I readily acknowledge that there are many godly Christian people within Pentecostalism. I was led to Christ by just such a man. There are godly Pentecostal preachers like Dr. Joseph Chambers of Charlotte, North Carolina, who have taken a strong stand against the insanity of the Laughing Revival. I have much respect for Dr. Chambers, though I reject his Pentecostal theology. His congregation lost properties valued at $3 million because they took a stand against unscriptural things in their own denomination, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), and that denomination took the property from them in a court of law. Though I respect such a stand for truth as they understand it, I believe that the latter rain Pentecostal doctrine and the false teaching about continuing sign gifts is the foundational error which has resulted in the lunacy we will describe in the following survey.
Not all Pentecostals are characterized by duplicity and extremism, but the unscriptural Pentecostal doctrine lends itself to such things. I believe this with all my heart, though I have sympathy with many facets of old-line Pentecostalism. I praise the Lord for their bold zeal for God, for their desire to see a “real” New Testament Christianity, for expressive and exuberant worship, for their faith in God and for their desire to take every word in the Bible seriously, for their confidence in the miracle-working power of God, and for their zeal to be separate from the world. I cannot go along in ministry fellowship even with the old-fashioned Pentecostals, though, because they are building on a doctrinal foundation which not only is unscriptural but which unwittingly has resulted in the preparation for the end-times apostate one-world “church.”
Now talk a walk with me through the pages of Pentecostal history.
JOHN ALEXANDER DOWIE
One of the most influential centers in early Pentecostal history was THE CITY OF ZION, founded in 1900 by JOHN ALEXANDER DOWIE (1847-1907). Though Dowie himself did not accept the Spirit-baptism with tongues theology, he is called “the father of healing revivalism in America” (Harrell, All Things Are Possible, p. 13). His latter days miracle theology helped pave the way for Pentecostalism, and Pentecostal theology did quickly permeate his institutions even before his death. Many influential Pentecostal leaders came out of his movement. His magazine, Leaves of Healing, had a worldwide distribution and a vast influence. Dowie taught that healing is promised in the atonement and insisted that those who sought faith healing give up all medical care. He viewed druggists and physicians as instruments of the devil. When his own daughter was severely burned after accidentally knocking over an alcohol lamp, he banished one of his followers for trying to alleviate her pain with Vaseline. He refused to allow her any medical treatment and she died in that condition. Many others who came to his faith cure homes died of their illnesses without any medical attention. In 1895 he was charged with manslaughter and neglect by the city of Chicago and convicted, but the higher courts ruled that the conviction was unconstitutional. He required that his followers give up the use of all pork products. He ruled his City of Zion with an iron hand and was noted for financial irresponsibility and a love for personal luxury. In 1901 he claimed that he was Elijah the Restorer, and in 1904 he “told his followers to anticipate the full restoration of apostolic Christianity and revealed that he had been divinely commissioned as the first apostle of a renewed end-times church” (Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, p. 249). In the last few years of his life he was accused of sexual irregularities, he suffered a crippling stroke, and his Zion City was declared bankrupt. For six months before his death he lay in a state of total despondency.
In spite of Dowie’s heretical doctrines and unscriptural ministry, he prepared the way for Charles Parham and his equally unscriptural Pentecostalism. The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements notes that many of the most famous Pentecostal evangelists went out from Zion (p. 368) and dozens of Parham’s followers at Zion joined the Assemblies of God at its formation in 1914. In fact, three of the original eight members of the AOG general council were from Zion City (p. 370). Those who arose from Zion City to become influential in the Pentecostal movement included F.F. Bosworth, John Lake, J. Rosewell Flower, Daniel Opperman, Cyrus Fockler, Fred Vogler, Marie Burgess Brown, William Piper, F.A. Graves, Lemuel Hall, Martha Robinson, Gordon Lindsay, and Raymond Richey. Influential Assemblies of God minister Gordon Lindsay, editor of Voice of Healing, wrote Dowie’s biography and gave him credit for influencing “a host of men of faith who have had powerful ministries,” referring to generations of Pentecostal preachers.
