The Apostolic church and the Pentecostal “Oneness” movement have played a central role in my life. It is the church that my parents were committed to at an early age; my father received the Holy Ghost at the age of nine in Evansville, and my mother was baptized and received the Holy Ghost at the age of fourteen at Zion Tabernacle in East Chicago. All of their children were baptized at Zion Tabernacle and, with one exception, either received the Holy Ghost at that church, or at El-Bethel Apostolic Church in Gary. The church shaped our values and gave us a moral compass by which we governed our lives. Although I do not believe that I would have taken a “wrong” path in life without the Apostolic doctrine, I am certain that it has been a sustaining force in my moral development, and an influence in the choices that I have made. What is the Apostolic doctrine, and the phenomenon of the Holy Ghost, and what distinguishes it from the doctrines that are espoused by other denominations? The answers to those questions may be found in the history of the Oneness movement and an examination of the lives of Jesus Christ and His apostles.
When Jesus Christ entered the world, He was imbued with a sacred mission: to provide an avenue for the world to atone for the universal sins that Adam and Eve had laid on it in the Garden of Eden. The world that Jesus saw was largely pagan, worshipping natural forces and graven images. The “gods” to which most people pledged their allegiance also allowed them to partake in any and every form of debauchery that the human mind could devise, without any sense of condemnation or repentance. God wanted a “holy one” to spread the message that He, and not Baal or any other false god, was the true and living deity that the world should worship. He charged the children of Israel with the sacred mission of spreading His gospel, but this assignment yielded inconsistent results. When God released the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, they were led through the wilderness by Moses, who was continually vexed by the recalcitrance of the freed Hebrews, and their refusal to obey God. They accused Moses of bringing them into the desert “to die”:
“Wherefore the people did ‘strive’ with Moses, and said,’ Give us water that we may drink.’ And Moses said unto them, ‘Why ‘strive’ ye with me? Wherefore do ye ‘put the Lord to the test’? And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, ‘Why hast thou’ brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?’1
God directed Moses to strike the rock, which represented Christ, and it would produce water. The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, recounted Moses’ struggles with the Israelites and the significance of the rock. In the first book of Corinthians, in the tenth chapter, Paul writes: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual [food]; And did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us [put Christ to the test], as some of them also [tested] him, and were destroyed by serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer.” Moses was so committed to the achievement of God’s objectives that he allowed the rebellious children of Israel to provoke his wrath. He became irritated with their stubbornness and made the mistake of striking the rock twice, which God had warned him not to do because Christ only died once. For his act of impulsiveness, Moses was forbidden to enter the “promised land” of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God sent him to the valley of Moab to die; to this day, his body has never been found.
The Israelites continued to vacillate between spreading the word of God and His omnipotence to the world, and worshipping and participating in the same practices that God had condemned. As He examined the pool of potential candidates, he found that none were worthy to carry the message that He was the one and only God, and to predict the coming Salvation. Therefore, he decided to take charge of the mission Himself, and entered the world as Jesus Christ, Savior. As He preached around Jerusalem and nearby countries, He selected the Twelve Disciples to assist Him in educating the known world about salvation in His name for the remission of sins, and the Holy Ghost, which would provide the necessary “fuel” to raise those who died in His name to Heaven, when He calls for His church. The apostolic mission is the foundation of the Apostolic church today. Our charge is the same one that was given to the Twelve Apostles by Jesus, and it is the same responsibility that anyone who is called by His name must promote in this world to become a candidate for everlasting life. The path was laid on the Day of Pentecost.
The resurrected Christ provided the commission to His apostles in Acts 1:8:
“But ye shall receive power, after the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”2
After He had spoken these words, He was taken up in a cloud, and vanished from their sight. The Apostles proceeded throughout the known world, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and advising both Jews and Gentiles that baptism in His name and receipt of the Holy Ghost were the only certain paths to eternal salvation. On the Day of Pentecost, the Apostles were gathered in an upper room to pray. Among this group were Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James, Simon, and Judas.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven like a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”3
Certain nonbelievers, in a cynical vein, observed these happenings and dismissed the participants as being under the influence of wine. Peter, who was always the first to speak up amongst the Apostles, corrected this assessment by pointing out, by custom, it was too early in the day for those in the room to be drunk. Those in the upper room were “pricked in their hearts” as Peter chastised those who had crucified the Redeemer “by wicked hands,” not knowing or understanding that they had vanquished the very Messiah that the Jews had been searching for; they believed that it would be Elijah, rather than one born in a manger in Bethlehem.
“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name (singular) of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”4
The Apostles continued their sacred mission until they, with one exception, met with untimely deaths. However, the charge that Jesus gave them was carried on by believers until this day. There was a debate amongst Biblical scholars in the Apostolic church as to whether the Holy Ghost abided in the world after Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven, or whether His spirit went up with Him. This was a scriptural disagreement that my father and uncle, both elders (ministers) in the Apostolic church, engaged in on many occasions. The reason for this disagreement is the events that swept the country at the end of the nineteenth century, and marked the formal beginnings of the Apostolic church.
