Initial Steps in Organization
By Fred J. Foster
That organization would come was inevitable. This movement whose leaders had hoped would sweep into and embrace all faiths found itself on the outside of every thing ecclesiastical. With very few churches to preach or worship in, and no authorized group to offer clergy recognition, a movement with so many intelligent and knowing leaders would some way find itself, even amid the biased and prejudiced feelings of many against it, organizing into a systematic, substantial church structure.
During this early period there were many independent churches, missions and small clusters of people across the country operating on the loosest kind of congregational basis. “Such a polity probably resulted from a concept of spiritual idealism. The constituents believed that the Holy Spirit had been ‘poured out’ again upon the church, and under His direction the church should function in the way of truth It became apparent very soon, however, that the Spirit could not lead those persons who would not submit to His administration. Many individuals followed their own inclinations, and, as a consequence, local groups were sometimes in a state of confusion–every person was an authority unto himself.”! Because of this, many unfortunate things happened to discourage and to destroy what accomplishment had been made.
(1) On the local church level numerous things could happen in situations such as this. Funds were often misappropriated. Congregations were divided by unscrupulous ministers. Trusting Christians repeatedly were the means of having their churches taken advantage of. They needed a process whereby they would know those that labored among them.
(2) As there were no church organizations to back them, missionaries went to the foreign fields voluntarily on their own, but would soon encounter much difficulty. The government of the country would require certain documentation by a recognized organization for owning of property, and for other protections. As S. C. McClain said, “The cry was great for some type of organization in whose name they could build and hold property, and also for some way to prove the worthy and disapprove the unworthy who called themselves missionaries.” (2)
(3) The need for joint effort was soon apparent. One lone congregation could only do so much, but several working together could accomplish a tremendous amount more. Missionary endeavor needed the joint effort of many to be the success it should be. Training for young and prospective ministers and gospel workers could be projected through organized standing together for such undertakings as Bible schools, etc. Vast youth programs could only be effected through co-operative exertion.
(4) The defining of doctrinal position to keep proper equilibrium was felt by some to be essential, and it seemed only proper that some type of central authority would be most helpful in producing the needed results.
All these problems and needs worked in various ways to bring the majority to the realization that even in the face of hostility against organizing, they must move forward to it. As was previously mentioned, a few small groups were already organized at this time, the main ones in the southeastern section of the nation.
Three of these we shall mention here:
THE CHURCH OF GOD
The Church of God of Cleveland, Tennessee had an origin similar to that of other Holiness bodies. The early followers became dissatisfied with their old line church groups, withdrawing to secure closer connection with Biblical standards, and then later embracing the Holy Spirit tongues experience.
This body had its founding in 1886, under the leadership of Richard G. Spurting, and was continued after his death by Spurling’s son. In 1906, A. J. Tomlinson was elected to the office of Overseer. This group in subsequent years has split into several bodies, but the significant happening was that in 1908, after a year of many of their members receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the annual assembly, which was a small group, accepted the tongues experience into the church. It was at this convention in Cleveland that Tomlinson received the baptism in the Spirit. (3)
THE PENTECOSTAL HOLINESS
The reasoning behind the founding of this church was similar to that of the Church of God, although its present status is due to a merger in 1911 of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church and the Pentecostal Holiness Church, and then another merger with the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church in 1915. (4)
The Fire-Baptized Holiness Church began its development in the 1880’s. Benjamin Hardin Irwin, its founder, said he had received an experience beyond salvation and sanctification, which he called the “baptism of fire” after an experience he had read about in an older Methodist Church. This was accompanied by severe emotional demonstration. The group’s later overseer, J. H. King, was in Canada in 1906 and heard of the Azusa meetings through A. H. Argue. He saw that the tenets of the Pentecostals were very similar to his own group, only differing in the evidence of this fire baptism. The Pentecostals believed it was tongues; this body, physical demonstration. That year King, after returning home to North Carolina, and many of his followers received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in other tongues. This naturally changed their theology concerning the evidence. In 1907 they accepted this tenet in their general convention.
