Archive for the ‘United Pentecostal Church International’ Category

Frank Emerson Curts: Laborer for Christ

19 April, 2011

Famed Indiana author, Kurt Vonnegut, once wrote: “I don’t know what it is about Hoosiers. But wherever you go there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.” This was certainly true of the late Superintendent of the Ohio District of the United Pentecostal Church, Bro. Frank Curts, who hailed from Indiana but spent the most productive years of his ministry in Ohio, building First Apostolic Church of Cincinnati and providing important leadership for the growing Oneness movement.

Frank Emerson Curts was born September 16, 1889 to Joseph and Isabelle Curts in Muncie, Indiana, where he spent his boyhood. As a young man, he was employed at the Ontario Silver Company, where he met Helen Warring. The pair were married on May 10, 1913 and moved to Indianapolis a short time later.

In Indianapolis, Helen began attending meetings at L.V. Roberts Holiness mission on East Tenth Street, where she was converted in 1916. She returned home and knelt beside her bed praying that God would save her husband. Bro. Curts testified: God spoke to me in answer to her prayer, and that same night while I was working as night foreman in a bakery, I confessed Jesus as my Saviour to the men that were working with me” (Curts 4). He gladly accepted his wife’s newfound faith and began attending meetings with her at the mission hall, where he was also converted.

Not long after the couple began serving Christ, Bro. Glenn Cook, formerly of the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, brought the message of baptism in Jesus’ Name to the Pentecostal mission. At first, Bro. and Sis. Curts struggled with the new ideas:

It was rather difficult to walk in the new light after having had such a miraculous conversion, being taught sanctification as a definite work of grace, and having been told I had the Holy Ghost. But we took the Apostolic message before the Lord, with the open Bible before us, and we saw that it was according to His Word. We were baptized in the Name of Jesus, and shortly afterward received the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

In 1917, while attending Oak Hill Tabernacle, Bro. Curts felt the call to preach the Gospel message. In the early 1920s, he attended a revival meeting in Greensburg, Indiana. The small group of saints invited Bro. Curts to come and preach to them on weekends, and he and Sis. Curts faithfully made the commute from Indianapolis to Greensburg for the next five years.

In April 1925, the Lord called Bro. and Sis. Curts to Cincinnati, Ohio. With thirteen people, they began services in a converted Saloon at Walnut and McMicken Streets in downtown Cincinnati. To support his wife and daughters, Evelyn and Frances, Bro. Curts worked as a silver polisher while pastoring the church. Despite modest growth in the beginning, Bro. and Sis. Curts saw a real break in revival around 1927. By 1930, the assembly outgrew the mission and moved to a converted garage at 2930 Colerain Avenue renamed Bethlehem Tabernacle (Tredway).

Bro. Curts was determined to root believers in the Word of God. A gifted teacher, Bro. Curts was strongly-committed to Acts 2:38 and saw the divine foreshadowing in the Tabernacle of the Old Testament. He authored a book on the subject and taught Bible classes using large charts to visually demonstrate his points. This created a strong doctrinal backbone for the growing assembly.

Attendance increased so much, that the church had to begin renting local theatres to accommodate the large crowds, sometimes over 900 persons! In 1961, they purchased a former cinema at 4828 Vine Street and began using the name First Apostolic Church. Bro. Curts was very proud of his congregation but took no personal credit for its size or spiritual reputation:

We do not feel that the success of this church with its several hundred members has been due to our ability, but because of the obedience and faithfulness of the people of God here, who are willing to walk with Him according to His word. (Curts 4).

His great love for his congregation was also demonstrated in the construction of a retreat center for the church in nearby Boone Lake, Kentucky. Bro. Curts owned a farm there and converted 20 acres into a veritable camp where the congregation spent much time cultivating deep relationships and enjoying Godly fellowship.

In addition to dutifully serving his local congregation, Bro. Curts served as a presbyter in the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ and became the District Superintendent of the Ohio District of the United Pentecostal Church in 1955. He faithfully held that post until his untimely death. On May 8, 1969, Bro. Curts suffered fatal injuries during a car crash at University and Vine Streets, just a few miles from the church. He died on May 11, 1969.

Bro. Curts left behind a powerful legacy of service to God’s kingdom. The First Apostolic Church is still a thriving congregation, currently led by Joel Urshan. His life was lived in answer to God’s call to ministry, and he executed his duties with an excellent spirit. His passing was lamented by the congregation he led, the district he served, and the United Pentecostal Church he loved. The seeds that he planted in faith and obedience continue to bring forth fruit, and Frank Curts will undoubtedly rejoice to witness the bounty of his labors at the coming of the Lord Jesus!

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Stanley W. Chambers: Profile of a Dedicated Leader

27 February, 2010

During a business meeting at the 1967 General Conference held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, General Superintendent Arthur T. Morgan, unexpectedly died. At the commencement of the meeting, Bro. Morgan told the General Secretary, Stanley Warren Chambers: “I want you to take notes on everything I have to say.” Bro. Chambers dutifully recorded the date and time just before Bro. Morgan fell back across the head table. Thousands of conference attendees who had converged on Tulsa were devastated by the news of Bro. Morgan’s untimely death. But, the constituency of the United Pentecostal Church shortly elected Stanley W. Chambers, who had served as General Secretary since the merger in 1945, to the office. Though Bro. Chambers could not have fathomed this turn of events when he left his home in St. Louis for the annual convention, God had certainly prepared this faithful servant for his new role as leader of the largest Oneness Pentecostal organization in the world.

