Archive for the ‘Assemblies of God’ Category

The Pentecostal Experience of William Booth-Clibborn

11 June, 2010

In 1921, William Edmond Booth-Clibborn preached a successful tent revival in Lodi, California. Inspired by the results, Bro. Booth-Clibborn suggested that the revival party continue meetings further south and set up a tent in Holtville. After acquiring the necessary permits and lighting, they began services. Sadly, heavy rains and low attendance literally quenched the fiery services. Unable to pay the light bill for the week of disappointing meetings, Booth-Clibborn and his comrades took temporary jobs as field hands, harvesting corn. The evangelist, unused to such labor and forlorn by his failure, did little work. Finally, he sat down, crestfallen and dejected.

In this moment of self-pity, the Lord began to deal with him. As heavent-sent words began to flow in his spirit, Bro. Booth-Clibborn began to sing the words to one of the greatest anthems of the Apostolic Church:

Down from His glory,

Ever living story,

My God and Savior came,

And Jesus was His name.

Born in a manger,

To His own a stranger,

A Man of sorrows, tears and agony.

O how I love Him! How I adore Him!

My breath, my sunshine, my all in all!

The great Creator became my Savior,

And all God’s fulness dwelleth in Him.

What condescension,

Bringing us redemption;

That in the dead of night,

Not one faint hope in sight,

God, gracious, tender,

Laid aside His splendor,

Stooping to woo, to win, to save my soul.

Without reluctance,

Flesh and blood His substance

He took the form of man,

Revealed the hidden plan.

O glorious myst’ry,

Sacrifice of Calv’ry,

And now I know Thou art the great “I AM.”

This beloved song, which so gloriously articulates the revelation of the Mighty God in Christ, has inspired generations of Oneness Pentecostals and was perhaps Bro. Booth-Clibborn’s most enduring contribution to the movement.

William Booth-Clibborn was the grandson of General William Booth, British founder of the Salvation Army. Booth-Clibborn’s mother, Catherine, was a dynamic Salvation Army preacher and commanded the group’s work in France, Holland, and Belgium. William, named for her father, was born in France.

When William was a boy, his mother and father, Arthur, resigned their positions with the Salvation Army to pursue a more radical path. In 1902, the family joined Zion, Illinois, the utopian community led by John Alexander Dowie, a famous healing evangelist. Arthur was greatly influenced by Dowie’s message and began preaching holiness and healing on his return to England. Catherine also distinguished herself as an international evangelist and traveled extensively preaching amongst various evangelical groups.

In 1908, Arthur Booth-Clibborn learned of a burgeoning group of Pentecostals holding meetings in the Plumstead District of London. He persuaded his youngest son, William, to join him on the trip to London. On the train ride, Arthur asked his 15-year-old son, “William, don’t you think you ought to yield your heart to God afresh?” The question pricked his young heart. He had lost the zeal of his repentance experience at boarding school, and he approached the meeting in a small London mission hall with a renewed hunger for the Lord!

The service was led by a Mrs. Cantell, and the young William was transfixed by the passionate singing and speaking in tongues. Arthur Booth-Clibborn spoke eight languages, and William spoke five. The “strange language” was not recognizable to either, but Mr. Booth-Clibborn assured his son that “This is the unknown tongue you read about in Scripture.”

Mr. Alexander Moncur Niblock, a Baptist convert who had just received the Holy Ghost a few days before, was the speaker at the Booth-Clibborn’s first service. At the altar invitation, William made a strong repentance, praying from 10 PM ‘til 1 AM. He experienced a return of his zeal and desire for the Lord.

On Sunday, William and his father attended more Spirit-filled meetings at the Plumstead home of Mr. Bristow. At the evening service, William became insatiably hungry for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. At the altar, he was enraptured by the presence of God, praying fervently, hungrily for the Holy Ghost:

I found myself singing in a beautiful language entirely foreign to me. Its charm and surprising sounds saturated me with an indescribable ecstasy. Every sweet sentence fully & adequately expressed the pent-up feelings of my inflamed heart . . . Direct from the altar of my heart, rising in surging burning billows, the most pleasing incense was reaching the Throne!

So began the experience of faith that led William Booth-Clibborn into an anointed ministry. He was later baptized in Jesus’ Name and proclaimed the great truth of the Oneness of God, joining the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Disillusioned with some of the later fragmentation of the Pentecostal movement, Booth-Clibborn eventually became less organizationally exclusive but maintained his Oneness stand, developing a remarkable Pentecostal ministry throughout his life. He founded several churches and led Immanuel Temple in Portland, Oregon until his death in 1969 at the age of seventy-six.

*Special thanks to Pat Clibborn, daughter-in-law of W.E. Clibborn, for granting an interview for this article.

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Agnes Ozman and the Topeka Outpouring

27 April, 2010

On January 1, 1901, Agnes Nevada Ozman became the first member of the student body at Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas to receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues. Her experience historically marks the beginning of modern Pentecostalism and becomes a significant flashpoint from which the initial revival spread through the school, which produced the first band of Pentecostal workers, who spread their message throughout Kansas to Texas and beyond.

