How Pentecostals Responded to the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic

(Note: This blog was also published in Influence Magazine and can be viewed on their website https://influencemagazine.com)

Hear a podcast about this topic with Steve Strang of Charisma Magazine.


 

Right now the whole world is feeling the effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic.  It seems like every institution in our society is closing down to protect people from the spread of this virus. Many people have been commenting on the church’s response to this current crisis from different angles. Yet, every day, more and more churches are deciding to close down and provide services online. How should people of faith and who believe in healing handle this crisis? Should we cancel church? Should we stop ministry in the midst of a pandemic?

What is interesting about this current pandemic is that it is just over 100 years ago that the world was overtaken by the Spanish Influenza. During 1918-1919, an estimated 500 million people contracted the virus and 50 million died as a result. Knowing that this was in the early days of Pentecostalism, I decided to look back to how Pentecostal believers in the Assemblies of God reacted to the Spanish Flu pandemic. Turns out, Pentecostals had a lot to say about the topic.

Beginning in 1918, tales of influenza and the Spanish flu filled the pages of the AG’s newspaper, The Christian Evangel (later known as the Pentecostal Evangel). In Springfield, Missouri, where the AG and Pentecostal Evangel headquarters had recently re-located, a great outbreak took place. The paper recorded all the Assemblies were closed.

It is interesting to note that Churches and ministers  complied with Health Department mandates to close their meetings and quarantine this who are sick. They recognized that they needed to protect people in the cities they lived in.  On several occasions, revivals had to be canceled as the Influenza was spreading across the town. Some saw it as the direct resistance to the great work God was doing. Even so, they viewed the painful reality of human mortality as a greater impulse to reach the loss.

Yet, these believers also went to the homes of those who were sick to pray and saw many answers to prayer. They weren’t afraid to pray for the sick. In some cases, they ministered to them even in death, as is illustrated below.

The paper had many accounts from ministers, but also included on the last page of the paper a list of prayer requests, many of which were of people asking for prayer for themselves or their children because of the virus. Sadly, I am sure many of these died.

Yet, there were also stories of triumph of Pentecostal saint who made it through. One particularly important testimony was that of E.N. Bell’s wife, who contracted the Spanish Flu but was healed. She testified, “The Spirit Himself interceded for me” and she made it through.

On another occasion, the notable early leader, Robert Craig of San Francisco, shared this testimony that although many died in the city, not one in their mission died from the influenza.

Some of the hardest hit areas were global, particularly India. Accounts of the tragic loss of life filled the paper. One in particular article even describes the progression of the sickness, recording that a person would die in as little as three days.

Sadly, many missionaries also died from the Spanish Flu.  One in particular, named Nellie Andrews Norton, died because of her ministry to people with the Spanish Flu.  The tribute records, “When the Influenza came into our midst last month, she did not spare herself, but worked night and day caring for the sick until she herself came down with the disease.”  But accounts like these always acknowledged that for the believer, death was a “promotion” to heaven for sacrificing their life here on earth.

How Should Spirit-empowered Believers Respond Today?

As believers (particularly as Spirit-empowered believers) are considering how we should response to the current crisis, I think there is a couple things to take away  from this example. First, Early Pentecostals endured the worst pandemic of the flu to that point in history. Although they believed in healing, they didn’t promise that their faith in God would protect them from the disease. Many people caught it; many people died. Yet, they also testified that God was also a healer and many were preserved through it or were healed from it. In either case, it was their faith in God and prayer that got them through.

Second, their worship and ministry was interrupted by the crisis. Missions were closed. Revivals were canceled. Even the paper was delayed in being printed. Yet, they followed the guidelines of the city or health department and closed their churches and missions when instructed to. They were not careless with the lives of people during the pandemic. They were willing to stay home and pray, knowing that that was just as valuable in the crisis.

I don’t know how long churches will be canceled, stores will be closed, or people will suffer with this virus. But I know that people of faith have endured in the past and made it through. There may be tragic losses, but there may also be dramatic testimonies of healing as well. What I do know is we need to pray for one another. We need to encourage one another. We may even need to visit one another if God leads us.  But most of all, I think churches need to follow the example of those who went before us to keep safe, keep praying, and obey the guidelines that keep others safe. If we can do this, I know we will make it through.

