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.