According to her autobiography, What God Hath Wrought, Agnes Ozman was thirty years old when she received the Holy Ghost. In many ways, her experience at Bethel was the culmination of a lifetime of spiritual seeking. As a girl, she had attended a Methodist Church with her family and appreciated “the joy, rejoicing and shouts of victory.”

At the age of 20, Agnes Ozman became very ill with La Grippe (influenza) and pneumonia. At the worst point of her illness, Ozman believes that she “traveled the way to heaven” but was sent back on the strength of her Methodist pastor’s prayers, who believed God had more in store for this young Christian woman. After much prayer, Agnes did miraculously recover. Fully convinced that God had spared her to accomplish a greater purpose in her life, Agnes centered her life on her faith. She joined the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and participated in a Bible study group where she learned the “Bible teachings” on water baptism, the Second Coming of Christ, and divine healing.

In 1892, she joined Thomas Corwin Horton’s Bible school in St. Paul, Minnesota. Horton was a Presbyterian, who was deeply involved in the work of the YMCA. Horton was also strongly fundamentalist, and his school was permeated with his dispensational premillennialist ideas, which must have greatly inculcated Ozman.

In fall of 1894, Horton announced his intention to take up evangelism, and Ozman again began looking for another Bible school to attend. She settled on Albert B. Simpson’s Bible School in Nyack, New York. Simpson was the founder of the Christian Missionary Alliance and maintained a strong position on Wesleyan holiness, teaching students that after conversion there remained a second crisis of sanctification that removed the carnal nature and which he equated with the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

Eventually, Agnes returned to her family in Nebraska. On her way West, she stopped at John Alexander Dowie’s Chicago work and received prayer and healing from “chills and night sweats.” In Nebraska, Agnes Ozman continued the type of mission work that she had done in New York and encountered Charles Fox Parham, who was holding meetings in Kansas City. Parham, a former Methodist Episcopal minister who stressed divine healing, planned to open a Bible College in Topeka, Kansas. Ozman fleeced the Lord for her fare and received two separate donations of $5.00 from “one sister.” Certain that God was directing her to Topeka, she purchased train tickets and arrived at Bethel Bible College, along with some other Kansas City companions, in October 1900.

At Bethel, Ozman achieved the zenith of her spiritual experience, receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost during a late-night tarrying service at the school. In a 1922 letter to Eudorus N. Bell, Ozman claims that she did not understand tongues to be the evidence of the Spirit prior to her infilling: “Before receiving the Comforter, I did not know that I would speak in tongues when I received the Holy Ghost for I did not know it was Bible. But after I received the Holy Spirit speaking in tongues it was revealed to me that I had the promise of the Father as it is written and as Jesus said.” She continues:

The next morning after receiving this mighty gift, I was accosted with questions about my experience the night before . . . I pointed out Bible references to show that I had received the Baptism as Acts 2.4 “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance . . .

Agnes Ozman’s initial experience was particularly unique in the annals of early Pentecostalism. Even after a night’s sleep, Ozman was unable to speak English the following morning. According to Parham, her speaking in tongues continued for three days. Attempting to communicate with the inquisitive students, she says that she motioned for a pencil: “When I began to write, I wrote characters of other languages and joyed [sic] with the Lord talking in tongues. Some of the writing has been interpreted and is a wonderful message.” Parham believed the characters to be Chinese. In an interview with The Kansas City Times, Parham also claimed that other Spirit-filled students were now able “to write by inspiration.”

The night after commencing speaking in tongues, Ozman’s utterances were understood by a Bohemian, who heard her speaking in a service at the school’s mission in downtown Topeka. This incident confirmed to the Parham and his students that at least some of the tongue-speaking were intelligible foreign languages. Certainly, Parham believed that this was the method by which the Spirit would aid the Church in the evangelization of the earth.

When the Bethel school disbanded, Agnes Ozman continued Gospel Missions work. Later, she met and married Philemon M. LaBerge, and both were ordained ministers of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. Like so many early pioneers of Pentecostalism, she consistently demonstrated an insatiable hunger for God and a desire to be completely surrendered to the work of His Kingdom. Her experience at Bethel became a powerful precedent for the fledgling Apostolic Faith movement and encouraged many others to wade into the deeper waters of Spirit-filled revival. Despite the fact that she never received the revelation of the Mighty God in Christ, Agnes Ozman’s role as a key player in the recovery of the apostolic teaching of tongues as the Bible evidence of Holy Spirit baptism should not be forgotten. The cloven flames of Pentecost have spread from the Bethel’s turrets in Topeka to a global wildfire, and the power of the Holy Ghost, evidenced by speaking in tongues, which first ignited in the soul of a thirty-year-old pioneer of the plains, now burns in the hearts of multiplied millions.

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.

Andrew Urshan and Apostolic Baptism

7 September, 2009

 

https://i2.wp.com/www.ugst.org/uploaded/photos/A-Urshan.jpg

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.

