Archive for December, 2006

William H. Durham and the Beginnings of the Finished Work

5 December, 2006

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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