Early Pentecostals and Dispensationalism: A Critical
Examination of the ‘Latecomer to Dispensationalism’ View
By Jonathan Boyd
A dissertation submitted to the University of Birmingham In partial fulfilment of the requirements for the
Master of Arts in Evangelical and Charismatic Studies September 2018
University of Birmingham
School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion
The history and theology of early Pentecostalism have been debated and reimagined by modern Pentecostal scholars. One area of such reflection has been the movement’s relationship to dispensationalism. Were the early Pentecostals dispensationalists? How did their eschatology compare to that of other Christian groups in the early years of the movement? If they were dispensationalists, how did their views compare to those of other dispensational groups? If they did not hold to dispensationalism in the early years, why did many Pentecostal groups affirm dispensational positions in later decades? Would a rereading of the early sources provide inspiration for a renewal of non–dispensational Pentecostalism, or would it encourage Pentecostals to allow or even seek a Pentecostal appropriation of dispensational ideas?
Amongst Pentecostal scholarship of the 20th century, the most influential article on this subject was written by Gerald T. Sheppard in 1984 and was entitled ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism: The Anatomy of an Uneasy Relationship’.1 The title provides the major thesis of the article. Sheppard’s desire was ‘to show both that Pentecostals were not originally dispensationalist-fundamentalists and that the efforts secondarily to embrace such views have raised new problems for the identity of Pentecostals’.2 In this narrative, early Pentecostals came to accept dispensationalism in the 1920s or 1930s for pragmatic reasons, primarily to gain further acceptance within fundamentalist ranks. 3 This perspective may be termed the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view of Pentecostalism.
The ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view raises two main research questions. First, does this view reflect the majority position of Pentecostal scholars on the
1 Gerald T. Sheppard, ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism: The Anatomy of an Uneasy Relationship’, Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 6, no. 1 (1984).
2 Sheppard, ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism’, 5. Sheppard spoke of Pentecostals relationship to ‘dispensationalist–fundamentalists’, but his argument was broadened by others to speak about dispensationalism in general.
3 Sheppard, ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism’, 5.
relationship between dispensationalism and Pentecostalism in the early 20th century? Second, does the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ best account for the historical data of the early Pentecostal movement? Does an examination of the primary sources confirm the ‘latecomer’ view, or should it be modified?
Conceptual Framework and Initial Definitions
Ascertaining the relationship between religious movements and overlapping theological viewpoints requires a conceptual framework that can account for variation. In this dissertation, I rely on several thinkers who have wrestled with the difficulty of defining or distinguishing religious movements. Ludwig Wittgenstein discusses the difficulty of playing the ‘language–game’4 when discussing concepts. Due to the difficulty of determining essential and unessential aspects of a definition,5 he proposes speaking in terms of ‘family resemblances’,6 which allows ‘blurred edges’ in the defining of concepts.7
In defining Pentecostalism, I rely on Allan Anderson’s thinking. He appropriates Wittgenstein’s ‘family resemblances’ concept for the Pentecostal context,8 defining the key feature of Pentecostalism as ‘an emphasis on the Spirit and spiritual gifts’. Within this broad categorisation, Anderson delimitates the Pentecostal/charismatic field to four main groups: ‘classical Pentecostals’, ‘Older Independent and Spirit Churches’ (e.g. African independent churches), ‘Older Church Charismatics’ (e.g. Catholic charismatics) and ‘Neo–Pentecostal and neo–Charismatic Churches’.9 Of these groups, Anderson categorises as classical Pentecostal those denominations that came out of the ‘revival and missionary movements’ at the beginning of the 20th century. He further parses this group into ‘Holiness Pentecostals’, ‘Baptistic or Finished Work Pentecostals’, ‘Oneness Pentecostals’
4 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 4th ed., ed. G. E. M. Anscombe, P. M. S. Hacker, and Joachim Schulte (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 22.
5 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 35.
6 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 36.
7 Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 38.
8 Allan Anderson, ‘Varieties, Taxonomies, and Definitions’, in Studying Global Pentecostalism: Theories and Methods, ed. Allan Anderson et al., The anthropology of Christianity 10 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 15.
9 Anderson, ‘Varieties, Taxonomies, and Definitions’, 17–20.
and ‘Apostolic Pentecostals’.10 This typology is important, since each of these groups differs from the others in certain areas of theology and practice.
The difficulty of defining dispensationalism has beclouded the discussion on the relationship of the early Pentecostals to this theological system. According to R. Todd Mangum, the term ‘dispensationalism’ was only accepted by proponents of the system in 1936.11 Of course the major tenets of the system were demarcated long before that date, as indicated in the writings of John Nelson Darby (1800–1882). By the 1830s, the major elements of Darby’s interpretational framework were in place. These included a belief in premillennialism, a futurist reading of Revelation and acceptance of a secret rapture.12 These beliefs were filtered through the theologies and ministries of numerous individuals, forming the milieu in which Pentecostalism was birthed. Given the cross-fertilisation evident amongst these influences, it is no wonder that definition has proven difficult.
In regard to understanding the definition of dispensationalism, I follow the approach of Mark S. Sweetnam, as outlined in his article ‘Defining Dispensationalism: A Cultural Studies Perspective’. Inspired by David Bebbington’s ‘quadrilateral’, Sweetnam proposes a definition of dispensationalism based on the following criteria:
- A commitment to Evangelical
- A commitment to a literal Biblical
- A recognition of distinction in manifestations of Divine dealing with mankind, which insists on the uniqueness and importance of both Israel and the Church in the Divine
- An expectation of the imminent return of Christ in the
- An emphasis on apocalyptic and millennial 13
Sweetnam’s approach avoids some of the pitfalls of other formulations of dispensationalism, such as that offered by Charles Ryrie.14 Sweetnam’s definition is not
10 Anderson, ‘Varieties, Taxonomies, and Definitions’, 17–18.
11 R. Todd Mangum, The Dispensational–Covenantal Rift: The Fissuring of American Evangelical Theology from 1936 to 1944, Studies in Evangelical History and Thought (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2007), 6.
12 Mark S. Sweetnam and Crawford Gribben, ‘J. N. Darby and the Irish Origins of
Dispensationalism’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 3 (2009): 574.
13 Mark S. Sweetnam, ‘Defining Dispensationalism: A Cultural Studies Perspective’, Journal of Religious History 34, no. 2 (2010): 198.
directly linked to any historical figure because to do so ‘seriously underestimates the variety encompassed within the system’.15 Many scholars have erred by directly tying dispensationalism to a historical figure, such as Darby, or have restricted their definition to a specific view on the rapture. Sweetnam’s method of defining dispensationalism follows the spirit of Wittgenstein, since he refuses to let hard and fast boundaries frustrate his desire to seek out what Wittgenstein would term ‘family resemblances’.
Select Literature Review
Before examining the primary sources, I will set the stage for this analysis through a select literature review. I will give special attention to sources that discuss in a substantive manner the views of early Pentecostals on eschatology and dispensationalism. The sources will be arranged by original date of publication in order to trace any development within the field on the subject. I acknowledge that it is probable that other relevant sources exist, but I believe that the following works will provide a representative sampling of what recognised scholars have argued.
GERALD T. SHEPPARD. The appeal of Sheppard’s article ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism: The Anatomy of an Uneasy Relationship’ lies in the way in which the title resonates with modern Pentecostal scholars. Numerous authors have borrowed his phrase ‘uneasy relationship’ to speak of the way in which Pentecostalism and dispensationalism are related.
Sheppard defines dispensationalism in relation to a certain understanding of the pretribulational rapture, as explained by Darby, C. I. Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer, and later by scholars such as John Walvoord and Charles Ryrie.16 This conflation of the broader dispensational system with a cessationist version of the system necessarily makes the relationship ‘uneasy’ for Pentecostals, but it remains to be seen if early Pentecostals
14 Ryrie speaks of three defining features of dispensationalism: 1) A distinction between Israel and the Church, 2) A ‘literal’ or ‘normal’ interpretation, 3) The glory of God as overarching purpose in God’s programme. Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), 44–47. For a critique of Ryrie see Sweetnam, ‘Defining Dispensationalism’, 196.
15 Sweetnam, ‘Defining Dispensationalism’, 195.
16 Sheppard, ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism’, 5–6.
understood the system in this light, and to what extent these theologians influenced Pentecostals in the early years of the movement. Sheppard finds little evidence for belief in the secret rapture amongst Pentecostals until 1920 and therefore posits that later Pentecostals read a fuller understanding of the rapture back into the statements of earlier confessions of faith.17 Thus, on his reading of the history, the statement of the Assemblies of God (AOG) in 1935 against the ‘post-tribulation rapture teaching’ represented their official acceptance of dispensationalism and marked a turn away from their initial beliefs.18 Similarly, the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) included a ‘personal premillennial second coming’ of Christ in their Articles of Faith. Sheppard explains that ‘later leaders assume that this statement implicitly affirmed a pre-tribulation rapture’ when in his view this could be evidence of the ‘reading back’ of dispensational ideas from the 1920s.19 Another example is the section on ‘The Blessed Hope’ in the AOG confession of faith (1916), which uses the term ‘translation’ instead of ‘rapture’. Sheppard states, ‘Certainly these statements may have implied for their writer(s) a secret “rapture” of confessing Christians at the end of the Church Age prior to the tribulation, but in itself this issue remains somewhat ambiguous.’20 His article includes relevant passages from official statements and books, but is limited because of his lack of interaction with the periodicals, which were not readily available in 1984.
Another limitation to Sheppard’s approach is his focus on the AOG. As Althouse states, ‘Sheppard focuses on the Assemblies of God, the largest Reformed Pentecostal denomination in the United States, though he believes the results of his analysis are applicable to other Pentecostal denominations.’21 Sheppard’s conclusions are based on one denomination’s publications and do not include research on Wesleyan Holiness groups.
17 Sheppard, ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism’, 10.
18 Sheppard, ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism’, 11–12.
19 Sheppard, ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism’, 10.
20 Sheppard, ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism’, 8.
21 Peter Althouse, Spirit of the Last Days: Pentecostal Eschatology in Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann 25 (London: T&T Clark International, 2003), 37.
Sheppard provides the initial expression of the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ approach in his article. As we will see, his influence has been far-reaching in the writings of others.
