Archive for the ‘Camp Meetings’ Category

“The Lady Evangelist”: Maria Woodworth-Etter and the Pentecostals

3 November, 2008

In 1912, Maria Woodworth-Etter burst on the Pentecostal scene, holding meetings at F.F. Bosworth’s influential church in Dallas, Texas (Bosworth, “Pentecostal . . . ” 10). Fred Bosworth, who was an early convert of Charles Parham in the failed utopian community of John Alexander Dowie’s Zion, Illinois, invited Woodworth-Etter to Dallas after hearing her speak in Indianapolis. A five-month campaign ensued in the city, and reports of the meetings were publicized in Word and Witness and the Latter Rain Evangel, which held wide circulation amongst Pentecostals. One such article describes a veritable heaven on earth:

The lame, the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the palsied, the paralytic, cancers, those suffering from operations, and others dying with incurable diseases, have been wonderfully converted and healed by the power of God. Sinners are converted and flock to Jesus for salvation; and Christians are baptized with the Holy Ghost. This meeting is nothing to what it shall be by the grace of God. Sister Etter will remain here for some months. (Bosworth, “Wonders of God . . . ” 3)

During her sojourn at Bosworth’s thriving work, Woodworth-Etter ingratiated herself to many Pentecostal audiences with her flamboyant and zealous preaching and her emphasis on holiness, healing, the power of the Spirit, and the preeminence of the Name of Jesus.

Maria Woodworth-Etter had a patchwork theological history. Her family joined the Disciples of Christ Church when she was a girl. She felt called to the ministry as a teenager, but Disciples of Christ disallowed female preachers. When she married Philo Harrison Woodworth, a Civil War veteran with little spiritual inclination, she resigned herself to the daily grind of agrarian life; but after the death of five of her six children, she began to yield herself to the calling. Despite opposition from her remaining daughter and husband, Woodworth-Etter could not resist the overpowering burden for souls that seemed to transfix her. She experienced a series of visions, including the suffering of souls in hell and unharvested fields of wheat. At last, her will was broken, and she answered “Yes, Lord; I will go” (Woodworth-Etter, DSW, 25-28). She attended several Quaker meetings, where she testified, but her preaching ministry began under the auspices of the United Brethren in 1880. In 1884, she received licensure with the Churches of God (Anderson, Indiana) as “Eldership Evangelist” (Warner 4, 30).

It is not at all clear when Maria Woodworth-Etter received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues, but she seems to have accepted the sign of the baptism, though she had no direct association with the Pentecostal Movement before the protracted revival in Dallas in 1912. She often referred to the “baptism of the Holy Ghost” in her journalistic books, but she never explicitly mentions speaking in tongues in any of her early writings, though her language is “Pentecostal”:

The power of the Holy Ghost came down as a cloud. It was brighter than the sun. I was covered and wrapped up in it. My body was light as the air. It seemed that heaven came down. I was baptized with the Holy Ghost, and fire, and power which has never left me. Oh, Praise the Lord! There was liquid fire, and the angels were all around in the fire and glory. (Woodworth-Etter 28)

Maria Woodworth-Etter was undoubtedly the most successful female evangelist of the early 20th Century. She attracted as many as 25,000 to a single service, and she crossed the country filling churches, halls, and tents with seeking souls (Warner 30). Her meetings were marked by the manifestations that many associated with frontier revivals of the early 19th Century, and her pulpit persona was commanding. A front-page New York Times article from January 1885, detailed some of the “strange scenes” at meetings held in Hartford City, Indiana: “Scores have been stricken down at these meetings, and whatever forms the limbs or body chance to assume in that position, immovable as a statue, they remained . . . ” Further, the newspaper described the revival’s charismatic leader: “The lady evangelist, Mrs. Woodworth, is a lady of fine physique, comely, and of a commanding appearance, and while not highly cultured and refined yet she is an impressive speaker, and when speaking keeps her hands in constant motion.” During the meeting, she was also subject to the ecstatic catalepsy and trances, which became a trademark of her campaigns (“Said to Be Religion . . . ” 1).

