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The Birth of the Nativity Scene

12 December, 2011

The Nativity scene is one of the most cherished remnants of the Christian celebration of Christmas, which is increasingly eclipsed by pagan and secular trappings in our modern, materialistic culture. From live manger scenes with farm and exotic animals to miniature figurines in a moss-covered stable to electric-lighted plastic lawn sets, the contemporary Nativity scene has a long and interesting history dating back to the first commemorations of Christ’s birth in the 3rd and 4th century.

Though the beautiful narrative of Christ’s nativity appears in the gospels of Saints Matthew and Luke, His birth was not widely celebrated nor did it enter the liturgical cycle until the 3rd or 4th century. Ancient Christians were more inclined to focus on the Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi, than the birth of Christ. In his Homilies on Leviticus, Origen, a 2nd century theologian, remarked that “only sinners” marked the day of their birth, citing evil rulers like the Egyptian pharaoh and Herod as examples of vain birthday celebrations. In fact, rather than celebrate birth, it was the tradition of the Church to commemorate the deaths of martyrs and Christian faithful with feast days, so it is not surprising that the Nativity of Christ was unremarked in the earliest centuries of the Faith.

Depictions of the Nativity of the Divine Child appear during the period when the Church first began to widely observe the feast of Christ’s birth on December 25th. The earliest examples are relief sculptures on sarcophagi in Rome and Gaul. They generally show a swaddled baby surrounded by ox and ass, a common motif based on Isaiah 1:3: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib. . .” Some depict the Bethlehem star, the Virgin Mary, the shepherds or Magi and, less often, Joseph. (“Nativity (in Art)“ 1380). The first documented usage of the Nativity in worship occurred in 4th Century Rome at the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, where a Christian shrine included boards traditionally associated with the manger which held the Christ Child. One of the three Christmas masses at the basilica was titled Ad Praesepe, or “to the crib” (“Nativity Scene” 407).

Though there are other artistic representations of Christ’s birth carved in ivory, mosaic, and even gems, the modern Nativity scene used in worship, and later in homes, is a direct descendant of a live Nativity conceptualized by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. Francis received papal approval to celebrate a Christmas mass in the first living Nativity scene, which was erected in a cave at Greccio where a local lord, Giovanni di Velita, had given Francis space for a small hermitage. There, Francis installed a wooden manger with straw. Following earlier iconographic tradition, a live ox and ass were also provided to complete the simple scene. At midnight, worshipers came with torches and lanterns, and a priest conducted a mass over the empty, straw-strewn crib. The spiritual celebration was ecstatically received and represented an innovative and contemplative enhancement of the Midnight Mass (Greene 242-243). The Franciscan Nativity was soon adapted throughout Europe and took on a high level of pageantry and celebration. In French and Italian villages costumed villagers made procession to live Nativities and in some cases brought gifts and offerings to present to the Holy Child, a surrogate for Holy Church. By the sixteenth century, many European churches in France, Germany, and Italy annually reenacted the presepio (crib scene) at Christmas and Epiphany (“Nativity Scene” 408).

In the seventeenth century, versions of the Christmas scene began to appear in homes, some mere folk art and others more developed. In eighteenth century Naples, families competed to construct the most intricate and ostentatious Nativity scenes, which expanded far beyond the Holy Family to include villagers, angels, and elaborate scenery, some boasting working waterfalls or erupting volcanoes. Wealthy Neapolitans sometimes hired professional artists to paint scenery, sculpt heads or create extravagant bejeweled clothing for the figures (“Nativity Scene” 409).

In 1803, the first known portable Nativity set appeared at a Christmas fair in Marseille, France. The small clay figurines represented the usual characters from the biblical account (Mary, Joseph, Jesus, angels, shepherds, and Magi) but also included a variety of tradespeople such as a baker, fishmonger, mayor and others. When French migrants came to Canada, they began the tradition of placing the sets beneath the branches of a Christmas tree (“Nativity Scene” 409).

In England and the American Colonies, Christmas celebrations suffered under the ascetic regulations of the Puritans, who outlawed Christmas commemorations, along with other “Holy-dayes” in June 1647, claiming they had been “superstitiously used and observed” (Grapel 26). The Nativity set, then, did not arrive in America until the eighteenth century, when German Moravian immigrants brought the strong European tradition with them (“Nativity Scene” 411).

In modern times, the Nativity scene is a staple of Christmas commemoration and pageantry. Controversy often surrounds the display of the Gospel tableau in public spaces such as courthouse lawns and schoolyards. Political pundits postulate about the impact on the separation of Church and State, and religious bigots harp about the affront to tolerance and diversity. However, through the efforts of tenacious Christian celebrants, the scenes persist from elegant, artistic representations to live reenactments to kitschy lawn ornaments. The simple scene of St. Francis in the small Italian hermit’s chapel is now a fixture of the Faith. This year remember that each crèche, whether grand or humble, is rooted in ancient Christian worship and reminds us of the divine loftiness and incarnated lowliness of the Blessed Divine Child, Jesus Christ.


Grapel, William. Church’s Holy-Days the Only Safeguard Against the Desecration of the Lord’s Day. London: Joseph Masters, 1848.

Green, Julien. God’s Fool: the Life and Times of Francis of Assisi. Trans. Peter Heinegg. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983.

“Nativity (in Art).” A Dictionary of Christian Antiquities. Eds. William Smith and Samuel Cheetham. Vol 2. 1880. Print.

“Nativity Scene.” Encyclopedia of Christmas. Ed. Tanya Gulevich. 2000. Print.


Holiness, Hedonism, and Headlines: Aimee Semple McPherson and the Scandal of 1926

22 January, 2009

“Woman Evangelist Escapes Abductors” reads a bold New York Times headline from June 24, 1926. The woman evangelist was Aimee Semple McPherson, Pentecostal evangelist, founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and pastor of Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, which she founded and grew to 25,000 members. On that June morning, Aimee McPherson, known commonly as simply “Sister”, was discovered in a state of collapse at Agua Prieta, a Mexican village, and was immediately hospitalized in Douglas, Arizona, just across the United States’ border. Immediately, Sister began telling an incredible story of being kidnapped and held for $500,000 ransom before making her escape through the hot desert “Woman Evangelist Escapes Abductors” 1). What ensued was a veritable media circus and the first front-page scandal in Pentecostal history!

Aimee Kennedy was born October 9, 1890, near Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada and was reared with the zealous Salvation Army religion of her mother, Minnie. In 1908, she received the baptism of the Holy Ghost in a small Pentecostal mission in Ingersoll under the ministry of her future husband, Robert Semple (McPherson, TIT 50). The newlywed couple devoted themselves to evangelism and went to China in 1910 as Pentecostal missionaries. August 19, 1910, Robert Semple died in Hong Kong of malaria, and Aimee returned to North America with her newborn daughter, Roberta.  Aimee Semple married a grocery clerk, Harold McPherson; however, the marriage soon ended in divorce.  Mr. McPherson was simply unable to bear the vagabond life of his itinerant evangelist wife (Thomas 11-12).