DONALD W. DAYTON. Dayton, relying on Sheppard, 22 understands dispensationalism as one of various influences on Pentecostalism, whilst qualifying its importance. He states that
it is not clear that Pentecostal eschatology, with its emphasis on the inauguration of the ‘new order of the latter rain’ and the ‘restoration of spiritual gifts’ as a prelude to the return of Christ, fits as easily into dispensationalist categories as it is sometimes assumed. It was generally premillennial in expecting a millennial kingdom to be inaugurated by an imminent return of Christ, but contradicted dispensational distinctives by adopting different (generally tripartite) periodizations of human history, by applying many Old Testament promises to the church, by appropriating more directly texts (the Lord’s Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, and so forth) that dispensationalists relegate to the millennial kingdom, and so on.23
Dayton follows Sheppard’s lead in equating dispensationalism with a certain scheme of (Scofieldian or Darbyite) dispensationalism. From his comments on ‘tripartite’ schemes of dispensations one may infer that for Dayton a given number of dispensations (presumably seven) forms part of the essence of dispensationalism. He also judges certain views non-dispensational based on their use of certain passages of Scripture, such as the Sermon on the Mount.
Dayton writes of evidence that indicates that Pentecostal groups with theological proclivities towards fundamentalism, such as the AOG, tended to favour dispensational eschatology, whereas Holiness groups from different ethnic backgrounds, such as black Americans, embraced dispensationalism to a lesser degree.24 In this judgement he offers no evidence of his own but cites Sheppard’s article.25 In summary, he understands
22 He mentions his reliance on the article and personal conversations with Sheppard in endnote 12. Donald W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 168.
23 Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, 145. 24 Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, 146. 25 Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, 168.
Pentecostal eschatology as ‘a parallel development (or occasionally an antecedent) to the rise of dispensationalism’.26
STEVEN LAND. In a book originally published in 1993, Land accepts the influence of dispensationalism on early Pentecostals but differentiates them from the ‘traditional fundamentalist dispensationalist who, in agreement with Augustine, Warfield and others, believed that the gifts of the Spirit, the so called “sign gifts”, were limited to the Apostolic era.’ He states, ‘Though influenced by Scofieldian dispensationalism, they put a different twist on it.’ These twists include a belief in three dispensations instead of seven, an acceptance of ‘overlap and interpenetration of these dispensations’ and the belief in the miraculous gifts for today. According to Land, early Pentecostals distinguished between ‘new Israel’, the Church, and ‘national Israel’, although both shared a common ‘spiritual destiny’.27 Land gives evidence of familiarity with the primary sources of Pentecostal eschatology but shows reticence towards the term dispensationalism because he conceives of it in Scofieldian terms. Given his interest in Pentecostal spirituality rather than history, he does not discuss whether Pentecostals modified their views on eschatology after the first decade.
PETER ALTHOUSE. Althouse places eschatological viewpoints in four quadrants based on their relationship to four factors: ‘present hope’, ‘future hope’, ‘present despair’ and ‘future despair’. He locates Pentecostals in the quadrant of ‘future hope’ as proponents of the ‘Latter Rain eschatology’ rather than of premillennial dispensationalism, which he places in the ‘future despair’ quadrant.28 He follows closely the views of Sheppard, writing that
Pentecostals did not generally hold a dispensational fundamentalist eschatology in the early history of the movement. Over time, however, Pentecostals embraced a fundamentalist version of dispensational eschatology with such tenets as a pretribulation ‘secret’ Rapture.29
26 Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, 147.
27 Steven Jack Land, Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom (Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2010), 71–72. Kindle.
28 Peter Althouse, ‘An Introduction’, in Althouse; Waddell, Perspectives in Pentecostal Eschatologies, 14.
29 Althouse, Spirit of the Last Days, 36.
He recognises the influence of dispensational premillennialism on Pentecostals but equates their early views more to Joachim of Fiore than to Darby or Scofield. He states,
Fundamentalist forces would soon be felt among Pentecostals and they would abandon their latter rain eschatology for dispensational premillennialism, yet at the cost of the foundation of their dearest doctrine—speaking in tongues as the expression of the baptism of the Spirit. … The meaning of the Blessed Hope thus changed from the advent of the Second Coming to this new view of the rapture.30
Throughout his writing Althouse provides another clear expression of the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view.
FRANK MACCHIA. Macchia also follows Sheppard’s analysis and accepts the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view. As may be noted in the following passage, he equates dispensationalism with the cessationist version of the system:
I essentially agree with Sheppard’s effort to distance Pentecostalism from dispensationalism. My reading of early Pentecostal literature shows a nondispensationalist openness to different understandings of end–time events, even a certain lack of interest in such questions. … Sheppard argues persuasively that Pentecostalism accepted certain features of the end–time schema from the dispensationalists early on but did not swallow its larger hermeneutical implications until they attempted later to gain the acceptance of conservative evangelical churches.31
His comments on ‘a certain lack of interest in such questions’ raise questions relevant to this dissertation. Were early Pentecostals concerned with eschatological issues, or was this an interest that was later fomented by their interaction with fundamentalist dispensationalists?
- WILLIAM FAUPEL. Although including ‘eschatology’ in the title, Faupel’s work The Everlasting Gospel 32 includes little interaction with the eschatology of early Pentecostals.
30 Peter Althouse, ‘An Introduction’, in Althouse; Waddell, Perspectives in Pentecostal Eschatologies, 15.
31 Frank D. Macchia, ‘Pentecostal and Charismatic Theology’, in The Oxford Handbook of Eschatology, ed. Jerry L. Walls, Oxford Handbooks (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 285.
32 David W. Faupel, The Everlasting Gospel: The Significance of Eschatology in the Development of Pentecostal Thought, Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series 10 (Blandford Forum, UK: Deo Publishing, 2009).
He traces the roots of the majority of early Pentecostals’ eschatology to the thought of Darby 33 but highlights the ‘Latter Rain motif’ as a key to understanding their appropriation of his ideas.34 He allows variation in the number of dispensations without positing separate dispensational systems.35 Based on my reading of Faupel’s discussion of the issues, I conclude that he is not a proponent of the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view.
GERALD WAYNE KING. King’s PhD thesis focuses on the relationship between Pentecostalism and fundamentalism in the United States from 1906 to 1943. He interacts extensively with the periodical literature. King speaks of a ‘leavening’ of Pentecostalism by fundamentalism and later by evangelicalism, and then he notes the influence of Pentecostalism in the other direction since 1980. He labels the two initial periods as the ‘fundamentalization’ (1920–1940) and the ‘evangelicalization’ (1940–1980) of Pentecostalism.36 He explains this leavening in the following manner:
I will argue that the process of ‘leavening’ in pentecostalism from holiness to fundamentalist thought transpired through three stages, which I have called the ‘language’ of fundamentalism, the ‘content’ of fundamentalism, and the ‘rhetoric’ of fundamentalism; and that these stages correspond roughly to the 1910s, the 1920s and the 1930s respectively.37
King discusses at numerous points the interaction of Pentecostals with dispensationalism. He credits the Scofield Reference Bible as a key source of the leavening of Pentecostalism in relation to dispensationalism. King is one of few authors who have attempted to explain changes that occurred in Pentecostalism in relation to dispensationalism in a concrete manner with reference to the primary sources.
Whilst not accepting an extreme version of the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ perspective, King sees the appropriation of dispensational categories as part of the leavening of Pentecostalism by fundamentalism. For instance, he states that
33 Faupel, The Everlasting Gospel, 29.
34 Faupel, The Everlasting Gospel, 30–34.
35 Faupel, The Everlasting Gospel, 32n37.
36 Gerald W. King, ‘Disfellowshiped: Pentecostal Responses to Fundamentalism in the United
States, 1906–1943’ (PhD thesis, University of Birmingham, 2009).
37 King, ‘Disfellowshiped’, 5.
‘Dispensationalism seized CG [Church of God] in the early 1930s, which culminated in its wholesale adoption by S.W. Latimer in 1937.’ 38 King maintains this ‘latecomer’ understanding by viewing the first decade of Pentecostals as non–dispensationalists. For example, he refuses to label D. Wesley Myland’s views as dispensational, finding instead similarities and dissimilarities with dispensationalism in his hermeneutic.39
- WILLIAM OLIVERIO, JR. The work by Oliverio on the hermeneutics of Pentecostalism 40 provides a helpful model for interpreting the relationship of Pentecostalism to fundamentalism. He posits that ‘many Pentecostals were closely relating themselves to Fundamentalism, especially during the 1920s and 1930s, while still remaining essentially distinct.’41 On this view, the similarities found between the two movements may be attributed to the Pentecostals’ general alignment with fundamentalists on a conservative stance towards Scripture and culture.42
Regarding Pentecostals appropriation of dispensationalism, Oliverio notes several differences between dispensational and Pentecostal views, especially on the ‘Latter Rain’ concept. First, in spite of their shared premillennialism, Pentecostals and dispensationalists disagreed on the applicability of texts dealing with national Israel to the Church. Second, they differed on the validity of the miraculous gifts for the present age.43 Summarising, Oliverio states that ‘Instead of letting Dispensational hermeneutics permeate their theologies, Pentecostal theologians tended to choose which aspects of the system they were willing to adopt and to reject those which contradicted Pentecostal doctrines.’44
38 King, ‘Disfellowshiped’, 316.
39 King, ‘Disfellowshiped’, 135–36.
40 Oliverio, L. William, Jr., Theological Hermeneutics in the Classical Pentecostal Tradition: A Typological Account (Leiden: Brill, 2012).
41 Oliverio, L. William, Jr., Theological Hermeneutics, 107. 42 Oliverio, L. William, Jr., Theological Hermeneutics, 108. 43 Oliverio, L. William, Jr., Theological Hermeneutics, 114. 44 Oliverio, L. William, Jr., Theological Hermeneutics, 116.
Oliverio’s approach has much to commend it. He acknowledges the influence of Sheppard on his views but balances this with the perspective of French Arlington,45 who links Pentecostals’ interest in dispensationalism directly to eschatology rather than to any desire to receive approbation from evangelicals or fundamentalists. 46 He notices similarities and tensions between fundamentalist dispensationalism and early Pentecostal perspectives. Nevertheless, in discussing these issues, he understands dispensationalism based on a cessationist form of the system, thus undermining the possibility that early Pentecostals held to a form of dispensationalism.
LARRY R. MCQUEEN. McQueen in his work Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology47 provides the most comprehensive study of the eschatology of the early Pentecostals in light of their publications. McQueen examines a great variety of periodicals from both the Wesleyan Holiness stream and the Finished Work stream. Given the overlap between his study and the research questions of this dissertation, I will interact with McQueen on a number of issues.
