This essay examines a theologically unpopular and neglected topic: the wrath of God. It suggests how the mercy of God flowers once the wrath of God has done its work to bring change and repentance. This topic will be examined first from its biblical example and then from an example manifest in 20th Century European history.
One of the clearest biblical examples of the wrath of God in action is the description of the destruction of Solomon’s temple. The book of 2 Chronicles describes it in tragic and stark terms;
The Lord, the God of their ancestors, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and did not spare young men or young women, the elderly or the infirm. God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. (2 Chronicles 36: 15-20)
What the chronicler left out, perhaps to avoid a salacious tint, was that victorious armies of the era were permitted to rape the women in the captured city for days. Also excluded was a description of the forced march of the captives to Babylon. Surely that march, as in all such events, must have had many heartbreaking scenes of weaker members left to die of starvation and exposure, and of the captors tormenting and abusing the women within the column of captives, etc. But the grace and mercy operating among the exiles was larger than they imagined, even during their humiliation and suffering. Jeremiah wrote to the captives after they arrived in Babylon with an upbeat message.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29: 4-7)
They did reestablish normal lives in Babylon and did prosper. But note also that when the exiles returned to Jerusalem to begin the tasks of rebuilding the Temple and then its walls, they brought with them the institution of the synagogue. This was necessary for universal worship in areas distant from the Temple, and is the building block of the Christian Church of the future. The exiles also came back to Jerusalem with a renewed fervor for the Word of God and determination to follow its commandments. As it turned out, the Second Temple, with Herod’s renovation and additions was far more glorious than the First Temple, and was the place honored by the Messiah’s presence and frequent teachings.
All of which is to say that the wrath of God can be horrific and terrible when a people are in the midst of it. Yet there is also a salvific element that can redeem and change the end situation for the better. God’s goodness is manifest even in His wrath, or as C.S Lewis’ expressed, God’s love is a “severe mercy.”
The Wrath of God in Modern Times: A very brief history of Germany.
I would like to suggest that the history of Germany is a case study of the wrath of God falling upon a people, and acting as a “severe mercy” to bring about a better spiritual outcome.
At the time of the Germanic invasions of the crumbling Roman Empire, the Germanic tribes were independent and often at odds with one another. The Kingdom of Charlemagne grouped several of the tribes together for a moment in history, but from then on it was a process of fragmentation into tiny, small or mid-sized kingdoms. Prussia, on the coast of the North Sea developed as one of the larger kingdoms. Prussia also eventually led the reunification of the Germanic kingdoms to its south and west.
Prussia’ prominence began at a point in history when French, Austrian and Russian allied and plotted to partition it. This was prevented by a series of brilliant military campaigns led by Frederic the Great (1712-1786). Frederic established a highly efficient military and splendid officer corps, and this acquired a mythical glow with the passage of time. Frederic managed to add some territory to Prussia, but further expansion had to wait a later generation.
The unification of Germany, under Prussian leadership, was brought forward in the 19th Century Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898). He was a genius in diplomacy, and politics. But he also harbored a disdain and racial hatred towards the Polish people, wishing that they be exterminated. He unified Germany by inciting three wars: one against Denmark, one against Austria, and the last against France. They were quickly won by the superior Prussian Army, and stirred a desire among the Germans for political unification. Under the Pan-German fervor, the lessor German kingdoms gathered under Prussia’s umbrella into the North German Federation, controlled by Prussia, but with significant autonomy.
In the last of Bismarck’s wars, Franco-Prussian War of 1871, France was both defeated and humiliated. Not only did France lose the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, but it had to pay a large indemnity to Germany. This set the scene for World War I. The war was fought principally in France, where German armies gained rapid initial victories. But then the war front stalemated for four years with very heavy casualties to all sides and huge destructiveness. Germany was defeated in 1918 as fresh American divisions tipped the balance towards the Allies.