MARIA BEULAH WOODWORTH-ETTER
Faith healer evangelist MARIA BEULAH WOODWORTH-ETTER (1844-1924) had a vast influence in the early Pentecostal movement. The Dictionary of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements says that “she was a monumental figure in terms of spreading the pentecostal message” and notes that “most early Pentecostals looked at Woodworth-Etter as a godsend to the movement and accepted her uncritically.” When she conducted a five-month healing crusade in Texas for F.F. Bosworth, “the list of influential Pentecostals who flocked to Dallas was like a ‘Who’s Who’ of early Pentecostalism” (Ibid., p. 365). Her meetings were characterized by spirit slaying, prophesying, trances, and general pandemonium. “She often went into trances during a service, standing like a statue for an hour or more with her hands raised while the service continued” (Dictionary of Pentecostal, p. 901). She was thus dubbed the “trance evangelist” and the “voodoo priestess.” She falsely prophesied that the San Francisco Bay area would be destroyed by an earthquake and tidal wave in 1890. She accepted an invitation from Mormons to preach in Nebraska in 1920.
As we saw at the beginning of this report, Pentecostals generally trace their heritage to CHARLES PARHAM’S Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, where Agnes Ozman began to speak in “tongues” in 1901 when hands were laid on her. It was claimed (though not credibly confirmed) that Ozman spoke in Chinese for three days, unable to speak English, and on the second day she spoke in Bohemian. Soon, most of the others at the school were speaking and singing “in tongues.” Parham claimed that language professors and other linguistically educated people confirmed that the tongues were languages, but this was not confirmed outside of the movement. Newspaper reporters of the day described the phenomenon merely as “gibberish.” In 1914, Charles Shumway diligently sought evidence to prove that early Pentecostal tongues were real languages. He failed to find even one person to corroborate the claims which had been made (James Goff, Jr., Fields White Unto Harvest, Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1988, p. 76). “In his 1919 Ph.D. dissertation, Shumway censured the local Houston Chronicle for credulous reporting and stated that ‘letters are on hand from several men who were government interpreters in or near Houston at the time [when Parham conducted a Bible school there], and they are unanimous in denying all knowledge of the alleged facts'” (Goff, p. 98). Parham’s Bible school students jotted down strange writings which they claimed were the product of the gift of tongues. They claimed these writings were foreign languages, such as Chinese, but when they were examined by knowledgeable people, they were found to be mere indecipherable scratchings (Goff, p. 76). The press called these writings “quaint and indistinguishable hieroglyphics” (Ibid., p. 80).
Parham was so enthused that he said missionaries would go to the ends of the earth and would not have to learn the languages. In fact, most of the early Pentecostals believed this. It didn’t work that way, though. When A.G. Garr traveled to India and attempted to speak to the people in supernatural tongues, he quickly found that he could not communicate.
As we saw at the beginning of this report, Parham, the founder of Pentecostalism, was riddled with doctrinal heresies. He believed in annihilation of the unsaved and denied the Bible doctrine of eternal torment. He believed in the unscriptural doctrine of anglo-Israelism. He taught that there were two separate creations, and that Adam and Eve were of a different race than people who allegedly lived outside of the Garden of Eden. The first race of men did not have souls, he claimed, and this race of unsouled people was destroyed in the flood. Parham believed that those who received the latter days spirit baptism and spoke in tongues would make up the bride of Christ and would have a special place of authority at Christ’s return. He believed in a partial rapture composed of tongues speakers.
Parham believed that physical healing is the Christian’s birthright. A recent issue of Christian History magazine (Issue 58, Vol. XVII, No. 2, 1998) contains a photo of Parham and seven of his followers standing on the steps of the Carthage, Missouri, courthouse. The year was 1906. Parham is holding a flagpole with banners reading “Apostolic Unity.” The others are holding banners reading “Truth, Faith, Life, Victory, HEALTH.” They were making a statement of their doctrinal position that health is a guaranteed part of the apostolic Christian life.
In spite of his teaching that it was always God’s will to heal and that medicine and doctors must be shunned, one of Parham’s sons died at age 16 of a sickness which was not healed. His other son died at age 37. Most of those who attended Parham’s meetings were not healed. In October 1904 a nine-year-old girl named Nettie Smith died. Her father was an avid follower of Parham and refused medical treatment for his daughter. Nettie’s death turned local public opinion against Parham because the little girl’s sickness was treatable and the community therefore considered her death unnecessary. Parham himself suffered various sicknesses throughout his life and at times was too sick to preach or travel. For example, he spent the entire winter of 1904-05 sick and bedridden (James Goff Jr., Fields White Unto Harvest, p. 94), in spite of his own preaching that healing is guaranteed in the atonement. Parham was the first Pentecostal preacher to pray over handkerchiefs and mail them to those who desired his ministrations (Goff, p. 104).