 

Stanley W. Chambers was introduced to the Pentecostal movement as a young boy at Apostolic Gospel Church in Columbus, Ohio, led by W.T. Witherspoon. Stanley repented and was baptized during a five-week revival in 1927, but he did not receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost until three years on 6 February 1930, at the age of fourteen.

After he was saved, Stanley became very involved in the church. He played violin in the church’s orchestra and sang in the choir, directed by Bro. S.G. Norris. He kept busy in the work of the Lord and looked to Bro. Witherspoon as his father in the Gospel.

In January 1938, Stanley Chambers left Ohio to take on a managerial position in New York City. When he arrived in the teeming metropolis, he was met at the station by Bro. Paul Box, who attended Andrew Urshan’s Satisfaction Gospel Tabernacle in Manhattan. Bro. Box had preached on a number of occasions at the church in Columbus, and their acquaintance was destined to become a deep and lasting friendship.

Through fellowship meetings with area churches, Stanley Chambers met Catherine Strepka, and the pair began dating. Bro. Chambers felt the call of God to preach, and the young couple began to share a drawing toward ministry. Stanley Chambers and Catherine Strepka were united in marriage on 7 September 1940.

In 1942, Bro. Chambers accepted the pastorate of a small work in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Sis. Chambers initially struggled with leaving her native New York City. One night a message in tongues was delivered. After church, Bro. Urshan approached Sis. Chambers and told her that the message was intended for her: “God is confirming your husband’s call to Pennsylvania. You, as his helpmeet, must be willing to go wherever God calls him to work.” Sis. Chambers received the message and dedicated herself to her husband’s calling.

Bro. Chambers developed a radio broadcast in Hazelton, and there were listener invitations to begin Apostolic works in neighboring cities. Bro. Chambers planted a church in Sunbury and eventually resigned the Hazelton work to dedicate himself to the fledgling congregation.

In September 1945, Bro. & Sis. Chambers traveled to St. Louis to attend the annual meeting of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ. This much-anticipated convention solidified the merger of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ with the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated. Bro. Stanley Chambers, who had helped organize the Eastern District of the PAJC, was elected as General Secretary of the newly-formed United Pentecostal Church. At the suggestion of Bro. Fauss, the electorate waived the requirement that the General Secretary be ordained for a minimum of five years. Bro. Stanley Chambers became the youngest member of the General Board of the UPC.

The Chambers family resigned their beloved church in Pennsylvania and moved to St. Louis, making their home in the headquarters building. As General Secretary, Bro. Chambers did a great deal of traveling and corresponding with ministers. He represented the organizational administration at many District Conferences and enjoyed meeting people across the fellowship.

When he became the General Superintendent in 1967, Bro. Chambers felt equipped for the ministry by his close association with his capable predecessors. At the General Conference in Tulsa, Bro. Chambers preached an inaugural message that came to define his administration entitled: “Can the United Pentecostal Church Survive the Onslaught of History?” He challenged the fellowship to retain a vision of unity and revival and led the church through a 10-year period of unprecedented growth. When he retired as General Superintendent in 1977, he remained active in the work of the Lord serving as an interim missionary to Austria, Missouri District Superintendent, and president of Gateway Bible College. Stanley Warren Chambers demonstrated a lifelong commitment to the United Pentecostal Church International, and his ministry was an inspiring chapter in the growth and success of this wonderful Apostolic fellowship!

West Side Story: the Heritage of One Indianapolis Congregation

14 December, 2009

West Side Pentecostal Church is one of the oldest Apostolic assemblies in the city of Indianapolis, beginning in 1912, just a few short years after the Pentecostal message was introduced to the city. In January 1907, Bro. Glenn Cook, an evangelist from the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, began holding Pentecostal meetings in the on Shelby Street in the Fountain Square area of Indianapolis. Another evangelistic party arrived from Azusa in March, including Thomas Hezmalhalch, Fred Dexheimer, Celia Smock, and Lenora Hall. These early workers helped spread the revival, and congregations began to form throughout the city (Flower 5-6).

The roots of West Side Pentecostal Church begin with Bro. Joseph Rodgers, who opened a mission in 1912 on the corners of West Ohio and Minker Street (now Reisner Street). A Bro. Edwards served as Assistant Pastor of the fledgling congregation, and the work was called Apostolic Faith Helping Hands Mission. It is interesting to note that Bro. Rodgers chose to name the mission. Many Pentecostal assemblies were simply known only by their location, a nomenclative tradition, which grew out of early Pentecostal suspicions about denominationalism and formal organization. Bishop G.T. Haywood’s large Indianapolis church was simply known as 11th and Senate. Additionally, in August 1912, E.N. Bell published an article in Word and Witness, a widely-read Pentecostal circular, asking ministers not to use the terms “mission” or “Apostolic Faith” in their church names: “Nowhere in the Bible is a congregation of believers in Christ called a ‘mission’ nor an ‘Apostolic mission’ but we read of the ‘Church of God at Corinth.’” Bell favored “Church of God in Christ” as a suitable name, which undoubtedly reflects some of the early ministerial connections with the organization of that name (Bell 2).