The Origin, Development, and Future of Assemblies of God Eschatology: A PhD Thesis

Last May I completed a my journey through my PhD program.  For 10 years I have immersed myself in the world of Assemblies of God history and doctrine in order to produce the first comprehensive study of AG eschatology that looks at 100 years of official, popular and scholarly expressions of the AG’s position on the second coming of Jesus.  It was a joyful journey with may twists and turns. But in the end, I feel proud of the work I did and the contribution I made to the field of Pentecostal History and Theology.

Today, that thesis is available to the public for the first time.  My school, Bangor University (Wales), publishes all of their dissertations freely online through their open-source digital repository. Unlike Proquest, or other dissertation services, that are only available by subscription to academic libraries, Bangor believes in the value of information justice and sharing research with the world. Anyone can download it free of charge here:

https://research.bangor.ac.uk/portal/en/theses/the-origin-development-and-future-of-assemblies-of-god-eschatology(9d6fbc67-9a5e-47d5-8226-c7c62e24f609).html (warning, it takes a while to download)

A published print version of this thesis is in the works with ORU Press, which will hopefully be available later this year.

As I say in the dedication: ” I pray this study honors the past, encourages the present, and shapes the future.”

 

The Spirit of The Millennium – Perspectives on Assemblies of God Eschatology

Recently I was asked to teach a series of classes at my church based on my dissertation on the development of Assemblies of God eschatology. This was the first opportunity for me to present some of the findings of my research.  I did a week for each of the four AG eschatological statements in the Statement of Fundamental Truths: The blessed hope, the millennium, the final judgment, the new heavens and new earth. For one of the weeks I had to be out of town and recorded the lecture for the class.  Here is the video I shared on the development of the doctrine of Millennium. In it, I discuss the role of the millennium in AG visions of the future. I talk about how AG believers were committed to the premillennial coming of Christ in response to other postmillennial and amillennial views. I also discuss the role that Israel plays in AG visions of the future, noting the dynamics of the AG responses to developments in Israel through the twentieth century.

Link to Power Point slides: Spirit of the Last Days 3 Spirit of Justice

A Pilgrimage to Hot Springs

Returning home from vacation this week, I was able to make a pilgrimage to the site in Hot Springs Arkansas where the Assemblies of God began in 1914. I had wanted to go there for years, but never had the opportunity until we were driving back from Florida. This was finally my chance to see the place that I had so often studied in my research.

On April 2nd, 1914, three hundred Pentecostal ministers and laypeople gathered in Hot Springs, Arkansas for what would become the first General Council of the Assemblies of God. The stated purpose of this council was five fold: unity in message through biblical doctrine, unity in ministry through cooperation, unity in missions through organization, unity in legal matters through ministerial credentials, and unity in ministerial training. What resulted was a new Pentecostal group that today numbers 3.2 million adherents in over 13,000 churches across the US and 63 million world wide.


Why Hot Springs?

E.N. Bell

To understand why the AG started in Hot Springs, you have to go back a few years before 1914. In 1910, William Durham had differentiated himself from the holiness Pentecostals with his non-holiness “finished work” view of sanctification.  AG founder, E.N. Bell was baptized in the Spirit under Durham in Chicago in 1910. Bell would quickly become a recognized leader in the Parham’s Apostolic Faith movement and became the editor his Apostolic Faith in the South.

At some point in 1910, Bell made his way to Malvern Arkansas, a small town just down the railroad line from Hot Springs. Howard Goss also started a Pentecostal work in  Hot Springs, a bustling little town known for its healing waters. The town had  large hotels, sanitariums,  bath houses, and an opera house.  In September 1910, Bell and Goss invited Durham to preach a camp meeting in Malvern for the Arkansas Apostolic Faith churches. [1]

Trouble surrounding Parham’s claims to be the leader of the movement led Bell to distance himself and the groups he was leading in the south from Parham and the Apostolic Faith. Bell and Goss looked to Durham’s leadership and the Finished Work message was their new banner. Bell changed the Apostolic Faith paper to the Word and Witness and continued to publish it from Malvern.

