Archive for September, 2009

Andrew Urshan and Apostolic Baptism

7 September, 2009

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.