The magnitude of the war, the rise of a communist state in Russia (and almost in Bavaria) should have been an invitation for Christians to pray for a revival in Europe. But that did not happen. The Churches in Protestant Europe were cessationist, and in Germany especially influenced by liberal theology and “higher criticism,” i.e. that the biblical miracles did not happen. They knew nothing of the gifts of the Spirit, and disdained the phenomenon rich revivalism of the American churches. Karl Barth, the most famous theologian of the era, brought back an Evangelical understanding of the Gospels, but remained mired in cessationsim. In sum, the churches were mostly powerless to demonstrate healing and deliverance, or to mediate reconciliation to the continent. In fact, before the War the German Evangelical churches officially rejected Pentecostalism as “from below” in the Berlin Declaration of 1909. They had read about the Azusa Street revival and wanted nothing to do with it.
Instead of World War I functioning as a prophetic warning to the German peoples of the evil of militarism and ultra-nationalism, the opposite happened. The Nazi movement arose, extolling the superiority of the Arian race, anti-Semitism, anti-Slavism, and the virtues of German militarism, as in Frederic the Great. Hitler railed that Germany almost won the war in spite of being vastly outnumbered, but lost only because of the backstabbing, communist and Jews. German Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, mostly failed to discern the Pagan and demonic character of Nazism, and only a small “confessing church” actively opposed Hitler.
We all know what happened next, and do not need to rehearse the details of Nazi anti-Semitism, genocide and aggression. But it should be noted that Nazi atrocities against the Polish people are largely unknown. Hitler followed and expanded Bismarck’s darkest yearnings. He ordered the extermination of the Polish intelligentsia, with the ultimate intent of creating a nation of ignorant surfs under Germanic overlords. In fact, in the early years of WWII Polish intellectuals were rounded up and purposely worked to death in Nazi concentration camps.
Germany suffers the Wrath of God:
We can now begin to see World War II partially as an activity of God’s wrath to an unrepentant nation. Germany again began the war with brilliant victories, as in the campaigns of Frederic the Great. The French Army was destroyed, and the British Army kicked out of Europe at Dunkirk in only six weeks of fighting. Nazi armies then turned to Russia and again experienced amazing victories, but bogged down in the midst of the brutal Russian winter and new divisions from the Russian hinterland. These were hastily trained and most often annihilated by the superior German Army, but no matter, new divisions replaced the decimated ones.
It was principally through the bomber campaigns by the British and American air forces that the wrath of God came fully to Germany. How this happened is significant. By late 1943 Allied air forces had achieved a major degree of air superiority over Europe. Allied planners believed Germany would be defeated by 1944, and in fact the German Army intelligence estimates agreed. After the war, German intelligence officers shared their puzzlement at the Allied targeting strategy. Had the Allied bombers targeted the German electric grid, and Germany’s limited petroleum facilities, the war would have indeed ended in 1944 with German industry totally shut down.
But that did not happen. The War dragged on until May of 1945. American bombers went after specific manufacturing targets, such as aircraft plants, and their supporting industries. The much-publicized raid on the ball-bearing plants in Schweinfurt, Germany, is an example of this strategy. In fact, that raid was a costly fiasco that did nothing to stop German war production. Germany quickly moved her main industries underground and in dispersed sites outside of its cities. War production in 1944 was actually higher than in 1943. The magnificently engineered German jets and tanks kept rolling off the production lines until the day of surrender. All the while, American bombs fell at or around the sometimes-empty factories in the centers of German cities. The famous American Norden bombsight was less accurate than publicized and bombs would often land a quarter of a mile off target. Thousands of civilians perished or had their homes demolished in the misses.
The British had a different strategy which was more brutal. It was to carpet bomb the cities and thus destroy German morale. That also did not work. It mostly made the survivors mad and led credence to Nazi propaganda that the Allies intended to eradicate Germany. Nazi propaganda also promised that the new jet airplanes would soon turn the tide.
Through all this the German people suffered tremendously. Multiple German cites underwent carpet bombing which resulted in super-hot “fire-storms” in which everything burned: the buildings, appliances, food stuffs, people, and even bricks disintegrated in the intense heat. Between Allied bombers and Russian artillery, the Germans suffered perhaps one and a quarter million civilian deaths. To that must be added about five million military deaths, the majority form the Eastern Front via the despised Slavic (Russian) forces.