Following the death of William Durham in 1912, E.N. Bell and Howard Goss inherited the mantle of leadership  for the finished work churches but backed off of Durham’s rigidity and divisiveness. They wanted to bring ministers back together in cooperation but because neither Durham nor Parham believed in organization or credentials, Goss and Bell received permission to offer credentials through C.H. Mason’s Church of God in Christ. But I believe they had it in their mind they would eventually need to start their own organization.

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1912 Tri-State Apostolic Faith Campmeeing

By 1912, to further locate Arkansas as the new center for Apostolic Pentecostalism in the south, Bell, Goss, and M.M. Pinson hosted conventions for ministers from the surrounding states in various towns including  Eureka Springs, Ozark, Little Rock and Hot Springs.

 

In 1913, a major fire devastated part of the town, but Goss declared “the burning out of half of Hot Springs recently by fire is no wise to stop the fire of the gospel guns upon the remainder of the city still standing.” [2]  To add to the “fire” in Hot Springs, in 1913 famed revivalst Maria Woolworth-Etter and Cyrus B. Fockler (another early AG leader) showed up to hold meetings. [3]  “Hundreds if not thousands” were being saved and filled with the Holy Ghost in Hot Springs.

The center of gravity for the Parham’s formerly Apostolic Faith groups was shifting from Texas to Arkansas, so much so that Houston Bible School leader, D.C.O. Opperman, decided start a Bible School in Hot Springs at the Opera House to open January 1914. Thus, when the call for the meeting was published in the Word and Witness in December of 1913, four of the five signers of the original call—Pinson, Goss, Opperman, Bell—were located already in the area surrounding Hot Springs.

On April 2-14, 1914, 300 Pentecostal ministers and laypeople from throughout the southwest met together in the old Opera House at 200 Central Ave. in historic down town Hot Springs. By the end of the week, they had formed a constitution and gave the new group a name, “The Assemblies of God”, a name proposed by T.K. Leonard because it was a “biblical name.” Bell and Goss no longer needed to use the Church of God in Christ credentials because they were now incorporated as their own separate group.[4] Bell was elected as the first general superintendent of the AG.  They were not trying to start a denomination; rather, they were wanting to unify the finished work churches together and continue what God had started a decade before. Little did they know that what the started that day would impact the nations with the gospel.

Hot Springs Today

Today, all that is left of the spark that has blossomed into 63 million adherents world wide is a plaque that was created in commemoration of the 2014 Centennial celebration. The opera house is no longer there. All that is left is a drive way, a parking lot, and a ugly power transformer. Below is the photo of me with the plaque. But the buildings surround the site are very much like they were a century ago.  The hotel across the street may have housed some of those first AG leaders. The springs water house next door could have been where they retreated after the meetings. The hills where the that famous photo took place are still there. Below is the picture of me where that could have been taken.  As someone who has spent years writing about AG history, it was such a joy to stand and look at the place where it all happened.  I wish there were more there to see today. But for me, it was enough and was well worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more AG history, this short video by the AG tells rest of the story.

AG Timeline – 6 minutes from Assemblies of God USA on Vimeo.


[1] “State Encampment,” Pentecostal Testimony (July 1, 1910), 10.

[2] “Hot Springs Under Fire,” Word and Witness (Sept 1, 1913), 1.

[3] Word and Witness, (Oct 1913), p. 1.

[4]  For a discussion on the reasons for this separation, see David D. Daniels, ‘Charles Harrison Mason: The Interracial Impulse’ Portraits of a Generation, James R. Goff and Grant Wacker (eds.) (Fayetteville, AK: University of Arkansas Press, 2002), pp. 254-270.

Ten Opportunities for Future Assemblies of God Research

A question was asked today in an Assemblies of God scholars group I am a part of concerning what areas in the AG needed more scholarship. While doing my own research on the AG, I would often come across information or topics that I recognized were still gaps in AG research.  Here is a list of topics that I thought of that future researchers and young scholars could explore at the masters or doctoral level.