With the help of her widowed mother, “Ma” Kenendy, Aimee established a popular Pentecostal ministry, traversing the continental North America in her “Gospel” car and raising thousands of dollars at her growing evangelistic and healing campaigns. Just before Christmas 1918, Aimee and Ma arrived in Los Angeles and began a Pentecostal work on Spring Street under the auspices of the Assemblies of God called Victoria Hall Mission (Thomas 20).

Just three years later, in 1921, McPherson and Ma Kennedy purchased property near Echo Park and designed and built Angelus Temple, a white, domed 5000-seat arena. Its outer surface glinted with crushed sea shells, and the inner walls were painted to mimic a blue sky. The structure and furnishings included two balconies, sweeping ramps, and an indoor baptismal pool along with opulent carpets, chandeliers, draperies, organ, and Steinway grand piano (Thomas 26). Angelus Temple surpassed nearby Hollywood movie palaces in both size and glory at a staggering cost of 1.5 million dollars (“Aimee Semple McPherson: Thousands . . . ” 85-89).

Preaching her “foursquare” message which exalted Jesus Christ as “Savior, Baptizer with the Holy Spirit, Physician and Healer, and Coming King”, Aimee filled Angelus Temple to capacity with devoted followers, keeping up an aggressive schedule of twenty-one weekly services and developed one of the most widely-recognized Pentecostal ministries of the early Twentieth century (Sister Aimee).

Possessed of natural beauty and charisma, Aimee Semple McPherson attracted parishioners with her eloquent preaching. In February 1924, she launched KFSG (Kall Four Square Gospel) and increased her influence around Southern California (McPherson SOML 127). McPherson had a penchant for performance and turned the Angelus platform into a veritable stage each week. She dressed as an Indian princess, a navy admiral, a firefighter, and most famously a police officer, complete with motorcycle, to deliver high-impact sermons to her faithful flock. She composed a number of sacred operas and oratorios; and in September 1931, she eloped with David L. Hutton, Jr., the baritone who played Pharaoh in “The Iron Furnace”, an Angelus Temple production with a cast of 450. In January 1934, the marriage ended in a second divorce for McPherson (Thomas 205; 272-273).

Aimee Semple McPherson became an evangelistic superstar. There was none of the asceticism of the early Pentecostals at Angelus Temple. Aimee dressed in ostentatious clothing and had charge accounts at exclusive boutiques and department stores around the city. In April 1927, a Los Angeles Times headline reported the murder of Paul Ivar who “created gowns for film stars and Aimee McPherson” (“Suicide Follows . . . ” 3). In 1929, she also constructed a 14-room stucco mansion on Lake Elsinore, rumored to have gold and silver leaf ceilings, silver doorknobs, and a swimming pool (Thomas 201-202). Nothing was too good for Sister, and members of Angelus Temple and the growing network of Foursquare churches seemed willing to fill church coffers to support McPherson’s increasing worldliness.

When Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared in the Pacific on Tuesday, May 18, 1926, while swimming at Ocean Park, her family and followers sorrowfully declared her drowned in the sea. When she was miraculously returned to them just over a month later, Foursquare faithful joyously accepted Sister’s testimony of her escape from her captors. According to Aimee, she was approached at the beach by a couple pretending to have a dying baby in their car. She accompanied them to the vehicle only to be shoved in the floor and chloroformed. When she regained consciousness, she learned that her trio of captors, Steve, Jake, and Mexicali Rose, intended to hold her for ransom. Moved to a remote shack in the desert, Aimee eventually escaped while her abductors were away by cutting her bands on the edge of an open tin can. Traversing the hot desert, she came upon the village where she collapsed (McPherson, SOML 147-157).

Authorities were immediately suspicious of McPherson’s claims. She made the escape through an arid land with no hat and no water. She arrived in the Douglas hospital with no sunburn, no perspiration on her dress, grass stain on her shoes, and was satisfied with a single glass of water (Thomas 51-52). Police forays into the Mexican desert failed to locate the shack described by McPherson, and the Post Office ruled that the purported ransom letter that had been mailed to Minnie Kennedy had been tampered with (“Two Juries Start . . ” 13).

Complicating matters for Sister, witnesses emerged claiming to have witnessed Aimee Semple McPherson during the period of her absence in the company of Kenneth G. Ormiston, a jovial man in his thirties that managed KFSG for McPherson and disappeared shortly before her own absence. Ma Kenendy had, in fact, already averted an earlier scandal when Mrs. Ormiston threatened to divorce her husbanding citing an affair with the Temple’s leader (Thomas 42-43). Despite positive identifications by a garage repairman and hotel registrars who saw McPherson and Ormiston, Sister stuck to her story, piping her innocence in pulpit and press (“Says M’Pherson was with Ormiston” 4). In 1927, she authored In the Service of the King, an autobiographical book detailing her ordeal and defending her innocence.

On November 3, 1926, both Sister and Ma Kenendy were charged with obstruction of justice and were held for trial. But District Attorney Asa Keyes finally dropped all charges on January 10, 1927, citing lack of evidence (Thomas 57; 61). Aimee Semple McPherson returned to Angelus Temple and was joyously received by her congregation, who continued to stand by their militant spiritual commander, supporting her version of events.

When she died September 27, 1944, of a medication overdose, her body, which lay in state on the Temple platform for three days, was visited by over 50,000 mourners, and her funeral reputedly cost $40,000 (“Aimee Semple McPherson: Thousands Mourn . . . ” 85-89). She was buried in full regalia in a 1,200-pound bronze casket lined in white satin. She was laid to rest in the popular Forest Lawn Cemetery beneath slabs of polished Italian marble flanked by statues of kneeling angels (Thomas 339-346).

Sister Aimee proved to be an enigma and a media sensation, and her ministry survived her final demise under the leadership of her son, Rolf McPherson. Canonized as saint by some, criticized as sinner by others, Aimee Semple McPherson undoubtedly introduced the world to a glamorous version of quasi-Pentecostalism distanced from the movement’s early roots in humility, sacrifice, and even poverty. Her Hollywood-style Christianity set an unfortunate precedent for future charismatic charlatanism, and her questionable morality prefigured much of today’s religious ribaldry. Her story has inspired ballads, books, movies, and even a short-run Broadway musical (Sister Aimee). Historians are rarely hagiographers of Sister, and she is often more hypocritical and less holy in popular accounts of her life and ministry. Regardless of whether Aimee Semple McPherson was abducted or staging an adulterine hoax, her unique concoction of the sacred and profane, the mixture of evangelism and entertainment, her cinematic Christianity, and her genius for manipulating the media and capturing the popular imagination, propelled McPherson’s form of Pentecostalism into the mainstream and foreshadowed the quagmire of televangelism, so similarly marked by the moral maladies that plagued her. Today, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel continues to exist alongside larger Pentecostal organizations, and her crowning work, Angelus Temple, serves as the spiritual home of thousands of Los Angeles parishioners. Ultimately, Sister remains a mystery, an unresolved problem in the chronicle of early American Pentecostalism, and “everybody loves a mystery!”