Extra! Extra! Editorial Portrayals of the Early Oneness Movement

20 May, 2009

May 11, 1915, the Executive Presbytery of the Assemblies of God convened for a semi-annual meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. The announcement in the Weekly Evangel urged all presbyters to attend “as a number of important matters will be presented for deliberation and discussion.” Undoubtedly, the emerging “New Issue”, an early euphemism for the Oneness movement, was amongst the most important topics of the meeting. The Oneness doctrine, which spread quickly throughout the ranks of the Assemblies of God, represented a serious crisis for the fledgling organization as whole churches accepted the message of the Mighty God in Christ and submitted to rebaptism in the Name of Jesus. The printed call to the St. Louis meeting proved to be the commencement of the press war against Oneness, largely waged by Eudorus N. Bell, General Chairman of the Assemblies of God, and his powerful secretary, J. Roswell Flower. These men used the Weekly Evangel (later the Pentecostal Evangel), the official organ of the Assemblies of God, and other widely-read circulars to provide Trinitarian apologetics, discredit Oneness proponents, and to forge a semblance of unity that later led to the defection of the Oneness faction.

The germination of the Oneness movement actually predates the formation of the Assemblies of God, which organized in April 1914. Following the World Wide Apostolic Faith Camp Meeting held in April 1913 in Arroyo Seco, California, several attendees began a careful study of the Scriptures and became convinced that Jesus Christ was indeed God Himself rather than God the Son. April 15, 1914, Bro. Frank Ewart, who was solidly persuaded of the scriptural teaching, erected a tent in Belvedere, California and began preaching the Oneness message and the corollary doctrine of baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ. The moment was pivotal for the Pentecostal movement, and Bro. Ewart said: “The shot had been fired, and its sound was destined to be heard around the world.” Like the allusive shot that began the American Revolutionary War, the rediscovery of New Testament truth revolutionized the Pentecostal movement, with soldiers on both sides volleying for their respective positions.

The first mention of some doctrinal disruption is made in the August 1914 Word and Witness. J. Roswell Flower published a short editorial admonishment entitled “In Doctrines”:

In doctrinal teaching we shall stand for the certain truths as ever and against the doubtful and uncertain. We do not believe in keeping the saints confused and divided over men’s new theories [illegible] in wild fanatical tendencies which tear up more than they build up. Yet, we must keep our sky-lights open so as not to reject any new light God may throw upon the old Word. We must not fail to keep pace in life or teaching with light from heaven. To this end we earnestly ask the prayers and cooperation of every child of God.

While there is no specific mention of the “New Issue” doctrine, it is clear that Flower is attempting to steady the ship. However, we should recognize that his language is tolerant, if not expectant. Flower is clearly concerned about the unity of Pentecostals on issues of doctrine but is also careful about encouraging openness toward spiritual revelation that is consistent with the Scriptures.

Following the meeting of the Executive Presbytery in St. Louis, Flower printed a front-page piece, “Preliminary Statement. Concerning the Principles Involved in the New Issue by the Presbytery”, in the Weekly Evangel. While the statement was ratified by the presbyters, it bears a marked resemblance to the August 1914 comments by Flower: “We stand for everything clearly revealed and set forth in the written Word of God . . . In so far as there is anything in the Scriptures which we have not seen as yet, or have neglected, we stand ready to accept and teach this whenever the same is shown to be the teaching and practice of the Lord and His apostles.” Interestingly, the dictum seems much less focused on modes of baptism than another controversy equating the Holy Ghost with the blood. Evidently, some were teaching that the resurrected Christ had “spiritual blood” which was the same as the “new wine.” As such, proponents were teaching that the Lord’s Supper commemorated the resurrection rather than his death. All said, the statement does evidence growing doctrinal diversity amongst Pentecostals. However, the fact that the statement is merely “preliminary” indicates that the presbyters believed that further study was necessary before making a solid pronouncement of any kind.

In May 1915, E.N. Bell authored a four-part series for the Weekly Evangel on the baptismal debate. This study clearly elevated the visibility of the Oneness controversy, and Bell painstakingly attempts to nullify “in the Name of Jesus Christ” as a “fixed formula”, arguing that baptismal references in the New Testament indicate only that the rite was performed “under the power of Christ and the anointing of the Holy Ghost” but that “the mere phrase is not the essential thing.” In June, Bell published the final article in the series devoted to examining the Book of Acts. Surveying the controversial history of Christian baptism amongst the early post-apostolic believers, Bell admits that history supports the use of both singular and trine invocation, but he clearly believes Trinitarian baptism to be the default form. He explicitly rails against the “modern Los Angeles explanation” (a reference to the work of Frank Ewart and Glenn Cook): “But these new revelators have turned the table. They have reversed all history. They have done the new and unheard of thing.” Bell is clearly attempting to expose Ewart, Cook and company as mere innovators, manufacturers of an extra-biblical doctrine.