1). Institutional History: The last denominational history was written in 1989 by Edith Blumhofer. The republished version of People of the Spirit by Gary B. McGee has added to that story. But, I still believe that a full history with updated information on the history and doctrinal development of the movement is needed. Likewise, I believe there is a need for a doctoral level study of the history of AG Bible school and universities. There is some work on P.C. Nelson and SAGU, as well as a few studies in Heritage on them as a whole. These institutions have been such a large part of the ethos of the denomination that the history and philosophy of these universities would be a fantastic study.

2). We need an updated systematic theology. Sometime back, I wrote a post on the history of Bible Doctrine books. The first full bible doctrines book was P.C. Nelson’s in 1936 (republished by GPH in 1948).  Myer Pearlman wrote Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible in 1937 and E.S. Williams followed that in 1953 with his Systematic Theology.  But it wasn’t until William Menzies wrote Understanding our Doctrine, which became the basis for Stanley Horton’s republished work Bible Doctrines (1993), that the AG had a modern theological exploration of AG doctrine by a PhD level scholar. The later  Systematic Theology (1994), edited by Stanley Horton, was a suitable systematic text, yet it is now nearly 25 years old.  It is time for a more mature and updated theological text based on the AG’s theological orientation and reflecting contemporary understandings of key AG doctrinal issues.  I hope my work on AG eschatology is a seed toward this goal.

3). There have only been a couple major studies of individual doctrinal beliefs of the Assemblies of God: Various ones on Initial evidence, Sanctification by Bruce Rosdahl and mine on Eschatology. More studies based on the doctrinal history of our other doctrines is needed. Also, while most studies of the AG include a history of the Statement of Fundamental Truths (including a whole chapter in my dissertation), no single study has yet to fully research the history of this document and its doctrines.

4). The genre of Pentecostal biographies has grown in the past few decades, but there is still much work to do, especially on important AG figures. We still need biographies leaders like E.N. Bell, S.A. Jamieson, Stanley Frodsham, E.S. Williams, and many others. The most recent was David Ringer’s short bio of J.R. Flower. Before that was the biography of Stanley Horton by Lois Olena. Many more like it could be produced.

5) In the topic of biographical study, I could see the potential of a volume on the women of the Assemblies of God.  The topic of women in ministry was covered brilliantly by Joy Qualls and there has been some short studies by the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. However, there is certainly a need for more biographies some of the AG’s significant female ministers. The stories of women like  Alice Flower, Elizabeth Sisson, Alice Luce, and others have yet to be told. I particularly think someone should study the phenomenon of the female child evangelists like Louise Nankeville and Edna Jean Horn, could be explored.

6). Someone needs to do a study on the two genres that GPH published in many books: Poetry and Junior Fiction Novels. I was surprised to find out how many poems were published in the Pentecostal Evangel and how many christian poetry books by AG ministers were published by GPH. I was equally surprised to see the number of junior fiction novels the GPH published. Someone needs to do a literary analysis of these interesting genres in AG history.

7). Someone needs to do a study of first generation AG PhD’s such as Stanley Horton, William Menzies, Klaud Kendrick, John Wycoff, etc. and how that impacted the way the AG did theology.

8). Nearly 30 years ago, Margaret Poloma declared that the AG was at a “crossroads” in the charismatic ethos of our local churches.  Where have we gone since then?  I think we need an updated sociological study similar to Poloma’s in 1989, with statistical data charting the prevalence of charismata in the AG. (editing note, Peter Althouse reminded me that Poloma and Green produced a 2010 updated study of the AG).

9). Someone needs study the rise of neo-reformed theology among AG ministers. In 1993, Blumhofer suggested that the growing educational level of our ministers is leading to outside theologies working among our ministers. This may be much more the case now. Many younger pastors are drawn to the neo-reformed movement for theological stability. But what consequences does that have on Pentecostal orientation of our ministers? A good empirical study on this is needed.

10). Someone needs to look further into the issue of race and the AG. There are a few studies , and some discussion in books but a comprehensive investigation that includes dialoging with the CoGiC historians needs to be written.

How Eschatology Shaped AG Social Ethics

This week I attended the annual meeting for the Society for Pentecostal Studies. It was a wonderful meeting.  The theme this year was “Pentecostals and the Poor”.  This theme appealed to me because one of the questions my thesis attempts to answer is how Assemblies of God eschatology translated to how they engaged in social issues.  Did their belief in the soon coming of Christ mean that they ignored issues such as poverty?  I submitted this paper and I was grateful it was accepted.

