as in the Book of Acts, please cause the first one who may ask me to baptize him, or her, to ask to be baptized according to the Book of Acts. Make that candidate show me the verse and chapter, referring to the water baptism. This I asked to know God’s will for me, concerning my practice of the real Apostolic formula; lest I be influenced by either party in America—to do as they thought—and not according to God’s leading and teachings on Baptism.

During the meeting, a large man rose from his seat and approached the platform with his Bible in his hand: “’Oh! Bro. Urshan, the Lord Jesus told me last night to ask you to baptize me, just like this text.’” The man pointed to Acts 8.16: “For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized into the Name of the Lord Jesus.” Eleven converts were baptized in Jesus’ Name at the initial baptismal service, and many more followed.

While Bro. Urshan made a clear stand for baptism in the Name of Christ, he was reluctant to allow rebaptism of those already immersed according to the Matthew 28.19.

At a subsequent baptismal service in St. Petersburg, Bro. Urshan delivered an exposition on his conviction about the Apostolic baptismal formula, with an unexpected result. Many of the baptized saints wished to be re-immersed in the Name of Jesus. Bro. Urshan said: “I did my best to discourage it, telling the folks it was not necessary at all, and that it would bring trouble and division among them . . . I prayed harder than all against rebaptism, and branded it to be a trick of the enemy to destroy our good revival.” While he resisted, the Lord spoke to him: “’Will you fail me, and despise my name given under heaven whereby men must be saved? Arise and be baptized in the true apostolic manner’” Bro. Urshan joined about 75 others in the freezing stream, receiving the true New Testament baptism: “Rebaptism? No! In the real Bible Christian-baptism.”

The Oneness insistence on rebaptism of Trinitarians was at the center of the “New Issue” controversy, and members of the Assemblies of God presbytery released a “Personal Statement” in the September 1915 Pentecostal Evangel attempting to assuage the schism. The statement allowed ministers to follow their convictions on the matter of baptismal invocation for new converts and discouraged the practice of rebaptism. The declaration was strategically issued before the upcoming General Council to be held in St. Louis in October and reads, in part:

1. That the Scriptures give no example of any one who has once had Christian baptism over [sic] being re-baptized.

2. That, therefore, re-baptizing of converts who have been once buried with Christ in baptism should be discouraged, and that ministers should respect, as a rule, such baptisms performed by their fellow ministers.

3. That in the case of individual conscience, each minister or candidate should have the full liberty to be personally baptized with any words he prefers, so long as he stays within the Scriptures on the subject . . .

The resolution does seem to allow ministers to be guided by their personal scruples if a request for rebaptism is initiated by a believer: “. . . nothing herein said shall hinder any minister from dealing, as he sees best, with cases whose consciences are not satisfied with their former baptism” and ultimately aims at a prevailing unity and mutual respect for the divergent positions: “All division or strife over mere phrases, as that there should a fixed or invariable formula, is wrong on both sides of the question.”

Bro. Urshan’s baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ post-dates the division of the organization over the Oneness issue and had real consequences. With the surrender of his credentials in the Assemblies of God, Bro. Urshan fully cast his lot with the “New Issue” brethren, going on to become an influential organizer and leader in many Oneness fellowships including the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, the Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ, and the United Pentecostal Church. E.N. Bell’s prayer for “God to guide” Bro. Urshan was surely answered, as the Lord led him into the fullness of Apostolic truth and anointed his ministry and work to spread the full gospel of Jesus Christ.

Beyond I Corinthians 11: Holiness, Hair, and Ancient History

2 July, 2009

Modern Apostolic believers give great emphasis to St. Paul’s teachings to the Corinthians concerning head covering and appropriate hair length; but increasingly, less attention is devoted to other Pauline New Testament directives concerning the superfluous dressing of the hair: “ . . . not with broided hair” (I Tm. 2.9) and “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair . . . “ (I Pt. 3.3). Patristical writings, appealing to the epistlary precepts of Paul and Peter, preserve for us a solid record of ecclesiastical stricture on the ostentatious and vain arrangement and alteration of the hair.