In an apparent reversal of his early opinions, Eudorus Bell caused a great stir in the summer of 1915 when, after so vehemently opposing the “New Issue”, he was reimmersed in the Name of Jesus Christ at the Third Interstate Encampment of the Assemblies of God in Jackson, Tennessee. The act made front page news in the August 1915 Word and Witness. In September 1915, Bro. Bell published a statement 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.” Though he claimed to retain his Trinitarian view, which he admits he does not and cannot comprehend, the article is essentially an Oneness exposition of the doctrine of Jesus Christ as God Himself:

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.

He continues throughout the piece to expound on Christ as Jehovah, Father and Creator, revealed and uses a collection of traditionally Oneness reference to buttress his arguments (Is. 9.6, Jn. 10.30, Col. 2.9, and Rev. 1.17). Bell ultimately never disconnected himself from the Trinitarian Assemblies of God, but this interesting episode clearly wrecks his nascent, stalwart stand against the Jesus’-Name formula.

Another function of the Pentecostal circulars was to keep a clear roster of who was aligned with whom. Bro. Ewart, who viewed Bell’s rebaptism as a victory for the Oneness camp, printed an expanded version of Bell’s Weekly Evangel article in his own Oneness publication, Meat in Due Season. In fact, Bro. Ewart proposed in his history, Phenomenon of Pentecost, that the Word and Witness version was edited to the point of mutilation, omitting some of the stronger Oneness statements made by Bell (Ewart 103).

When Andrew Urshan cast his lot with the Oneness pariahs after his return from foreign missions work in 1919, the subject re-erupted in the Trinitarian Pentecostal press. Bell made the announcement of Urshan’s defection in the Christian Evangel in an article entitled, “Andrew Urshan’s New Stand. A Bit of Sad News.” Citing Bro. Urshan’s strong confession of faith in the Mighty God in Christ as published in his own periodical, Witness of God, Bell indicates that Bro. Urshan was willing to forfeit credentials with the Assemblies of God. He concludes the article with heartfelt concern for Bro. Urshan: “The above is given with deep, loving concern for Bro. Urshan and with no prejudice or illwill [sic] against him, only as new to the saints. Pray for God to guide Bro. Urshan.”

After the clear division of the Oneness and Trinitarian camps with the withdraw of Oneness ministers in 1916, the heated controversies subsided. Today, however, we recognize the role of these periodicals in making up the ranks. The attacks on “New Issue” doctrine and believers played a significant role in controlling the impact of the Oneness movement on the Assemblies of God but surely stoked the fires of Oneness zeal and indignation as well. Undoubtedly, Flower and Bell believed that they were defending orthodoxy and protecting their fellowship from grievous wolves. The articles do evidence the sharp division ultimately caused by the propagation of the truth. In the days before email announcements and online discussion forums, even before widespread interstate telephone networks or broadcast stations, Pentecostal circulars were the neural system of the movement. Despite efforts to disinherit and discredit the Oneness movement, the power of the pen could not thwart the sovereign move of the Spirit as many leaders and congregations within the Assemblies of God accepted the Bible message of salvation and the apostolic teaching of the mighty God in Christ.

Eudorus N. Bell, Vacillating Vision

16 August, 2008

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.

1924: Redrawing the Color Line

3 June, 2008

Interracial Leadership Group from Azusa StreetIn 1918, the General Assembly of Apostolic Assemblies and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World merged, unifying Oneness Pentecostals into a large, interracial body. After being ousted from the Assemblies of God in 1916, the “Jesus Only” faction soon organized into the GAAA under the leadership of Daniel C. O. Opperman. The organization was destined to last only a short while. When the United States entered World War I on April 16, 1917, the government refused to recognize combat exemption for ministers of the fledgling church. In addition, GAAA ministers did not qualify for clergy train fare rates. For these two reasons, the organization sought a merger with the older Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (Clanton 29-30).

The PAW had a nebulous beginning in Los Angeles in 1906. Initially, few records were kept, which is not surprising considering the reticence of early Pentecostal believers to organize or to model themselves after the traditional denominations from which they had emerged. The alignment of the PAW with the Oneness camp may be historically attributable to the influence of Bishop G.T. Haywood, pastor of the large Pentecostal work at 11th & Senate in Indianapolis. Haywood along with his entire congregation accepted rebaptism in Jesus’ Name and the doctrine of the mighty God in Christ when Glenn Cook, Pentecostal pioneer and evangelist, came through Indiana in 1915 preaching the Oneness revelation.

While the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World was interracial from its inception, the General Assembly of Apostolic Assemblies was essentially a white organization. The merger of these two groups recreated the racial unity that characterized the Pentecostal revival at Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles. Bro. Frank Bartleman, journalist and chronicler of the Pentecostal movement in Los Angeles, said of Azusa Street: “The color line is washed away in the blood!” The mission, led by Bro. William Joseph Seymour, a black brother, became a bastion of multiracial unity as believers of every race and color gathered in the makeshift mission to experience the democratizing power of the Holy Ghost. When the GAAA joined the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, retaining the latter name, an initial, conscious effort was made to maintain racial integration.

