Archive for the ‘Oneness’ 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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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.

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.