Like St. Paul, the Church Fathers viewed hair as a signification of order. The beauty of hair was seen in its simplicity rather than ornate arrangement or adornment. One of the earliest descriptions of acceptable hairstyles for women comes from Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.), who wrote in his Pædagogus: “It is enough for women to protect their locks, and bind up their hair simply along the neck with a plain hair-pin, nourishing chaste locks with simple care to true beauty.” It is clear from this passage that Christian women were expected to care for their uncut (chaste) hair and to wear it in a style consistent with modesty and simplicity.

Clement’s contemporary, Tertullian (160-220 A.D.), vehemently criticizes women for their elaborate hairdressing, asking: “What service, again, does all the labour spent in arranging the hair render to salvation?” He continues:

Why is no rest allowed to your hair, which must now be bound, now loosed, now cultivated, thinned out? Some are anxious to force their hair into curls, some to let it hang loose and flying; not with good simplicity: beside which, you affix I know not what enormities of subtle and textile perukes; now, after the manner of a helmet of undressed hide, as it were a sheath for the head and a covering for the crown; now, a mass drawn backward toward the neck. The wonder is, that there is no open contending against the Lord’s prescripts!

There is absolutely no toleration for immodest peacockery amongst these early Christians, and the hair was not to be piled with either jewels or bands.

Patristical writers also universally condemned the tincture of hair with dyes. Tertullian says:

I see some women turn the color of their hair with saffron. They are ashamed even of their own nation, ashamed that their procreation did not assign them to Germany or to Gaul. Thus, as it is, they transfer their hair thither! Ill, ay, most ill, do they augur for themselves with their flame-colored head . . . God saith, “Which of you can make a white hair black, or out of a black a white?” And so they refute the Lord! “Behold!” say they, “Instead of white or black, we make it yellow—more winning in grace.”

For Tertullian, the coloring of hair was an affront to the Creator. He believed that all cosmetic alteration of the person was adulterating and indicated dissatisfaction with the artistry of God Himself. In further disapproval of dyeing, he cites the damage that these chemicals cause to the hair: “Nay, moreover, the force of the cosmetics burns ruin into the hair; and the constant application of even any undrugged moisture, lays up a store of harm for the head.”

Cyprian, third century Bishop of Carthage, also laments the increasing ignorance in the Church of what believers had “done before in the time of the Apostles”, saying that “in women, their complexion was dyed: the eyes were falsified from what God’s hand had made them; their hair was stained with a falsehood. Crafty frauds were used to deceive the hearts of the simple, subtle meanings for circumventing the brethren.”

Commodianus, another Christian writer of the third century, in an address to the “Matrons of the Church of the Living God” rails against Christian women who embrace vanity “with all the pomp of the devil,” saying:

Thou art adorned at the looking-glass with thy curled hair turned back from thy brow . . . thou dyest thy hair that it may be always black. God is the overlooker, who dives into each heart. But these things are not necessary for modest women. Pierce thy breast with chaste and modest feeling.

Early Christian writers viewed undue attention to appearance and personal decking as diametric to Christian virtue.

Men also were censured by Clement and Tertullain for their effeminate attention to the arrangement and care of the hair and general appearance. Clement says: “they become effeminate, cutting their hair in an ungentlemanlike and meretricious way.” He also attacks the vanity of elderly men feigning youth with hair dye:

As for dyeing of hair, and anointing of grey locks, and dyeing them yellow, these are practices of abandoned effeminates; and their feminine combing of themselves is a thing to be let alone. For they think, that like serpents they divest themselves of the old age of their head by painting and renovating themselves. But though they do doctor the hair cleverly, they will not escape wrinkles, nor will they elude death by tricking time.

Tertullian’s writings also rebuke elderly brethren who would “ . . . arrange the hair, and disguise its hoariness by dyes . . . “

The Apostolic Constitutions, which date from the early centuries, also warn Christian men:

it is not it is not lawful for thee, a believer and a man of God, to permit the hair of thy head to grow long, and to brush it up together, nor to suffer it to spread abroad, nor to puff it up, nor by nice combing and platting to make it curl and shine; since that is contrary to the law, which says thus, in its additional precepts: “You shall not make to yourselves curls and round rasures” [Lev. 19.27].