Unfortunately, the merger was plagued by problems from the beginning. The most critical difficulty seems to have been the location of the annual conference. The South was considered too racially sensitive, and meetings had to be held in the North. At a time when Pentecostals were much less affluent, many Southern ministers could not afford to attend conventions in Northern cities. In 1922, leading white ministers in the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World organized the Southern Bible Conference. William Booth-Clibborn’s record of the meeting, A Call to Dust and Ashes, describes a glorious visitation of the Holy Ghost and a prevailing unity and anointing, but the exclusive convention offended many of the black PAW brethren (1).

The following year, the General Conference adopted Resolution 4, with devastating results. The resolution read:

Be it further resolved, that because of conditions now existing in many parts of the country through no fault of the brethren, but rather those that oppose the work of the Lord, it is deemed advisable that two white Presbyters sign the credentials for the white brethren (especially in the southland) and two colored Presbyters sign the papers of the colored brethren. (Golder 78)

While the wording of the resolution seems to suggest the necessity of this measure due to external social forces, it seems likely that the real reason for the policy was racial prejudice. Oneness historians sharply disagree on the meaning and context of Resolution No. 4. White writers like S.C. McClain and Arthur Clanton attribute the adoption to the social mores of the South, repeatedly arguing that racial integration was hindering the work of the Lord, especially below the Mason-Dixon line. Bishop Morris E. Golder, PAW historian, logically asks: “How could any person picking up a credential and looking at the signatures tell who wrote them? Would the ink of the black man be different from that of a white man?” (79). The fissure that began with the passage of Resolution No. 4 broadened over the next year; and at the close of the 1924 General Conference, a majority of the white brethren withdrew and formed the Pentecostal Ministerial Alliance, electing L.C. Hall as the first chairman (Clanton 46).

While it is difficult to recapture the social context that led our predecessors to divide into essentially white and black organizations, Oneness Pentecostals should work at every level to restore greater interracial fellowship and cooperation. Manmade organizations can never replace the true unity of Apostolic believers and the transcendental power of our common Acts 2:38 salvation. Huge strides in fellowship have been made by both the United Pentecostal Church and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, and we look forward to the day when Christ’s prayer “that they all may be one” (Jn. 17:21) is fully answered when the saints of every color and creed gather at God’s great throne!

Sources:

Clanton, Arthur. United We Stand: a History of Oneness Organizations. Hazelwood: MO: Pentecostal Publishing House, 1970.

Booth-Clibborn, William. A Call to Dust and Ashes. St. Paul, MN: 1924.

Golder, Morris E. History of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Indianapolis, 1973.

Pentecost in Print: Papers and Tracts from Pentecostal Pioneers

12 May, 2008

Pentecostals have always been prolific, and the turn-of-the-century rediscovery of the New Testament truth of Spirit baptism, evidenced by speaking in tongues at Charles Parham’s Bethel Bible College, spawned a plethora of circulars, papers, and tracts. Parham launched The Apostolic Faith in March 1899 and used this publication to promote the activities of his school in Topeka, Kansas. While the initial publication predates the Pentecostal outpouring that took place at Bethel, the name of the periodical evidences his school’s dedication to recreating a New Testament model of Christianity. Before the baptism fell, Parham’s curriculum was mainly focused on healing and prophecy, and the facility included a Healing Home, a spiritual retreat for the physically and spiritually infirmed (Goff 46-7). When Agnes Ozman, one of the Bethel students, received the baptism of the Holy Ghost on 1 January 1901, The Apostolic Faith became the first Pentecostal publication and began promoting Spirit baptism with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.

When the famed Azusa Street revival began, William Joseph Seymour borrowed the name of Parham’s publication and began publishing The Apostolic Faith from Los Angeles in September 1906. The headline of the first issue read boldly: “Pentecost Has Come: Los Angeles Being Visited by a Revival of Bible Salvation and Pentecost as Recorded in the Book of Acts.” This periodical was seminal in promoting the Pentecostal experience. It included a broad spectrum of testimonies, conversion reports, missionary news, and theology. Tens of thousands of copies were soon in circulation, and printed reports of unprecedented revival in Los Angeles brought thousands to the true birthplace of modern Pentecostalism, the mission at 312 Azusa Street.

While the secular press wrote articles criticizing the Azusa Pentecostals as fanatics citing their long, raucous services and mixing of racial and social classes in an environment of unbridled revivalism, The Apostolic Faith provided glowing details of conversions, miracles, and the phenomenon of speaking in tongues, often accompanied by interpretation. A May 1907 article declared: “The interpretation of many of the messages in nearly every language spoken by the Holy Ghost in unknown tongues is that Jesus is coming” (Untitled).