The Pentecostal Holiness Church believing in the two works of grace salvation and sanctification, branded the revival in the Fire Baptized Holiness Church, because of its baptism of fire doctrine, the “third blessing heresy.” It was founded about 1898, and in 1908 accepted the Pentecostal position of the Holy Ghost baptism. This now united the two groups in doctrine, and in 1911 they were merged in a convention at Falcon, North Carolina. Both bodies were quite small at this time. The other small former Presbyterian group that had accepted the tongues movement joined with them in 1915.
THE CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST
C. H. Mason and C. P. Jones, rejected by Negro Baptist groups in Arkansas for what the Baptists -considered over-emphasis on holiness, founded the Church of God in Christ in 1897.5 In 1906, Mason received the news of the Azusa street meeting in Los Angeles. With two colleagues, J. O. Jeter and D. J. Young, he traveled to the west coast and attended the services. Here Mason, during a five-week visit,
received the “tongues” experience. Upon returning to Memphis, he found that others of his group had found the same experience. This naturally caused a split in feeling among the church, because some would not go along with this teaching. The leader of the rival faction was C. P. Jones, and in the convention at Jackson, Mississippi, in 1907, when the majority was in sympathy with the Pentecostal faction, Jones and his followers left the church. Shortly in Memphis, at an assembly called by Mason, the Church of God in Christ was recognized as a Pentecostal body. Through the dynamic leadership of Mason, the church flourished.
WHY NOT ACCEPT THE FINISHED WORK OF CALVARY?
The foregoing can be anaylzed as possibly the strong reason why these groups never accepted the “Finished Work of Calvary” revelation. They were already strongly entrenched in the “three works of grace” theory, now having to relinquish their sanctification stand upon receiving light on the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Strong leadership, not willing to take a fresh look at the Scripture, plus a small group, tightly knit together, caused these to stay on the outside of this truth.
OTHER EARLY EFFORTS
(1) The Beginning Years. In the early years Parham enjoyed great prestige and popularity among Pentecostals. He was known widely, and preached across the country. Due to this, in 1905 he began holding annual meetings. Although they were very loosely organized, you could call these gatherings some of the first of such type in the movement. Also at this time Parham, under his assumed authority, issued ministerial license. In 1905 Seymour wrote asking for credentials so that he could obtain clergy railroad rates. The name Parham placed on his efforts was “The Apostolic Faith,” which many in the beginning called themselves. (7) On the west coast, efforts at Azusa under Seymour, and in Portland under Florence L. Crawford, both assumed this name.
(2) The Southwest and South. In the meantime, E. N. Bell, H. A. Goss, D. C. O. Opperman and A. C. Collins were emerging as definite leaders in Texas and surrounding states. Because of their zealous inspiration, annual camp meetings were held in various areas, which brought great harmony to the movement. This spread to other sections of the South, and was one of the main factors in bringing organization.
Needing some kind of recognized authority behind them for credentials, (8) Goss visited C. H. Mason, one of the founders of the Church of God in Christ, (9) a black group, and received authority to issue credentials in the name of that church.
In the meantime, in 1909 a small group organized in Dothan, Alabama. H. G. Rodgers was elected to head the new church, and Wade Ledbetter was the first secretary. This group functioned under the name Church of God, not knowing that there was another church of that same name in Tennessee. In 1912, after it was brought to their attention, they and the large Texas group merged, and retained the name Church of God in Christ. Goss remembered this as more of an association of ministers, because, as he said, “We had no organization beyond a gentleman’s agreement, with the understanding for withdrawing of fellowship from the untrustworthy.” (l0)
As the work grew, it could be seen that more organization was needed to preserve the group standing. “As there was no apparent way to gather up the reins of the different cliques which seemed in danger of galloping off, each in its own direction, Brother Bell and I worked together privately o kind of solution. We later found that Brother Opperman saw this need too, as did a few others.” (11)
THE ASSEMBLIES OF GOD
The crucial moment in the foregoing paragraphing birth to the idea of a more subs secure organization. Bell and Goss were walking a perilous path, but with the promptings of others, and their own fears for the future of the church, they sat sail upon the given course.