Her ministry was marked by controversy. Detractors often accused her of hypnotizing audiences. In 1890, Dr. Wellington Adams and Dr. Theodore Driller led a campaign in St. Louis to have Woodworth-Etter committed to an insane asylum (Warner 214). Dr. Arthur C. Bell, Dean of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, came to Woodworth-Etter’s defense in Dallas, praising the woman of faith and authenticating physical healings that he personally observed. He offers a catalog of miracles, concluding: “Mrs. Etter wants your soul saved, and then she will pray for your bodily healing. Both were provided for on the cross.” He also acknowledges the ferocious opposition of many medical physicians to Woodworth-Etter’s healing campaigns: “I have seen the doctors enraged over these healings. I have known that they called meeting after meeting of the Medical Association to discuss steps of suppressing her work. One would naturally ask why? The only reason I can imagine is that Jesus healed them after they had failed, and it reflected their ability” (Woodworth-Etter AHG, 119). Certainly, her ministry provoked both interest and awe.

Following the 1912 revival in Dallas, Wordworth-Etter included a number of Pentecostal churches, missions, and camp meetings in her evangelistic itinerary. Revival reports continued to appear in many Pentecostal circulars. She received accolades from very prominent early Pentecostal ministers including Stanley Frodsham, A.A. Boddy, George B. Studd, A.H. Argue, and G.T. Haywood.

In April 1913, Woodworth-Etter was invited to be the morning speaker at the World Wide Apostolic Faith Camp Meeting in Arroyo Seco, California. Woodworth-Etter’s presence was an important boon to the convocation; though according to Frank J. Ewart, who attended the gathering: “Early in the meetings the preachers rebelled against turning the meetings over to Mrs. Woodworth Etter. There was a great desire to hear other of God’s servants, who might have a new message that would take us forward to the glory and power of ‘the faith once delivered to the saints’” (Ewart 93). Despite the apparent controversy, G.T. Haywood wrote of the camp meeting, offering a glowing description of the Woodworth-Etter services:

The power of God to heal was miraculous. Sick were brought from far and near, and multitudes were touched by the power of God through the instrumentality of His humble servant, Sister Etter, whose simple faith brought deliverance to many. The lame walked, the blind received their sight, the deaf heard, CANCERS were cured, TUMORS and TAPE WORMS passed away and dropsy and CONSUMPTIVES healed.
While there were many whose lack of faith hindered them from being healed, yet those who were healed were most re-remarkable [sic]. On one occasion many were healed as Sister Etter raised her hands toward heaven, while she was leaving the tent.

One afternoon such conviction fell on the sinners that many ran to the platform and were saved at once. It was a scene seldom, if ever, witnessed anywhere. There were times that the big tent resembled a battlefield on account of the many that were slain by the power of God. At times the power fell like rain, and the heavenly anthems filled the atmosphere (Woodworth-Etter, DSW, 253).

The Apostolic World Wide Camp Meeting is best remembered for the baptismal sermon delivered by R.E. McAlister that ignited the Oneness Pentecostal Movement. Before immersing a number of converts, McAlister noted that “the apostles invariably baptized their converts once in the name of Jesus Christ, that the words Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were never used in Christian baptism” (Ewart 93-94). The question of Apostolic baptism spawned prayerful study of the Scriptures concerning the Godhead, and Ewart and others received the full revelation of the Mighty God in Christ. Despite Woodworth-Etter’s Christ-centered preaching and elevation of the Name of Jesus for healing and deliverance, she utterly rejected the Oneness revelation, which she seems to have sadly misunderstood. She called the doctrine “the biggest delusion the devil ever invented” and accused Oneness proponents of “denying the existence of the Father” (Liardon 856-857).