Many missionaries visited Azusa Street filled with hunger or curiosity returning to their labor filled with the Holy Ghost. In October, the paper reported that eight Pentecostal missionaries had been dispatched from Los Angeles (Seymour 1). Hundreds of preachers, mainly from Holiness denominations, received their Pentecostal baptism at Azusa and returned to their churches declaring its truth. The paper also chronicles the Spirit baptisms of a spectrum of immigrants including: Mexicans, Chinese, Russian, Italians, and Japanese, many of whom were converted after hearing messages in tongues delivered in their native languages. Additionally, The Apostolic Faith records the conversions of Catholics, Jews, and Muslims to the Pentecostal faith. Racism and bigotry were forgotten in the presence of God, and the Spirit produced a miraculous unity amongst the early Pentecostals.

Bro. Frank Bartleman, a Los Angeles journalist and former Holiness preacher who received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, saturated California with thousands of Pentecostal tracts during the Azusa revival. Before Azusa, Bro. Bartleman and other Christians in Los Angeles, inspired by published accounts of the Welsh Revival led by Evan Roberts, were anticipating another Pentecost and praying fervently to that end. The Azusa revival filled that hunger, and Bro. Bartleman’s writing captures the deep hunger and spiritual zeal of the early Pentecostals and their singular belief in God’s soon coming. Following the San Francisco earthquake, he published a tract called “The Last Call.” In less than three weeks, Bro. Bartleman and his workers distributed over 75,000 of the pamphlets, and the revival at Azusa increased (Bartleman 50-4).

Initially, Bro. Bartleman continued writing articles about the Pentecostal outpouring in Los Angeles for Holiness publications. Gradually, proponents of the Holiness Movement distanced themselves from the Pentecostals, and Bartleman began submitting his work to other exclusively Pentecostal publications including The Way of Faith, Christian Harvester, and Apostolic Light (Bartleman 61). While little is known of these publications, they provide evidence that a growing number of Pentecostal circulars were in existence.
Pentecostal periodicals were influential and provided a rudimentary cohesiveness for the burgeoning movement. In 1914, the newsletter Word & Witness called for a general convention of members of the Church of God in Christ and “all Pentecostal or Apostolic Faith Assemblies who desire with united purpose to co-operate in love and peace to push the interests of the kingdom of God everywhere” (Bell 1). From this advertised meeting emerged the Assemblies of God, one of the earliest and largest Pentecostal organizations.

The restorationism of the early Pentecostal Movement is strongly evidenced in the published writings of early apologists, and periodicals very often included strong, doctrinal defenses. The notion of the “Finished Work of Calvary” championed by Bro. William H. Durham, the well-known pastor of Chicago’s North Avenue Mission, penetrated Pentecostalism through his paper entitled The Pentecostal Testimony (“William Durham” 255). The controversial “New Issue”, the contemporary name for Oneness theology, emerged at the Worldwide Pentecostal Camp Meeting held in Arroyo Seco, California, when Bro. R.E. McAlister, a Canadian evangelist, declared that the Matthew 28:19 formula for baptism was never used by the New Testament Church. Several brethren, including McAlister, Frank Ewart, Glenn Cook, and John Scheppe, became convinced, through prayer and study, that the proper biblical baptismal invocation was “in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This idea spawned an untold number of publications and tracts dedicated to the furtherance of the revelation of the Mighty God in Christ.

A 1913 notice in Word and Witness announced the launch of The Good Report edited by Brothers Ewart and McAlister, the oldest known Oneness periodical (Notice). Bro. Ewart also edited a paper called The Present Truth. Perhaps the three most influential Oneness publications, however, were Bro. Ewart’s Meat in Due Season, Bro. D.C.O. Opperman’s The Blessed Truth, and Elder G.T. Haywood’s The Voice in the Wilderness. These papers were filled with articles about the advancement of the Jesus’ Name message, including international news of rebaptisms in the name of Jesus.

Bishop G.T. Haywood was one of the most prolific and profound Oneness apologists. He wrote: “Much of the early Pentecostal movement was promoted and introduced to various islands, countries, and continents of the world through tracts and periodicals that we published.” His paper, The Voice in the Wilderness, became the official organ of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World in 1918, and Haywood retained editorial responsibility for the publication after he was elevated to presiding bishop in 1925 (Tyson 16). He also wrote a prodigious number of tracts and booklets, including his masterpieces: “The Finest of Wheat” and “The Victim of the Flaming Sword.” His incomparable ability to articulate biblical truth with theological proofs, historical context, and eschatological importance makes him one of the most beloved twentieth century Pentecostal authors.

While Oneness brethren promulgated truth in their periodicals, their detractors were also busy campaigning against the spread of their message. In 1915, J. Roswell Flower, General Secretary of the Assemblies of God, lamented the penetration of the “New Issue” literature in the Assemblies of God’s Weekly Evangel :

Another letter, this very week, tells of the unsettled conditions in an eastern State where the Los Angeles [Oneness] literature has been scattered broadcast [sic] among the Pentecostal Assemblies, and where unstable souls, who know not the Word of God, are being swept off their feet. And that is not all, the new teaching has been carried to the foreign fields, and already hearts that are sore and distressed are writing us stating the awful results and after-effects of this teaching . . .

