In August 1943, Mayme Williams, veteran Assemblies of God evangelist and future missionary to the Philippines, wrote a passionate article for the Pentecostal Evangel, the official organ of the AG, appealing to a new generation of Pentecostals to cling to their holiness roots. Her address, entitled “We Will Not Bow”, evidences the pre-World War II erosion of Godly standards of living in the Assemblies of God and serves as a cautionary reminder to United Pentecostals, who continue the battle against the encroachment of worldliness and compromise in our own fellowship.
Williams recalls the “early years of the Pentecostal outpouring” and recounts her own experience of receiving gentle instruction from her pastor’s wife after her conversion, attributing her ministry to that relationship: ” . . . today, I am preaching the gospel largely as the result of that woman’s words; yes, and her dress also.” She reminisces about those nascent years of Pentecostal faith when “It made no difference if you were sixteen or sixty, you did your hair up, lengthened your dresses, quit the extreme method of so-called make up, and in general put yourself in the class of separated people who were everywhere called by the name ‘Holiness'” (Williams 2).
She credits the wave of compromise to satanic influences and foretells a grave future for both the Church and the country if they continue to loosen their moral strictures:
It is a known fact that the great nations of past ages fell when their women let down the standard of modesty. Recently, while in prayer about this very thing, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said: “THE THING YOU CALL WORLDLINESS IS THE SPIRIT OF IMMODESTY.” As I thought on the subject, I realized more than ever before, that God had given me the real definition of the thing. The devil wants to trample the beauty of womanhood and motherhood into the very dust, and to away with all the sacredness of the high calling to which God has called women. If he can get us to be brazen and extreme in dress and actions, any influence we might have had upon our fathers, husbands and sons will be entirely lost. The last days will be especially noted for the let down in standards in the home, the marriage vows and morality.” (Williams 2)
She further laments the growing adoption of trousers for women who claim to wear the “immodest dress” because of the demands of their employers (Williams 2).
The Assemblies of God, like other early Pentecostals, adopted strong positions of holiness and separation from the world. AG periodicals included many articles admonishing Christian women to observe modesty in dress, to avoid worldly fashion, and to cover their bodies. Writers also denounced the use of jewelry, cosmetics, and female haircutting. A piece by Eudorus N. Bell called for Pentecostals to use only functional pins and buckles and repudiated “tight lacing” and the disfigurement of vain corsets (2).
In 1925, an unnamed African missionary who had returned to America on furlough sent an editorial resolution to the Pentecostal Evangel lengthily detailing his shock and dismay at the worldliness penetrating the Assemblies of God:
An earnest and loving appeal is prayerfully offered to sisters of our Pentecostal assemblies in Christ Jesus, that since we are looking for our Lord ‘s soon return from heaven, and are earnestly praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28). They will with united effort by the grace of God enter into a solemn covenant with Him.
(1) Not to adorn themselves with earrings, necklaces, rings or other ornaments of gold;
(2) With blouses that expose in any degree the back or chest, or with skirts immodestly short;
(3) That they refrain from the use of paint and powder, and from curling of the hair by artificial means. (“A Timely Word” 9)
The writer further requests: “Will pastors who feel concerned and grieved over prevailing conditions among professors of the Pentecostal Baptism in the Holy Spirit read this appeal in their assemblies, and seek as the Spirit directs to stay the tide of worldliness that threatens to engulf and ruin this movement?” (9).
In 1934, William Booth-Clibborn contributed an article to the Latter Rain Evangel, entitled “The Lost Glory” about the shearing of women’s hair. He appeals to a 17th century treatise by the Puritan William Prynne against the practice and concludes: “That women universally practice the cutting of their hair today is a sign of the times showing that in the ripeness of the age, the church as a whole of whom woman is a type, will lose its power, its faith and its glory” (22).
In time, the Assemblies of God completely distanced itself from its primitive roots in Bible holiness. As early as 1952, a short item called “Holy Adornment” appeared in the Pentecostal Evangel asserting that I Peter 2:3-4 did not forbid the wearing of jewelry and admonishing Christians not to become “morbid” on the issue of dress (Meyer 4). Subsequent articles in the Evangel about holiness completely omit discussions about former standards of dress, cosmetics, and ornamentation. The same publication that once upheld holiness regulations now minimizes, redefines, and compromises their original meaning and importance to the spiritual life of the Church!
Surely, Evangelist Mayme Williams did not realize in 1943 that her plea for the strengthening of holiness standards in the Assemblies of God came at the very twilight of their practice. Her resolution, “We will not bow”, may have characterized the early generation of Assemblies of God ministers and members but was not representative of younger generations who were disconnected from the revival and holiness roots of their fellowship. While many early pioneers within the AG organization valiantly attempted to thwart the invasion of worldliness, they were ultimately unsuccessful. Today, most Assemblies members would be unrecognizable to their founding fathers.
The United Pentecostal Church International can take a relevant lesson from these periodical pieces. Their words should inspire us to retain our solid stand for biblical holiness. There is, in fact, an Apostolic Church in the grave counting on this modern generation of Oneness Pentecostals to maintain our moorings in the peaceful Harbor of Holiness rather than drift with our culture’s current, as so many Pentecostal groups have done, into the dangerous waters of wickedness. We cannot afford to make wreckage of Zion’s ship with carnality and compromise or to abandon our Bible anchor in clean living. Where others have failed, we can succeed! With truth and Christ’s own righteousness, let us declare with unwavering fervor: “We will not bow!”
Bell, Eudorus N. “The Dress Fad.” Word & Witness 9 (6) 20 June 1913, p. 2.
Booth-Clibborn, William. “The Lost Glory.” Latter Rain Evangel 26 (10). July 1934, pp. 13 & 22.
Meyer, Frederick B. “Holy Adornment.” Pentecostal Evangel 27 April 1952, p. 3.
“A Timely Word.” Pentecostal Evangel. No. 514. 15 Sept 1923, p. 9.
Williams, Mayme. “We Will Not Bow.” Pentecostal Evangel. No. 1527. 14 Aug 1943, pp. 2-3.