“Aimee Semple McPherson: Thousands Mourn at Famed Evangelist’s Funeral.” Life Magazine. 30 Oct 1944, pp. 85-89.

 McPherson, Aimee Semple.  Story of My Life. Los Angeles: Echo Park Evangelistic Association, 1951.

McPherson, Aimee Semple. This is That. New York: Garland Press, 1985.

“Says Mrs. M’Pherson was with Ormiston.” New York Times. 16 Jul 1926, pg. 4.

Sister Aimee. Dir. Linda Garmon. WGBH Educational Foundation, 2007.

“Suicide Follows Hollywood Killing. New York Times. 27 April 1935, pg. 3.

Thomas, Lately. Storming Heaven: the Lives and Turmoils of Minnie Kennedy and Aimee Semple McPherson. New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1970.

“Two Juries Start M’Pherson Inquiry.” New York Times. 3 Jul 1926, pg. 13.

“Woman Evangelist Escapes Abductors.” New York Times. 26 June 1926, pg. 1.

Tritheism Illustrated: the Problem of Trinitarian Representation

10 July, 2008

In his excellent study on Christian iconography, Adolphe Didron carefully maps the clear evolution of the Trinities in both art and architecture. In the most primitive extant examples, symbols of the Godhead may include the hand of God reaching from the clouds, the cross, the lamb, or the dove. No paradigmatic Trinitarian representation exists until the 4th century, and no instances are to be found either in the catacombs or upon ancient Christian sacrophagi (Didron 35). Many of the earliest works that combine these symbols present them in vertical descent, with a hand representing God the Father, a dove representing the Holy Spirit, and the cross representing Christ, the Son. The order significantly communicates an elementary tenet of germinal Trinitarianism, the notion that Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and not the Son. This doctrinal position is still held by the Eastern Church while the Roman Church believes that the Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son. In any case, the earliest examples of Trinities are comprised of mere symbols.

During the 9th to 12th centuries, however, Trinities took on anthropomorphic form, and the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost assumed human attributes. For centuries, Christ had been depicted as a young man. Remarkably, the Father and Spirit were also portrayed as young men, essentially identical to the Son. In fact, it is often difficult to distinguish between the persons, undoubtedly an effort to harmonize the artwork with the Athanasian concept of the cosubstantiality of the members of the Trinity.

In reality, these artistic representations reveal the core contradiction of Trinitarian dogma, that One God exists as three persons. The clear corporal disconnectedness of the three in many examples of art and architecture exaggerates the concept of the Trinity and destroys the scriptural unity of the Godhead, presenting, instead, three gods with no apparent cohesion.

In some Trinities, the Father, who is elderly, supports the Son suspended on the cross. In these cases, the Spirit is most often figured by the dove and proceeds from the mouth of the Father. Similarly, illustrations of Christ’s baptism generally employ the same vertical declension and the dove.
The Trinities and the artists’ innovations also took other forms. The introduction of geometrical shapes, predominantly triangles and interlocked circles, emphasized the triplicity of persons, and three became an important number in Gothic architecture. The trefoil, the silhouette of the three interlocked circles, implicitly conveys the Trinity and appeared in church windows and arches.
Such misrepresentations of the Godhead metamorphosed into the monstrous with the amalgamation of the Trinity into a one-headed being with three faces, sometimes having three or four eyes and three mouths atop a single body. While such examples flourished and attempted to portray, at least tenuously, the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit, Pope Urban VIII prohibited such Trinities in 1628 and ordered that examples be destroyed (Didron 61).  Whether his anathemization was aesthetic or theological is historically unclear, but these Trinitarian representations stand in stark contrast to other examples where each person is completely individualized.

More disturbing are historical examples of Christian art in which Satan himself is depicted as a claw-footed, unholy trinity with three faces, often with three horns. Such pieces evidence the radical theological distortions of Trinitarianism and presents the devil as God’s equal opposite.

Of particular interest to modern Oneness believers is a 16th Century example of a three-faced Trinity, which includes an intricate schema using the inverted triangle capped by circles to represent the Trinity (Figure 2). The circles labeled Pater (Father), Filius (Son), and Spiritus Sanctus (Holy Spirit) are interpolated with the words “non est”, reading literally: “Father is not Son; Son is not Holy Spirit; Holy Spirit is not Father.” This is important because it was apparently created to rebut those who believed that the Father, Son, and Spirit were not personally distinct. There must have been Christians who were not making radical distinctions between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; otherwise, this theological message would not have been necessary.

Ultimately, artistic representations of the Trinity create images of a God divided and do not and indeed cannot preserve His unity. In all cases, three gods are figured, whether in symbol or person, revealing the impossible oxymoron of the underlying idea of a triune God. The inability of artists and architects to represent the complex doctrine without making an image of three gods further condemns the false notion of Trinitarian dogma and visually displays the ultimate departure of Trinitarian doctrine from essential monotheism of the ancient Jewish faith and the New Testament Apostolic Church.


Didron, Adolphe Napoleon. Christian Iconography: the History of Christian Art in the Middle Ages. Trans. E.J. Millington. Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. New York: 1886.

“Shall We Dance?” A Historical Christian Perspective on Dancing

21 May, 2008

The Bible makes a plain case against worldly dancing. The Scripture contrasts the dance of holy worship and joy with the foolish activity of idolaters and the immortalized daughter of Herodias, whose lascivious dancing led to the martyrdom of John the Baptist. Throughout the centuries, Christians have grappled with the issue of dancing, and history preserves a consistent record of religious stricture against popular and social dancing, exposing the amusement as a carnal counterfeit for the sacred dancing of Ancient Israel.

In 1632, William Prynne, a Puritan who graduated from Oxford University and became a barrister, published Historio-Mastix. The work focuses primarily on the evil of stage plays, but Prynne heavily interpolates his disapproval of theater-going with invectives against other worldly amusement, chiefly dancing. He presents a comprehensive catalogue of early Church councils, many of which forbade dancing. In 364 AD, the Concilium Laodicenum, which was attended by most of the bishops in Asia declared: “Christians going to weddings ought neither wantonly to sing, nor yet to dance; but to suppe or dine soberly as become Christians” (Prynne 572-573). In 401 AD, the Concilium Carthaginense anathematized ministers who “delight in filthy jests, or sing or dance pubclikely” (Prynne 574). In 408 AD, the Concilium Africanum, whose auspicious attendees included St. Augustine, warned against “wicked dances” on the Christian feast days, citing the fact that “the modesty of innumerable women devoutly coming to the most holy day, is assaulted with lascivious injuries . . .” (Prynne 575-576). Another council, which convened at Carthage in 419 AD, enjoined presbyters, deacons, and subdeacons to avoid marriage feasts where “amorous and filthy things are sung, or where obscene motions of the body are expressed in rounds or dances” (Prynne 578). Histrio-Mastix is a compendium of such examples, but these selections suffice to establish the most primitive repudiation of Christianity against dancing as a lustful and precarious practice.