At this point, I will summarise his views on the relationship between early Pentecostalism and dispensationalism. With respect to the Finished Work stream, McQueen concludes that ‘classical dispensationalism was the only model of eschatology articulated in the early Finished Work stream of the movement.’48 In regard to the Wesleyan Holiness stream, McQueen concludes that ‘no single model or system dominated the articulations of eschatology in this stream.’ In addition, he highlights an approach within the periodicals that incorporates a ‘discerning process’ led by the Spirit’s work within the community.49 In his view, a tendency may be observed within this stream: those positions which emphasise the ‘discerning process’ tend away from classical
45 French L. Arrington, ‘Dispensationalism’, in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley M. Burgess and Ed M. van der Maas, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002).
46 Oliverio, L. William, Jr., Theological Hermeneutics, 115.
47 Larry R. McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology: Discerning the Way Forward, Journal of Pentecostal Theology Supplement Series 39 (Blandford Forum, UK: Deo Publishing, 2012).
48 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 293.
49 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 141.
dispensationalism, whereas those which focus on ‘reasoned principles of interpretation’
move towards it.50
McQueen, in another publication, examines The Apostolic Faith from 1906 to 1908 to ascertain ‘how influential dispensationalism was during the earliest period of the movement.’51 McQueen gives three reasons for which he believes that ‘The eschatology of early Pentecostalism is not a non-critical assimilation of classical dispensational categories’. These reasons include the ‘Latter Rain’ concept, in which spiritual gifts were restored. According to McQueen, this idea does not combine well with the dispensational system. He also finds difficulties with the differences in the number of dispensations (e.g. three or seven). Finally, he believes that Pentecostals applied certain passages directly to the Church, which cessationist dispensationalists believed applied only to Israel. 52
McQueen’s writings provide a nuanced view of the relationship of early Pentecostalism to dispensationalism. Nonetheless, McQueen orients his thinking in line with the contours suggested by Sheppard. 53 With respect to the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view, he suggests the importance of investigating ‘beyond the early 1920s to discover the reasons why classical dispensationalism finally became the single model of eschatology in those groups in which the discernment process was still ongoing.’54 This comment indicates that for McQueen dispensationalism is directly linked to a certain instantiation of the system. He does not entertain the possibility that dispensationalism could be a broader eschatological position within which both Pentecostals and cessationists lived and moved and had their being.
50 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 142.
51 Larry R. McQueen, ‘Early Pentecostal Eschatology in the Light of The Apostolic Faith, 1906–1908’, in Althouse; Waddell, Perspectives in Pentecostal Eschatologies, 139.
52 Larry R. McQueen, ‘Early Pentecostal Eschatology’, 154n69.
53 The section on Sheppard opens the final section of his literature review, providing a framework
for evaluating ‘constructive contributions’. McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 33–35.
54 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 296.
This select literature review gives evidence of the influence of the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view amongst leading Pentecostal scholars who have interacted with the relationship of early Pentecostals to dispensationalism. Whilst not all scholars accept this view completely, its influence continues to be felt. Sheppard’s views have overshadowed the conversation since 1984, obscuring for many the possibility that early Pentecostals were dispensationalists, albeit not of the cessationist school.55
Thus, in spite of some dissenting voices, the majority view amongst Pentecostal scholars today may be outlined along the following lines: 1) Pentecostals were not originally dispensationalists; 2) The influence of fundamentalism in the 1920s led to an infiltration of Pentecostalism with dispensationalist ideas; 3) The result was a fundamentalised, dispensationalist Pentecostalism.
Methodology and Scope
The second research question of this dissertation is whether this portrayal of the history and theology of early Pentecostals conforms to the historical data. Are these points confirmed by an examination of the primary sources of the movement? Does the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ perspective faithfully narrate the history of the movement?
The scope of this study must be limited to a manageable set of historical data. I will limit my research especially to the North American, classical Pentecostal context, and following McQueen’s lead, I will focus especially on classical Pentecostal periodicals in the first two decades of the 20th century. Of the many periodicals surveyed by McQueen, I will examine the three that provided the strongest evidence for the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view: The Apostolic Faith, The Bridegroom’s Messenger and The Church of God Evangel. I will also discuss The Christian Evangel, the official periodical of the AOG, due to the importance of this denomination in Sheppard’s argument.
55 The ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view is also accepted by some cessationist dispensationalists. E.g. Thomas D. Ice, ‘The Calvinistic Heritage of Dispensationalism’, Liberty University, accessed September 8, 2018, http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/pretrib_arch/11, 8.
Outline of the Dissertation
In chapter one, I will provide a brief discussion of competing eschatological systems of the early 20th century. This section will allow us to place the Pentecostal approach within the theological context of competing visions. Once the contrasting systems are examined, the ‘family resemblances’ of Pentecostal eschatologies to other systems may be evaluated. In chapter two, I will examine the four periodicals mentioned above in light of the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view. In chapter three, I will bring out some implications from this research in assessing the relationship of early Pentecostalism to dispensationalism. My hypothesis is that if we read the primary sources in light of a ‘broader dispensationalism’, we may see substantial ‘family resemblance’ to other dispensationalists of the early 20th century without negating the differences amongst them. On this reading, the changes seen in Pentecostal eschatology after the first two decades may be understood as adjustments rather than major changes.
Competing Eschatological Approaches in the Early 20th Century
In order to determine whether the early Pentecostals were dispensational in their eschatology, I will outline the major eschatological views extant in the early 20th century. This exploration will provide historical context for evaluating the eschatological and hermeneutical views of the early Pentecostals in the light of ‘family resemblances’. I will illustrate the various views from the writings of proponents of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The different approaches will be ordered according to the approximate date of their appearance on the theological scene.
Various approaches to doctrinal issues existed at the beginning of the 20th century. Some individuals were traditionalist in their approach, whereas others innovated in their eschatology. Michael S. Hamilton, discussing the difficulties of understanding fundamentalism, identifies the network established in the late 19th century in the United
States through the influence of D. L. Moody as ‘interdenominational evangelicalism’.56 This term is helpful, since it distinguishes between this new interdenominational movement and the traditionalists of the established denominations. Some members of the traditional denominations were premillennial in their eschatology, due to the influence of Moody’s network, 57 whereas traditionalists rejected the premillennial understanding based on a stricter reading of their historic confessions.
1.1 Lutheran Eschatology
Some Lutheran theologians of the early 20th century rejected a literal millennium of one thousand years, finding instead a unity in the events of the last times. Henry Jacobs, a Lutheran professor, wrote in 1905 that ‘Christ’s coming and His rewards to the godly and His condemnation of the godless are always closely connected in the Scriptural accounts of the Judgment.’ He rejected the use of Revelation 20:1–6 as proof of a dispensational interpretation because the book was ‘figurative’ in nature, whilst other scriptural witnesses to the end times speak in ‘plain language’.58 Relying on the testimony of Matthew 25:31, 32, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed and the Augsburg Confession, Jacobs concluded that the judgement will occur immediately following the Second Coming.59
Jacobs answers the question, ‘Will there be a two–fold coming or manifestation of Christ?’ by quoting the Augsburg Confession, Art. 17, which condemns ‘others also who now scatter Jewish opinions that, before the resurrection of the dead, the godly shall occupy the kingdom of the world, the wicked being everywhere suppressed.’ He states that this statement ‘clearly disclaims all responsibility for any teaching that separates
56 Michael S. Hamilton, ‘The Interdenominational Evangelicalism of D. L. Moody and the Problem of Fundamentalism’, in American Evangelicalism: George Marsden and the State of American Religious History, ed. Darren Dochuk, Thomas S. Kidd and Kurt W. Peterson (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014), 234–35.
57 Hamilton, ‘Interdenominational Evangelicalism’, 246.
58 Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith (Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1905), 515–16.
59 Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, 517.
between a resurrection for the godly and a resurrection for the ungodly by any long period of time, and which affirms that there are two comings of Christ in the future.’60
This was not the only Lutheran understanding of eschatology. Joseph Seiss (1823– 1904) provides an example of a Lutheran form of dispensationalism. He held that the Augsburg Confession could be read as condemning Anabaptist views of the millennium and other abuses, without negating the possibility of a literal thousand–year reign of Christ after the resurrection.61 Speaking of the timing of future events, Seiss states that ‘as the great tribulation occurs only in connection with these seals, trumpets and vials [in Revelation], the translation by which these honored saints are brought to their rewards necessarily precedes that tribulation in point of time.’62 In unique fashion, Seiss taught three raptures: ‘Here, then, are at least three distinct classes of saints, and each has its translation and reward at a different time from the other, the rank, privileges and honors being diminished as the succession moves.’63 Following the raptures and tribulation, Seiss taught a premillennial coming of Christ: ‘It is Christ’s coming that is to make the millennium, and not the millennium which is to prepare the world for Christ’s coming.’64
Seiss’s dispensational views flowed out of an interest in literal interpretation of prophecy. Seiss quotes a saying that encapsulates his approach: ‘Distinguish the times, and the Scriptures will harmonize.’ This principle leads to a rejection of ‘mystical and figurative treatment of the Sacred Word, which has so emasculated and obscured it’ and allows one to ‘easily see how every jot and tittle may be, as it will be, literally and completely fulfilled.’ 65 Although holding unique views on certain points, Seiss appropriated dispensationalism within a Lutheran framework.
60 Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, 515.
61 Joseph A. Seiss, The Last Times: Or, Thoughts on Momentous Themes, 7th ed. (London: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1878), 327–29.
62 Seiss, Last Times, 348.
63 Seiss, Last Times, 352.
64 Seiss, Last Times, 40.
65 Seiss, Last Times, 353.
1.2 Reformed Eschatology
Churches of the Reformed tradition at the beginning of the 20th century held to covenant theology. Reformed theologians may speak of dispensations, but these are unified under the eternal Covenant of Grace. A. A. Hodge is representative, when he states that
in the several dispensations, or modes of administration of the eternal Covenant of Grace, Christ has contracted various special covenants with his people, as administrative provisions for carrying out the engagements, and for applying to them the benefits of his covenant with the Father.66
Thus, the Reformed see a general continuity in God’s plan for the ages, since his actions are determined under a single covenant. Hodge, speaking of the people of God, finds continuity between the Testaments: ‘The church, under both dispensations, has the same nature and design.’67
In Reformed eschatology, this continuity leads to an eschatology in which all of the events of the end times are unified. In Hodge’s words, ‘Christ’s advent, the general resurrection and judgment, will be simultaneous, and immediately succeeded by the burning of the old, and the revelation of the new earth and heavens.’ 68 In this understanding, a literal millennium of one thousand years is rejected in Revelation 20, as is the idea of ‘two resurrections’ and any return of Israel to their land as a fulfilment of prophecy.69 The traditionalist Reformed of the early 20th century generally held to either postmillennialism or amillennialism. In the former view, the Church would expand and advance, bringing in the kingdom through the preaching of the gospel. According to the latter position, the millennium was a symbolic period in which the Church militant acts. Any thought of a rapture of the Church as a distinct event from the Second Coming of Christ or as a first phase of that return was rejected.