Bro. Rodgers continued to lead the church that he started, and the congregation steadily grew under his leadership. Unfortunately, the pastor, who was an interior decorator by trade, was tragically killed while working on a church. The scaffolding collapsed, and he fell to his death.

Part of the church’s history is rather nebulous, but it is likely that the church joined the Assemblies of God at its formation in 1914. Following naming conventions of that fellowship, the church name became West Side Assembly Church. However, Bro. Jim Jackson, who succeeded Bro. Rodgers, must have been a key figure in moving the church into the Oneness camp when the message came to Indianapolis in 1915.

Bro. Jackson’s pastorate was followed by the ministry of Bro. Hedges, who was saved at West Side Assembly. After only a few years at the church, Bro. Hedges became ill and called on the help of Bro. Delbert Spall, a young minister from Christian Tabernacle, one of the most well-established Apostolic assemblies in Indianapolis. When Bro. Hedges went to be with the Lord on 15 July 1954, Bro. Spall became the pastor. Bro. Spall recalled that the last time Bro. Hedges ministered in the West Side pulpit, he felt the spiritual mantle from Bro. Hedges pass to him.

Bro. Delbert Spall was born in Carothersville, Indiana in 1919. As a child, Bro. Spall had attended Christian Tabernacle with his parents Freeman and Freda, a dynamic Apostolic church led by Sis. Lena Spillman. At the age of 17, Bro. Spall had an attack that brought him near to death. His family called for Sis. Spillman to come and pray. The young man received the Holy Ghost and was healed and became a faithful member of Christian Tabernacle. In 1950, Bro. Spall recognized his call to the ministry.

Bro. Spall’s wife, Mary Ellen (McMorris) also has a wonderful Pentecostal heritage. As a baby, her first trip outside of the house was to Oak Hill Tabernacle, one of the oldest Pentecostal works in Indianapolis led by Bro. L.V. Roberts. Sis. Spall’s mother, Dora McMorris, was purportedly amongst the first group of Indianapolis Pentecostals to be immersed in the Name of Jesus by Bro. Glenn Cook on 6 March 1915.

This wonderful couple led West Side Pentecostal through decades of Holy Ghost revival, completing a new sanctuary in 1959. In May of 1989, they retired from full-time ministry, but both are still living and are wholly committed to the Lord.

Bro. Donald Winters became the pastor of West Side at the Spalls’ retirement. Recently, his son, Donald Jo Winters assumed the pastorate, and Bro. Anthony Oliver is his Assistant Pastor.

The West Side Pentecostal Church continues to stand strong on its historic foundations of faith and service. From its most humble beginnings as a small Apostolic Faith mission to a well-established Pentecostal congregation, West Side Pentecostal Church is undoubtedly the oldest Indianapolis congregation in the fellowship of the United Pentecostal Church International. Their unwavering commitment to the cherished doctrines of Bible salvation, holiness, and the mighty God in Christ are a testament to generations of solid, anointed leadership as they continue to “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints” (Jud. 1.3).

Sources:

Bell, Eudorus N. “Not Missions, but Churches of God in Christ.” Word & Witness Vol. 8, Is. 6. 20 August 1912, p. 2.

Flower, Alice Reynolds. “When Pentecost Came to Indianapolis, a First-Hand Report of the Revival which Began in 1907.” Heritage 5 (4) Winter 1985/1986, pp. 5-6.

*Special thanks to the Spall family for conducting this interview at a difficult time.

Andrew Urshan and Apostolic Baptism

7 September, 2009

 

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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.

Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs: the Music of Early Oneness Believers

6 March, 2009

Music has always been an integral part of the Pentecostal Movement. Bro. Howard Goss, an early Pentecostal pioneer, devoted a chapter of his book, Winds of God, to the advent of Pentecostal music, which he described as “joyous” and an attractive alternative to the mournful worship of traditional churches. Songs were sung “almost at breakneck speed,” and the passionate praises penetrated the souls of saints and sinners alike:

This crescendo of joyous, happy people singing unto the Lord was infectious. The sound of victorious Christian living wrapped around you. Unperceived, it seemed to slip down gently into the deeps of your affections, to tap at your heart’s door, and unsuspected, spread warmly through your entire being. (Goss 208-209)

Bro. Goss saw Pentecostal music as an important and indispensable element of the early revival: “Without it the Pentecostal Movement could have never made the rapid inroads into the hearts of men and women as it did. Neither could we have experienced a constant, victorious revival over the ensuing fifty years, one in which thousands have been accepted, sealed, and shipped through the world in bond, waiting for the appearance of the Lord” (Goss 212).

The centrality of music in the promotion of Pentecostal worship and an abiding spiritual anointing have produced a number of prolific songwriters. When the Oneness Movement emerged after 1913, Apostolics began to pen new hymns intimating the Oneness stand for full Bible truth and melodiously conveying the doctrines of the Mighty God in Christ, the New Birth, and holy living.