The Russian soldiers were not gentle conquerors, and the women of Berlin and other Russian occupied areas suffered a prolonged round of rape and abuse. Further, after the War, German borders were shifted and reduced, with large sections given to Poland (which lost territory to Russia). The German populations in the reassigned areas were driven out, as well as many ethnic Germans who lived in various enclaves in Eastern Europe. Perhaps another 500,000 Germans died in that forced winter migration to the remaining parts of Germany. (Does this sound similar to what happened to the Jews of the First Temple destruction?)
Allied planners feared guerrilla warfare by Nazi troops immediately after the War. In fact, Nazi propaganda in the last weeks of the war promised as much. Nothing of the sort took place. The German people were truly shell shocked and wanted no more war. Further, as the revelations of the brutality of the concentration camps became known, and the extent of the Nazi genocide against Jews and Gypsies revealed, many Germans were shocked and began experiencing repentance. The idolatries of the Frederick the Great militarism and Bismarck’s racism were largely broken.
Significantly, in the first post-War election (1948) there was a possibility that the Communist Party would win. But there was a spiritual turn around brought about mainly by the campaign of a German American Lutheran pastor and evangelist, Frank Buchman. He had founded a precursor to Alcoholics Anonymous, called the “Oxford Movement,” and then the anti-communist “Moral Rearmament Movement.” He campaigned extensively in Germany and persuaded many Germans to vote for democracy and the new Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party. His work was especially important in reversing Communist Party gains among the miners in the Ruhr. The CDU won the early post-War elections and went on to rule West Germany into the 1970s.
Indeed, most Germans have repented of their militarist and Nazi past. But that did not convert into a more robust and active form of Christianity. Cessationsim, in its Protestant and Catholic varieties, and theological liberalism, remained the norm, continuing to weaken the churches. Germany, along with Europe, slipped into ever increasing atheism, materialism and sexual libertinism.
That the manifestation of the wrath of God did not result in the full conversion of Germany is not surprising. Mass revivals and conversions of any sort are always incomplete, and need to be refreshed. American has had seasons of great revivals and yet its current spiritual state is lamentable. The wrath of God did succeed in shocking the German people out of militarism, ant-Semitism and Nazism. And in the working of God’s mercy, the Germans resumed their national existence as hard-working, scientific and inventive people. But God would not force them into a revived Christianity. That is the work of the Church through revived and Spirit-filled Christian leaders – mostly absent since the Berlin Declaration.
- Did the Charismatic Renewal begin in the 1950?
In many countries of the world one can go to a fashionable hotel and find a Saturday breakfast meeting of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI). There they will see businessmen and tradesmen of all kinds raising their hands in adoration and praise to the Lord. A speaker, not an ordained minister, would give a talk or Bible teaching, and others would be invited to witness to what the Lord has done in their lives. At times the “MC” facilitator of these breakfast meetings would ask those present to raise their hands in recognition as he called out the major denominations, Baptist, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, etc. This ritual makes it clear to all that these breakfast meetings are an ecumenical fellowship.
I first encountered this ritual as a new and very “Catholic” Charismatic about 1975. I was struck by this loving, non-denominational ecumenism. Having been well educated in Church history it impressed me immediately that such a multidenominational meeting would not have been held two hundred years ago, and three hundred years ago they might have been at each other’s throats with the cutlery on the table. Catholics would have had all Protestants declared as heretics and worthy of the stake. Calvinists would have attempted the same for the Baptists. This “worshiping ecumenicism,” where doctrines were NOT discussed, prompted me to reconsider the meaning of heresy and its overuse in theological circles.