He further warns: “These workers are scattering over the country, and methinks they drive like Jehu. They are liable to drop in your assembly any day, and the day after, your assembly is possibly on the verge of dissolution” (Flower 1). Clearly, Trinitarians were worried about the wildfires of doctrinal truth ignited worldwide by Oneness Pentecostal publishers and preachers, and the “New Issue” battle was largely fought on front pages of their respective periodicals.

Ultimately, the Pentecostal press was a key component in reshaping the face of twentieth century Christianity. With the ink of inspiration, great Apostolic believers penned, printed, and published the full gospel message; and while thousands of evangelists, missionaries, and Christian workers canvassed the globe with New Testament truth, they were often preceded by or armed with Pentecostal literature. From the writings of our Pentecostal pioneers, we can create a composite picture of the passion and zeal that fueled the fires of revival that made Pentecostalism the fastest growing religion on earth (McClung 1). The yellowed records of our past must inspire us, and their voices urge us on toward increased worldwide evangelism as we carry the blessed truth of the Apostolic faith to a new generation of believers. Founded on our strong Pentecostal heritage of the written word and empowered with modern tools of mass communication, we can publish “The Whole Gospel to the Whole World.”

Sources:

Bartleman, Frank. From Plow to Pulpit: from Maine to California. Los Angeles: 1924.
Bell, E.N. General Convention of Pentecostal Saints and Churches of God in Christ, Hot Springs, Arkansas, April 2 to 12, 1914. Word & Witness 9.12 (1913): 1.

Flower, J. Roswell. Editorial Comment on Issue. Weekly Evangel, 99 (15 July 1915): 1.

Goff, James. Fields White unto Harvest : Charles F. Parham and the Missionary Origins of Pentecostalism. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1988.

McClung, Grant. Pentecostals: the Sequel. Christianity Today. 50.4 (2006): 1-8.

Notice. Word & Witness 9.6 (1913): 8.

Seymour, William J. The Pentecostal Baptism Restored: the Promised Latter Rain Now Being Poured Out on God’s Humble People. The Apostolic Faith. 1.2 (October 1906): 1.

Tyson, James. Before I Sleep. Indianapolis: Pentecostal Publications, 1976.

Untitled. The Apostolic Faith 1.8 (May 1907): 3.

“William Durham.” Dictionary of Charismatic and Pentecostal Movements. Eds. Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.

We Will Not Bow! Lessons Learned from the Assemblies of God

3 February, 2008

 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!”

Sources:

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.  

‘Til Death Do Us Part: Early Pentecostals on Divorce and Remarriage

2 September, 2007

In August 2007, high-profile “Pentecostal” evangelists Juanita Bynum and Paula White announced that they are leaving their husbands.    While these tele-evangelists are not Apostolic and are not representative of the Pentecostal norm, it is troubling that their decisions have had little impact on their respective ministries.  The Church is always vulnerable to cultural influences, and the divorce and remarriage question, which is thoroughly treated by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, continues to be interpreted and reinterpreted in the modern Church.  Early twentieth century Pentecostals (both Oneness and Trinitarian) were vehemently opposed to Christian divorce, and their writings reveal the honest and sometimes controversial struggles to deter marital dissolution, to define the conditions for sanctioned separation, and to provide for spiritual reconciliation. 

In The Apostolic Faith, William Joseph Seymour, leader of the Los Angeles Azusa Street Mission, describes new converts to the Pentecostal faith who believed that God’s call superseded their commitment to family and home:  “Many homes today have been wrecked and brought to naught through false teaching.  Wives have left husbands and gone off claiming that the Lord has called her to do mission work, and to leave the little children at home to fare the best they can” (Seymour, “Bible Teaching . . .” 3).  He also admonishes others who “have come to think that it is a sin for them to live as husband and wife,” concluding, “It is no sin to marry” (Seymour 3).  Incidentally, Seymour’s own 1908 marriage to Jennie Evans Moore, a fellow worker at Azusa, precipitated the exodus of some workers, including Florence Crawford and Clara Lum who began a mission in Portland, Oregon (Sanders 110-113). 

In an effort to clarify Azusa’s stand on the issues of divorce and remarriage, Seymour took a catechetical approach in a January 1908 article.  “On what grounds did the Lord Jesus teach that a man and wife could separate?” Seymour’s response admits that fornication constitutes biblical justification for divorce, however he posits:  ” . . . but he has no right to marry another according to the Scripture, while she lives” (Seymour, “Questions . . . ” 2).  In answer to the question:  “Do you have preachers and evangelists of the Apostolic Faith that have two wives or two husbands?” Seymour acknowledges a transition in his understanding of the issue.  Initially, the mission did ordain converts who were divorced and remarried before their conversion, “thinking that everything was under the Blood.”  However, he concludes:  “But after searching the Scriptures, we found it was wrong; that the widow was to be the wife of one man and the bishop was to be the husband of one wife” (Seymour, “Questions . . . ” 2). 