“We realized that great care was needed at this stage, as we had been strictly taught against any form of organization. Irresponsible brethren, if they heart too much, might immediately use the opportunity to poison the saints against us before we could explain, and call us ‘compromisers’–a serious charge in those days.
“Of necessity we secretly discussed calling a conference to organize the work. So in November of 1913, Brother Bell and I ventured to announce a conference at Hot Springs, Arkansas, from April 2 to 12, 1914. We signed the original call ourselves.” (Goss pastored a church in Hot Springs and, although a young man, he exerted much wise and aggressive leadership).
“I say ‘ventured’ advisedly, because we knew that we were likely facing serious opposition, unless God worked mightily. But other leaders took their stand with us, and added their names to the call, which was being published month by month in the Word and Witness. I don’t think any of us had many rigid ideas as to how all this should be worked out, but we all supported system against the threatened chaos of the moment.” (12)
An immediate storm arose among the 352 people included in this association. Pro and con the feelings ran high but as the time approached for the convention more and more were making plans to attend. (13)
“When the organizational session duly convened, the response proved most gratifying, for between two and three hundred ministers and laymen attended. Of this number, about 120 evangelists and pastors of established churches registered as delegates.” (14)
The first conference was blessed by three days and four nights of devotion and fellowship. With the feeling some had, on arrival, against organizing, this was most beneficial. A glorious meeting it was, with a deepening spirit of unity coming upon them. Testimonies of the blessings of God throughout the nation brought much excitement to everyone assembled.
TWO MAJOR PROBLEMS
“Two very difficult matters facing the convention were the establishment of an acceptable system of organization, and the formulation of a doctrinal statement of which the delegates could and would subscribe. What made these formidable problems was the fact that the delegates came from many religious backgrounds, with wide differences in theology and polity.
“The two problems were solved by the general nature of the legislation passed. In matter of organization, a very simple kind of polity was adopted. It was not patterned loosely upon any of the traditional church polities, though it did indicate features of several. The relationship of the local churches to the organization was placed on a purely congregational basis, and through the years the sovereignty of the local church was to be maintained.
“In formulating a doctrinal position, the Constitutional Declaration did not define any specific tenet. The convention felt it sufficient merely to state that the Holy inspired Scriptures were the all-sufficient rule for faith and practice. No matter what their background, all those present could subscribe to such a broad creed.” (15)
The only move toward any type of central government was the authorization of an appointment of several men to proceed with any business needed between the meeting of the General Council or annual conventions. Those appointed to the first group were E. N. Bell, J. R. Flower, H. A. Goss, T. K. Leonard, M. M. Pinson, C. B. Fockler, J. W. Welch, and D. C. O. Opperman, with Bell as the General Chairman and Flower the General Secretary. It was decided that Goss would issue credentials to the ministers in the West and South, and Leonard was to do the same in the North and East.
Yes, important things were discussed and decided upon at this convention, but other momentous happenings were taking place in the Pentecostal movement right at this same time, and it would not be long until weightier decisions would have to be made.
1 Kendrick, “The Promise Fulfilled,” p. 73.
2 S. C. McClain, “Notes,” The Move of God, p. 5, 6.
3 Mead, “Handbook of Denominations,” p. 73, 74; Kendrick, “The Promise
Fulfilled,” p. 188.
4 Ibid., p. 171, 177, 182.
5 “Handbook,” p. 76.
6 Kendrick, “The Promise Fulfilled,” p. 198.
7 Ibid., p. 77.
8 Brumback, “Suddenly From Heaven,” p. 154.
9 “Handbook,” p. 76.
10 Goss, “The Winds of God,” p. 163.
11 Ibid., p. 174.
12 Ibid., p. 174, 175.
13 Brumback, “Suddenly From Heaven,” p. 154.
14 Kendrick, “The Promise Fulfilled,” p. 84.
15 Ibid.,. 86. 87.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM 20TH CENTURY PENTECOSTALS AND PUBLISHED BY WORD AFLAME PRESS, 1980, PAGES 77-87. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.