66 A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, rev. ed. (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1878), 370.
67 Hodge, Outlines of Theology, 619.
68 Hodge, Outlines of Theology, 569.
69 Hodge, Outlines of Theology, 571–72.
1.3 Methodist Eschatology
John Fletcher’s (1729–1785) views have particular importance for our discussion on the relationship between Pentecostalism and dispensationalism. This is due to early Pentecostals’ appropriation of his views on the dispensations and modern Pentecostals’ retrieval of Fletcher’s ideas in their theologising. Lawrence Wood captures his eschatological appeal for Pentecostals:
Fletcher often spoke of the coming kingdom of God, its fulfilment on the day of Pentecost, its personal appropriation by faith in the lives of individual believers, and the final arrival of the kingdom when a global Pentecost would engulf the whole world. The essence of the millennium when the whole world would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, was loving God with all the heart, mind, and soul.70
Fletcher taught that history was divided into three dispensations that correlated to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He states, ‘Under the dispensation of the Father, the grand promise was that which respected the external manifestation of the Son.’71 Then, during the dispensation of the Son, Jesus promised ‘the abundant effusion of the Holy Spirit’.72 This glorious dispensation of the Spirit looks forward to the even more glorious return of Jesus Christ. As laid out by Fletcher, the Holy Spirit dispensation is characterised by waiting for Christ’s second coming.
We observe Fletcher’s understanding of both prophecy and the day of Pentecost in his treatment of prophecies that speak of a future spiritual restoration of Israel ‘under the reign of the Messiah’, such as Joel 2:28, Zechariah 12:10, Isaiah 44:3 and Ezequiel 36:25–27. He states, ‘That man must be prejudiced to an extreme degree, who perceives not that these gracious prophecies began to receive their accomplishment upon the day of pentecost, when the multitude of them that believed were “of one heart and one soul”’.73
70 Laurence W. Wood, The Meaning of Pentecost in Early Methodism: Rediscovering John Fletcher as John Wesley’s Vindicator and Designated Successor, Pietist and Wesleyan Studies 15 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2002), 147.
71 John Fletcher, The Works of the Reverend John Fletcher, 4 vols. 3 (New York: B. Waugh and T. Mason, 1833), 166.
72 Fletcher, Works, 167.
73 Fletcher, Works, 168.
Fletcher appears to refer to a future reign of Christ centred in Jerusalem, but he understands Israel as the Church: ‘In prospect of this glorious time, the prophet calls upon the Church under the ancient name of Zion, Jerusalem, and Israel, to break forth in praise to Jehovah the Redeemer’.74 In equating Israel and the Church, he followed a traditionalist Lutheran understanding of a unified people of God. Fletcher may have popularised the use of three dispensations to divide history, but as J. Russell Frazier comments, ‘Fletcher’s doctrine of dispensations has very little resemblance to the dispensations of modern dispensationalism of the Plymouth Brethren’.75 It is to that dispensationalism that we now turn.
1.4 Darby’s Eschatology
John Nelson Darby, although not the first to promote dispensational ideas,76 is considered the father of modern dispensationalism. Although his writings are vast, a general understanding of his eschatology may be briefly outlined. He used Daniel 9 and the ‘seventy weeks’ as an outline for his historical time line. Speaking of the last week, he states,
But there is still a week left—we have only had sixty-nine weeks—and then there is a lapse. Messiah comes, is rejected, and is cut off, does not get the kingdom at all, gets nothing—He gets the cross, it is true, but that is all He gets. He ascends to heaven, and therefore our hearts must follow Him up to heaven, while He is there.77
During this lapse, God is calling out ‘heavenly saints’ or the Church.78 According to
Darby, ‘all the direct dealings of God with the world through the Jews are suspended until
74 Fletcher, Works, 528.
75 J. Russell Frazier, True Christianity: The Doctrine of Dispensations in the Thought of John William Fletcher (1729–1785) (Cambridge: James Clarke, 2014), 79n118.
76 William C. Watson, Dispensationalism before Darby: Seventeenth-century and Eighteenth-century English Apocalypticism (Silverton, OR: Lampion Press, 2015).
77 John Nelson Darby, Seven Lectures on the Second Coming of the Lord: Delivered in Toronto, in 1863
(Toronto: Gospel Tract Depository, 1863), https://archive.org/details/cihm_07686, 67.
78 Darby, Seven Lectures, 69.
the Church is taken up’79 in the rapture. After the rapture, a tribulation period will begin on earth.80
Darby distinguished between the resurrection of believers and the raising of unbelievers because they are ‘entirely distinct … in nature, time, character, and everything else’,81 being separated by the one thousand years of the millennium.82 During the millennium, the Jewish people will be restored to their land and blessed spiritually in fulfilment of the promises of the New Covenant.83 In summary, the final events on the prophetic calendar for Darby were the rapture, the tribulation, the ‘glorious appearing’ of Christ and the earthly millennium.84
1.5 Interdenominational Premillennial Eschatology
As mentioned above, the late 19th century saw the growth of an ‘interdenominational evangelicalism’. This movement was influenced eschatologically by a series of prophecy conferences held in the 19th century. To cite one example, Daniel Steele, an opponent of premillennialism, noted the influence of one of these conferences in 1878. The conference promoted a dispensational reading of history, and the core of the teaching was ‘recommended to American Christians by certain popular evangelists in their sermons, Bible readings, and evangelical conferences’. 85 This was the type of conference that influenced people like A. B. Simpson. Simpson published an article in 1891 entitled, ‘How I was Led to Believe in Pre-Millenarianism’,86 and later explained his eschatological views in more detail in his work The Coming One.87 Whilst Simpson differed from Darbyite dispensationalism on the issue of how to interpret the book of
79 Darby, Seven Lectures, 70.
80 Darby, Seven Lectures, 76.
81 Darby, Seven Lectures, 80.
82 Darby, Seven Lectures, 87.
83 Darby, Seven Lectures, 105–6.
84 Crawford Gribben, Evangelical Millennialism in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1500–2000
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 84.
85 Daniel Steele, Antinomianism Revived; or, the Theology of the So-called Plymouth Brethren Examined and Refuted (Toronto: William Briggs, 1887), 193.
86 Franklin A. Pyles, ‘The Missionary Eschatology of A. B. Simpson’, accessed June 22, 2018, https://online.ambrose.edu/alliancestudies/ahtreadings/ahtr_s141.html.
87 A. B. Simpson, The Coming One (New York: Christian Alliance, 1912).
Revelation, opting for a more historicist reading,88 he held to the basic structure of a broader dispensationalism.
Simpson believed that Christ’s Second Coming would be premillennial, and that Christ would establish ‘a glorious terrestrial millennium’.89 In his understanding the Church and Israel were distinguished,90 and Israel would be restored ‘in two stages, first, national, and then spiritual’ in accord with the prophecy of Ezequiel 37.91 The Zionist movement was understood as an initial fulfilment of the promise of the return of Israel to their land.92 Before the final events could occur, Simpson believed in a coming apostasy93 and a great tribulation, from which the Church would be removed in the Parousia (i.e. Christ’s coming), ‘when His Church shall be withdrawn to meet Him in the air and the holy dead shall be united with them in the first resurrection.’94 He plainly distinguished ‘two aspects of the Lord’s return, the first, at the beginning of the Tribulation, the second at its close, and at the commencement of His Millennial reign.’95 He uses the term ‘translation’ to refer to a pretribulational rapture:
There will be, doubtless, many spiritual blessings poured out upon the world immediately after the Parousia of our blessed Master, and the translation of His waiting Bride but it will be too late to enter into the joys of the marriage, and escape the sorrows of the great tribulation.96
This common usage of the term is relevant to Sheppard’s comment on the ambiguity of the term ‘translation’ in relation to the rapture. Rather than ambiguous, the term ‘translation’ was commonly understood as the rapture. This brief discussion shows that, although differing on minor details, Simpson’s eschatology follows the broad outlines of
88 Pyles, ‘Missionary Eschatology of A. B. Simpson’.
89 Simpson, The Coming One, 15.
90 Simpson, The Coming One, 23.
91 Simpson, The Coming One, 69.
92 Simpson, The Coming One, 71–72.
93 Simpson, The Coming One, 77–101.
94 Simpson, The Coming One, 126–28.
95 Simpson, The Coming One, 133.
96 A. B. Simpson, The Holy Spirit or Power from on High: Part II: The New Testament (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1896), https://archive.org/details/cihm_24366, 33.
Darby’s. Simpson’s views are expounded here as an example of what many pastors, theologians and lay people held within ‘interdenominational evangelicalism’.
This introduction to the major views on eschatology at the beginning of the 20th century provides a basis for evaluating Pentecostal views. If a ‘family resemblance’ approach is taken towards different types of dispensationalists, should early Pentecostals be included in this broader category, or were Pentecostals latecomers to dispensationalism? We will now examine the primary sources in dialogue with these questions.
An Investigation of Early Pentecostal Periodicals
In this chapter, I will examine the eschatological views found in four early Pentecostal periodicals in light of the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ perspective. Given the limitations of this dissertation, I focus on The Apostolic Faith, the first Pentecostal periodical, two early Wesleyan Holiness periodicals (The Bridegroom’s Messenger and The Church of God Evangel) and the periodical of the Assemblies of God (The Christian Evangel). To locate relevant passages, I used the search engine of the Consortium of Pentecostal Archives,97 searching for terms such as ‘dispensation’, ‘rapture’, ‘Second Coming’, ‘Scofield’, etc. I then examined each hit and read in their entirety the articles most relevant to this dissertation.98
2.1 The Apostolic Faith
Any discussion of the early Pentecostal periodicals generally begins with The Apostolic Faith (AF) connected to Azusa Street and the ministry of William J. Seymour. The first issue of the paper included a piece on the millennium.99 This section speaks of
97 Consortium of Pentecostal Archives website’s search: https://pentecostalarchives.org/search/
98 Digital research presents special challenges, on which see: Tim Hitchcock, ‘Confronting the Digital’, Cultural and Social History 10, no. 1 (2015): 12, https://doi.org/10.2752/147800413X13515292098070.
99 The Apostolic Faith, September 1906, 1, 3.
the thousand years of the millennial age and how ‘The saints who have part in the first resurrection will return with Jesus and reign over unglorified humanity’. The millennium will be ‘the time when the lion and calf shall lie down together and a little child shall lead them’. In another early issue, the distinction between the rapture and the revelation of Christ is made explicit: ‘There will be two appearances of Jesus under one coming. The first appearance is called the Rapture, when He comes as a thief in the night and catches away His bride; the second is called the Revelation when He shall come with ten thousand of His saints …’100 Here in the first year of the periodical we see a dispensational outline of future events.
