Archive for October, 2009

D.C.O. Opperman: Pentecostal Pioneer and Pedagogue

24 October, 2009

September 15, 1926, Daniel Charles Owen Opperman was tragically killed in a car accident on his way to preach an evening service in the Baldwin Park area of Los Angeles.  After the Sunday morning service, Bro. Opperman was invited to dinner at the home of the Hoag family.  A daughter-in-law of the couple was driving a carload back to the church.  Crossing a track, the car was struck by a train.  Bro. Opperman was thrown from the vehicle, and his neck was broken.  His Bible lay beside him, and the coroner remarked at his dignified appearance, suspecting he was a doctor or lawyer.  So departed a great Pentecostal pioneer who was a dedicated teacher, evangelist, and pastor.

Charles Owen Opperman was born in Goshen, Indiana on July 13, 1872.  His parents, German immigrants, were members of the Dunkers, a sect that had left Prussia because of religious persecution.  Charles was raised to be God-fearing and developed a sober spirit.  When his father died, Charles was only fifteen and assumed responsibility for his widowed mother, two brothers and one sister.

Charles Opperman was hungry for knowledge.  In 1890, he graduated from Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, where he met Ella Syler, who he married on March 10, 1890.  Charles Opperman taught in several schools from 1892.

In 1899, Opperman was attending the famous Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and became acquainted with the work of John Alexander Dowie, an Australian evangelist whose meetings attracted thousands nightly.  In 1900, Dowie began Zion City, Illinois as a permanent home for his Christian Catholic Apostolic Church and a spiritual haven for his followers.  Drawn to Dowie’s message of holiness and healing, Opperman joined the community and added Daniel to his name.  He began teaching in the Zion school.  He also taught in the city’s college and was later named the Superintendent of Zion’s schools.  On the first Sunday in January 1902, John Alexander Dowie ordained D.C.O. Opperman as a deacon in the Chicago Auditorium.  Bro. Opperman said:  “God confirmed with a remarkable healing on the following Wednesday.  Mr. J.J. Smith was instantly healed of the grippe [influenza] in answer to prayer.”

Opperman was very active in the Zion work.  He was part of Dowie’s monumental campaign in New York City in October 1903.  Suffering from tuberculosis, D.C.O. Opperman resettled for a short time in San Antonio, Texas and worked alongside a Zion elder named Lemuel C. Hall.  Despite his failing health, Bro. Opperman was determined to preach.  He describes his miraculous healing in San Antonio:

In March 1905 went to San Antonio, Texas.  Health in a very dangerous condition.  Climate helped me some, but God helped me more.  Partial deliverances [sic] in answer to prayer.  On April 8, 1905 at about 7:30 P.M. stepped into Houston St. San Antonio near P.O. [post office] to herald the gospel of the kingdom.  God marvelously healed me and sanctified me.  God gave me great joy in my ministry in the street.

He returned to Zion in April but went back to Texas in March 1906 to preach at Zion gatherings in Houston.
In Houston, he became acquainted with Charles Fox Parham, who had moved Apostolic Faith operations from Topeka, Kansas.  Parham was preaching the Pentecostal baptism, and Opperman believed the message, though he did not initially receive the actual baptism.  He sent letters to Zion, urging followers to accept the Bible teaching of speaking in tongues.  In June 1906, Bro. Opperman traveled with Charles Parham to an Apostolic Faith convention in Galena, Kansas.  After those meetings, Parham accompanied Opperman to Kansas City, Missouri and spent five weeks preaching the Pentecostal message to the Zion faithful there.

In October 1906, Bro. Opperman began joint meetings of Zion and Apostolic Faith people in San Antonio.  He says: “Turned work over to Bro. Farr in November.  About 15 saved, several sanctified, several healed, and seven Pentecosts.”  Bro. Opperman did not personally receive the Holy Ghost until 1908.  His grave personality may have hindered him from yielding to God; but on January 13, 1908, he spoke in tongues privately for the first time in Belton, Texas. Bro. Opperman recorded twenty other “Pentecosts” during the nine-week Belton campaign. But on March 5, 1908, he spoke publicly in tongues at a meeting in San Antonio in an American Indian language that was translated.

On July 28, 1907, D.C.O. Opperman, who had lost his first wife in childbirth, married Hattie Ruth Allen, a young Pentecostal from San Antonio.  A year later, in July 1908, Bro. Opperman assumed duties as the State Director of the Apostolic Faith Movement in Texas and began traveling throughout the district, encouraging the fledgling missions and spurring revival.

Bro. D.C.O. Opperman is probably best remembered for his role in beginning Bible training schools for Pentecostal workers.  He conducted many short-term schools where Holy Ghost-filled saints were transformed in Gospel missionaries.  Many future leaders in the Pentecostal movement attended Opperman’s schools, including Ralph M. Riggs, who later became a General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God.  Originally known as Schools of the Prophets, Opperman’s training centers were run along the faith line—no tuition.  Attendees prayed for what they got and got what they prayed for!  He assembled schools in such diverse places as Houston, Texas, Joplin, Missouri, Anniston, Alabama, Des Moines, Iowa, and Hot Springs, Arkansas.  In October 1915, Bro. Opperman organized the Ozark Bible and Literary School, a permanent Bible training institution under the auspices of the Assemblies of God, which he served as an executive presbyter.

When the revelation of the mighty God in Christ spread throughout the Pentecostal movement, Bro. Opperman accepted the message and was rebaptized in Jesus’ Name on September 12, 1915.  Interestingly, a final announcement of the Ozark school still appears a year later in August 1916 in The Latter Rain Evangel, a Trinitarian Pentecostal publication. Bro. Opperman began publishing his own paper, The Blessed Truth, propagating the Oneness message.  With the exodus of the Jesus-Only faction from the Assemblies of God in 1916, Opperman assumed the role of chairman in the General Assembly of Apostolic Assemblies. The Ozark school followed D.C.O. Opperman into the Oneness movement and became the Pentecostal Bible and Literary School with the GAAA’s merger with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World in 1917. Bro. Opperman continued to labor for the Lord and led a German congregation in Lodi, California from 1923 to 1925.  His untimely death was sadly remarked by Bro. Howard Goss, who described him as “a handsome and commanding figure amongst us, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.”  Eternity will measure the extent of his Godly influence on the Pentecostal movement and the multitude of lives changed through the seeds of faith and knowledge that he sowed throughout his remarkable life.

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