The catalog of Apostolic songwriters is an impressive roll call of some of God’s finest preachers and early Pentecostal laborers including: Garfield THaywood, Sis. S.K. Grimes, Alexander R. Schooler, Thoro Harris, Robert C. Lawson, William Booth-Clibborn, and George Farrow. *

G.T. Haywood, first Presiding Bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, is perhaps the most beloved of all Oneness composers. His songs “I See a Crimson Stream of Blood” and “Jesus, the Son of God” gained widespread popularity even outside of the Oneness movement. Many of his hymns, published in The Bridegroom Songs, a hymnal printed at Christ Temple, his Indianapolis church, are distinctly Apostolic. The chorus of “Do All in Jesus’ Name” copyrighted in 1923 says:

Preach in Jesus name, teach in Jesus name,
Heal the sick in His name and always proclaim
It was Jesus’ Name in which the power came;
Baptize in His Name, enduring the shame,
For there is vict’ry in Jesus’ name.
Similarly, the refrain of Haywood’s “The Lord of Lords” says:
He’s Lord of lords and King of kings,
The Beginning and the end,
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
The dying sinner’s Friend.
If you will hear His voice,
Be buried in His name,
Then the Comforter will come to abide.

Haywood was a tireless defender of Oneness doctrine; and when he died in April 1931, he left behind not only scores of hymns and a large body of apologetic tracts, sermons, and books.

Sis. S.K. Grimes also authored many songs. She and her husband, Samuel J. Grimes, served as Apostolic missionaries in Liberia for a number of years, and Grimes succeeded Bishop Haywood as leader of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World in 1932. One of her most poignant hymns is aptly entitled “Acts 2:38”:

O what will you do with Acts two thirty-eight?
The way that leads to life is narrow and straight.
“Repent and be baptized,” God is speaking do not wait.
He gives you full directions there in Acts two thirty-eight.

Other significant hymns celebrating the Oneness of God and the Name of Jesus include “The Great I Am” and “Jesus, the Joy of My Soul.”
A.R. Schooler, one of the original PAW bishops from Cleveland, Ohio, wrote a number of distinctly Apostolic songs such as “The Name”, and “God Died for Me.” His 1920 hymn “The Author and the Finisher” proclaims in part: “His word we will obey/In the water we’ll be buried in His name.” Schooler’s “The Bible Manifestation” is an interesting example of Apostolic hymnody. The lyrics are openly critical of apostate denominationalism, which have “left the path apostles trod.” The song defends Pentecostal norms such as speaking in tongues, the anointing “of the sick/By the bishopric”, foot washing, and communion, and militantly declares: “I’ll arise and stand by the Bible manifestation/I’ll stand until the Lord shall come.”
Schooler also co-wrote many hymns with Thoro Harris, pastor of the Lake Street Mission in Chicago, Illinois, and one of the most fruitful and widely published Pentecostal musicians. Harris, whose most famous tune is unquestionably “Jesus Loves the Little Children”, wrote scores of hymns like “Pentecost in My Soul” and “All That Thrills my Soul is Jesus.” He was one of the first musicians to produce exclusively Pentecostal hymnals: The Blessed Hope (1910), Jesus Is Coming Soon (1914), Songs of His Coming (1919), and Songs We Love (1921).

Robert C. Lawson, who left the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World to found the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, also contributed a large number of songs to the Pentecostal repertoire. In “Praise Our God”, Lawson summates the Oneness view of Jesus Christ:

He overshadowed the Virgin Mary,
Was born a babe in Beth’lem cradle
God vailed [sic] in flesh,
His name was Jesus
Being interpreted was God with us.

Two of his most memorable hymns are “God is Great in My Soul” and “His Name Should be Praised” which boldly states: “I will praise Him for the ev’ning light/That I have entered in/Which shows us that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are One;/Oh praise the Lord ‘’tis finished’, On Calvary ‘twas done!”

William Booth-Clibborn was the grandson of William Booth, the illustrious founder of the Salvation Army. Booth-Clibborn was a powerful Pentecostal evangelist and authored one of the most beloved Oneness compositions, “Down from His Glory.” This majestic song inspired in 1921 declares the glory of Christ, the incarnate God:

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!

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 He is the great “I AM”!
Chorus: Oh 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 fullness dwelleth in Him!

Perhaps the most well-known anthem of Oneness Pentecostalism is George Farrow’s “It’s All in Him”, which so clearly delineates the inter-testamental Oneness revelation of Jesus Christ as the manifest Jehovah God:

The Mighty God is Jesus, the Prince of Peace is He
The Everlasting Father, the King eternally,
The wonderful in wisdom by whom all things were made.
The fullness of the Godhead in Jesus is display’d.

Emmanuel, God with us, Jehovah Lord of hosts,
The omnipresent Spirit who fills the universe,
The Advocate, the High Priest, the Lamb for sinners slain,
The Author of redemption, O glory to His name!