The FGBMFI has brought the Gospel to millions of men all over the world, and then quickly baptized many of them in the Holy Spirit – something few other churches or para-churches are likely to do. This has been done mostly by the thousands (and ultimately hundreds of thousands) of members inviting unbelieving friends, nominal Christians, and outright skeptics to the meetings with the lure of a free breakfast. In these meeting there have always been a steady stream of healings and deliverance prayer that occurs either across the breakfast table, in a healing line, or in spontaneous prayer groups that form as the official meeting adjourn,
Most Church historians date the beginning of the Charismatic Renewal in1960, with the incident at St. Marks in California, when the Rev. Dennis Bennett declared before his congregation that he spoke in tongues. This was followed my massive publicity about the incident which many other “closet” charismatics to also come public with their spiritual giftings.
But if by the Charismatic Renewal is meant the coming of Pentecostalism to mainline Christians, a good case can be made that the Renewal really began a decade earlier with the founding of the FGBMFI. It was in these meetings that thousands of men from the mainline denominations met in worshipful, ecumenical fellowship, received and exercised the Gifts of the Spirit. In the United States, where the FGBMFI began, thousands of persons received the Gifts of the Spirit in FGBMFI meetings during the 1950s, and hundreds of thousands in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, the FGBMFI was the major institution driving the remarkable expansion of Renewalist (Pentecostal, Charismatic and “Third Wave”) churches during those decades. But back in the 1950s when it started, it served as a “Holy Ghost holding tank” for thousands of persons in the mainline denominations who were baptized by the Spirit, but could not publicly practice the Gifts in their churches. But they could and did at the Saturday breakfast meetings.
From Armenia to California:
This grand and influential para-church ministry had its roots in the Shakarian family, which fled Armenia in 1900 and settled in California. In Armenia they had belonged to a congregation of believers that had roots in an 1850’s Russian revival which manifested the Gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. They worshiped in barns and homes and were independent from the majority Armenia Orthodox Church. In 1900 a local prophet warned the fellowship of impending doom, and he urged migration to America. Many did, including the Shakarian family. In fact, after World War I broke out, Turkey began a mass deportation of Armenians to the Mesopotamian desert (1916). This resulted in genocide of perhaps one million Armenians.
Safe in California, Isaac Shakarian and his wife established a small dairy farm and wholesale vegetable business, and both prospered. Like his father’s home in Armenia, the Shakarian home in California became a house-church on Sundays. The congregation embraced the Azusa St. Revival from the beginning as an extension of their own experiences in Armenia.
Into this family environment their boy, Demos was born (1913). Demos developed as a faith filled Christian. At thirteen, while attending Sunday church and praising the Lord he experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. Unlike most others of his generation, he was in a congregation that understood the experience. The shout went out, “Demos’s got the Spirit!”
Years later Demos’ sister, Florence, was involved in a horrendous car accident. That accident broke many of her bones, shredded her pelvis bones, and left her with third degree burns all over her back. Bone fragments were gravitating towards the internal organs, and the prognosis was not hopeful. The physicians had braced her body in wires and counterweights to keep her shattered pelvis immobile. Shakarian’s church went into a day of prayer and fasting. Demos prayed for his sister and was able to alleviate her pain, but there was little healing. His sister was dying. He heard that the anointed Pentecostal healing evangelist, Dr, Charles Price, was at a nearby town and went to fetch hem. Dr. Price came to the hospital, and after laying hands on Florence’s forehead with oil, he prayed,
“Lord Jesus” he said, “we thank you for being here. We thank you for healing our sister.” All at once, on the high bed, Florence twisted. Dr. Price jumped back as one of the heavy steel traction weights swung past his head. Florence rolled to one side as far as the wires would allow, then to the other….for twenty incredible minuets Florence continued to toss and roll in her wire prison. ….[Then] Florence lay still on her bed, gradually the weights ceased their circling. For a long moment she stared at me.
“Demos,” she whispered, Jesus healed me.”
The hospital staff was astounded at what the x-rays revealed: where the day before there was a gaggle of shattered bones, now there was only the merest trace of bone injures, as if the accident had happened years ago. Florence’s dramatic healing began a lifelong friendship with the Dr. Price.