Clearly, men were not exempt from sins of vanity or clerical invectives.

Interestingly, the wickedness of wiggery is consistently upheld amongst early post-apostolic Christians. While the Bible says little about the practice of wearing wigs, their use dates from Ancient Egypt, where they were worn by all but labourers and slaves. In his excellent study of hirsute history, At the Sign of the Barber’s Pole (1904), William Andrews catalogs the consensual condemnation of the Church Fathers. Gregory of Nazianzus, praising his modest, Christian sister, Gorgonia said: “She neither cared to curl her own hair, nor to repair its lack of beauty by the aid of a wig.” St. Jerome called wig-wearing “unworthy of Christianity” and relates a harrowing, didactic tale of one Praetexta who, at the bidding of her husband, ornately fixed the hair of her virgin niece, Eustachia, with false ringlets. In a dream, an angel of judgment appeared to Praetexta and declared:

Thou has obeyed thy husband rather than the Lord, and hast dared to deck the hair of a virgin, and make her look like a daughter of earth. For this do I wither up thy hands, and bid them recognise the enormity of thy crime in the amount of thy anguish and bodily suffering. Five months more shalt thou live, and then Hell shall be thy portion; and if thou art bold enough to touch the head of Eustachia again, thy husband and thy children shall die even before thee.

St. Bernard found the wearing of wigs to be no laughing matter: “There is no joke in the matter, the woman who wears a wig commits a mortal sin.”

Clement of Alexandria would not confer a blessing on wearers of wigs because, said he, the blessing would remain on the wig rather than the wearer.

Tertullian also denounced false hair, which seem to have been worn by some in an effort to increase their natural height: “It has been pronounced [by the Lord] that no one can add to his own stature. You, however, do add to your weight some kind of rolls, or shield-bosses, to be piled upon your necks!” He also makes an intriguing argument that believers should not be covered with the locks of those who may be prepared for eternal punishment: “If you feel no shame at the enormity, feel some at the pollution; for fear you may be fitting on a holy and Christian head the slough of some one else’s head, unclean perchance, guilty perchance and destined to hell.”

Whether condemning ostentation and superfluity or the utter falseness of appearance, these early writers, from diverse regions and time periods, agree on issues of hair! The moral detectable in each instance is that Christians must flee all vanity and maintain a visage consistent with a life of moderation and holiness. It seems that many modern Pentecostals content themselves with the observance of I Corinthians 11 without stringently applying the equally apostolic precepts of Paul and Peter concerning the ornamentation of hair. If we accept the historicity of these writings as valid applications of the epistlary principles of adornment in Timothy and Peter, we must question whether our sisters should garnish their crowning glory with twinkling trinkets or whether our brothers should tint their temples with Grecian Formula! Certainly, human nature is not much altered from the time of the patristical writers of the early centuries, and their arguments stand nearly 2,000 years later, validated by our carnal tendency toward pride. We would all do well to set ourselves before the looking-glass of God’s Word and study our personal appearance in the light of Christ’s perfect likeness.

Vanity, Pride, and the Mediaeval Pulpit

19 June, 2009

During the Middle Ages, fashion became increasingly sumptuous and outrageous. Rich, imported textiles, intricate embroidery, jeweled belts, and ermine-lined coats and dresses clad the wealthy, landed gentry of continental Europe and England. The absurd attirement raised the ire of many preachers, and history preserves a strong record of ecclesiastical and social comment against the mediaeval excess in dress and adornment that made mockery of professed faith and ascetic Christianity, which was founded on apostolic precedent and the patristic stricture on dress and adornment found in early Christian writers such as Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Chrysostom. Like their predecessors, many mediaeval ministers fought against worldly fashions and the vanity and pride that accompanied them.