The eschatological vision of the AF is further explained in the January 1907 issue in an article entitled ‘Behold the Bridegroom Cometh’.101 The parable of the ten virgins serves as focal point for a reflection on the need to be prepared for Christ’s coming. The virgins are understood as the Church, the oil represents the Holy Spirit and those virgins who have oil in their lamps are those who have been baptised with the Holy Spirit. ‘Those that are not ready at the rapture will be left to go through the awful tribulation that is coming upon the earth’. Those who are unprepared will miss the marriage supper of the Lamb but may reign with Christ in the millennium if they prove faithful during the tribulation. One difference between this interpretation and that of Darby’s deals with the meaning of the oil. For the writer of the article, the oil represented the baptism of the Spirit as a separate work of grace, whereas for Darby the oil signified the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers as opposed to those who were mere ‘professors’.102 It is not clear where the AF’s partial rapture interpretation originated, although the writings of the Lutheran Joseph Seiss are a possible source. McQueen notes the influence of Seiss in early periodicals of the Wesleyan Holiness stream, so his influence here is probable.103 Seiss held to a partial rapture view, as exemplified in his commentary on Revelation 7:9 with respect to the ‘great multitude … clothed with white robes, and palms in their
100 The Apostolic Faith, ‘Notes on the Coming of Jesus’, September 1907, 10, 4.
101 The Apostolic Faith, ‘Behold the Bridegroom Cometh’, January 1907, 5.
102 John Nelson Darby, Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, rev. ed. 3 (London: G. Morrish, 1820), 169.
103 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 129.
hands’. According to Seiss, these believers were ‘people whom the judgment found unprepared, and who consequently were “left” when the rapture of the Church took place.’ 104 Another possible source are the writings of Simpson. In his interpretation of this parable from Matthew 25, Simpson understood the baptism with the Holy Spirit to be the distinguishing feature between those who would be allowed to participate in the marriage feast and those who would be shut out.105 In either case, we notice variation from a Darbyite reading of the parable but a view similar to that which was held by other dispensationalists. Also noteworthy is how Zechariah 14:3, 4 were quoted as a literal prophecy that Christ ‘shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives. … The mountain shall be parted in two.’ In this article we see a broad dispensationalism: an affirmation of the rapture, the tribulation and the millennium and of a literal fulfilment of prophecy from Zechariah.
Several of the articles cited above are discussed by McQueen, but he focuses on the variations between the eschatology expressed and that of ‘classical dispensationalism’ instead of the ‘family resemblances’. He concludes his section on the AF by finding major differences: ‘Immersed within a different worldview, the Pentecostals of Azusa Street did not merely modify the script of classical dispensationalism, but departed from it significantly.’106
Perhaps most indicative of this posture is his discussion of an article entitled ‘Full Overcomers: Rev. 14’,107 which was included in the January 1908 issue of the periodical.108 McQueen emphasises the symbolic interpretation of the 144,000, which the author understood as ‘the highest overcomers’ who would ‘go with Christ to the marriage supper of the Lamb’. The author continued by interpreting the ‘man child’ of Revelation 12 as this same group of sanctified believers. McQueen, in his summary, states that ‘the eschatology presented here is shaped more by the holistic and apocalyptic nature of early Pentecostal
104 Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: A Series of Special Lectures on the Revelation of Jesus Christ with Revised Text, 12th ed. 1 (Philadelphia: Philadelphia School of the Bible, 1865), 448.
105 Simpson, The Holy Spirit or Power from on High, 32.
106 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 74.
107 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 69.
108 The Apostolic Faith, ‘Full Overcomers: Rev. 14’, January 1908, 12.
spirituality than by classical dispensational categories.’109 I agree with McQueen’s claim in regard to some of the details of the interpretation of Revelation 12 and 14, but he has neglected to point out the ‘family resemblances’ in the broader contours of the eschatology presented. The author distinguished between the rapture and the ‘revelation’ of Jesus Christ. He believed in the revealing of ‘the man of sin’ or ‘antichrist’ before this revelation. The rapture is termed ‘the blessed hope of the church’, and the ‘great tribulation’ will follow the rapture. During the tribulation the antichrist will ‘compel men to serve him and bow down and call him god’. The author distinguished between the ‘first resurrection’ and another resurrection at the beginning of the millennium. This outline of the events of the end times follows the dispensational model. Also, the author appealed to a literal fulfilment of various prophecies in sustaining these positions. For example, Isaiah 26:20 supports a literal interpretation of ‘the awful tribulation’. The battle of Armageddon was interpreted in a literal manner from Zechariah 14, as were the ‘200 miles of blood up to the horses’ bridles’ from Revelation 14:20.
King is another scholar who has placed more emphasis on the differences than on the similarities. Commenting on an article in the September 1907 issue of the AF, he labels the distinction between the rapture and the revelation a ‘more explicitly dispensational’ teaching, though he provides a caveat by saying that this is ‘without reference to Darby’s seven “ages”.’ In King’s assessment, we observe the conflation of dispensationalism with Darby’s expression of the system.110 Therefore, despite great continuity on eschatology, in King’s view Pentecostals were non-dispensationalists who borrowed dispensational categories.
This examination of the views of the AF gives evidence of more ‘family resemblance’ to dispensationalism than to any other eschatological system of the early 20th century. Of the defining features proposed by Sweetnam for defining dispensationalism,111 the criterion that receives the least attention in the AF is the
109 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 74.
110 King, ‘Disfellowshiped’, 91.
111 Sweetnam, “Defining Dispensationalism,” 198.
distinction between Israel and the Church. Nonetheless, whilst not a major focus of the periodical, Seymour acknowledges the distinction between Israel and the Church when he speaks of how ‘John was permitted to see from the beginning of the church age on down to the white throne judgment, the final winding up of the world.’ He then refers to this as John’s seeing ‘the glory and the power of the apostolic church’. These comments indicate a belief in a distinction between the age that had come before and ‘the church age’.112 Based on this examination of the AF, I conclude that the periodical should be classified as dispensational, albeit a broader form of the system than that proposed by some classical dispensationalists such as Darby.
2.2 The Bridegroom’s Messenger
The Bridegroom’s Messenger (TBM) proved an influential periodical in the South of the United States, drawing other groups to the Pentecostal persuasion.113 Elizabeth Sexton outlined the vision of TBM in an editorial piece from 1911 in the following manner:
We believe in justification by faith; sanctification of believers; healing in the atonement; the baptism of the Holy Ghost as on the day of Pentecost, with speaking of tongues as a distinguishing evidence, as on that day; in the restoration of all of the gifts of the Spirit; and in the pre-millennial coming of our Lord Jesus. We believe that before He comes to reign a thousand years, He will catch away His prepared saints, who will be adorned in their wedding garments, and that they will be at the wedding supper, and be counted ‘worthy to escape’ those things that are coming upon the earth during the tribulation.114
Sexton’s outline of future events includes a belief in the rapture, the tribulation, the
premillennial coming of Christ and the ‘thousand years’ of the millennium.
In regard to the last point about those ‘worthy to escape’ Sexton states: ‘The Bride is still hidden. They will be the overcomers, but they are not known as yet, except to Him, the Bridegroom.’115 This understanding follows the influence of Seiss with respect to the
112 William J. Seymour, ‘Christ’s Messages to the Church’, The Apostolic Faith, January 1908, 11, 3.
113 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 74–75.
114 Elizabeth A. Sexton, ‘Entering the Fifth Year of Service’, The Bridegroom’s Messenger, October 1, 1911, 95, 1.
115 Sexton, ‘Entering the Fifth Year of Service’, 1.
view that only certain Christians will be overcomers. Sexton took Seiss’s comments on Revelation 3:21, ‘To him that overcometh’, and applied them to ‘some faithful ones, perhaps in every church, and some few churches’ who would go against the Laodicean age of the 20th century and be raptured.116 In a an issue thirteen years later, she propounded the same view: ‘The pre–milleannial [sic] coming of our Lord Jesus Christ has always been the hope of the true church’. She supported this view with the words of Seiss, who had stated that when the Church fails ‘to look and long for that [coming] as the crown and goal of their faith and hope … they show and prove that they do not belong to that elect body of God’s saints which constitutes the Bride of the Lamb’.117
A dispensational understanding of history was not promoted only by Sexton. J. A. Culbreth wrote an article in 1908 that espoused dispensational views. He contrasts the revelation given in the Old Testament with that of the New, given that the former ‘only foreshadowed and typified a fuller revelation and manifestation to be made in a future dispensation’.118 For Culbreth, the ‘fuller revelation’ was the new work of the Spirit. Culbreth differentiated the dispensation of the Son from that of the Spirit precisely by the baptism of the Spirit. He states that ‘we see that the baptism of the Holy Ghost did not belong to the dispensation of Jesus at all’. This view follows the standard dispensational interpretation that the day of Pentecost began a new baptising work of the Spirit and the beginning of the Church. Darby comments on this dispensational distinctive in relation to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost: ‘The Church, then, being Christ’s body, could not exist before the Head was in heaven, as Ephesians i teaches clearly, nor the habitation of God through the Spirit when the Spirit was not sent.’119 Culbreth and other Pentecostals disagreed with cessationist dispensationalists on the implications of Spirit baptism and
116 Elizabeth A. Sexton, ‘The Laodicean Age’, The Bridegroom’s Messenger, March 15, 1909, 34, 1.
117 Elizabeth A. Sexton, ‘Strikingly Strange Not to Believe Jesus is Coming’, The Bridegroom’s Messenger, Sep 1922, 239, 1.
118 J. A. Culbreth, ‘The Baptism and Evidence of Pentecost Foreshadowed’, The Bridegroom’s Messenger, February 15, 1908, 8, 2.
119 John N. Darby, ‘Is the Comforter Come? And Is He Gone?’, The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby,
Doctrinal 2, Vol 10, accessed July 8, 2018, http://www.plymouthbrethren.org/article/10793.
speaking in tongues, but they agreed that the Church was formed as a new entity on the day of Pentecost.