The Alpha and Omega, Beginning and the End,
The Living Word incarnate, the helpless sinner’s Friend.
Our wisdom and perfection, our righteousness and pow’r
Yea, all we need is Jesus, we find this very hour

‘Our God for whom we’ve waited,’ will be the glad refrain
Of Israel recreated when Jesus comes again.
Lo! He will come and save us, our King and Priest to be,
For in Him dwells all fullness, and Lord of all is He!

Chorus: It’s all in Him, it’s all in Him,
The fullness of the Godhead is all in Him.
It’s all in Him, it’s all in Him,
The Mighty God is Jesus, and it’s all in Him!

The hymns of early Apostolic believers were inspired by deep spirituality and the freshness of Bible revelations. They were simultaneously anointed and apologetic, glorifying Christ and intimating the deep truths of the Scriptures. The popularity of many of these hymns lasted throughout the early decades of the Oneness movement. Sadly, today their lyrics and tunes are virtually unknown to Apostolic young people, and many of the Oneness songs are indeed endangered. But the musical contributions of our Pentecostal predecessors make up an important part of our Apostolic heritage, and it is the responsibility of the contemporary Church to rediscover and revive the powerful songs of Zion that remain relevant to our strong stand for Acts 2:38 salvation and New Testament doctrine of the Mighty God in Christ, passing from generation to generation the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” that so clearly articulate the message of “the faith once delivered unto the saints”, born in the Spirit-fueled conflagration of early Pentecostalism and the rich experiences of our Apostolic ancestors.

Sources:

Goss, Ethel. The Winds of God: the Story of the Early Pentecostal Days (1901-1914) in the Life of Howard A. Goss. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1977.

Hymns taken from The Bridegroom Songs Indianapolis: Christ Temple, 1924 and Pentecostal Praises. St. Louis: Pentecostal Publishing House, 1947.

Frank J. Ewart, Pentecostal Pioneer

9 November, 2008

On April 15, 1914, Frank J. Ewart delivered his first public sermon on Acts 2:38 in a tent on East First Street in Belvedere, California. Bro. Ewart’s decision to preach the message was the culmination of nearly a year of prayer and study and expressed the full salvation message taught by the New Testament Church. With this great conviction, Frank Ewart counted the cost and began teaching and preaching the wonderful doctrine of the Mighty God in Christ, baptizing converts in the Name of the Lord Jesus! What began that spring was a miraculous revival of truth, and Bro. Ewart’s obedience to the Word of God and the direction of the Holy Ghost sparked the modern Apostolic revival!Frank J. Ewart was born in Bendigo, Victoria, Australia in 1876. As a young man, he worked in the lumber industry and had aspirations to become a professional cricket player. In the midst of this pursuit, the young Ewart was arrested by a supernatural vision of the crucifixion of Jesus. He saw Christ upon the cross and lost all “ambition for worldly fame and popularity.” Ewart aligned himself with the Baptists and was appointed a “bush missionary” (Ewart 10). The Bush Missionary Society was founded in 1856 to minister to small communities in the remote outposts of the Australian frontier (Burgess 237). Ewart would travel to remote areas and begin a Baptist revival. Once a stable group was established a pastor would be sent, and Bro. Ewart would move on to a new location (Ewart 10).

In 1903, after a break in his health, Frank Ewart emigrated to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada. He became a Baptist pastor there and married. He and his wife were desperate for a deeper move of God and prayed continually for the effectiveness of their ministry. Bro. Ewart’s health continued to deteriorate; and in 1908, he was given a furlough from the Baptist Church.

During this time, he traveled to Portland, Oregon to attend a Pentecostal camp meeting and became convinced that the experience was real. He received an “insatiable hunger” for the baptism of the Spirit and tarried twenty-one days before receiving a glorious Pentecost:

I received a mighty infilling with the Holy Ghost. God left no room for doubt. I spoke in several known languages that I knew nothing about, and some of them were interpreted that night. I had asked the lord to let all diseases go out of my body when the Holy Spirit came in. He took me at my word and answered my prayer. (Ewart 12)

Returning to Canada, Bro. Ewart was defrocked by the Baptist Church for his insistence that speaking in tongues was the evidence of Holy Ghost baptism, but he remained strong in his persuasion that the Pentecostal experience was real.

In 1911, Bro. Ewart came to Los Angeles and participated in the great revival in that city. In 1912, he assumed the pastorate of William Durham’s Seventh Street Mission in Los Angeles after Durham’s untimely death. The mission was a center of Pentecostal revival where Durham taught and preached the “Finished Work of Calvary,” and Ewart continued his ministry there until April 1913, when he went to the World Wide Apostolic Faith Camp Meeting “ready for God’s new move” (Ewart 90, 13).

The interstate camp meeting of 1913 is the stuff of Pentecostal legend. When Evangelist R.E. McAlister emphatically stated: ” . . . 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”, some of the hearers, including Ewart, were inspired to research the claim (qtd. in Ewart 94). At the close of the camp meeting, R.E. McAlister, Glenn Cook, and Ewart began a Pentecostal mission on Main Street. After several months, the mission unified with Pastor Elmer K. Fisher’s Victoria Hall on Spring Street, and much emphasis was given to preaching and praying in the Name of Jesus. Still, baptism was administered according to the regular Trinitarian formula.

