When he died in October 1972, Bishop Oscar Haywood Sanders was in the midst of celebrating his Golden Jubilee at Christ Temple Apostolic Church in Muncie, Indiana, commemorating 50 years of service in the church that he built from scratch on truth and a burden for souls (“Christ Temple Church”). Like many Apostolics of his generation, Bishop Sanders had left all to pursue the labor of God’s kingdom, sacrificing and scrimping to raise up a work for the Lord.Born 2 December 1892 to Mr. and Mrs. Haywood Sanders in Lonoke, Arkansas, Oscar Sanders could not have realized the great destiny God had for him. From his parents, he learned the value of hard wor. He spent most of his boyhood in Pine Bluff, Arkansas but eventually left the Southland where there were limited opportunities for African-Americans. In July 1913, Sanders moved to Indianapolis, Indiana and began working in a downtown furniture store. He boarded at the home of Ida Young, an Apostolic saint, but he was still years away from encountering salvation himself (Fairley 11-22).
Oscar Sanders eventually found work at a foundry and met and married Hattie Torrence. During their early marriage, Sanders began attending Shioloh Baptist Church in Indianapolis and became involved in the choir and young people’s ministry. While he experienced a degree of repentance at Shioloh, Sanders still felt empty and relatively unchanged (Fairley 23-24).
In 1918, Bro. Andrew Coleman, a member of Bishop G.T. Haywood’s church at 11th and Senate, invited the young Sanders to attend a service with him. Oscar Sanders was amazed to witness the integrated congregation: “The Whites and Blacks were greeting each other with a Holy Kiss” (Fairley 27). In this atmosphere of blessed unity, Oscar Sanders was compelled to be saved and was baptized in Jesus’ Name and filled with the Holy Ghost on 1 November 1918. Haywood’s church, now known as Christ Temple Apostolic Church, was one of the most remarkable early Apostolic congregations. Brimming near 500 in attendance, the church was large and spiritually powerful. Haywood was a gifted preacher and Bible teacher. Recalling his early experience and the death of his beloved mentor Bishop Sanders said: “I was saved November, 1918. Those were the days when the Spirit of the Lord was heavenly. Bishop Haywood was the greatest man I have ever known and the only man that I wanted to be like. His passing affected me more than the death of my own father. I love him so much that I called him dad, and he called me son” (Fairley 40).
When Bishop Sanders was first saved, his wife resisted the new doctrine, even leaving home for a short time. At the insistence of her sister, she returned to her husband and was saved a short time later at 11th and Senate (Fairley 27-28).
In April 1919, Bishop Sanders began to feel a call to ministry. He and Sis. Sanders were faithful attendees at Bishop Haywood’s daily Bible class. Sis. Sanders would attend during the day, and Bishop Sanders would attending in the evening. The two became avid students of God’s Word and began holding street meetings in Indianapolis (Fairley 41). Bishop Sanders’ first experiment with full-time ministry came when he assumed the pastorate of an all-White congregation in Frankfort, Indiana. Here, he acquired valuable experiences that would equip him for future work. The church fell into dissension, and Sanders eventually returned to Indianapolis in 1922 (Fairley 44).
Since 1920, he had been burdened for the city of Muncie, and he came 21 September 1922 with a burden to begin an Apostolic work in the city. He took up residence at 812 S. Jefferson and accepted work at a local foundry. Just over a month later, services began at 3rd and B Streets (now Lowell and Blaine) with eight people in attendance. Bro. Henry Brooks was the first deacon and Sunday School Superintendent. The other saints were commissioned as missionaries (Fairley 46-48).
In 1923, services moved to 3rd and Vine, and God blessed the small church, and souls began to receive Sanders’ Acts 2:38 message of salvation. Remarkably, Whites and Blacks were added to the church, and Christ Temple Muncie became integrated like the “Mother Church” in Indianapolis (Fairley 50-2). Some of the early saints included: Sisters Mattie Bonner, Lauretha Jolly, Clara McIntosh, Carrie Oliver, Bro. and Sis. John McGee, Bro. & Sis. Ammon Roach, and Elder L.D. Webb.
These faithful founders were instrumental in building the first permanent church structure for Christ Temple at 903 S. Pershing Avenue in Muncie. The sanctuary was completed on 2 August 1932 and stood as a wonderful testament to the pioneering spirit of these committed Apostolic believers (Fairley 70).
Bishop Sanders’ dynamic holiness preaching earned him the epithet “Sin-Killing Sanders”, a soubriquet which followed him throughout his ministry. He was committed to doctrine and sanctified living, and the early members of Christ Temple walked a straight line before the Lord!
PAS District Elder Hosea Barnes was saved under the bishop’s ministry in 1957. “He was misunderstood,” said Eld. Barnes, “People thought he was rough, but he was a lovely, lovely man. He was a man that loved God and loved God’s people, but he was hard against sin.” According to Eld. Barnes, Bishop Sander’s final message to the Christ Temple family was “Do Not Be Deceived by Any Man!” He warned the church against falling away from true holiness. “If he could see what’s going on now [in God’s Church], he would just cry, cry, cry,” said Eld. Barnes. Reminiscing about his early Christian life, Eld. Barnes declared: “It was the most glorious time of my life, just being under his ministry. I couldn’t walk much in those days just shouting and speaking in tongues!” (Barnes, Interview).
On 13 April 1972,j during the Sunday morning service, an unforgettable miracle occurred at Christ Temple. The congregation had sung “God Will Take Care of You”, and Bishop was leading the reading of Psalm 23 when a gunman entered the building. The saints began praying and pleading the blood of Jesus. Faith faltered a bit when someone shouted: “Everyone hit the floor!” Many attendees obeyed, but Bishop Sanders remained seated despite the gunman’s threat: “I’m going to kill Bishop Sanders!” The gun was fired, and the bullet traveled through the pulpit, grazed Bishop’s hand, followed through his suit-coat sleeve and out through the back of his chair (Fairley 93-94). God protected Bishop Sanders, and the chair remained on the platform at Christ Temple as a testimony of divine intervention.
Just months later, God called Bishop home to Heaven. I often pass the tomb of Bishop Oscar and Sis. Hattie Sanders in Beech Grove Cemetery, who are buried near my pastor Ronald W. Perry, and remark that the Trump of God will soon rob the ground of these saints who sowed such precious seed in the Earth. Bishop Sanders, who befriended and mentored so many young ministers, will reap in eternity the fruit of his Godly influence and tireless labor. His life is an example to us of the power of becoming a living witness of God’s Spirit and spreading the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Barnes, Hosea. Personal Interview. 20 Dec 2006.
“Christ Temple Church Past Leaders.” The Muncie Times. 16 Oct 1997, 7 (20), p. 33.
Fairley, David L. Moved by Such a Man. David Fairley Publications, Muncie, IN: 1980.