Maria Woodworth-Etter never became exclusively Pentecostal, but she continued to enjoy fellowship and popularity with Trinitarian Pentecostals throughout the remainder of her life. Her ministry continued to focus on divine healing and the Coming of Christ. She founded Woodworth-Etter Tabernacle in 1918 in Indianapolis, Indiana, which she led until her death in 1924 (Warner 277). A brief notice of her death appeared in The Pentecostal Evangel in September 1924, noting: “She has been the means of blessing to hundreds of thousands and many will rise up to call her blessed” (“Sister Etter with the Lord” 9). In many ways unorthodox, Woodworth-Etter never embraced the fullness of the Apostolic Faith, but her ministry was contributive. Her acceptance amongst Pentecostals paved the way for other women evangelists and Christian workers, and her acceptance of Pentecostals undoubtedly garnered greater respect for the fledgling movement as a valid expression of Christianity.

Sources:

Bosworth, Fred F. “Pentecostal Outpouring in Dallas, Texas.” Latter Rain Evangel, 10 July 1912, p. 10.

Bosworth, Fred F. “The Wonders of God in Dallas.” Word and Witness. 20 August 1912, p. 3.

Ewart, Frank J. The Phenomenon of Pentecost. (Hazelwood, MO: 1947), 93.

Liardon, Roberts. Maria Woodworth-Etter: The Complete Collection of Her Life Teachings. (Tulsa: Albury Publishing, 2000), 856-857.

“Said to Be Religion: Strange Scenes at ‘Revival Meetings’ Held in Indiana.” New York Times. 24 January 1885, 1.

“Sister Etter with the Lord.” Pentecostal Evangel, 27 September 1924, p. 9.

Warner, Wayne. The Healing & Evangelizing Ministry of Maria Woodworth-Etter. (Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos, 2004), 4; 30.

Woodworth-Etter, Maria. Acts of the Holy Ghost, or the Life, Work, and Experience of Mrs. M.B. Woodworth-Etter, Evangelist. (Dallas: John F. Worley Printing Co.), 1912.

Woodworth-Etter, Maria. A Diary of Signs and Wonders. (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 1916), 25-28.

Without Form and Fashion: the Early Pentecostal Service

20 May, 2008

 When the Holy Ghost baptism was given at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, the seekers of the Father’s promise were caught up in a state of spiritual ecstasy. Their Upper Room experiences inspired curiosity and ridicule as onlookers surmised that these passionate Pentecostals were early-morning drunkards (Acts 2). Along with the restoration of Apostolic truth in the early part of the twentieth century came a return to an authentic style of worship and service, driven not by dead liturgy or ritualistic tradition but rather infused with anointing and fresh power. Countless descriptions of early Pentecostal services help us recapture the spiritual spontaneity of our Apostolic ancestors. Universally, the narratives recreate an atmosphere of divine direction unfettered by denominational traditionalism and formality.

Some of the most poignant vignettes of Pentecostal meetings come from Los Angeles, the humble cradle of worldwide Pentecostal revival. Bro. Frank Ewart gives an early description of the earliest Pentecostal baptisms received in the home of one Sister Asbury of 214 Bonnie Brae Street in Los Angeles:

When Brother Lee walked into the house, he threw up his hands and began to speak in other tongues. Six people were already on their knees praying, and the power fell on them and all six began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. This happened on April 9, 1906. This was followed, as at Pentecost, by a great noise that was spread abroad. The new recipients were beside themselves with joy. They shouted and praised God for three days and nights. It was the Easter season. The people came from everywhere. By the next morning there was no way of getting near that house. Those who could gain an entrance would fall under God’s power as they entered and commence to speak in other tongues; and this continued until the whole city of Los Angeles was mightily stirred. (Ewart 66-67)

When services moved to the mission at 312 Azusa Street, the saints operated with great spiritual freedom. Bro. William J. Seymour, the African American leader of the group, assumed no position of direct authority or governance over the proceedings at Azusa. Bro. Frank Bartleman’s early depictions of the Azusa mission demonstrate both Bro. Seymour’s personal humility and the liberty of the Spirit:

Brother Seymour generally sat behind two empty shoe boxes, one on top of the other. He usually kept his head inside the top one during the meeting, in prayer. There was no pride there. The services ran almost continuously. Seeking souls could be found under the power almost any hour, night and day. The place was never closed nor [sic] empty. The people came to meet God. He was always there. Hence a continuous meeting. The meeting did not depend on the human leader. God’s presence became more and more wonderful. In that old building, with its low rafter and bare floors, God took strong men and women to pieces, and put them together again for His glory. It was a tremendous overhauling process. Pride and self-assertion, self-importance and self-esteem, could not survive there. The religious ego preached its own funeral sermon quickly. No subjects or sermons were announced ahead of time, and no special speakers for such an hour. No one knew what might be coming, what God would do. All was spontaneous, ordered of the Spirit. We wanted to hear from God, through whoever [sic] he might speak. We had no “respect of persons.” The rich and educated were the same as the poor and ignorant, and found a much hard death to die. We only recognized God. All were equal.” (Bartleman 58-59)

The services at Azusa were truly free, and early practitioners of the Apostolic Faith were afraid to grieve the Spirit or to hinder God’s sovereign work in their midst.

Worship, testimonies, and even preaching were spontaneously conducted. An early issue of The Apostolic Faith, the periodical published by the Azusa Street mission, describes how the saints sang in other tongues:

One of the most remarkable features of this Apostolic Faith movement is what is rightly termed the heavenly anthem. No one but those who are baptized with the Holy Ghost are able to join in-or better, the Holy Ghost only signs through such in that manner. Hallelujah! . . . a beautiful song was sung in tongues: Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest” (Matt. 21:9) . . . We afterward learned of a remarkable coincidence. The same song was being sung at the Pentecostal Mission at 3271/2 S. Spring St., and was interpreted there the same.” The saints worshiping in these two places were in perfect harmony of spirit, and the Holy Ghost witnessed to it. (“The Heavenly Anthem” 3).

Bro. Bartleman himself experienced this Pentecostal phenomenon:

Friday, June 15 [1906], at “Azusa,” the Spirit dropped the “heavenly chorus” into my soul. I found myself suddenly joining the rest who had received the supernatural “gift.” It was a spontaneous manifestation and rapture no earthly tongue can describe . . . In the beginning in “Azusa” we had no musical instruments. In fact we felt no need of them. There was no place for them in our worship. All was spontaneous. (Bartleman 56-57)

Preaching was also impromptu, wholly inspired by the Spirit:

The Lord was liable to burst through any one. We prayed for this continually. Some one would finally get up anointed for the message. All seemed to recognize this and gave way. It might be a child, a woman, or a man. It might be from the back seat, or from the front. It made no difference. We rejoiced that God was working. No one wished to show himself. We thought only of obeying God. (Bartleman 59)

Likewise, the altar invitation was spiritual and spontaneous:

Some one might be speaking. Suddenly the Spirit would fall upon the congregation. God himself would give the altar call. Men would fall all over th house, like the slain in battle, or rush for the altar enmasse [sic] to seek God. The scene often resembled a forest of fallen trees . . . God himself would call them. And the preacher knew when to quit (Bartleman 60).

The space allotted here is not ample enough to depict the composite service enjoyed by early Pentecostals in the glorious days of the Los Angeles outpouring. But the details, fortuitously preserved for us, recapture a time when worship was not synthesized from syncopation, sermons were not recycled from revival to revival, and altars were not gratuitously graced by passionless penitents. We must be careful not to replace spiritual unction with modern function, extinguishing the flames of revival with form and fashion. Rather, we must reserve spacious room in our contemporary worship for a Pentecostal visitation of the Holy Ghost, allowing God’s Spirit to direct and define every service for by His divine power and for His eternal purposes.

Sources:

Bartleman, Frank. How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles: as It was in the Beginning, 2nd. Ed. Los Angeles, 1925.