In the spring of 1914, Ewart became determined that “the only way to get apostolic results was to adopt apostolic methods and obey their precepts” and branched out from Victoria Hall (Ewart 96). Pastor Fisher, who did not initially accept Bro. Ewart’s message of baptism solely in the Name of Christ, helped him secure a tent, and meetings began in Belvedere. Glenn Cook came out the first night to hear Bro. Ewart preached, and the two secured a baptismal tank and rebaptized one another invoking the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ewart 96).

The results of preaching and baptizing in the Name of Jesus were incredible, and the tent filled completely:

One of the greatest, most startling characteristics of that great revival was that the vast majority of the new converts were filled with the holy Ghost after coming up out of the water. They would leave the tank speaking in other tongues. Many were healed when they were baptized. (Ewart 98)

God confirmed the pioneer’s obedience with remarkable results and dynamic conversions. The leader of the Owl Gang, who harassed Bro. & Sis. Ewart and had burned down the revival tent, was baptized and filled with the Holy Ghost; the Baptist Sunday School Superintendent was saved, and Sgt. J.D. Cornwall of the city police force was converted (Ewart 99, 104).

Bro. Ewart published Meat in Due Season, an influential Oneness periodical that spread the Apostolic truth far and wide. Through his ministry, writing, and the evangelism of Bro. Cook, who received Ewart’s message, many prominent Pentecostals became persuaded of the efficacy of baptism in the Name of Jesus, including Lemuel C. Hall, William Booth-Clibborn, A.H. Argue, Frank Small, George B. Studd, Elmer K. Fisher, R.J. Scott, Garfield T. Haywood, W.T. Witherspoon, E.G. Lowe, Raymond Hoekstra, W.L. Stallones, and Harry Morse (Ewart 101).

Bro. Frank J. Ewart died in 1947. He established and led a thriving church in Belvedere and authored several books. He was ordained with the United Pentecostal Church before his death. This man’s powerful revelation and Bible conviction was seminal in producing the modern Oneness Pentecostal Church, the true iteration of Apostolic Christianity. A great debt is owed to this faithful pioneer who sacrificed precious fellowship and his own good name to publish Acts 2:38 salvation and stand for the only name “given under heaven whereby we must be saved.”

Sources:

Burgess, H.T. John Howard Angas, Pioneer, Pastoralist, Politician and Philanthropist. Adelaide, Australia: Vardon & Pritchard, 1905.

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

Raymond G. Hoekstra and the Latter Rain

29 June, 2008

During the 1940s, many Pentecostals became persuaded of the need for a renewal of Pentecostal revival. Despite the growth of the movement, the zeal of the first generation of Spirit-filled believers was waning, and organizational formations and doctrinal differences left the overall Pentecostal movement fragmented. A 1941 article by Albert Weaver, an early Pentecostal, noted: “The need for an outpouring of the Spirit upon His people, God’s spiritual grain, is not only a necessity, it is urgent. We are in great apostasy, and spiritual drought is visible everywhere” (5). In the midst of such dryness, some Pentecostals began to seek after a “new thing” to re-ignite the lost fervor, and the Latter Rain Movement, or “New Order”, which swept up many believers in its wild deluge, initially seemed to be a revitalizing force in Pentecostalism. Ultimately, the Latter Rain proved to be divisive and doctrinally unstable, presenting yet another significant crisis in the Pentecostal movement.The tenets of the Latter Rain are probably best summarized in a 1949 Assemblies of God resolution detailing the movement’s errors:

1. The overemphasis relative to imparting, identifying, bestowing or confirming gifts by the laying of hands and prophecy.
2. The erroneous teaching that the Church is built on the foundation of present-day apostles and prophets.
3. The extreme teaching as advocated by the “New Order” regarding the confession of sin to man and deliverance as practiced, which claims prerogatives to human agency which belong only to Christ.
4. The erroneous teaching concerning impartation of the gift of languages as special equipment or missionary service.
5. The extreme unscriptural practice of imparting or imposing personal leadings by the means of gifts of utterance.
6. Such other wrestings and distortions of Scriptural interpretation which are in opposition to teachings and practices generally accepted among us. (qtd. in Warner 16)

The resolution presents a clear picture of some of the aberrant notions of Latter Rain proponents. The movement was anti-establishment, and undermined general teachings about the Church, magnifying spiritual gifts over ecclesiastical authority and equating contemporary inspiration with Scripture.

The Latter Rain movement had its beginnings at Sharon Orphanage and Schools in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada where on 12 February 1948 Bible school students experienced “God moving in [their] midst in a strange new way” (qtd. in Warner 16). A lengthy prophecy detailed the coming move of God, and gifts of healing began to manifest at the school. The “revival” soon spread to the Northwestern United States and was carried throughout North America, where it impacted a number of healing revivalists. Promises of divine healing and spiritual renewal drew thousands into the stream, and evangelists carried the Latter Rain message to city after city attracting both Onenenss and Trinitarian Pentecostals who were willing to minimize doctrinal distinctions to embrace what they accepted as the latest iteration of revival.