In 1908 Parham raised funds to travel to the Holy Land on an archaeological expedition to search for the lost ark of the covenant. He claimed to the press that he had information about its location and that his finding the ark would fit into the end times biblical scheme. By December he announced that he had sufficient funds and he traveled to New York allegedly to begin his journey to Jerusalem. He never purchased a ticket to the Middle East and returned home dejectedly in January, claiming he was robbed after arriving in New York.
Parham attempted to influence or possibly even take over the strange ministry of Alexander Dowie, the man the Dictionary of Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements calls the father of modern healing evangelism, at his Zion City north of Chicago. Dowie had proclaimed himself Elijah the Restorer and the first apostle of the end times church.
We remind our readers that in most Pentecostal histories Parham is listed as one of the chief founding fathers of Pentecostalism.
One of Charles Parham’s mentors was FRANK SANDFORD, who operated the Holy Ghost and Us Bible School in Lancaster, Maine. Sandford promoted a latter rain type theology and was striving to return to “apostolic life and power.” Sanford purchased two ships and attempted to make a missionary trip to Africa. One ship was wrecked off the African coast, and everyone was transferred to the other ship. Sanford was in charge, but due to foolish decisions which he attributed to God’s guidance, nine of his crew members died on the return trip for lack of food and water. This was in 1911. The ill-fated missionary journey lasted four months. Sandford was subsequently charged with manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in a federal penitentiary.
AZUSA STREET MISSION
The man who founded the famous AZUSA STREET MISSION in Los Angeles was Black evangelist WILLIAM SEYMOUR. Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan says, “The Azusa Street revival is commonly regarded as the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement. … In addition to the ministers who received their Pentecostal experience directly at Azusa Street, thousands of others were influenced indirectly” (Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, pp. 105,130). During 1901 and 1902 Seymour attended Martin Knapp’s “God’s Bible School” and joined the “Evening Light Saints” in Cincinnati. He adopted the false holiness doctrine of entire sanctification, believing that two “works of grace” were required to save and cleanse a man. One had to be born again through faith in Christ, but then one must subsequently be sanctified through a second work of grace.
Seymour believed that the true church was being restored in an end-times miracle revival. In 1903 he attended Charles Parham’s Bible school in Houston, Texas. There he became committed to another false doctrine, that the Christian must be subsequently “baptized in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of tongues.” In early 1906 Seymour was invited to Los Angeles to pastor a small holiness group which, at the time of the invitation, was pastored by a woman, Julie Hutchins. The group was formed of people who had been disciplined out of the Second Baptist Church for the “second blessing” sinless perfection heresy. On the way to Los Angeles, Seymour visited Alma White’s Pillar of Fire movement in Denver, Colorado. This group taught sinless sanctification and believed the evidence of the same was dancing. Alma White was not impressed with Seymour. She later described him as follows: “I had met all kinds of religious fakers and tramps, but I felt he excelled them all.”
Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, Seymour preached only one sermon before being locked out of the church which had invited him. In his sermon he had declared that tongues was the evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit. He said this in spite of the fact that he himself had never spoken in tongues! Romans 8:9 plainly says “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” This is a very strange matter. One of the key founders of the Pentecostal movement, by his own testimony, was preaching the deepest truth of the Word of God before he even knew Christ, and yet the Bible says the natural man cannot know the things of God (1 Cor. 1:14).
Seymour moved his meetings to a home and then to an abandoned building on Azusa Street, and strange phenomena began to be evidenced. The meetings lasted more than three years, and large numbers of people visited Azusa Street to seek their own Pentecost, subsequently taking the Pentecostal theology and experience back to their homes.
The meetings began in the mornings and continued for at least 12 hours. There was no order of services and usually no one leading. People sang at the same time but “with completely different syllables, rhythms, and melodies” (Ted Olsen, “American Pentecost,” Christian History, Issue 58, 1998). The services were characterized by much confusion: dancing, jumping up and down, falling, trances, slaying in the spirit, “tongues,” jerking, hysteria, strange noises, and “holy laughter.” One visitor described the meetings as “wild, hysterical demonstrations.” The seekers would be “seized with a strange spell and commence a jibberish of sounds.” A Times reporter noted that the participants “work themselves into a state of mad excitement in their peculiar zeal.”