Ewart, Frank. The Phenomenon of Pentecost. Word Aflame Press: Hazelwood, MO, 2000.

“The Heavenly Anthem.” The Apostolic Faith 1 (5). January 1907, p. 3.

 

Power & Revelation: Cane Ridge & the Theology of Rev. Barton Stone

3 October, 2005

In August 1801, a four-day communion service in Cane Ridge, Kentucky that included Methodist, Presbyterians, Baptists and other Christians turned into a raucous frontier revival. The meetings attracted an estimated 20,000 believers, and the fervent preaching and spiritual manifestations are unequaled in the history of early American revivalism. Repentance gripped the congregation, and the meetings lasted well into each night. Fields and forests were filled with makeshift camps where Christians spent hours in prayer and exhortation. Gripped by conviction, congregants shook, swooned, laughed, leaped, ran, and jerked. Those present believed passionately that Pentecostal power had come; and though there is no direct historical reference to speaking in tongues, modern Apostolics cannot doubt that God was certainly visiting these humble frontiersman with the power of the Holy Ghost.
Perhaps even more interesting for Oneness Pentecostals are the unique beliefs of Rev. Barton Stone, the host pastor of the Cane Ridge Camp Meeting. A sometime Presbyterian, Stone proved to be a freethinker, rejecting doctrines and creeds that he could not validate with the Scriptures. As a young convert to Presbyterianism under the dynamic ministry of Rev. James McGready, Stone began studying theology and was soon discouraged by the inconsistencies between his exegetical textbooks and the Bible. He was particularly mystified by the doctrine of the Trinity. In fact, he became so disillusioned while reading Witsius on the Trinity that he nearly gave up hopes of the ministry and struggled with worship: “. . . it was idolatry to worship more Gods than one, and yet equal worship must be given to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. He [Witsius] wound up all in incomprehensible mystery. My mind became confused, so much confused that I knew not how to pray” (Thompson 43).
In summating his own view of the Godhead, Barton Stone is almost indistinguishable from Oneness apologists. He rejects outright the trinitarian insistence upon persons in the Godhead and declares: ” . . . there is but one only living and true God, without parts” (Stone 9). Concerning the divinity of Christ, Stone references a retinue of traditionally Oneness verses (i.e., Jn. 14.8-10, Jn. 10.38, & I Tm. 3.16), concluding most positively that: “In him [Jesus Christ] dwelleth, not a part, but all the fullness of God-head or divinity, bodily. The Father, the undivided God dwelt in Him” (Stone 12). Furthermore, Stone makes a clear distinction between the mingled divine and human natures of Christ arguing: ” . . . as Son, he knew not when would be the day of judgment-could do nothing-and was at last to be subject to the Father; but as God, he knew all things-could do all things” (Stone 20). While he believed that the Son as Logos existed in the bosom of the Father in eternity, he also repudiated the notion of the eternal Sonship and plainly contends: “From what I have said, it may be inferred that Jesus Christ was not eternally begotten of the Father-The notion of being begotten from eternity appears absurd.” (Stone 19).
Though Barton Stone’s revelation of God is perhaps imperfectly articulated with esoteric references to the soul of Jesus, which he may have equated with the Word, his theological resemblance to so many core tenets of Oneness Pentecostal theology evidences his penetration into the deeper truths of the Scriptures. Is it any wonder then that God sent such a magnificent revival to Cane Ridge, a frontier flame of supernatural power and consecration? Cane Ridge marked a historical moment in the march toward Apostolic restoration; and though Rev. Barton Stone is not often touted as a great reformer, his theological position proves that God’s illuminating Word & Spirit have, throughout history, beckoned men toward the fullness of New Testament Christianity.

Sources:

Stone, Barton. An Address to the Christian churches in Kentucky, Tennessee, & Ohio on several important doctrines of religion. C.V.M & J. Norvell, Nashville: 1814.

Thompson, Rhoes, ed. Voices from Cane Ridge. Bethany Press, St. Louis: 1954.


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