Culbreth followed Fletcher’s scheme of three dispensations related to the three persons of the Trinity. His use of these three dispensations provides evidence of a distinction between Israel and the Church in his thinking. He emphasises the way in which the Jews did not accept Jesus,
but preferred to honor the Father and continue their worship in the old order of sacrifice and ceremonies which were only typical of the true. Knowing, as we all do, that the Jews made an awful mistake in rejecting Jesus, let us be careful lest we reject the Holy Ghost and make the same mistake.120
In relation to this three-fold scheme, McQueen121 references this article by Culbreth as an indication of the variety of dispensational views found in TBM. He later references other authors in TBM who write about two or four dispensations. He concludes that ‘It is clear from these examples that no single system of dispensations held a monopoly on the thought of the early Pentecostals.’122
Whilst he is correct on the lack of a monopoly, nonetheless he acknowledges that the early Pentecostals of TBM were dispensationalists. Even J. M. Waters, who held to four dispensations corresponding allegorically to the days of creation, held to a literal, premillennial return of Christ to fulfil the prophecies of Micah 4:1–9 and Zechariah 14:1–9,
20.123 Waters does not clearly delineate views on a ‘secret’ rapture; instead he speaks of
the ‘second coming’ and how ‘every eye shall see Him’. Nonetheless, his views fit better within a general dispensational framework than the other positions surveyed in chapter one.
The article, ‘The Message of the Hour’, provides an understanding of the editor’s views on dispensationalism in a later issue of TBM.124 The editor did not include a detailed description of the ordering of the dispensations or their names, but her dispensational
120 Culbreth, ‘The Baptism and Evidence of Pentecost Foreshadowed’, 2.
121 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 90.
122 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 93–94.
123 J. M. Waters, ‘The Coming Bridegroom’, The Bridegroom’s Messenger, November 1, 1916, 188, 4.
124 Hattie M. Barth, ‘The Message of the Hour’, The Bridegroom’s Messenger, December 1927, 266, 1.
beliefs may be inferred in a broad sense from her comments. She implies the following historical divisions: from creation to the fall, from the fall to the flood, from the flood to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Pentecost, from Pentecost to the rapture and from the rapture to the Millennium. She comments on the rapture in the following terms:
Just as sure as God’s Word is true, those who fail to receive the blessings that God is pouring out now will not be ready to meet the Lord when He comes; failing to be ready for the rapture, they will have their part in the greatest judgment that will ever be poured out on the earth.125
Whilst ambiguous in itself, this comment, in the context of TBM, should be understood as expressing a belief in the rapture of only those who receive Spirit baptism. This is an example of the continued influence of Seiss and the independence of the views expressed in TBM from the ‘leavening’ influence of Darbyite or Scofieldian dispensationalism. Instead of standardising the dispensations to seven or accepting the rapture of all believers as taught by Scofield, the editors of TBM followed the initial doctrinal framework formulated at the beginning of the century.
This independence of judgement raises questions about the view that the Scofield Reference Bible dramatically altered the eschatological views of early Pentecostals, at least within the Wesleyan Holiness groups. King views the publication of the Bible as a landmark event in the relationship between Pentecostalism and fundamentalist dispensationalism. He states: ‘It wasn’t until 1909 when the Scofield Reference Bible had been published that the more dire aspects of dispensationalism crept into the paper.’126 He then cites the article by Sexton entitled ‘The Laodicean Age’ 127 to argue that fundamentalist dispensationalism, and the Scofield Reference Bible had begun to influence Pentecostal eschatology towards a darker worldview. This judgement is questionable on several grounds. First, the Scofield Reference Bible was published in 1909 and surely had no influence on Sexton in March of the same year. Second, she cites Seiss in this same
125 Barth, ‘The Message of the Hour’, 1.
126 King, ‘Disfellowshiped’, 92.
127 Sexton, ‘The Laodicean Age’, March 15, 1909, 34, 1.
article, and her thought follows that of the Lutheran commentator. Third, Pentecostal optimism was balanced by their acceptance of the reality of apostasy and unbelief before the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible. For example, one author cited A. T. Pierson, who says: ‘The periods when miracles have been common have always been crises, turning points in the history of men—pivotal periods in the kingdom of God, when great issues hung and swung on these golden hinges.’ The author concluded by exclaiming, ‘Oh! Our weakness! Oh! Our unbelief! May the Lord help us back to Pentecostal experiences.’ 128 Although the Scofield Reference Bible influenced the dispensationalism of some Pentecostals, the publication of the Bible did not fundamentally alter the overall eschatology of the early Pentecostals.
A lack of doctrinal assimilation to fundamentalist dispensationalism may also be observed in 1929 in the confession of faith of the Association of Pentecostal Assemblies, the main constituency of TBM. The confession expresses the same doctrinal outline laid out by Sexton many years earlier. The relevant points include a belief in justification, sanctification as ‘a work of grace subsequent to justification’, ‘the Pentecostal baptism with the Holy Spirit’ with tongues as evidence, ‘[h]ealing in the atonement’ and ‘the Pre- millennial return of our Lord’. 129 This confession of faith indicates continuity with the founding principles of the periodical, rather than doctrinal development under the influence of cessationist dispensationalism.
This examination of TBM shows that this group of early Pentecostals were dispensationalists. They were more influenced by Seiss than by Darby or Scofield and interpreted his writings in light of their Pentecostal understanding of Spirit baptism. In spite of divergence amongst their ranks on the number of dispensations, they maintained a unified belief in the core elements of dispensational eschatology.
128 F. Bartleman, ‘What We Need’, The Bridegroom’s Messenger, June 1, 1908, 15, 4.
129 The Bridegroom’s Messenger, ‘The Association of Pentecostal Assemblies’, July–September 1929,
2.3 The Church of God Evangel
The Church of God Evangel (COGE), originally known as The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel, was the official publication of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), and A. J. Tomlinson served as both General Overseer of the denomination and editor of COGE from 1910 to 1922. Given his leadership of the paper and in the denomination, a brief examination of the annual meetings of the Church of God is in order. In the first six annual assemblies of the Church of God, practical issues of church government and life were considered. In the minutes of the seventh annual assembly in 1912, a doctrinal statement was included for the first time. Succinct in style, the statement established that the Church of God held to ‘the whole Bible rightly divided.’ The 18th point was listed in the following manner:
- 18. Pre-millennial second coming of Jesus.
First to resurrect the dead saints and to catch away the living
saints to meet him in the air. Matt. 24:27, 28, 1 Cor. 15:51, 52, 1 Thes. 4:15–17.
Second to reign on the earth a thousand years. Zech. 14:4, 1 Thes. 4:14, 2 Thes. 13– 10, Jude 1:14, 15, Rev. 5:10, Rev. 19:11–21, Rev. 20:4–6. 130
This doctrinal statement follows a dispensational reading of eschatology and indicates that a belief in a pretribulational rapture was not a later addition to the Church of God’s teaching. Also of interest is the fact that the 1950 doctrinal statement is identical to this first statement on eschatology, showing no signs of modification.131
The official doctrinal position of the Church of God is reflected in the comments of the writers in the COGE from the first issues. For example, C. S. Curtis testified that ‘Since I came to Cleveland, Tenn., the Lord has greatly blessed me. He gave me a vision of His second coming. I saw myself standing and preaching the word to the people; then the rapture caught me up’.132 M. S. Lemons urged his readers: ‘Beloved, space would fail me
130 Echoes from the General Assembly Held at Cleveland, Tennessee (Cleveland, TN: Church of God,
131 Houston R. Morehead, ed., Minutes of the 43d General Assembly of the Church of God (Cleveland,
TN: Church of God Publishing House, 1950), 219.
132 C. R. Curtis, ‘A Word of Testimony’, The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel, March 1, 1910,
to comment on all these passages. May it suffice to say, watch and be sober, for “the day of the Lord” is at hand. He is now selecting His BRIDE. His coming is the next thing.’133 This urgency is directly linked to the belief in the relation of the Pentecostal movement to God’s dispensational plan. Seeley Kinne states: ‘It is general conviction among us that this latter rain movement is the opening of the last campaign of this dispensation.’134
The COGE exhibits a concentrated focus on this ‘Latter Rain’ motif. A woman, writing to the editor, expressed her dispensational ideas, stating that
In the end of the Jewish age the people were far from God, and He cast them off and turned to the Gentiles. A few gathered to Jesus as a nucleus for the new dispensation. They received at Pentecost the restoration of tongues … It was a sign or token of a new era.
She went on to speak of the Pentecostal phenomena as ‘Latter Rain’ in relation to the ‘Former Rain’ of the early Church. She exhorted her readers to prepare for the marriage of the Lamb by watching and praying ‘all the time to the rapture’.135 This letter to the editor indicates several aspects of the piety of the reader. She believed in a distinction between a Jewish dispensation and a dispensation begun at Pentecost. She understood the dispensation in which she lived to be the same as the early Christians, albeit in the last days of that dispensation, and she encouraged her readers to faithfulness with the rapture in view.
Several articles in the COGE warn against spiritualising the biblical text. This was another hallmark of dispensationalism. I quote at length a comment by Sam Perry in order to illustrate this interest:
The subject of Jesus’ coming back to earth has been sadly neglected, perhaps, partly because of the many false notions and theories on the subject set forth by unreliable and false teachers. Partly because of lack of interest in the subject, which has been brought about by too much spiritualizing and explaining away the
133 M. S. Lemons, ‘The Day of the Lord’, The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel, March 15, 1910, 2, 2–3.
134 Seeley D. Kinne, ‘Tactics, Demonstrations, Operations’, The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel, March 15, 1910, 2, 5.
135 E. N. Howell, ‘Windsor, Fla.’, The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel, June 1, 1910, 7, 6.
exact meaning of certain passages, or from a lack of that spirituality, which is necessary to the right understanding of the things of God.136
The early Pentecostals rarely mentioned opposing theological viewpoints by name, but here we probably see a reference to Reformed or Lutheran views against the rapture and the future of Israel in the ‘spiritualizing and explaining away the exact meaning of certain passages’. These were those who would be caught ‘unawares’ and ‘unprepared’, which is an allusion to Christians who would miss the rapture.
In McQueen’s discussion of the COGE, the contrast between Tomlinson and F. J. Lee, the second General Overseer of the Church of God, figures prominently. Tomlinson served as General Overseer from 1903–1923 and Lee from 1923–1928. In McQueen’s view, the two men ‘represent two different models around which the other contributions from The Evangel are clustered’.137. He summarises the two models in the following manner:
Tomlinson approached the biblical text with a dynamic understanding of the relationship between the Spirit, the text, and contemporary experience, allowing all Scripture to have contemporary applicability. Lee approached the text with a much more static and reasoned conception of textual meaning.