In Indiana, one of the most well-known casualties of the Latter Rain movement was Raymond Hoekstra, pastor of Calvary Tabernacle. Bro. Hoekstra assumed the pastorate of the 32-member Fletcher Pentecostal Church in 1937. This was his first foray into pastoral ministry. Bro. Hoekstra had been saved as a young man at the Anchor Rescue Mission in San Jose, California and began his pastorate in Indianapolis only four years later (Hoekstra GPG 16; Basore). The small church grew rapidly to over 200 under his leadership, and they eventually razed the small frame building and erected a block structure renamed Calvary Tabernacle (Basore).

Bro. Hoekstra’s difficulties began in 1949 with a revival invitation to a child evangelist, David Walker, known as “Little David.” While Little David had early experiences at the Apostolic Gospel Tabernacle in Long Beach, California, his father, recognizing the boy’s call to preach at the age of 9, soon expanded his itinerary to include Foursquare and Assemblies of God churches (Walker LDMB 17 & Walker Interview). David Walker says that as a child he really had no sense of doctrine and felt comfortable preaching at Oneness and Trinitarian meetings (Walker Interview). He came to Calvary for revival, and Bro. Hoekstra scheduled a crusade in the 10,000-seat Cadle Tabernacle at the corner of New Jersey and Ohio where Little David preached to a full house. The meeting changed Bro. Hoekstra, as he embraced the mysticism of the Latter Rain movement. At Calvary, he began to believe that healing oil was flowing from his hands, and some saints claimed the same experience. He also began to question evidential tongues and told some tarrying for the Spirit to simply “repeat after me” (Basore).

 

 

The present coming together of the hearts of God’s people is a move of God in believers [sic] hearts. A divided leadership has taught Christians to separate themselves from other Christians over doctrinal and denominational differences . . . Christians have been chained to religious machines. Often they were forbidden to attend other assemblies or fellowship with other Christians because of doctrinal or organizational differences. (Hoekstra LR 36-37)

In September 1950, a brief announcement appeared in The Pentecostal Herald: “This is to advise all concerned that Raymond G. Hoekstra is not in fellowship with the United Pentecostal Church” (“Notice . . .” 11). After working with Little David for approximately three years, he went on to work full-time in prison ministry, a work that he had begun in Indianapolis visiting the reformatory at Plainfield and the state prison in Michigan City (Hoekstra GPG 17). Bro. Hoekstra never returned to the Apostolic Faith. Like so many others, he was washed away in the cloudburst of the Latter Rain, but he left behind a thriving church in Indianapolis that built upon his revival foundation to become one of the great assemblies of the United Pentecostal Church.

Sources:

Basore, Robert and Emma. Personal interview. 15 May 2008.

Hoekstra, Raymond G. God’s Prison Gang. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1977.

Hoekstra, Raymond G. The “Latter Rain” Portland, OR: Wings of Healing, 1950.

“Notice to Ministers of the United Pentecostal Church.” Pentecostal Herald. Vol. 25 No. 9, September 1950, p. 11.

Walker, David. Introducing Little David: “Teen-Age Miracle Boy Preacher in the Ministry of Miracles, Preaching and Healing for the Nations. St. Petersburg, FL: Little David Books, 1955.

Walker, David. Personal Interview. 29 April 2008.

Warner, Wayne. “Reaction of the A/G to the Latter Rain.” Heritage 1 September 1987, pp. 16-19.

Weaver, Albert. “The Need for Spiritual Rain.” Pentecostal Evangel. No. 1398, 22 February 1941, p. 5.

God’s Organism: Attitudes and Efforts of Early Pentecostals Toward Organization

5 May, 2007

Early Pentecostals recognized their unique position in God’s end-time restoration of New Testament truth and revival. They emphatically believed that the Holy Ghost baptism evidenced by speaking in tongues was a universal experience that would sweep across all denominations, and they had no intentions of creating an exclusively Pentecostal church. In fact, their deep reverence for the sacred nature of the Spirit’s work made them reticent to classify themselves at all. This attitude went a long way to attract Christians from denominational churches. Most of the primitive Pentecostals in Charles Parham’s revivals in Topeka, Kansas and Houston, Texas and William Seymour’s significant work at Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California, emerged from Wesleyan, Holiness, and Baptist traditions. Such seekers recognized the spiritual decay, and even decadence, of their respective churches and saw the return of Pentecost as a revitalizing force from Heaven. It is perhaps even more accurate to say that the earliest Pentecostals perceived themselves not as Pentecostals but as Spirit-baptized Methodists, Baptists, Nazarenes, etc. While most made an initial effort to return to their churches with the message of the Pentecostal blessing, they often met with disdain or outright expulsion from their former assemblies. It was these sorts of crises that created a class of Pentecostal pariahs, and the earliest fellowships of newly-formed missions and churches were very loosely connected and tenuously structured. Pentecost was a movement and not a denomination, and many primitive practitioners vehemently resisted efforts to name, define, codify or otherwise organize Spirit-filled believers.