Demos married in 1933. He and his wife Rose decided to rededicate their lives to God and to serve the church. Demos knew he was not called to preach, so he began by renting a tent for a local Pentecostal preacher and sponsoring his revival meetings. The family dairy business began to prosper and grow, and he continued to be both businessman and church booster. This continued throughout the war years (1941-1945) when, due to gas shortages and rationing, running revivals became especially difficult.
Founding of the FGBMFI:
It was at these revivals where Demos noticed that, unlike his Armenian-American congregation, very few men attended the events. Dr. Price informed him that this was common to the American church. He explained: “Sure, we clergy can give comfort and counsel to a man who’s down and out, but what about the man who makes it?…ministers like me don’t even know the language.” Without knowing it Dr. Price planted the seed that would bear the greatest fruit in Demos’ life.
After the end of World War II (1945), Demos committed to sponsor and manage a major revival in Fresno. But when the time came for the revival he found himself in a business crisis of the family’s feed enterprise which needed daily attention. He chose to stay in Fresno and attend to the revival and God’s interests first. Miraculously, during the revival, the Lord sold that business for a profit. Demos then used the money to expand his dairy herd. That business prospered to the point of becoming the largest privately owned dairy in America.
Demos continued to sponsor Pentecostal events in California and especially the LA area, and as a byproduct created network of Pentecostal businessmen and professionals who contributed their money and skills to various rallies and revivals. Demos’ activities also made him friends with the major healing revivalists of the post-War era. He was especially close to Oral Roberts who had stayed at the Shakarian home several times. In the fall of 1951 Demos chaired and organized a large crusade for Oral Roberts in LA. At that time, Demos shared with Roberts his dream of establishing a fellowship for lay persons. Demos explained:
It’s a group – a group of men. Not exceptional men. Just average business people who know the Lord and love Him, but haven’t known how to show it.”
“And what does this group do?”
“They tell other men, Oral. No theories. They tell what they’ve actually experienced of God to other men like themselves – men who might not believe what a preacher said – even someone like you – but he will listen to a plumber or dentist or salesman because there’re plumbers and dentists and salesmen themselves.”
Oral Roberts affirmed that his dream was from the Lord, and promised to be the first guest speaker. In October of 1951 the first meeting of the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International was held at the upper room of Clifton’s cafeteria in Los Angeles. It was a place that could accommodate several hundred persons. The plan to become international seemed pretentious at the time, but Demos insisted the Lord had given him that precise name.
Demos had announced the meeting at the end Oral Robert’s LA crusade. They both expected several hundred persons to attend the first breakfast meeting. Nineteen came. Despite this, Oral Roberts prophesized it would be indeed an international organization to witness the power of God all around the world. But the weekly Saturday morning meetings continued to draw scant attendance – between 15 and 40. Some pastors began opposing the group fearing Shakarian would drain their best people and their money to “another church.” This was most unfair, as Demons continuously called the men to stay in their own congregations, and influence their churches with the power of the Spirit. But in 1950s the word “para-Church” had not been coined, and the concept of an independent, non-denominational entity that supported other churches instead of competing against them was not understood.
After a year of meetings, Demos was deeply discouraged. When his evangelist friend Tommy Hicks visited his home, Demos went to prayer over the situation, to see what the Lord would have him do – perhaps it was time to close it down. While Demos was praying Rose Sakarian slipped into the room and began softly planning their Hammond organ. She sang in tongues then prophesied: “My son, I knew you before you were born. I have guided you every step of the way. Now I am going to show you the purpose of your life.”
At the same time Demos had a two-part vision. He was taken up to the sky and from there could the sad state of the word, with men lifeless and frozen in sadness. Then he saw the same men, all over the world, alive, happy and with their hands lifted praising the Lord. Rose understood her prophecy and his vision to mean that the FGBMFI would continue and grow. In fact, the next week Demos was given a $1,000 donation by one of his businessmen friends who had recently advised the Fellowship be closed down. It was used to start the Fellowships’ magazine, Voice.