For McQueen, Tomlinson serves as an example of ‘Pentecostal spirituality’ whereas Lee tends toward a more Word-centred approach to spirituality.138 McQueen cites an article by Tomlinson139 to argue that he was against ‘“speculative” dispensational interpretation of the books of Daniel and Revelation’.140
The article in question gives evidence that Tomlinson, in spite of differences of method or emphasis with Lee, was still a dispensationalist. His concern was not with the dispensations per se but with the overconfident certainty with which many presented their dispensational schemes. Speaking of the abuse of the book of Daniel, Tomlinson explains:
136 Sam C. Perry, ‘Jesus is Coming’, The Church of God Evangel, September 26, 1914, 39, 6.
137 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 104.
138 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 111.
139 A. J. Tomlinson, ‘The Translation Power: The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Last Days Emergency’, The Church of God Evangel, March 2, 1918, 9.
140 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 106.
They take his figures, measurements, and make charts and paint them in glaring colors and draw long and short curved lines to represent certain periods or certain dispensations and after this is all done and their measurements and time falls at a certain time and place Daniel still rests as silently as the grave, and the authors are afraid of their own drawings and interpretations, judging from their continuous labors to try to discover something better and more sure.141
This belief that many were overinterpreting certain scriptural passages did not stop
Tomlinson from speaking of ‘dispensational truths’, in which
The Holy Ghost was not given until the day of Pentecost. John the Baptist introduced water baptism. Daniel was instructed to ‘Shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end’. This indicates that there will be a time when the things revealed to Daniel are to be made known. …
We are now on the very verge of the fulfilment of some of the prophecies that have hitherto been dark.142
These comments follow a dispensational understanding of history. Tomlinson later in the article speaks of his belief in the rapture, stating that ‘there will [be] a time come when a multitude will actually go. This Scripture will be fulfilled the same as other Scripture. The translation power will be given and up many will go into heaven.’ The rapture will occur, then the ‘indignation’ (i.e. the tribulation) and finally ‘we can be in the number that will ride down upon the white horses to take possession of this old sin and battle scarred earth and reign with Christ a thousand years.’143 Thus, in spite of some differences in emphasis, Tomlinson’s views show clear ‘family resemblance’ to a broader dispensationalism.
Lee’s dispensational views follow closely those of Scofield. In a series of articles on the book of Revelation, Lee shared a typically dispensational understanding of the book. He divided it into three sections, according to the outline of Revelation 1:19:
- The things which thou sawest. Chapter 1:9–20.
- The things which are. Chapters 2 and 3.
141 Tomlinson, ‘Translation Power’, 1.
142 Tomlinson, ‘Translation Power’, 1.
143 Tomlinson, ‘Translation Power’, 1.
- The things which shall come to pass. Chapter 4:1–22:5. 144
He understood ‘the things which are’ to represent ‘this whole Christian dispensation’, whilst the last section dealt with the ‘tribulation period’, the ‘millennial reign’ and ‘the post millennial ages’. Like many others, Lee viewed the seven churches of Revelation 2–3 as letters written to ‘the church at seven periods of this gospel dispensation’. This understanding is essentially a restating of the main points from the Scofield Reference Bible,145 which Lee explicitly cites with respect to the ‘great tribulation’.146 In another article, Lee outlines a classical dispensationalist understanding of Daniel 9. He understood the seventy weeks to refer to God’s dealings with Israel. In his words, ‘The seventieth week is carried over on the other side of the Gentile dispensation and will finish out the time known as the tribulation.’ His reading of the text agrees with that of Scofield. For example, his comment on the phrase ‘The kingdom of God is within you’ (Lk 17:21)147 uses an almost identical phrase to that of Scofield.148 This influence of Scofield could be illustrated with many other citations from Lee’s writing.
Although Lee followed the general outline of classical dispensationalism, he creatively appropriated the tradition. In discussing Revelation 13, Lee distinguishes between ‘spiritual Israel’ and ‘literal Israel’. He understands the ‘man-child’ of v. 5 as ‘Jews and Gentiles filled with the Spirit’, people born of ‘spiritual Israel’. These are also termed the ‘overcomers’. In this exegesis, Lee relies on Seiss’s commentary. For example, Lee’s comments on the Greek word ἄρσεν (arsen), ‘man-child’ closely reflect Seiss’s views.149 The Lutheran commentator viewed the ‘woman’ as the ‘visible Church’ and the ‘man child’ as ‘God’s saints, all who have been begotten of the Holy Ghost’.150 Lee modified Seiss’s position at this point: those begotten of the Holy Ghost were understood in light of
144 F. J. Lee, ‘Apocalypse’, The Church of God Evangel, November 12, 1921, 45, 2.
145 C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1909), 1330–31.
146 Lee, ‘Apocalypse’, 2.
147 F. J. Lee, ‘The Seventy Weeks. Dan. 9:24–27 (Apocalypse)’, The Church of God Evangel, December 3, 1921, 48, 3.
148 Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible, 1100.
149 Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: A Series of Special Lectures on the Revelation of Jesus Christ, 8th ed. 2 (New York: Charles C. Cook, 1901), 326.
150 Seiss, Apocalypse, 324–27.
Pentecostal experience to be those who had experienced ‘the full baptism with the Holy Ghost and walking in the light.’151 Lee illustrates the way in which Pentecostals borrowed from a variety of sources to incorporate them into their Pentecostal vision.
The views of COGE provide more evidence that early Pentecostals were dispensationalists. Their doctrinal statement aligned them with a broader dispensationalism. They used a dispensational outline to explain the contours of biblical history and future prophecy. Whilst Tomlinson and Lee differed in their emphases, both agreed on a broad system that is best categorised as dispensational.
2.4 The Christian Evangel
An examination of The Christian Evangel (CE), the periodical of the AOG from July 19, 1913 to October 4, 1919,152 is warranted given the importance of the AOG in Sheppard’s article. As noted above, he considers that the ‘Statement of Fundamental Truths’ (1916) of the AOG was ‘ambiguous’ on the issues of the pretribulational rapture and the tribulation.153 This statement of faith must be read in light of the periodicals of the period because they illustrate the common usage of these terms.
In an early issue, the editors wrote on the relationship between the outbreak of the Great War and prophecy. Although cautious in their judgements, they note that ‘It is altogether possible that when the war is at its height that the rapture of the saints may take place, being scarcely noticed as the whole world is engulfed in the throes of a mighty conflict …’ 154 This is clearly a reference to a secret rapture. In another article on Christ’s coming, J. S. Secrist exhorts his readers to ‘be ready for the glorious rapture of the Saints’, after which they would ‘reign with Him for a thousand years.’ These words come in the context of an account of how Jews were returning to their land in the early 20th century, which was understood as preparation for the restoration of national Israel in her land
151 F. J. Lee, ‘The Sun and Moon (Apocalypse, chap. 12)’, The Church of God Evangel, April 15, 1922, 15,
152 The name was changed for three of the intervening years to Weekly Evangel.
153 Sheppard, ‘Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism’, 8.
154 The Christian Evangel, ‘War! War!! War!!!’, August 15, 1914, 54, 1.
based on Ezequiel 37:21–28.155 In another article, the author understood the perilous times of the early 20th century as indications that ‘Without a doubt we are in the fringes of the Tribulation Days … This is an indication that we are in the Last Days of this Dispensation, at which time the Antichrist, according to Scripture, is to make his appearance.’ The author then cited the rise of a society that promoted anti-Christian ideas and drew the conclusion that ‘Just as the Holy Spirit is preparing a people for the speedy coming of the true Christ, so is this Society preparing the way for the speedy coming of the false Christ.’156
Scholars have argued that the AOG were more influenced by Scofield than the Wesleyan Holiness groups. The Scofield Reference Bible was promoted by the denomination and offered to ministers at a reduced price.157 One editorial comment from the CE states that Scofield’s Bible is ‘highly esteemed among us’ and is ‘the best work of its kind that has ever been published’.158 This appraisal comes at the end of an article in which the author strongly takes issue with Scofield’s view on the baptism in the Spirit. This editorial perspective indicates a desire to accept Scofield’s teaching on many topics without following his views on topics related to Pentecostalism. Digital research reinforces the impression that Scofield received more attention amongst the AOG than amongst the Wesleyan Holiness groups. A search for ‘Scofield’ in the CE to 1919 on the Consortium website yields 52 hits, whereas the same search in the three Wesleyan Holiness periodicals discussed above yields no hits.
The CE follows a dispensational eschatology consistently. The future events include the rapture, the tribulation, the revelation of Christ and a millennium of one thousand years in which Israel is restored, followed by the eternal state. McQueen
155 J. S. Secrist, ‘Jesus is Coming Soon’, The Christian Evangel, October 10, 1914, 62, 3.
156 Albert Weaver, ‘Antichrist and His System’, The Christian Evangel, October 3, 1914, 61, 3.
157 Minutes of the General Council of the Assemblies of God (Gospel Publishing House, 1914), 14–15.
158 W. W. Simpson, ‘The Baptism in the Spirit—A Defense’, The Christian Evangel, July 14, 1917, 198,
- This passage is discussed in more detail by McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 164–65.
concurs, stating that the eschatology of the CE is ‘uniform’ and ‘compatible with the classical dispensational perspective’. 159
2.5 Assessment of the Periodicals
This examination of four early Pentecostal periodicals gives clear evidence that the early Pentecostals were dispensational in their understanding of eschatology. If we evaluate the periodicals in light of Sweetnam’s rubric for defining dispensationalism, we find close ‘family resemblance’: each of the periodicals affirmed evangelical doctrine; each argued for a literal understanding of prophecies concerning eschatology; each provided evidence of their understanding of a distinction between Israel and the Church; each spoke of the imminence of the rapture of Christians and the expectation of a coming literal millennium.
By comparing the eschatology expressed in these periodicals to the other models outlined in chapter one, a clear picture emerges. The early Pentecostals rejected the eschatological views of the traditionalist Lutherans and Reformed. They borrowed terminology from Fletcher and used Darby’s basic outline of eschatology, modifying it on certain Pentecostal issues. Their eschatology shows the closest ‘family resemblance’ to that of the broader dispensationalism of ‘interdenominational evangelicalism’. This evaluation calls for a final chapter in which I propose a reappraisal of the early Pentecostals in relation to dispensationalism.
Early Pentecostals as Dispensationalists
In this dissertation, I have argued that the evidence of the primary sources of early Pentecostalism contradicts the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ approach. The early Pentecostals were heirs of a dispensational, premillennial eschatology. They believed in a secret rapture from the beginning of their movement. Whilst their interest in the early
159 McQueen, Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology, 163.
years was in preaching the coming of Christ with urgency and not producing detailed dispensational charts, nonetheless they should be considered dispensationalists when a ‘family resemblance’ approach is adopted. If this analysis is correct, it calls for a reassessment of the way in which we understand early Pentecostalism in relation to dispensationalism.