My paper was given on Friday afternoon in the History interest group. I was excited about sharing my paper, but I was also excited because there were three other excellent papers that were also scheduled during my session: a history of Church Mothers by Jane Coulton, a history of the Church of God by historian David Roebuck and a paper about the origin of Oral Robert’s doctrine of healing by the renown Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan. Needless to say, it was a great crowd and I felt so honored to be in the same session as these excellent scholars. My paper was well received and people seemed very interested in my research.

Isgrigg – Interpreting the Signs of the Times SPS

Abstract:

This paper will seek to explore how the AG’s premillennial beliefs affected the way they interpreted three primary social issues: political attitudes, economic issues, and responses to social and moral issues.  I had to limit the time frame and issues covered because of length, but my thesis looks at these attitudes all the way up to the present. This paper give just a taste of what I found. To aid in this task, commentary on social issues through the lens of eschatology in the Pentecostal Evangel will be analyzed through the first two periods of AG history: Formative Period (1914-1926), Scholastic Period (1927-1948).

Eschatological Women of the Assemblies of God: Alice E. Luce

Alice Eveline Luce was a missionary to India and church planting pioneer who entered the Pentecostal movement in 1910. She was born in England in 1873 and at age 22 she became a missionary with the Anglican Church Missionary Society.[1] While in India, word of the Pentecostal movement had reached her in 1910 and she sought out the baptism in the Spirit for herself. Not long after, she became ill and returned to England in 1912 to recover. In 1915 she moved to Texas to become a missionary to Mexico and was ordained in the AG by M.M. Pinson. In 1926, she helped to found the Spanish speaking Berean Bible School (now Latin America Bible Institute) in San Diego with veteran missionary to Mexico H.C. Ball. Alice Luce was known in the AG as a missionary strategist, Bible school educator and Hispanic missionary. She wrote three books that were published by the GPH: The Messenger and His Message (1925), The Little Flock and the Last Days (1927), and Pictures of Pentecost.

Luce’s Little Flock and the Last Days is a significant work because it is the first GPH book specifically on eschatology by a woman. While she did not intend the book to be a ‘exposition on prophecy, nor yet a study of social or international conditions in the twentieth century’, she wanted to bring light to the topic of Christ’s return and encourage believers to be prepared for his coming. [2]

One unique element of Luce’s premillennial eschatology is understanding of ‘signs of the times’. She recognized that the signs of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes mentioned by Jesus were intended to be  ‘characteristic of the whole of this church age, the dispensation of grace.’ [3] For Luce the true signs that she was living in the last days were 1) the budding of the fig tree (rise of the Jewish nation), 2) the sign of summer in all the trees (awakening of the nations), and 3) the Latter Rain outpouring of the Spirit.[4] She devotes a chapter to each of these significant signs of the soon coming of Christ.

Another unique element in Luce’s eschatology was that she argued that the Millennium was important for the purpose of reversing the curse upon the created order.  She believed Jesus must come to restore nature. Based on Romans 8:20-22, Luce understood that restoration of creation was part of the millennial agenda. Since the second coming will bring the resurrection of believers, it will also signal the resurrection of creation.  Jesus will institute peace, reverse natural disasters, extend the ability of the earth to produce and sustain people and reverse the curse on animals and nature. She says,

The suffering and groaning of nature in this time of the dominion of sin, is not a hopeless mourning over something irrevocably lost. On the contrary, it is a suffering in hope, a death which is only the gateway of entrance into new life … the whole creation, though it suffered with him in this fall, will ultimately be redeemed and restored to greater beauty and fertility than ever.[5]

Luce is another example of the type of pneumatological orientation of AG eschatology and the role that women played in the theological shaping of AG doctrine.  Luce was highly respected missionary and teacher within the AG.  Her books showed a great theological maturity and wisdom.  Together, Alice Luce and Elizabeth Sisson represent some of the earliest eschatological testimony in print for of the AG.

[1] Alice Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1927), p. v.