At the turn of the twentieth century, a biblical teacher named Charles Fox Parham began teaching the tenets of the Holiness Movement. “Generally those tenets included entire sanctification, baptism of fire and divine healing. These were in addition to the universal mainstream standards of conviction, repentance, conversion, justification, water baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”5 Parham opened a school that advanced these concepts, and the students were involved in extensive Bible study and prayer services. On New Year’s Eve of the last day of the nineteenth century, one of Parham’s students asked that hands be placed upon her during the “watch meeting,” a service that is held to mark the coming of the new year. The student, Agnes M. Ozman, began speaking in tongues on New Year’s Day, January 1, 1901, which was the first day of the new century. This fact is important because it is a widely held belief that God brings a significant event to the world at the dawn of each millennial period. Other students in Parham’s school began speaking in unknown tongues, and were “baptized with the Holy Ghost.” Parham was so pleased with this development that he closed the school and began an evangelistic journey with his students, mainly in the Great Plains area. Eventually, Parham opened a Bible Training School in Houston, which numbered 13,000 adherents by 1907.
Although Parham was teaching a doctrine that had relevance for the entire world and was inclusive, he was not above the influences of his time. His school allowed African-American students to study the doctrine of Oneness, but not in the same classroom with white students. They were segregated in an anteroom, where they could listen to the discussions being conducted in the main classroom through an open door. One of the students who briefly attended his school was William J. Seymour, an African-American minister who had embraced the Holiness Movement. “Seymour preached that glossolalia, or ‘speaking in tongues,’ was evidence of Holy Spirit baptism.”6 Seymour’s evangelistic preaching eventually led him to Los Angeles, where he was invited to help out at a mission that was attended by one of his fellow students at the Bible Training School. The pastor at the church, a Sister Hutchins, wanted a capable man to help her minister to her congregation. Although Sister Hutchins had claimed to embrace Holiness, apparently she was not fully committed to the doctrine, because she rejected “ Seymour’s message of baptism of the Holy Ghost with speaking in tongues as a ‘third work of grace.’”7 When Seymour returned to preach his next sermon, the doors to the mission were padlocked. A couple at the mission invited Seymour to conduct services in their home. The message of baptism with the Holy Ghost with the physical manifestation of speaking in unknown tongues, and the miracles of physical healing that were being reported there, drew vast crowds, eventually necessitating a move to a larger venue. As a result, a livery stable on Azuza Street was rented, thus beginning the phenomenon of Pentecostalism in the “latter rain.” From 1906 to 1909, the Azuza Street Revival garnered worldwide attention, and converts were gained from all denominations.
Many in these denominations were not ready to reject the Trinity as the proper method of baptism. This disagreement led to several rifts in long-standing denominations such as the Assemblies of God. “During a camp meeting in Arroyo Seco, California in late 1913 and early 1914, one minister by the name of John G. Scheppe revealed that during his night of meditation it was revealed to him that baptism must be done ‘in the name of Jesus only’ and not ‘in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’”8 In a subsequent General Council in 1916, the Assemblies of God ratified its belief in the baptismal Trinity and banned the teaching of contrary doctrines, along with those who professed the contrary doctrines. Several men who would achieve renown within the Oneness Movement were influenced by the teachings of the “contrarians,” including one Garfield Thomas Haywood, who would later become the Presiding Bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, the largest Oneness Pentecostal organization in the United States. Bishop Haywood pastored Christ Temple in Indianapolis, where the international headquarters of the P.A.of W. is located. One of the ministers who sat under him, Sloan Woods, was my mother’s first pastor and the one who baptized her. He was also the first pastor that my father preached under when he got his call to the ministry. Bishop Haywood was a charismatic teacher and preacher, and influenced generations of Apostolic ministers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The new revelation of the “fullness of the Gospel” lead ministers such as Frank J. Ewart to”reach the conclusion that the singular ‘name’ in Matthew 28:19 was Jesus Christ. He came to believe that the one true God who had revealed himself as Father, in the Son, and as the Holy Spirit was none other than Jesus Christ. To support this view, he pointed to Colossians 2:9, which states that in Jesus dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.”9 This simple yet literal rendering of the Scriptures led to the formation of the P.A.of W. in 1915 and the reestablishment of a Gospel that has not changed in the 2000 years since it was given, and one that has shaped the paths of all those that have heard its message, including me.
1. C.I. Scofield, The New Scofield Reference Bible, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 91.
2. Ibid., p. 1160.
3. Ibid., p. 1162.
4. Ibid., p. 1165.
9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentecostal_Assemblies_of_the _World.
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