3.1 Early Pentecostals in Relation to Other Dispensationalists
In reading the periodicals of early Pentecostalism, one notes their shared interests with cessationist dispensationalists. Despite differences over tongues or the miraculous gifts, early Pentecostals had many of the same emphases as other dispensationalists.
The Zionist cause is one example of the overlap in interests within this broader dispensationalism. In almost every issue of the four periodicals I reviewed for this dissertation, references to the Zionist cause abound. The editors provided current statistics on the repopulation of the ‘Holy Land’ by Jewish immigrants, in many cases linking this return to prophecies about a future for Israel. Many of the articles on the Zionist cause were republished from cessationist dispensational publications, such as Gaebelein’s Our Hope. Titles such as ‘Present Condition of Palestine Indicative of the Lord’s Return’160 are common. In light of this, Macchia’s comment about ‘a certain lack of interest in such questions [i.e. end-times events]’ 161 does not accurately represent the periodical literature of the early Pentecostal movement. Clearly, Pentecostals shared with other dispensationalists a strong interest in the future, especially in relation to the Jewish people.
Another area of overlap involves, in Althouse’s categories, the relation of early Pentecostals to ‘future hope’ and ‘future despair’. Althouse places Pentecostals in the ‘future hope’ quadrant, over against the ‘future despair’ of cessationist
160 E. L. Langston, ‘Present Condition of Palestine Indicative of the Lord’s Return’, The Bridegroom’s Messenger, July 1, 1912, 113.
161 Macchia, ‘Pentecostal and Charismatic Theology’, 285.
dispensationalists.162 As observed in chapter two, King also argues for the ‘leavening’ of Pentecostalism with cessationist dispensational despair. A better approach is to view the eschatology of early Pentecostals as a tension between ‘future hope’ and ‘future despair’, just as that of other dispensationalists. Sexton, without a hint of reliance on Scofield, wrote an editorial entitled, ‘What Will the Year 1913 Bring?’ She opens the piece with James 5:7, ‘Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord’. Following this exhortation, she proceeds to explain why the world is getting worse, rather than better. Statistics on alcohol use, crime, divorce and the widespread decline in the churches are marshalled to support this perspective. Her conclusion highlights the tension in the eschatology of early Pentecostals:
On account of these sad facts, and because we know that according to the Word wickedness will increase on the earth till the end of the age, our hearts cry out to our Lord to hasten His coming and for such a cloudburst of Pentecostal latter rain as will better fit us for that great, glad day. 163
A study of the periodicals of early Pentecostals shows that they, as other dispensationalists, held views that may be considered both pessimistic and optimistic.
3.2 Dispensationalism in Light of Family Resemblance
This dissertation argues for understanding dispensationalism in light of ‘family resemblance’ rather than according to a strict set of beliefs based on the views of Darby or Scofield. According to this approach, a set of broad features comprise the essence of dispensationalism, rather than a strict set of beliefs propounded by specific theologians or the number of dispensations or the interpretation of individual passages. Many of the reasons given by scholars for not considering early Pentecostals dispensationalists are answered by this approach. For example, holding to three dispensations or seven does not alter the essence of the system, if the main points cohere. The application or non- application of the Sermon on the Mount to the Church does not alter the essence of the
162 Peter Althouse, ‘An Introduction’, in Althouse; Waddell, Perspectives in Pentecostal Eschatologies, 14.
163 Elizabeth A. Sexton, ‘What Will the Year 1913 Bring?’, The Bridegroom’s Messenger, January 1, 1913, 124.
system, as long as a belief in a literal millennium is upheld. This same approach allows flexibility in regard to the interpretation of individual passages on the rapture or the revelation of Christ, or on whether or not the dispensations overlap.164
Cessationist dispensationalists and early Pentecostals, according to this approach, may be understood as fellow theological travellers. On eschatology, cessationist dispensationalists and Pentecostals of the first decades of the 20th century had more in common than with many traditionalist Reformed or Lutheran groups. Although cessationists believed that the exercise of the miraculous gifts ceased towards the end of the 1st century, they did not mark a break in the dispensation of the Church at that point. Their views on the gifts did not appear in their dispensational charts, nor did they disdain all use of typology in their reading of the Old Testament.165 On the other side, the early Pentecostals spoke of the ‘Latter Rain’, but this season did not form a new dispensation in their eschatological programme. They also emphasised the centrality of Scripture over experience in their doctrinal formulations. By way of example, Pastor William Hamner Piper urged his audience to ‘remember, please, always to test the vision by the Book, and never the Book by the vision, and if your vision does not agree with the Word of God, away with it.’166 Further studies from both cessationist and Pentecostal scholars should fairly assess the views of these early 20th-century groups based on the primary sources, rather than on their personal or denominational notions from a later period.
3.3 Refining of Pentecostal Dispensationalism
Proponents of the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ approach often portray the changes made within Pentecostal eschatology as evidence of the second-generation Pentecostals’ move towards fundamentalism or evangelicalism. Whilst this may have
164 For a similar approach to the essence of dispensationalism in the late 20th century see: John S. Feinberg, ‘Systems of Discontinuity’, in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship between the Old and New Testaments, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1988). Kindle.
165 For example, Scofield, commenting on Genesis 1:16, says, ‘Dispensationally the Church is in place as the “lesser light”, the moon, reflecting the light of the unseen sun’. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible, 4.
166 William H. Piper, ‘The Sovereignty of God: In Its Dispensational and Individual Aspects’, The Bridegroom’s Messenger, September 15, 1909, 46, 4.
been true in some instances, another approach is to understand these changes as modifications of their already existing dispensationalism. A broad dispensationalism was accepted by early Pentecostals, and this system was then refined upon interaction with the publications and conferences of other dispensationalists, such as Scofield, Arno Gaebelein or Clarence Larkin. For instance, the visual theology of Larkin, as exemplified in his work Dispensational Truth,167 directly influenced F. J. Lee’s presentation of biblical history and eschatology in a conference session. The publication of the discourse included a diagram that borrowed aspects of Larkin’s charts.168 If Pentecostals already accepted a broader dispensationalism, it is not surprising that they would have used other dispensationalists’ work to supplement or modify their own views. Other refinements in their dispensationalism were necessitated by the rise of doctrinal diversity. For example, in the 1930s, discussion arose about the timing of the rapture, and for this reason Pentecostal groups began to define their position with respect to the pre-trib, mid-trib and post-trib positions.169 This could be understood as a move towards evangelicalism or fundamentalism, but on my reading this is the natural development of doctrinal positions as each group confronted differing positions and further defined their own.
This chapter has looked at ways in which a reassessment of early Pentecostals in relation to dispensationalism leads to a more nuanced view of the eschatology of the movement in the first two decades. The ideas I mention provide some first steps towards reassessing the movement’s early history in light of the primary sources, but more research should be conducted in this area.
In this dissertation, I have argued against the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ view
on the eschatology of early Pentecostals. Following a ‘family resemblance’ method of
167 Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth or God’s Plan and Purpose in the Ages, rev. ed. (Glenside, PA: Rev. Clarence Larkin Est., 1920).
168 F. J. Lee, ‘Discourse Delivered by F. J. Lee Thursday Eve[ning at Bi]ble School, Illustrated with
Chart’, The Church of God Evangel, January 3, 1925, 1.
169 E. C. Clark, ‘When Does the Rapture Take Place?’, The Church of God Evangel, March 25, 1933, 4.
discussing dispensationalism, I have argued that the early Pentecostals may correctly be understood as proponents of a broader dispensationalism, a theological vision that gained popularity within Moody’s ‘interdenominational evangelicalism’. Following an introduction to the topic and a select literature review in which the popularity of the ‘latecomer’ view was shown, I examined the eschatological approaches available at the beginning of the 20th century in chapter one. In chapter two, I used four periodicals to argue that the early Pentecostals were dispensationalists in a broad sense of the term. They held to the main features of dispensationalism, such as a belief in the division of history into dispensations, the distinction between Israel and the Church, the rapture and a literal thousand-year millennium. In chapter three, I brought out several implications of this analysis.
Based on this research, Pentecostals and cessationists alike need to revise some of their statements on the eschatology of the Pentecostal movement in the early years. This reassessment could provide incentives for questioning the belief that dispensationalism is a leaven that should be removed from the bread of Pentecostalism. This research also highlights commonalities shared by both cessationist and Pentecostal dispensationalists of the early 20th century. Whilst I had initially begun to research the ways in which the eschatology of early Pentecostalism changed in the 1920s and 1930s, I was redirected by the scope of this dissertation to focus on the early years and consequently was only able to sketch a tentative proposal on the issue of the changes that occurred in the subsequent decades. Further research is needed on how and why Pentecostal eschatology changed in these decades. This dissertation has focused on the eschatological views of only a certain sector of North American Pentecostals, so a fuller treatment would need to incorporate a broader panorama of diverse groups from North America and the rest of the world. I hope that this dissertation may encourage others to take up some of these research questions in the quest for understanding the eschatological views of early Pentecostals from a broader viewpoint than that espoused by the ‘latecomer to dispensationalism’ perspective.
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———. ‘An Introduction’. In Althouse; Waddell, Perspectives in Pentecostal Eschatologies, 1–24.
———, and Robby Waddell, eds. Perspectives in Pentecostal Eschatologies: World without End. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010. Kindle.
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Barth, Hattie M. ‘The Message of the Hour’. The Bridegroom’s Messenger, December 1927.
Bartleman, F. ‘What We Need’. The Bridegroom’s Messenger, June 1, 1908, 15.
‘Behold the Bridegroom Cometh’. The Apostolic Faith. January 1907, 5.
Clark, E. C. ‘When Does the Rapture Take Place?’ The Church of God Evangel, March 25, 1933, 4.
Culbreth, J. A. ‘The Baptism and Evidence of Pentecost Foreshadowed’. The Bridegroom’s Messenger, February 15, 1908, 8.
Curtis, C. R. ‘A Word of Testimony’. The Evening Light and Church of God Evangel, March 1, 1910, 1.
Darby, John Nelson. ‘Is the Comforter Come? And Is He Gone?’ The Collected Writings of
- J. N. Darby, Doctrinal 2, Vol 1 Accessed July 8, 2018. http://www.plymouthbrethren.org/article/10793.
———. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. Rev. ed. 3. London: G. Morrish, 1820.
———. Seven Lectures on the Second Coming of the Lord: Delivered in Toronto, in 1863.
Toronto: Gospel Tract Depository, 1863. https://archive.org/details/cihm_07686.
Dayton, Donald W. Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987.
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