There was little or no order to the Azusa Street services. Whoever felt “moved by the spirit” to speak, would do so. Seymour rarely preached. Instead, much of the time he kept his head covered in an empty packing crate behind the pulpit. He taught the people to cry out to God and demand sanctification, the baptism with the Holy Ghost, and divine healing (Synan, p. 99). The firsthand descriptions I have read of the Azusa Street “revival” sound very similar to the current “Laughing Revival.”
When Parham visited the meetings in October 1906, even he was shocked by the confusion of the services. He was dismayed by the “awful fits and spasms” of the “holy rollers and hypnotists.” He described the Azusa “tongues” as “chattering, jabbering and sputtering, speaking no language at all” (Synan, p. 102). The Azusa Street meetings were so wild that Parham condemned them with the term “sensational Holy Rollers.” He testified that the Azusa Street meetings were largely characterized by manifestations of the flesh, spiritualistic controls, and the practice of hypnotism (Sarah Parham, The Life of Charles F. Parham, Joplin, MO: Tri-state Printing, 1930, p. 163). According to Parham, two-thirds of the people professing Pentecostalism in his day “are either hypnotized or spook driven” (Parham, Life of Charles Parham, p. 164). In his writings about Azusa Street, Parham described men and women falling on one another in a morally compromising manner. I have seen this same thing in video recordings of Laughing Revival services.
When Parham arrived in Azusa Street in 1906, he began his first sermon by telling the people that “God is sick at his stomach” because of the things which were occurring at Azusa (Charles Shumway, A Study of the “Gift of Tongues,” A.B. thesis, University of California, 1914, pp. 178,179; cited by Goff, Fields White Unto Harvest, p. 131). He never changed his opinion. To the end of his life, Parham, often called “the father of Pentecostalism,” denounced Azusa Street as a case of “spiritual power prostituted.” Thus the “father of Pentecostalism” roundly rejected the Azusa Street meetings as phony, manipulated, and demonic, even though practically all Pentecostal denominations trace their heritage directly from those meetings!
A man who helped popularize the Azusa Street meeting by his far-reaching reports was FRANK BARTLEMAN (1871-1935). In 1925 he published a book, How “Pentecost” Came to Los Angeles–How It Was in the Beginning, describing the Azusa meetings. It was reprinted in 1955 and again in 1980. Bartleman was a licensed Baptist preacher when, in 1897, he accepted the false doctrines of healing in the atonement and entire sanctification and joined the holiness movement. From then on he wandered about from group to group–Salvation Army, then Moody Bible Institute, then Wesleyan Methodist, then the Pillar of Fire organization led by woman preacher Alma White, then back to the Baptists, then to the Azusa Street Pentecostal meetings led by Seymour. Finally he was baptized into the “Jesus only” movement which denied the traditional biblical doctrine of the Trinity. He claimed the same sort of experiences which are common among Laughing Revival proponents today. Bartleman was “slain in the spirit” for one-half hour in front of a congregation where he had been preaching. On another occasion he said he felt “electric shocks” to the point that he fell unconscious (Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street, introduction by Vincent Synan, p. xiii). In spite of his doctrine that God has promised physical healing, Bartleman was often sick, at times despondent to the point of suicide, and his oldest daughter, Esther, died in childhood in spite of his faith in healing. Bartleman also promoted the same spirit of ecumenism which is popular in the current Laughing Revival. The final chapter of his book on Azusa Street was titled “A Plea for Unity.”
“Every fresh division or party in the church gives to the world a contradiction as to the oneness of the body of Christ, and the truthfulness of the Gospel. Multitudes are bowing down and burning incense to a doctrine rather than Christ. … The Spirit is laboring for the unity of believers today, for the ‘one body,’ that the prayer of Jesus may be answered, ‘that they all may be one, that the world may believe'” (Bartleman, Azusa Street, pp. 172,73).
Note how Bartleman downplayed doctrinal purity and exalted a unity of experience. This is one of the theme songs of the Laughing Revival. One cannot bow down to the true Christ without maintaining true doctrine about Christ. The Bible warns that there are false christs, false gospels, and false spirits. The only way of protection in the midst of widespread spiritual apostasy and error is to cleave to sound doctrine and to mark and avoid false doctrine (Rom. 16:17). The Bible does not prophesy that all professing Christians will be united in a revival in the last hours of this age. It prophesies, rather, almost universal apostasy (Matt. 24:4,5,11,25).