Many other works were published throughout the centuries that included strong warnings against the evils of dancing. In Destructorium Vitiorum (1429), Alexander Fabritius denounces liturgical dancing as an offense against Christian baptism: “. . . . but when they enter into the Dance, they go into the Pompous Procession of the Devil.” The Waldenses published Censure of Dancing, forbidding Christians of that sect to dance. Francesco Petrarch (1304-74) posited that dancing induced immoral conduct. Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540) wrote Instruction of a Christian Woman, dedicated to Catherine of Aragon, the ill-fated Catholic wife of England’s Henry VIII, in which he taught that even watching dancing compromised the chastity of both mind and body (Wagner 9-13).

In 1577, John Northbrooke published A Treatise Against Dicing, Dancing, Plays and Other Idle Pastimes. He boldly exposes dancing as a Satanic device designed to draw Christians into foolishness and impurity:

Dauncing is the vilest vice of all, and truly it cannot easily be saide what mischiefes the sight and the hearing do recieue hereby . . . They daunce with disordinate gestures, and with monstrous thumping of the feet, to pleasant soundes, to wanton songs, to dishonest verses: maydens and matrones are groped and handled with unchast handes, and kissed and dishonestly embraced . . . [dancing is] an exercise not descended from heaven, but by the deuilles of hell deuised to the iniuire of the Diuinitie. (Northbrooke 171)

In America, this attitude toward dancing was sustained by Northbrooke’s Puritan brethren, namely Increase and Cotton Mather, and became a consistent opinion amongst the growing Evangelical Church in the New World.
In 1867, Dr. Hiram Mattison published Popular Amusements: an Appeal to Methodists, in Regard to the Evils of Card-Playing, Billiards, Dancing, Theater-Going, etc. This little volume is packed with powerful convictions against dancing. Mattison moves from practical objections about the needless of waste of time spent at balls and money for expensive dancing lessons and ballroom regalia to dancing’s diametric opposition to moral purity and true spirituality. He describes the worldly environment of these social gatherings thusly:

The fact is, both ladies and gentlemen drink at balls, and both get heated with wine and inflamed by passion. The atmosphere of the ball-room is deadly to modesty. It smothers it, murders it, and leaves the robbed victim polluted by the image of sin and the breath of the destroyer, Intemperance. (Mattison 12)

Mattison also includes a broad survey of contemporary churchmen’s opinions against the evils of dancing, providing the modern reader with an unshakeable sense of the Christian consensus against dancing:

  • Bishop Pierce of the Methodist Episcopal Church South:
    . . . Dancing Methodists, without prompt confession of wrong, deep humiliation, and solemn pledges never to repeat, will be-or ought to be-cut off” (55).
  • Bishops of the Southern Methodist Church:
    This is no time to abate our testimony against worldliness in all its forms. Our Church has never faltered in its teaching or modified its tone in relation to dancing . . . we renew our warning (55).
  • General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (1818):
    It [dancing] steals away precious time, dissipates religious impressions, and harden the heart (61).
  • Central Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York (1867)
    We desire to give our solemn testimony against such practices on the part of professing Christians, as card-playing, theatre-going, and dancing. We regard these things as unedifying, as giving offence to pious minds, as dissipating serious thoughts, as leading to practices that are very reprehensible, and as presenting an example unwholesome to the world (61).
  • Young Men’s Christian Association, Albany, NY (1866)
    Resolved, That we bear our energetic testimony against dancing, card and billiard-playing as so distinctively worldly in their associations and unspiritual in their influences as to be utterly inconsistent with our profession as the disciples of Christ (65).
  • Plenary Council of the Roman Catholic Church, Baltimore, MD (1867)
    We consider it to be our duty to warn our people against those amusements which may easily become to them an occasion of sin, and especially against those fashionable dances, which, as at present carried on, are revolting to every feeling of delicacy and propriety, and are fraught with the greatest danger to morality (66).

Dancing, in all its worldly forms, is a vice. If the practice provoked such ire in Christianity’s forebears, imagine their utter condemnation of today’s wicked dancers, whose sole aim seems to be the excitement of sensuality. Sadly, dancing has gained wide social and spiritual acceptance, and parents and pastors alike seem unacquainted with the historical testimony against it. Even in churches, dancers employ carnal choreography in mimicked “worship,” and so-called “praise dancing” has replaced the fervent and sacred holy dances of shouting saints! As Apostolic Christians, we cannot afford to ignore history and desensitize ourselves to the onslaught of worldly dancing. We must assume an adversarial stance where worldly dancing is concerned and dedicate ourselves to a Biblical model of worship and true spiritual dancing, rejoicing in the presence of God and the power of the Holy Ghost!


Mattison, Hiram. Popular Amusements: an Appeal to Methodists, in Regard to the Evils of Card-Playing, Billiards, Dancing, Theatre-Going, Etc. Carlton & Porter. New York: 1867.

Northbrooke, John. A Treatise Against Dicing, Dancing, Plays and Other Idle Pasttimes. Shakespeare Society. London: 1843.

Prynne, William. Histrio-Mastix; the Players Scovrge, or Actors Tragaedie. E.A. and W.I. for Michael Sparke, London: 1633.

Wagner, Ann. Adversaries of Dance from the Puritans to the Present. Unversity of Illinois Press. Urbana & Chicago: 1997.

Without Form and Fashion: the Early Pentecostal Service

20 May, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bro. Bartleman himself experienced this Pentecostal phenomenon:

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

Preaching was also impromptu, wholly inspired by the Spirit:

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

Likewise, the altar invitation was spiritual and spontaneous:

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

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


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

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

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


When Radio Was Wrong

7 April, 2008

Pentecostals have always viewed mass media technologies with warranted suspicion, fearing their invasive capacity to influence the Christian home and morals. With the advent of home radios in the 1920s, there was widespread social and religious concern about radio and its long-term effects on listeners. The Church was a vocal opponent of immoral radio programming, and many worried that Christian broadcasting would ultimately damage the local churches.

Initially, radio was hailed as a tool for education and cultural enrichment, but broadcasts quickly degenerated. Soap operas developed, and evening programming soon filled the daytime airwaves with shows like Trouble House, Lonely Women, and John’s Other Wife, captivating housewives with their melodramatic depictions of adultery, intrigue, and illicit love. During the 1930s, evening programs increasingly included crime and suspense dramas like The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, closely followed by the appearance of supernatural horror shows like The Inner Sanctum, whose famous introduction of a dissonant organ and creaking door lured adults and children into thrilling tales of ghosts, lunatics, and murderers (Starker 112-113). Such so-called entertainment seems completely innocuous to modern audiences who are desensitized by the pedestrian vulgarity of television and Hollywood films, but psychologists, parents, and preachers raised voices of legitimate concern about the meaning and menace of radio programming.