In England, it became customary for nobles to enter church late “more to be seen there, than for their soul’s health” (qtd. in Owst 170). One preacher said: “There is most pride in entering of holy church with pomp, vainglory, with noble attire . . .” and another complained of “great lords and ladies that cometh to holy church in rich and noble apparel of gold and silver, pearls and rich stones, and other worldly, worshipful attire” cautioning that such “should take ensample of the noble Queen Esther,” who “did away [with] all her rich apparel and humbled herself meekly before God.” He concluded that “God taketh no heed of such worsWoodcut of the Devil tempting a woman's vanity with a mirror.hip” (qtd. Owst 170-171). One English manuscript appeals directly to Pauline epistle as a guide for acceptable headdress, especially at church: “Saint Paul teacheth how women should array themselves when they go to church, for to pray to God . . . And also Saint Paul saith and counseleth them that they not attire their heads, neither with silver, gold, nor pearl, nor other rich stones; but that they cover their heads with clean veils, and namely at the church, when they be to fore God, and show themselves there as good women should do” (qtd. in Owst 172). Clearly, all sense of moderation had been lost in some mediaeval churches.

Many viewed extreme fashion and luxury as a threat to Godliness and morality. Jean de Meun, a French novelist of the 13th century, complains that even nuns in abbeys and cloisters seem consumed by vanity, taking “great trouble to deck” themselves in order to “wage war on Chastity” (qtd. in Blamires 156). Maurice de Sully, a twelfth century Bishop of Paris, denounced outrageous cosmetic alteration, immodest habiliment, and proud walking:

Those women who bear their necks and heads and grease their eyebrows and paint their faces like images, lace up their arms and bodices and walk with mincing steps like a crane, face uplifted so as to be seen, these women are burning fires of licentiousness married to the devil, with hell as their dowry. They make many around them burn through their lustful tricks. (qtd. in Burns 40)

In his famous tale, “The Wife of Bath,” Geoffrey Chaucer’s female speaker laments the restriction of women’s adornment and evidences female resistance to such regulation:

And you say if we make ourselves
It only puts at risk our chastity;

And then, confound you, you must quote this text,
And back yourself up with the words of Paul,
As thus: ‘In chaste and modest apparel

You women must adorn yourselves,’ said he,
‘And not with braided hair and jewelry
Such as pearls and gold; and not in costly dress.’
But of your text, and your red-letter rubric,
I’ll be taking no more notice than a gnat! (qtd. in Blamires 208)

Ecclesiastical art also portrayed the demonic influences of vanity in the Middle Ages. Several extant woodcuts portray devils riding on the long train of women’s dresses, a style anathematized by the Church. And there are others depicting women preening in a mirror, observed by an on-looking devil. Medieval illustrated allegories known as Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) show Death, a skeletal figure, snatching gorgeously adorned men and women from life, didactically demonstrating that temporal luxury is meaningless in the face of mortality.

Perhaps one of the most outlandish developments in mediaeval dress was the elaborate headdress worn by women. While it was customary for women to wear veils; in the 1380s, they began introducing hideous conical bonnets and horn-shaped hats. The hennin was a cone-shaped bonnet that extended from the back of the head with veils of various lengths attached. Extreme examples measured from 10-12 feet in length. The escoffion, popular in France, was a two-horned accessory, each horn measuring approximately one yard in length on either side of the head, covered with a starched veil. Preachers castigated wearers of these extremities. One Catholic bishop promised ten days of pardon to any who would scream “Beware the ram!” at the approach of such a woman (Lester and Oerke 18).

Throughout the Middle Ages excesses in dress and adornment provoked preachers to call for a return to modesty and moderation in dress. To the modern eye, many of these fashions appear comical and even unattractive; but in the height of their adoption, they seemed a badge of licentiousness and an affront to Christianity. The fact of such preaching assures us that the Church has consistently recognized a marked border between the sacred and profane; and even in a historical period characterized by widespread apostasy, superstition, and Scriptural ignorance, some still contended for a standard of holiness and separation amongst the faithful. The historical documentation supports our modern continuation of the battle against pride, vanity, and immodesty and reminds us that human nature, from generation to generation and era to era, remains largely unchanged.

Sources:

Blamires, Alcuin, ed. Woman Defamed and Woman Defended: an Anthology of Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

 

Burns, E. Jane. Courtly Love Undressed: Reading through Clothes in Medieval French Culture. U of Penn Press, 2002.

Lester, Katherine and Bess Viola Oerke. Accessories of Dress: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Dover Publications, 2004.

Owst, Gerald R. Preaching in Medieval England. New York: Russell and Russell, 1965.


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