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.
2.3 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
2.4 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.