In a 1932 article from the Journal of Adult Education, educators were cautioned about the potential ill effects of radio:

All great human inventions, even printing, even language itself, have proved to be two-edged swords. They can do as much evil as good. Radio is as great-and as dangerous-as any. It will not, in careless hands, bring on any millenniums, and it can broadcast injury and discord and ugliness into the farthest reaches of inhabited space. To be light-minded about the radio is to jig along a precipice. (Bryson 234)

In 1933, Arthur Man contributed an article to Scribner’s, lamenting the criminal content of so many radio programs, noting that “every form of crime known to man” made up the plot of many children’s programs on the radio. He reviewed twenty-five juvenile programs for the article and could only recommend two fit for children, concluding: “I should like to postpone my children’s knowledge of how to rob a bank, scuttle a ship, shoot a sheriff, the emotional effects of romantic infidelity, jungle hazards, and the horrors of the drug habit for a few more years at least” (qtd. in Starker 117).

Bro. William Booth-Clibborn contributed a number of articles to Pentecostal periodicals on the subject of radio. In a June 1933 piece, he lamented about the down-spiraling immorality of radio:

The last five years have seen a complete change both in the tone and in the material of that which is permitted to be broadcast. Murder mysteries, sex serials, detective stories, absurd banalities with the most fantastic fables are mingled together in the most heterogeneous mixture, curses and groans, shrieks and sobs, revolver reports, Machiavelian madnesses, the description of bloodthirsty encounters and debauching banquets is all scrambled together . . . We are waiting to hear the first
voice that is raised by a Christian spokesman against the modern menace that radio presents to the immature minds of Christian childhood raised up in a protective atmosphere of homes that should take a firm stand against the blasts of this breath of hell. It is impossible to “bring every thought to the obedience of Christ and to cast down every foolish imagination” as we are commanded of Paul, and listen to the modern radio programs. (Booth-Clibborn, “Radio Menace” 13)

In another article, he quipped about the voyeuristic lovemaking on radio: “Crooner’s Curse. Generally people make love privately but the fool crooner uses radio’s immense mouth to fill the air with his sentimental pains” (Booth-Clibborn, “Pulse . . .” 13). Clearly, radio seemed a clear enough enemy of Godly living and Christian morality.

Despite such assessments, many groups, including Pentecostals, began using the radio to broadcast religious services. However, as early as 1923, some members of the clergy noticed that wireless worship had an unwanted side effect-decreased church attendance. Parishioners were prone to simply stay home from church and listen to services via the radio. Cardinal Dubois, the Catholic Archbishop of Paris, France, posited that radio was indeed an anemic substitute for church attendance as “the radio cannot convert sinners.” Bishop Wilson R. Stearly, an Episcopal churchman from Newark, New Jersey rhetorically asked: “Why go to your parish church when you can sit at ease in your parlor and hear the heavenly music of a capable choir and be charmed by the fervid eloquence of a magnetic preacher?” He identified radio as “another ally of those forces which make more difficult the assembling of the faithful for praise and prayer” (“Radio Cutting Down . . . ” E1).

While radio ultimately proved to be an efficient technological vehicle for the worldwide delivery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it cannot be said that the Apostolic Church, or denominational Christianity in general, impacted radio. Radio ministry never eclipsed or even seriously competed with the seductive soap operas or hi-fi horror shows. The immorality of nascent radio gradually desensitized audiences to the once taboo topics of sex and crime, invading the Christian home and mind with vice and violence and created a ready-made audience for the evils of television in the 1950s. Modern radio continues to be a minefield for the Christian, filled with prurient talk shows, secular music, and celebrity gossip. With the passage of time and the deadening of society’s sensibilities, The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet seem almost completely innocent to modern listeners. Such automatic divestiture of offense should make us keenly aware of the debilitation of social concern and religious conviction. Let us heed the call of God’s Spirit to the observance of a stricter and much higher standard for all entertainment, “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, [that] we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2.12).


Booth-Clibborn, William. “Crooner’s Curse.” The Pentecostal Evangel Vol. 26, No. 3: December 1993, pg. 12.

Booth-Clibborn, William. “The Radio Menace.” The Pentecostal Evangel Vol. 25, No. 9: June 1933, pg. 13.

Bryson, Lyman. “The Revolt of the Radio Listener.” Journal of Adult Education Vol. 4: 1932, pp. 234-239.

“Radio Cutting Down Church Attendance by Broadcasting Services, Says Bishop.” New York Times 27 May 1923, E1.

Starker, Steven. Evil Influences: Crusades Against the Mass Media. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1989.

From Paul to Pulpit: Men’s Hair and the Apostolic Tradition

3 November, 2007

Monk's TonsureIn his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul develops a lengthy argument concerning order and submission, connecting Creation’s hierarchy to the male and female relationship and extending the premise to appropriate hair length as a sign of natural and God-given position:  “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God:  but the woman is the glory of the man” (11.6).  Paul instructs men not to pray or prophesy with their head covered (v. 4) and rhetorically poses the question:  “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him?” (v.14).  This apostolic admonition has far-reaching cultural and theological implications; for instance, every time a man removes his hat to pray, greet a woman, or sing the national anthem, he is (perhaps unknowingly) complying with the social norms rooted in the Pauline epistle.  Long hair for men did not originate with the free-love hippies of the 1960s.  In fact, two millennia of patristic, pulpit, and popular literature evidence the Church’s on-going war against the un-cropped Christian man.

In his Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, Saint Chrysostom appeals to Paul’s teaching, quoting the Apostle verbatim (Schaff, Saint Chrysostom 176).   Clement of Alexandria, an early Egyptian cleric, interestingly maintains that a man should cut his hair short but should not interfere with the growth of the beard:  “About the hair, the following seems right.  Let the head of men be shaven . . . But let the chin have the hair.  But let not twisted locks hang far down from the head, gliding into womanish ringlets.”  He called the beard the “mark of the man” and concluded “the hair of the chin is not to be disturbed, as it gives no trouble, and lends to the face dignity and paternal terror” (Schaff, Fathers of the Second Century 286).  The beard is still characteristic of Eastern Orthodox religious.

In the West, the Roman Catholic Church progressively adopted a divergent position on beards.  In the seventh century, the pope forbade priests to wear beards and required the shaving of the top of the head, or tonsure, for friars (Cooper 102).  The issue was revisited by Pope Gregory VII, who issued a ban on bearded clerics in 1073 (Cox 137).  St. Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, cut male penitents’ hair; and in 1096, the Archbishop of Rouen anathematized long-haired men, refusing them admittance to Catholic sanctuaries.  In 1105, the Bishop of Amiens denied the Eucharist to any would-be communicants wearing a beard (Cooper 102). 