[2] Gary B. McGee ‘Luce, Alice Eveline’ DPCM, pp. 543-544.

[3] Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, pp. 32-37.

[4] Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, pp. 32-33.

[5] Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, pp. 47-48.

 

Eschatological Women of the Assemblies of God: Elizabeth Sisson

In my studies of AG eschatology I was delighted to uncover a couple women who were influential with their eschatological writings.  One such woman was Elizabeth Sisson who had the unique opportunity to transition with from the late nineteenth century healing holiness movement, to the Pentecostal movement and finally into the AG.

Sisson had a long and varied career as an evangelist, missionary to India, editor and was close friends of Carrie Judd Montgomery and Maria Woodworth-Etter. In 1871, prior to leaving for India as a missionary, Sisson attended a holiness convention led by William Boardman in which she testifies, ‘God met me again, baptizing me with His Spirit, and taking me into closest relation with Himself’.[1] In the early 1880s, Sisson left India in order to recover from an illness and she settled into a healing house in Bethshan, London. In 1885, she attended the Keswick convention and spoke during many sessions.[2] In 1887, equipped with her health and an experience with the Spirit, she returned to the US to minister with Carrie Jude Montgomery. She even for a short time she co-edited Triumphs of Faith. [3] She also regularly spoke at meetings in England at the Sunderland Pentecostal conventions of A.A. Boddy.[4] Prior to the organizing of the AG, she spent time ministering along side of F.F. Bosworth and S.A. Jamieson in Pentecostal Meetings in Texas.[5] Sisson was well known in early Pentecostal circles and was a regular guest at the Stone Church in Chicago.[6]

As a high profile evangelist and voice in Pentecostal literature, Sisson was invited to be the first woman to be a keynote speaker at a General Council when she gave the keynote address at the 1917 Council in St. Louis.[7] Later that year, she officially joined the AG at the age of seventy-four, despite her insistence that she did not need ordination ‘from man’.[8] Since the AG did not accept women as Presbyters, Sisson held no official office but she holds the distinction of the only woman to speak at General Council early years of the AG.[9]

She was a frequent contributor on eschatological topics to the many Pentecostal periodicals including the Confidence in England, Carrie Judd Montgomery’s Triumphs Of Faith, the Pentecostal Evangel and Latter Rain Evangel. The Evangel Publishing House published her book Foregleams of Glory in 1912, which contained a collection of her writings including a collection of ‘Resurrection Papers’.[10]  Sisson also became the first AG woman to have a doctrinal book published when GPH published her Faith Reminiscences as a part of the first series of books called The Pulpit and Pew Full Gospel Series that were offered in 1925.[11]

Sisson regularly wrote articles on the latter rain outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the return of Jesus, and her favorite eschatological topic was the resurrection.  She believed that not only was the Pentecostal movement a sign of the nearness of Jesus, but that Pentecostal people themselves were signs.  She says, ‘Pentecost with all its demonstrations of the Spirit is a sign. A mighty sign. And the Pentecostallers when yielded to the Holy Spirit are a sign people’.[12]

One important aspect of Sisson’s eschatology was the relationship that resurrection had to creation and Romans 8:19-20. She recognizes that the world is ‘groaningly anticipating a release form bondage into the liberty of the glory of God’s children’ and that ‘with resurrection is somehow involved the liberation of all creation’.[13] The creation, which was subject to sin and frustration, shares the fate of the human beings God created. The resurrection of believers therefore ‘ends creation’s wait, and begins creation’s deliverance from the bondage of sin into the liberty of the resurrection.[14]

Another significant eschatological concept in Sisson’s writing is the Tribulation. Reading Revelation in a literal sense, she believes the Tribulation will be an awful period in the future, but will not be empty of purpose. The tribulation period will be a time of purging for the Church, Israel and the nations. The coming judgment in the tribulation is not an act of vengeance, it is an act of his grace and love. Jesus came in love to the world as ‘remedy’ for sin, however, many did not receive this gift of his love. As part of God’s plan, the tribulation serves as a gift to the world. She says, ‘A new expression of his love! Judgment is His second remedy when His first has proved ineffectual’.[15]

More of Sisson’s eschatology will be featured in my dissertation. Sisson represents several firsts for the AG. Sisson as the first AG woman to publish a book on eschatology in her Foregleams of Glory in 1912.  She was the first woman to have spoken at General Council in 1917.  She was the first woman to have a doctrinal book published by the Gospel Publishing House in 1925.  Although women were not permitted to be pastors in the early years of the AG, Sisson was an influential woman that was highly respected.  A.G. Ward called Sisson ‘a rare Christian character, a woman deeply taught of God, and of wide Christian experience. Her articles are worthy of a place in the writings of the church’. I agree.