The FGBMFI Explodes:
The next year 1952, the FGBMFI grew to eight chapters in the United States. By the late 1960s there were three hundred chapters and over a hundred thousand members. The yearly conventions drew thousands, and attracted the best speakers of the charismatic renewal. These were its glory years. In 1988 there were 3000 chapters in the United States and chapters in over 80 counties overseas. It had truly become international.
It is difficult to overestimate the role of the FGBMFI in the ultimate formation of the Renewalist churches. The FGBMFI was specifically a world-wide conduit for the Faith Idealism developed by E.W. Kenyon and spread by the “Word Faith” evangelists such as Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland. Hagan and Copeland were particularly popular speakers for the businessmen who resonated with the prosperity covenant taught by them. The famous healing evangelists of the post-World War II era were also frequent speakers and ministered at their meetings
By 1993, when Demos died, the FBBMFI in the United States was undergoing a decline – the natural course of a revival institution that succeeded in its central purpose. Its initial message: that God acted in everyday life of ordinary people with the power of the Spirit, and the Gifts of the Spirit, was now commonly, if not universally accepted. The theology of Faith Idealism, and Christian prosperity, which it did so much to spread, was well established if still controversial – principally because the prosperity teachings fell into various extremisms.
From the 1980s the FGBMFI underwent a tremendous expansion overseas, especially in the 3rd World. In many of these countries, where corruption was endemic, the combination of the concepts of “businessman” with “honesty” and “holiness” and the power of the Spirit had never been made. The FGBMFI presence and modeling have been truly revolutionary. It suddenly injected the “Protestant Ethic” and Puritan respect for commercial life in places where those things were unknown. Especially in Africa, the FGBMFI has been a conduit for the spread of the Charismatic renewal and the Gifts of the Spirit. In that continent, where many persons are still under the bondage of witchcraft and almost everyone believes in the spiritual dimensions of dreams and visions, the strong Pentecostal/charismatic message of FGBMFI speakers has been readily accepted. Similarly, the FGBMFI has experienced dramatic successes in Latin America in recent decades.
But in perspective, it may be that its revolutionary “worship ecumenism” practiced at all FGBMFI meetings is its greatest legacy and a candidate to be labeled as the originating group of the Charismatic Renewal.
 Norman Davies, God’s Play Ground, A History of Poland (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 124.
 Matthew Rose, “Karl Barth’s Failure,” First Things, June 2014, at: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/06/karl-barths-failure
 See the brief and excellent article on thisin Wikipedia, “Intelligenzaktion.”
 Reece Howells, a famous British missionary and intercessor, prayed fervently for a quick end to WWII and lamented the huge casualties it was producing in the Eastern Front. God answered that Russia too was being punished for its atrocities. See Norman Grubb, Rees Howell Intercessor (Lutterworth: Christian Literature Crusade, 1952).
 Of course, not immediately and not completely. About 1955 my brother dated a beautiful German girl who had come to the US right after the war. She had no repentance about the war and only lamented that Hitler did not take his own advice about not fighting a two-front war.
Garth Lean, Frank Buchmn: A Life (London: Constable, 1985), 360ff.
 The history of the FGBMFI is documented in Demos Shakarian, “as told by” John and Elizabeth Sherrill, The Happiest People on Earth (Old Tappan: Chosen Books, 1975). A later, general history of this important para-church ministry was written by the dean of Pentecostal historians, Vinson Synan, Under His Banner (Gift Publications, 1991). The FGBMFI website has a brief history and wonderful pictures, at: http://www.fgbmfi.org/home.htm
 See my discussion of the “discernment heresies” in chapter 1 above.
 Shakarian The Happiest 36.
 Ibid., 70-71.
 Ibid., 79.
 Ibid., 83.
 Ibid., 118.
 Opoku Onyinah, “African Christianity in the Twenty-first Century.” Word & World, 27 #3 (Summer 2007) 305-314.
 Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, “Missionaries Without Robes: Lay Charismatic fellowship and the evangelization of Ghana,” Pneuma, 19 #2 (1997), 167-188.