Even monarchs were not excluded from rebuke on the issue of long hair.  William II, William Rufus, was criticized by St. Anselm for adopting effeminate hairstyles, and “nearly all young men of the Court [grew] their hair long like girls” and assumed a “mincing gait.”  In his Lenten sermon, Anselm appealed to the king and his courtiers to renounce their unmanliness, and many repented, cutting their locks (Bosanquet 49).  Ordericus Vitalis, chronicler of English ecclesiastical history, records one of the most remarkable invectives against hirsute men in a sermon preached by Bishop Serlo of Seez to King Henry I and his nobles.  Serlo appealed to Paul’s authority and accused the royal parishioners openly:

All of you wear your hair in woman’s fashion, which is not seemly for you who are made in the image of God and ought to use your strength like men.  Paul the apostle, who was a chosen vessel and teacher of the Gentiles, showed how unseemly and detestable it is for men to have curly locks . . . The perverse sons of Belial grow the tresses of women on their heads . . . Many imitate these utterly depraved fashions, not realizing how much evil is in the long tresses of which they boast.  So, glorious king, I beg of you to a set a praiseworthy example to your subjects; let them see first in you how they ought to prepare themselves. (Chibnall 67)

At this, Vitalis records that the Bishop Seez produced shears and closely cropped the hair of King Henry, the Count of Meulan, and the king’s household.  The company “trod their once-cherished locks under foot as contemptible refuse” (Chibnall 67). 

In 1628 William Prynne, a Puritan minister, published The Vnlovelinesse of Loue-Lockes railing against the effeminacy of English youths:  “Is it not now held the accomplished Gallantrie of our youth, to Frizle their haire like Women:  and to become Womanish . . . even in the vary length, and culture of their Lockes, and Haire?” (Shapiro 408).  Thomas Hall, pastor at Kingsnorton, published The Loathsomness of Long Hair in 1653, castigating men with uncut tresses.

In Colonial America, the situation was much the same.  The Harvard College Book of 1649 declared:  “ . . . the wearing of long hair after the manner of ruffians and barbarous Indians has begun to invade New England and contrary to rule of God’s word which says it is a shame for a man to wear long hair” (qtd. in Rudofsky 128).  All thirteen colonies adopted laws concerning the appropriate length of men’s hair (Cooper 103).

While long and elaborate wigs dominated the style of the 17th and 18th Centuries, the 19th Century saw a return to shorter hairstyles for men.  Both in Europe and America, men adopted shorter hair, but the war on long-haired men resumed with intensity in the 1960s when men began growing their locks and beards as a sign of social rebellion. Businesses and schools began adopting strict codes to regulate men’s hair length.  In 1968, the principal of the Brian McMahon High School in Norwalk, Connecticut expelled 51 boys for having long hair.  Bishop Brady High School in Concord, New Hampshire transported 18 boys by bus to a local barber for shearing under threat of suspension in the same year.  A nationwide billboard campaign depicting a shaggy youth advised:  “Beautify America, get a haircut” (Cook 29).

The United Pentecostal Church International maintains a strong position against inordinately long hair for men and facial hair.  The regulations are both biblically and culturally informed, founded on Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians and buttressed by the correlative Christian traditions that grew out of his apostolic precept.  The historical continuum of writings and sermons on the subject of men’s unshorn hair demonstrates the consistent stance of the Church against worldliness in the face of changing fashion and folly.  Modern Apostolics are inheritors of the rich teachings of previous generations and must retain a faithful dedication to Paul’s epistlary instruction in order to demonstrate submission to Christ and headship in the home, shining forth to the world “the image and glory of God.”


Bosquanet, Geoffrey, trans.  Historia Novorum in Anglia.  Philadelphia:  Dufour, 1965.

Chibnall, Marjorie, ed. & trans.  The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis.  Vol. VI.  Oxford:  Oxford Univ. Press, 1978.

Cook, Joan.  “In the 60’s, Hair was a Fighting Word.”  The New York Times.  31 Decmber 1969, p. 29.

Cooper, Wendy.  Hair:  Sex Society Symbolism.  New York:  Stein and Day, 1971.

Rudofsky, Bernard.  The Unfashionable Human Body.  Garden City, New York:  Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1971.

Schaff, Philip.  Father sof the Second Century:  Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria.   Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1889.

Schaff, Philip.  Saint Chrysostom:  Homiles on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians.  Edinburgh, T&T Clark, 1889.

Shapiro, Susan C.  “’Yon Plumed Danderbat’:  Male ‘Effeminacy’ in English Satire and Criticism.’  The Review of English Studies.  XXXIX (155):  400-412. 

“Bishop” Alma White: Pillar of Fire and Pedestal of Folly

7 October, 2007

Every authentic move of God meets with opposition; and when the experience of the Pentecostal baptism evidenced by speaking in other tongues began to spread, there were many detractors. Some of the most active opponents of the new message came from within the Holiness Movement. Theologically, they equated the Pentecostal baptism with the crisis of sanctification. The notion of a “third blessing” seemed absurd and even heretical to many within the Holiness camp. One of the most prolific and vocal adversaries of Pentecostalism was Bishop Alma White, founder of the Pillar of Fire Church.
White began preaching in the Methodist Church, occasionally occupying the pulpit of her husband, Kent White. In 1902, she founded the sect that became the Pillar of Fire and was consecrated as “Bishop” of the church in 1918, a flagrant violation of scriptural teaching on church leadership (“Bishop Alma White . . . 21). White split with the Methodists because of their progressive “loosening up.” The Pillar of Fire was pejoratively known as “Holy Jumpers” and was described in the New York Times as ” . . . pretty much like the Methodists except that they are more in the habit of working themselves up to a state of religious frenzy which calls for groans and dancing and laughing and shouts to give it adequate vent” (“‘Holy Jumpers’ . . .” SM7). Interestingly, one follower, William Werner, met his death when he was jumping on the roof of one of the commune’s buildings in New Jersey. He lost his balance and fell thirty feet to his death (“Fall Kills a ‘Holy Jumper'” 2).
Despite their zealous worship, which bears some similarity to Pentecostal enthusiasm, Alma White outright rejected the Pentecostal message and authored Demons and Tongues, an extended refutation of Pentecostal theology and practice. In the book, she describes her encounter with William Joseph Seymour, pastor of the Azusa Street Mission. En route to Los Angeles, Bro. Seymour stopped at White’s Bible School in Denver, Colorado. According to Mrs. White, Seymour introduced himself as a “man of God,” and she asked him to lead a prayer at the close of a meal: “He responded with a good deal of fervor, but before he had finished I felt that serpents and other slimy creatures were creeping all around me. After he had left the room, a number of the students said they felt he was devil possessed” (White, D&T 67). Certainly Alma White could not have sensed Seymour’s Pentecostal experience as he had not yet received the baptism of the Holy Ghost when he went to Los Angeles (Sanders 87).
White recorded her “impressions” of Seymour:

He was very untidy in his appearance, wearing no collar, and had a greenish-looking brass button exposed in the band of his shirt. In my evangelistic and missionary tours I had met all kinds of religious fakirs and tramps, but I felt that he excelled them all. There was a cause for this. The Lord knew that Satan was going to use him the outbreaking of the so-called “Pentecostal” movement with the baptism of unknown tongues, on the Pacific coast; and permitted me to see the person that the devil was going to use, before the winds of perdition began to blow. (White, D&T 68)

White should hardly have been surprised at Seymour’s disheveled appearance considering the strict transportation laws that separated the races and disallowed African Americans from occupying berth or parlor cars (Stephenson 193). Certainly, when he boarded the train in Houston, where Jim Crow laws were fully enforced, he would have had inferior accommodation, and interstate rail travel was not particularly easy or posh for anyone at the turn of the century.
White even suspects that Seymour was chosen by Satan because of his race: ” . . . I must say that it is very fitting that the devil should choose on of the sons of Ham to launch out the Tongues or so-called Pentecostal movement in which the works of the flesh are so plainly manifest” (White, D&T 100-101).
Despite repeated claims that she was interested in the spiritual welfare and enlightenment of African Americans, White was a confirmed racist and a member of, or at least a sympathizer with, the Ku Klux Klan. She toured rallies and viewed the supremacists as the true salvation of America. She repeatedly extolled the hateful society and published a book entitled The Ku Klux Klan in Prophecy, in which she clearly reveals the depths of her own demonic possession with her false and evil prophecies:

Klansmen, with their undying principles, will yet be promoted to the highest offices of the country and will hold the reins of government, as truly as Omnipotence rules. They will see the time when their enemies will be humbled in the dust for ever having raised the religious issue, making it necessary for them to rise up on defense of Americanism. (White, KKK 78-79)

Further, she writes:

The Klansmen are the prophets of a new and better age . . . These men with the banner of truth and the tenets of the Christian religion are now running before the Chariot of State, trying in every way possible to arouse the sleeping multitudes. Their program must be carried out if the country is saved from moral, social, and political ruin. (White, KKK 78-79)

Her passionate support of the Klan explains her condescending attitude toward William Seymour and her uncharitable description of the humble preacher.
Her publication, The Pillar of Fire, satirized Pentecostals and railed against the “Tongues Movement,” with tirades and cartoons. Ironically, her own husband deserted the Pillar of Fire sect and converted to the Pentecostal Movement in 1909, and the two separated. Kent White associated himself with the Apostolic Faith movement and moved to England in 1922, where he served as a pastor and teacher until 1939 (Burgess & McGee 883).
Alma White died in 1946, convinced that the Pentecostal Movement was “one of the worst abominations yet known” (White, D&T 45). Despite her venomous attacks against Pentecostals, the Apostolic Faith continued to grow. “Bishop” White continued in the gross error and foul folly. She would have benefited from the wise counsel of Gamaliel, “Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5.38-39). Her fervent efforts could not derail God’s work. Ultimately her criticism of Pentecostalism had no real impact on the movement and her grand predictions about the future glory of the Klan never materialized. Seymour went on to lead a mighty revival that brought together every creed and color in the humble Azusa Street Mission. The Pillar of Fire has been reduced to a veritable column of smoke with only a small number of adherents and only 6 congregations in the United States while Pentecostalism has become the fastest growing form of Christianity worldwide!


Burgess, Stanley M. and Gary B. McGee. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic
. Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, 1988.

“Fall Kills ‘Holy Jumper.'” New York Times. 14 Mar 1907, p. 2.

“‘Holy Jumpers’: an Old Religion Headed by a Woman.” New York Times 11 Dec
1910, SM 7.

Sanders, Rufus G.W. William Joseph Seymour: Black Father of the Twentieth Century
Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement
. Sandusky, OH: Aldexandria Press, 2000.

Stephenson, Gilbert Thomas. “The Separation of the Races in Public Conveyances.”
The American Political Science Review 3(2) May 1909, pp. 180-204.

White, Alma. Demons and Tongues. Zarephath, NJ: Pillar of Fire Publishers, 1936.

—. The Ku Klux Klan in Prophecy. Zarephath, JN: Pillar of Fire Publishers, 1925.

Christ Temple: a Tribute to a Great Church and Its Leader

16 January, 2007

Undoubtedly, nearly every Apostolic knows the name of Bishop Garfield Thomas Haywood. Bishop Haywood’s early alignment with the Oneness camp during the difficult years when the “New Issue” was dividing the Pentecostal Movement along doctrinal lines, is a well-known chapter in our unique history. He was a revered Bible teacher, apologist, and hymn writer. The church that Bishop Haywood founded and pastored until his death in April 1931, Christ Temple Apostolic Faith Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, was a center of Apostolic revival and was seminal in the establishment of other Oneness Pentecostal churches and ministries throughout Indiana and the entire Midwest.
Bishop Haywood received the baptism of the Holy Ghost on a snowy evening in February 1908. The makeshift church was a converted tin shop and was led by Elder Henry Prentice, who had received the baptism of the Holy Ghost at Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles. In this humble setting, G.T. Haywood and his wife, Ida, were gloriously filled with the Spirit and began the spiritual training that would burgeon into a lifetime of devoted Pentecostal ministry (Tyson 10).
Sis. Haywood was reluctant to accept her husband’s calling into the ministry; but after he was injured in an accident at the foundry where he worked, she acquiesced. In February 1909, only a year after their conversion, the pair began meetings in an empty storeroom at 12th and Lafayette Streets in downtown Indianapolis. A few months later, services were moved to a tent at West 13th and the Canal. Consistently bad weather made the location less than optimal, and a small frame building at 12th and Missouri Streets was secured. Elder Haywood felt led to hold a convention for area Pentecostals, but there was certainly not enough room in their present building. The Peniel Mission at 11th and Senate was rented for the occasion. Many were filled with the Holy Ghost in these meetings, and the church continued to rent the space, which was finally purchased by the growing congregation in 1919 (Dugas 12-13; Tyson 16-17). In the early days of Pentecostalism, churches were not generally named. Pentecostals were determined not to lapse into the formalism of the denominations from which they had emerged, and churches were customarily known only by their location. This was the case with 11th and Senate.
In early spring 1916, Bro. Glenn Cook, an elder from the Azusa Street Mission who had accepted the revelation of the mighty God in Christ and baptism in the Name of Jesus arrived in Indiana and was received by Bishop Haywood and his congregation at 11th and Senate. On 6 March 1916, Bishop Haywood and 465 members of his church were baptized in Jesus’ Name in Eagle Creek, marking the first Apostolic baptisms east of the Mississippi River (Dugas 17). J. Roswell Flower, the General Secretary of the Assemblies of God and a prolific opponent of the Oneness movement, sent a telegram to Haywood warning him of Bro. Cook’s “error.” The message arrived too late, and Bishop Haywood, fully convinced of the veracity of Cook’s message, became one of the most avid and effective proponents and propagators of Oneness theology.
In 1910, Haywood’s church began publishing The Voice in the Wilderness. After 1916, this became one of the most influential Oneness circulars, and was the official organ of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW), which followed Bishop Haywood into the Oneness movement. The PAW was formed in 1906, and Bishop Haywood became the first presiding bishop of the organization, when it converted to the episcopal polity in 1925. He served in that capacity until his untimely death in 1931 (Golder 35, 86).
In 1924, construction was completed on Christ Temple, the final edifice undertaken by Bishop Haywood. This church, located on Fall Creek Boulevard, still stands as a beautiful testament to God’s increase and the faithful ministry of Bishop Haywood. The interior includes several original artworks by Bishop Haywood, a talented painter and illustrator. Banners hung on the platform declared: “Jesus Only” and “Jesus is God”, evidence of Christ Temple’s strong commitment to Apostolic truth.
Christ Temple, epitomized many of the original values of the earliest years of Pentecostal revival. The congregation was thoroughly integrated, with whites and blacks worshipping side by side. The church maintained a large degree of interracial unity even after the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World suffered a racial divide in 1924, and convention photographs well into the 1930s depict multiracial crowds.
It is impossible to estimate the number of churches, pastors, bishops, evangelists and missionaries birthed out of Christ Temple. In Indiana alone, men like Bishops Morris E. Golder, James Tyson, and Oscar Sanders, all originally saints of Haywood’s assembly, have left their own indelible marks on Hoosier Pentecostal history, founding dynamic Apostolic ministries. Bishop Haywood and the faithful saints that built Christ Temple have secured their place in Apostolic history, and the church continues today as the oldest Apostolic Church in Indiana and a remarkable piece of our treasured Pentecostal heritage.