Darrin Rogers and the The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center has featured Sisson in several articles.

Sisson’s 1905 vision of a World Wide Revival

This Week in AG History

[1] Elizabeth Sisson, Foregleams of Glory (Chicago, IL: Evangel Publishing House, 1912), p. 126; Cecil M. Robeck Jr, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’ IDPCM, pp. 788-89; LRE (May, 1909), p. 6-10.

[2] Record of the International Conference on Divine Healing and True Holines, (London, UK: 1885), p. 74-75, 161-62.Sisson attended the 1885 Keswick Convention where she was exposed to Boardman and teaching on the latter rain teaching on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

[3] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 195-98.

[4] Confidence, (June, 1908), pp. 6-7.

[5] Confidence, (June, 1914), p. 110. See also Robeck, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’, pp. 788-789.

[6] The Latter Rain Evangel published over 70 of her sermons and articles, many of which she delivered at the Stone Church Pentecostal conventions.

[7] GC Minutes (Sept 9, 1917), p. 5. Sisson also spoke in response to a sermon by A.P. Collins on the Second Coming of the Lord where she remarked that she ‘left a letter at home directing what to do in case she should be caught up whilst away on her present trip’. p. 20.

[8] In Sisson’s application for ordination, when asked whom she is ordained by, she replies, ‘By the Lord’. ‘Application for Ordination’, (Dec 18, 1917), held at IFPHC, Springfield, MO.

[9] For more on the role of women in the early AG see Joy E. Qualls, ‘‘God Forgive Us for Being Women’: The Rhetorical Negotiations and Renegotiations of the Role of Women in the Assemblies of God’ Unpublished (PhD Thesis; Regent University, 2010) pp. 25, 161.

[10] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 9-88. Foregleams was a collection of sermons and articles published in the LRE from 1909-1912. Although an AG publishing house did not publish this work, I have included it with the criteria that the Latter Rain Evangel was so closely associated with the AG and because it predates the formation of the AG.

[11] Elizabeth Sisson, Faith Reminiscences and Heart to Heart Talks (Springfield MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1927). For a full list of this series see the ad in PE (Dec 17, 1927), p. 16.

[12] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘These Wars! Why?’ LRE (July, 1916), p. 16.

[13] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, p. 9.

[14] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 50-51.

[15] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘A Sign People’ PE (Jan 11, 1919).

An Introduction to Pentecostal Theology by William K. Kay

I wanted to share this brief video featuring my Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. William K. Kay.  Kay is a renown professor of theology who holds multiple posts in several universities in the UK. He has written numerous books and a vast number of articles on Pentecostalism,  religious education, and practical theology. Kay was the founding director for the Centre for Pentecostal Theology at Bangor University, a program that has continued to produce a new generation of Pentecostal scholarship. In addition to his  achievements as a scholar, Professor Kay is also a wonderfully gracious man. I count myself so blessed to have been able to have been able to study under him.

The Theological Legacy of “I’ll Fly Away”

If you were to ask for song requests in any AG church in America, I can almost guarantee someone will request “I’ll Fly Away”.  For whatever reason, this song has become an American and Pentecostal favorite of previous generations. There are several reasons its popular. For one, this song has an Oklahoma connection, being written in 1932 by Alfred E. Brumley from Spiro, OK. (Check out this great article in the Tulsa World about Brumley and Spiro).   Second, its is a fun song with a catchy tune.  Its one of those songs you can’t help but clap and shout to.  Perhaps its most notable appeal is the eschatological concept.  “I’ll fly away” expresses the hope for many christians that we will one day ‘fly away’ to heaven to be with Jesus.