Charles H. Mason, original presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ, shared Seymour’s view that conversion did not release a saint from marital entanglements before regeneration.  In fact, Mason openly criticized “Elder C” [Bro. Glenn Cook], who was teaching that baptism in the Name of Jesus Christ remitted sins, including divorce and adultery:

. . . the anti-Christ also put into Elder C. to say that those who had other men and women’s husbands and wives before they came to light that they did not have to leave them that [sic] the water washed it all away, he would put before them 1 Cor. 6:9-11.  But ye are washed now.  That meant to him, any man that had another man’s wife or another woman’s husband before they got washed, that the washing made it all right to stay on, one with another and go on doing the same things that they did before only the washing made it so they could do it and it would not [sic] longer be a sin.  (Mason 81)

Here we have evidence of the primitive Pentecostal idea that divorce and remarriage could only be corrected by divorcing the subsequent spouse and returning to the first.  Bro. Cook clearly opposed this interpretation for those who had so sinned before their baptism.

            Like C.H. Mason, G.T. Haywood initially taught that converts to the Apostolic Faith must make restitution by returning to his or her original spouse, but he recognized the error of this teaching and is in agreement with Bro. Cook’s assessment:  ” . . .when a man repents and is baptized in ‘water and the Spirit’ he is a new creature in Christ, which is the church, his body.  The fact that God sets him in the body is a proof that God has judged his case and exonerated him from all sins and mistakes of the past . . .” (Haywood 116). 

            While most Pentecostals believed that divorce was allowable in the case of fornication, there was a universal rejection of remarriage.  Discussing the “exception clause” from Matthew 19.9, Seymour wrote:  “Jesus makes it very plain.  If the innocent party marries, they are living in adultery” (Seymour, “The Marriage Tie” 3).  Andrew Fraser, an Assemblies of God pastor from Chicago, wrote a very plain treatment of the issue in 1915:

The Bible then grants no permission to marry again while one’s companion is living. But some one asks, What about Matt. 5:32 and Matt. 19 :9? Doesn’t it say “except for fornication?” Yes, but the “except for fornication” pertains to the putting away and has absolutely nothing to do with any permission for the parties to marry again. We yield the point as to the putting away, but this fact stands forth clear and unquestioned that there was absolutely no permission given for re-marriage during the life-time of either party. No one can violate this express command without becoming an adulterer in the sight of God. (9)

Stanley Frodsham, another early AG pastor and historian, wrote similarly: 

There is however a basis for the inference that adultery is a legitimate ground for divorce in Jer. 3:8 in which Jehovah says, “When for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce.” But there is clearly no ground for remarriage given in this scripture. God kept the door of repentance always open.  (9)

Bishop Haywood declares: “In the church if a brother and sister, being married separate and marry another while either of the other is living, they are living in adultery . . . When such as this takes place then it is time for the church to act.  We could not stand clear before God and permit such to be carried on in the House of God” (Haywood 118).  Yet more plainly, he writes:  “In the church of God, there is to be no divorcing to remarry.  In the world it is bad enough, but when we come into the Body of Christ, (I Cor. 12.12-13) such practices are no longer to be tolerated” (Haywood 123).

These early Pentecostals conscientiously divided the Scriptures, protecting both the souls of the flock from the stain of sin and the Body of Christ from reproach.  While there are points of contention and disagreement in their writings, Pentecostal pioneers universally agreed that Scripture forbade divorced believers from remarrying during the lifetime of their first spouse.  Despite their rigidity on the subject, all agreed that God’s mercy was extended to all transgressors, and the blood of Christ was powerful to save and cleanse.  Stanley Frodsham wrote:  “Is there no hope for the adulterer?  Yes there is hope” (9).  While the Church must combat the worldly paradigm of dissolving flawed relationships, we must also extend to those without and within the Body of Christ heartfelt mercy as conduits of God’s healing and compassion, tempering the letter of the Law with the Spirit of Jesus Christ who absolved the sinful woman at the well saying, “Neither do I condemn thee:  go and sin no more” (Jn. 8.11).

Works Cited

 

Fraser, Andrew.  “Marriage and Divorce:  “But from the beginning it was not so.”  Latter Rain Evangel.  8 (1) Oct 1915, pp. 6-14.Frodsham, Stanley H.  “Marriage and Divorce.”  The Pentecostal Evangel.  No. 707 23 July 1927, p. 9.

Haywood, Garfield T.  God’s Word Exhorted, Revealed, and Prophesied.  Indianapolis:  Christ Temple Apostolic Faith Church, 1990.

Mason, Mary.  The History and Life Work of Elder C.H. Mason Chief Apostle and His Co-Laborers.  Memphis:  Church of God in Christ, 1924.

Sanders, Rufus G.W.  William Joseph Seymour:  Black Father of the Twentieth Century Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement.  Sandusky, OH:  Alexandria Publications, 2001.

Seymour, William J.  “Bible Teaching on Marriage and Divorce.”  The Apostolic Faith 1 (5) Jan 1907, p. 3.

—.  “The Marriage Tie.”  The Apostolic Faith 1 (10) Sep 1907, p. 3.

—.  “Questions Answered.”  The Apostolic Faith 1(11) Oct-Jan 1908, p. 2.