Dugas, Paul D. The Life and Writings of G.T. Haywood. Portland, OR: Apostolic Press, 1968.

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

Tyson, James L. Before I Sleep: a Narrative and Photographic Biography of Bishop Garfield Thomas Haywood. Indianapolis: Pentecostal Publications, 1976.

Reformers and Rebels: Women, Pants, and Power in Nineteenth Century America

5 April, 2006

In the mid-1800s, groups of women began organizing to fight against a diversity of social ills and injustices. From abolition to temperance to suffrage, many women became activists for reform and equality, and some groups became extremely radical in their effort to effect social change. Amongst those who supported the women’s vote, were a core group of women and men who believed that the quickest route to true egalitarianism was a complete disintegration of gender roles and distinctions. Disseminating their views through circulars like Sibyl, The Water-Cure Journal, and The Lily, women’s rights radicals like Amelia Jenks Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, began advocating “Dress Reform.” National societies were formed in support of “rational dress,” and, for the first time, women began to a abandon customary female dress in favor of bifurcated garments.

The earliest efforts at dress reform were rooted in arguments against the unnaturalness of corsets, hoop skirts, and other uncomfortable, and perhaps unhealthy, trappings of fashionable 19th Century dress. Some physicians agreed that whalebone corsets and even heavy petticoats were physiologically effecting women. However, instead of adopting less extravagant, more sensible dresses, leaders of the movement insisted on wearing Bloomers, two-legged garments worn under a shorter dress named for Amelia Bloomer who first proposed the costume in her periodical, or trousers. Most of these garments consisted of pants worn under a shortened and modified dress.

Interestingly, a number of utopian cults including the Owenites of New Harmony, Indiana, the Oneida Perfectionist Community of New York, and Mormons allowed and encouraged women members to abandon the traditional long dresses for pants.

The social response to these renegade women was overwhelming. Bloomers and similar costumes were the subject of a number of caricatures, cartoons, poems, songs, and pulpit complaint. Husbands, fathers, preachers, and the general male population were up in arms about the innovation and openly condemned their apparent upset of social and familial order and utter disregard for Scripture. One ditty read simply:

Female apparel now
Is gone to pot I vow, sirs,
And ladies will be fined
Who don’t wear coats and trousers;
Blucher boots and hats
And shirts with handsome stitches,–
Oh dear! What shall we do
When women wear the breeches?

–Broadsheet 1851

The verse’s sentiment is clear despite its brevity: things were changing, and onlookers were less than pleased with the results. An August 1851 cartoon in Harper’s Weekly depicts women in the masculinized bloomers. They carry men’s walking sticks, smoke cigarettes and posture themselves as men. Clearly, many members of society recognized the probable degeneration of female character and conduct if the wearing of pants was widely adopted.

Some women were arrested for wearing such garments. Perhaps no one caused a greater stir than Civil War physician, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. She first began wearing trousers beneath a shortened dress while working as a field surgeon in Tennessee during the War. In 1866, she was arrested in Manhattan, New York for “[ap]pearing in male costume” (Fischer 150-151). After the War, she became increasingly masculine in her dress and finally abandoned any vestige of female attire, wearing men’s suits and a top hat. She left her husband and is historically interpreted as a lesbian in many popular histories of homosexuality in America.

Mrs. Bloomer blasted the sermon of one Rev. Dr. Talmage who appealed to Christian women to refrain from the abomination of “wearing that which pertaineth unto a man.” In her review of the reverend’s message, it is clear that these women were completely willing to deny the authority of not only the man of God but the Word of God itself. She flagrantly wrote:

. . . how can Mr. Talmage set up the claim that men have a right to any particular style, and that if women dare to approach that style they break divine law and commit great sin and wrong? It is a presumption and insult which women everywhere should resent. It matters not to us what Moses had to say to the men and women of his time about what they should wear . . . Common sense teaches us that the dress which is the most convenient, and best adapted to our needs, is the proper dress for both men and women to wear. (Bloomer 77)

Showing her outright rebelliousness, Amelia Bloomer concluded: “No sensible woman can sit under such preaching. Would that women had the independence to act out the right in defiance of such sermons, and in disregard of all laws that condemn her to the slavery of a barbarous age” (Bloomer 79).

The Dress Reform movement eventually faded, and that early generation did little to lastingly effect the dress of women; however, a cross-section of readings on both sides of the issue reveals that the most elemental motive behind the movement was an effort to disrupt traditional patriarchy. The desire to wear trousers was most certainly couched in a vitriolic war against male authority in both society and church; and for modern Pentecostals, who are often treated as pariahs because of our insistence on gender-specific dress, the logical meaning of the precedent historical episode is clear: women in pants symbolize usurpation and the confusion of natural order. While the social milieu has certainly changed, the rich cultural assignations of dresses for women and pants for men endure, and the appeal to Mosaic Law as a fundamental principle for distinct male/female dress is as valid today as it was in Ancient Israel or Nineteenth Century America.

Bloomer, D.C. Life and Writings of Amelia Bloomer. New York: Schocken Books, 1975.

Fischer, Gayle V. Pantaloons & Power: a Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2001.