Any student of early Pentecostalism has probably noticed the generic names of churches, missions, and works. Parham’s school, Bethel Bible College, in Topeka was popularly known as Stone’s Folly after the mansion where the school was housed. It was customary to call a Pentecostal or Apostolic work only after its address or location, consider William Durham’s North Avenue Mission in Chicago, G.T. Haywood’s 11th & Senate in Indianapolis, and Frank Bartelman’s 8th & Maple Mission in Los Angeles. In my hometown of Muncie, T.J. Miller’s “Block Church” and Bishop Oscar Sanders 3rd and Vine identified the earliest locations of Pentecostal revivals. This nomenclative tradition grew out of Pentecostal suspicions about denominationalism and formal organization. Bro. Bartleman, who carefully recorded the Pentecostal revival in Los Angeles, criticized the Azusa Street Mission for its early appendage of “Apostolic Faith Mission” to its name and zealously spoke and wrote against the move:

The truth must be told. “Azusa” began to fail the Lord also, early in her history. God showed me one day that they were going to organize, though not a word had been said in my hearing about it. The Spirit revealed it to me. He had me get up and warn them against making a “party” spirit of the Pentecostal work. The “baptized” saints were to remain “one body,” even as they had been called, and to be free as His Spirit was free, not “entangled again in a yoke of (ecclesiastical) bondage.” The New Testament Church saints had already arrested the further progress in this way. God wanted a revival company, a channel through whom He could evangelize the world, blessing all people and believers. He could naturally not accomplish this with a sectarian party. The spirit has been the curse and death of every revival body sooner or later. History repeats itself in this matter. Sure enough the very next day after I dropped this warning in the meeting I found a sign outside “Azusa” reading “Apostolic Faith Mission.” The Lord said: “That is what I told you.” They had done it. Surely a “party spirit” cannot be “Pentecostal.” There can be no divisions in a true Pentecost. To formulate a separate body is but to advertise our failure, as a people of God . . . The church is an organism not a human organization. (Bartleman 68-69)

While this attitude was widely held, some more progressive members were willing to entertain the notion of some type of organization. In fact, many ministers had joined Charles H. Mason’s Church of God in Christ, which was begun as a Holiness organization and had come into the Pentecostal movement. Because of this association, Church of God in Christ was one of the earliest prescribed names for Pentecostal or Apostolic assemblies. In 1912, Eudorus N. Bell, editor of the Word and Witness wrote an article appealing to Pentecostal works to use the name “Church of God in Christ” for their churches rather than Apostolic, Pentecostal, or Mission (all of which were popularly employed). He posited: “We believe with all our hearts in the ‘Aposotlic Movement’ not as a name for a church, but as a religious ‘reform movement’ composed of all clean people who will join our battle cry and reform slogan of “Back to the faith once deliver to the saints!” (Bell 2). “Church of God in Christ” was presented by Bell as a biblical alternative.

Bro. Howard Goss was instrumental in identifying the need for organization, but he recognized the independent spirit of many of the brethren: “As our numbers increased, the influx brought with it leaders who did not believe in organization at all; some even preached that anything of that nature (when committed to paper) was of the devil” (Goss 259). While Goss and others proceeded with caution and initially clandestinely, they were persuaded that a broader Pentecostal organization was necessary to sustain the growing work of the movement. While general fellowship had been maintained by announcements of camp meetings, conventions, and revivals in Apostolic periodicals, there was a need to coordinate worldwide evangelism and produce printed literature. Goss noticed the natural cohesiveness of some works and feared that partisan spirits were developing in some areas. Additionally, there was a need for some definition, some criteria of fellowship as many assemblies would receive anyone into their pulpit claiming to be Pentecostal, and the reputation of Spirit-filled works was really at stake.

The result was the formation of the Assemblies of God in 1914. The charter document declared the name to be “GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF GOD (which is God’s organism)”. The name was formulated to allay fears about organizational sectarianism, and the document made the new fellowship’s intentions clear:

[Our] purpose is neither to legislate laws of government, nor usurp authority over said various Assemblies of God, nor deprive them of their Scriptural and local rights and privileges, but to recognize Scriptural methods and order for worship, unity, fellowship, work and business for God, and to disapprove of all unscriptural methods, doctrines and conduct, and approve of all Scriptural and conduct . . . (General Council Minutes)

Out of this organization grew the Oneness organizations that eventually formed the United Pentecostal Church in 1945.

While many of our predecessors blatantly opposed efforts of ecclesiastical incorporation, today we benefit from the blessings of Godly organization. Modern United Pentecostal Church adherents have accepted a workable compromise, simultaneously understanding our status as a movement and not a denomination but cooperating in a spirit of unity for the work of evangelism and worldwide revival. The reticence of our forebears reminds us of the true heavenly nature of our beginnings and continues to caution us against degenerating into the spiritual staleness of mere denominationalism. Rather, with these Apostolic ancestors, we must adopt an “all flesh” attitude and spread with urgency the message of salvation and regeneration through the power of the Holy Ghost!

Sources:
Bartleman, Frank. Witness to Pentecost. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985.

Bell, Eudorus N. “Not Missions, but Churches of God in Christ.” Word & Witness Vol. 8, Is. 6. 20 August 1912, p. 2.

“General Council Minutes”, 1914.

Goss, Ethel. The Winds of God: the Story of the Early Pentecostal Movement (1901-1914 in the Life of Howard A. Goss. Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1958.

Word and Witness, 20 March 1914, p. 1.