Eudorus N. Bell, Vacillating Vision


In 1915, Eudorus N. Bell, General Chairman of the Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God, made a staggering decision to be immersed in the Name of Jesus Christ at the Third Interstate Encampment of the Assemblies of God in Jackson, Tennessee. The announcement was headline news in the August 1915 Word and Witness, and Bro. Bell claimed that as he stood on the river’s bank, he felt “the greatest anointing of the Spirit” that he had experienced in months (“Brother Bell Has Been Rebaptized . . .” 2). Bro. L.V. Roberts of Indianapolis, Indiana, who had been baptized in Jesus’ Name by Bro. Glenn Cook, was summoned to conduct Bell’s rebaptism. The Assemblies of God was embroiled in the “New Issue” controversy that threatened the unity of the entire “Finished Work” segment of the Pentecostal Movement, and Bro. Bell’s decision to be baptized in the singular Name of Christ roused alarm amongst the stalwart Trinitarian faction within the fledgling organization. He had already contributed a number of articles to the Pentecostal circulars that attempted to stem the baptismal controversy, and the papers were certainly biased toward a more Trinitarian position in the matter of baptismal invocation.

It is historically unclear whether Bell’s rebaptism signaled his alignment with Oneness Pentecostals. Most Pentecostals had begun equating rebaptism with the acceptation of the doctrine of the Mighty God in Christ, and certainly Bro. Bell could not have been ignorant of this growing stereotype within the Assemblies of God. He was a close associate of J.R. Flower, the secretary-treasurer of the Assemblies. Flower strongly opposed the Oneness movement and is widely known for telegraphing G.T. Haywood to warn him not to accept Glenn Cook’s message on Jesus’ Name baptism during his Indiana campaign.

Bro. Bell testified that he had been impressed by the Lord that he must accept baptism in the Name of Jesus during the camp meeting. Undoubtedly, this conviction must have been very strong for Bro. Bell to risk identification with the Oneness pariahs. A purported full testimony from Bro. Bell was published extolling both his heartfelt confidence in the apostolicity of the Jesus’ Name formula and its spiritual efficacy. However, according to Bro. Frank Ewart’s history, The Phenomenon of Pentecost, the Word and Witness version was pared to the point of mutilation (103).

In September 1915, Bro. Bell published an article in the Weekly Evangel tellingly entitled: “Who is Jesus Christ? Being Exalted as the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the True God of the New. A New Realization of Christ as the Mighty God.” Except for his claim to hold a Trinitarian view of God, which he admits he does not and cannot comprehend, the article is essentially a Oneness exposition of the doctrine of Jesus Christ as God Himself. While he is clearly suspended between a new vision of Christ and Trinitarian traditionalism, his opening description illustrates the experiential revelation that he articulates in the article:

I can say to-day [sic], before God and all men, that His joy is rolling in my soul now as never before. As I write His glory convulses my whole physical frame, and I have to stop now and then and say ‘Glory’ or ‘Oh Glory’ to let some of it escape. Night before last, as I lay on my bed, I heard in the Spirit the sweetest, most soul-thrilling song of the wonderful name of Jesus I ever heard since I was born. If people knew what God is putting in my soul by a brand new vision of Jesus and the wonders hid in His mighty and glorious name, they would begin to shout and help me praise the Lamb that was slain who is now beginning to receive some honor and praise, but who will eventually make the whole universe-sea, earth, and sky, reverberate with the universal praise and honor to His great name. Hallelujah to His Name forever and ever. (Bell)

This is most assuredly the testimony of a man who has not only taken on the Name in baptism but has experienced the radical joy of the truth of Jesus really is. He continues to expound on Christ as Jehovah, Father an dCreator, revealed and uses a batter of traditionally Oneness texts to buttress his arguments (Is. 9.6, Jn. 10.30, Col. 2.9, and Rev. 1.17) (Bell, “Who Is Jesus Christ?” 1). Interestingly, he continually superimposes a Trinitarianism, which would be considered heretical by orthodox subscribers to the doctrine, in an effort to connect his new understanding with the creedal position of many of the Assemblies’ leaders. In short, this article reveals E.N. Bell as theologically conflicted.

In any event, Bro. Bell’s enthusiasm on the issue of his baptism was short-lived. In a letter to Bro. J.C. Brickey, dated 20 August 1920, Bell stated that prior to his reimmersion at the Jackson camp meeting, he had been greatly troubled because he had been baptized as a Baptist and not by a Spirit-filled minister. He claims that this may have been a strong impetus, in his mind, for rebaptism; however, it seems unlikely that he would have requested that the baptism be administered in the singular rather than trine formula if he had not been assured of its veracity. He does write that he had no difficulty with the Jesus’ Name formula as Biblical but could not be associated with other “false doctrines” held by Oneness believers (Bell, “Letter . . . “).

In the end, the episode concluded with Bell’s veritable renunciation of the central importance of baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ. He returned to the fold of the Assemblies of God and disassociated himself with many of the Oneness brethren. While it was unfortunate that Bro. Bell either never stood by his conviction about baptism or fully embraced the revelation of the Mighty God in Christ, the enigmatic story reveals the powerful influence of Oneness doctrine and the vitality of spiritual vision and revelation in the early Pentecostal Movement.

Sources:

Bell, Eudorus N. Letter to J.C. Brickey. Springfield, Missouri, 20 August 1920.

Bell, Eudorus N. “Who is Jesus Christ?” Weekly Evangel, No. 103, 14 Aug 1915, p. 1

“Brother Bell Has Been Rebaptized in the Name of Jesus Christ.” Word and Witness (12) 8, August 1915, p. 2.

Ewart, Frank. The Phenomenon of Pentecost. Hazelwood, MO: Word Afalmes Press, 2001.

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