As a person who didn’t grow up singing this song, it doesn’t have the same sentimentality for me that it does for many Pentecostals. As a student of eschatology I have discovered that the song actually represents a very important tension in Pentecostal eschatology.  Let me explain.

Pentecostals have always cherished the doctrine of the soon coming of Christ.  The most important aspect in the doctrine of the rapture is that believers will be caught up to be with the Lord when he comes (1 Thess. 5:17).  So when the song says, “I’ll fly away”, we immediately are filled with hope and joy that Jesus is coming.

When you look at the song there are some conflicting messages about heaven, the return of Christ and death. Let me demonstrate.

  • “Some glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away” – What is this phrase referring to? “When this life is over” makes me think it is about death. But death is not the rapture, although in some sense we do ‘fly away’ to heaven.  But rapture is best understood as alive people being caught up and transformed as we are welcomed into heaven.
  • “To a home on God’s celestial shore” – This phrase and imagery is very popular in hymnody.  But notice the designation of Home.  When Jesus comes, we are going home to heaven.
  • “When I die, Hallelujah bye and bye, I’ll fly away.” – Again, the intention is unclear.  Is this death or the rapture?

The AG believes that Jesus will return to rapture/resurrect the bride of Christ and bring her to the Marriage supper of the Lamb in Heaven. However, this will only be a temporary journey, because after a short time (most say it will be 7 years but not all) Jesus will return with his saints to set up the millennial kingdom on earth.  Pentecostals understood that Heaven was Not Their Home. 

Contrary to descriptions made by some scholars, Pentecostals were not “otherworldly”, at least not in an eschatological sense. They were very focused on the future of earth.  Prior to about 1950, AG periodicals talked about heaven, but they did so ambiguously and rarely did they see it as our eternal home. But classical evangelical theology and hymnody such as “I’ll Fly Away” slowly began to change that orientation.  In the late 1940s and 1950s, at the height of the convention song era of hymnody, songs about heaven dominated the minds of AG churches.  Soon, everyone was singing, “Ill fly Away”.

As I point out in my book, and as I have discovered in my study of the first 50 years of AG eschatology,  the Pentecostal hope is not going to heaven, it is that Jesus is coming to make everything new again.  Heaven is not our home, the earth is our home.  One day, Jesus will return to set up his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”  Our hope is that through the reign of Christ, the world will be transformed and all of the promises of no more curse, sin, and pain will be realized.  Earth will be Heaven once more as it was in the Garden of Eden.

One AG writer put it this way in 1917,

“God has been a stranger and an outcast to His own garden because of the usurper, but the Son of the Father undertook to deal with the usurper and will not leave off till He has completed the work given to Him by His Father, so that God once more can visit His garden”. WE 216 (Nov 24, 1917), p. 4.

Similarly, S.A. Jamieson comments in 1922,

“The planet on which we live is by no means to be annihilated … As sinful man has been delivered by redemption of Jesus Christ, so this sin-cursed earth is also to share in that redemption. It is to be transformed, renew, glorified and made a fit place for the habitation of God’s redeemed people.” S.A. Jamieson, ‘A New Heavens and A New Earth’, PE 464/465 (Sep 30, 1922), p. 6.

We are Premillennial believers. We believe there will be a literal kingdom on earth and we will be in it.  If we believe that, how can Heaven be our home? We will ‘fly away’, but we will also ‘fly back’ to earth.

Now you may be saying, “So what. Its just a song”.  I understand. For those of you that love the song, I don’t want to diminish that love. Sing away!  Its a part of our heritage. But from a eschatological perspective, as we sing these songs about heaven, just keep this in mind.  Our songs shape our theology in much of the same way that this song has shaped our eschatology and the role of heaven. As believers, we are not trying to escape this world. That is not our hope. Our hope is that one day Jesus is going to fix this world.   The AG has been committed to that hope for over 100 years. He created the Earth for us. The Earth also longs for our redemption (Romans 8:19-25). Eden was lost, but it will be restored when Jesus comes again. That is our hope. Not that we will live with God in heaven, but that one day God will live with us again on earth.

“Then I hears a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. He will wipe very tear from their eyes.'” (Revelation 21:2-3).