Many other well-known Pentecostal healers have been caught in deceptions and heresies. WILLIAM BRANHAM is considered the greatest of the Pentecostal healers, but we have eyewitness testimony from Alfred Pohl that Branham crusades were marked by exaggeration and deception. Branham also promoted manifold heresies. He denied the Trinity (saying it was of the devil), taught that Cain was the product of a sexual union between Eve and the serpent, believed the mark of the beast was denominationalism, denied the eternality of hell, proclaimed himself as the angel of Revelation 3:14 and 10:7, and promoted the Manifest Sons of God doctrine of the immortalization of end times apostles. He falsely prophesied that the Rapture and the end of the world would take place by 1977. Branham claimed that an angel taught him how to detect diseases by vibrations on his left hand. “When the afflicting spirit comes into contact with the gift it sets up such a physical commotion that it becomes visible on Brother Branham’s hand, and so real that it will stop his wrist watch instantly. This feels to Brother Branham like taking hold of a live wire with too much electric current in it” (F.F. Bosworth, “Gifts of Healing Plus,” The Voice of Healing, March 1950, pp. 10-11). Branham operated a gift of soothsaying, successfully reading personal details of the lives of people he met. He would name the names of people he had never met and describe past events and secret sins of people in his meetings. “This gift did much to further the growing Branham legend” (Harrell, All Things Are Possible, p. 38). Branham allegedly resurrected a fish which had been killed by a companion (Ibid., p. 89). The confusion and duplicity involved in the Branham ministry were evident early in his career. After claiming that his angel had promised that “God has sent you to take a gift of divine healing to the people of the world,” and after conducting healing crusades in many places and attracting massive crowds, Branham suddenly quit in May 1948, ANNOUNCING HE WAS ILL (Harrell, p. 32)! Five months later he resumed his meetings.
FRANKLIN HALL, Pentecostal evangelist and author of the influential book Atomic Power with God through Fasting and Prayer, taught that fasting and prayer were the means to the restoration of apostolic miracles for the end times. He promoted the doctrine of “bodyfelt salvation,” declaring that it was “700% greater than ordinary healing power” (Harrell, All Things Are Possible, p. 212). He taught that the “fire of the Holy Spirit” would eliminate the potential for sickness, tiredness, and even body odor (Dictionary of Pentecostal, p. 346).
According to Hall, it took about 30 days for the bodyfelt salvation or Holy Spirit fire to get established and circulated all over a person’s body “so that they can live completely above all tiredness and all sickness.” He reported that a Sister Hall had had no tiredness in 15 years. He said that another woman, Thelma Moore, had worn the same hose for six months without washing them and they did not get stiff or have any unpleasant odor about them. He claimed that a glory cloud hovered over his assemblies and he taught the crowds that when they raised their left hands and said, “Hello, Jesus,” they would smell the fragrance of Jesus. He further warned the people that having basked in the fragrance of Jesus, their dogs would not recognize them, because they would smell differently, and their houses would be bug proof, because the fragrance was “a Holy Ghost exterminator.” In 1960 Hall published his Formula for Raising the Dead.
The very influential woman evangelist healer KATHRYN KUHLMAN (1907-1976) is another example of the heresy and exaggeration which has characterized the latter rain movement. In the late 1940s Kuhlman began to teach that physical healing was provided in the atonement of Jesus Christ. In 1947 she preached that the miracles of Pentecost should be experienced today, claiming that Christians today are able to perform the same miracles Jesus performed, and even greater miracles. “Every church should be experiencing the miracles of Pentecost. Every church should be seeing the healings of the Book of Acts” (Kathryn Kuhlman, cited from Jamie Buckingham, Daughter of Destiny, p. 104). She published a booklet entitled “The Lord’s Healing Touch.” Kuhlman was never able to do the miracles of Jesus, though. It was alleged that there were documented organic healings which took place in some Kuhlman meetings, but they were very few, compared to the claims, certainly no more than the healings which are experienced by Christians who believe the sign gifts have ceased and who pray for healing, trusting God to do His perfect will. In his book Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle, Dr. William Nolen dedicates an entire chapter to his experiences investigating Kuhlman healing crusades. Though sympathetic to Kuhlman as a person, Nolen was unable to document medically even one case of physical healing, though large numbers of them were claimed. At the time of his investigation, Dr. Nolen was chief of surgery at Meeker County Hospital in Litchfield, Minnesota. A reporter who covered a Kuhlman healing crusade in Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Music Hall in 1948 testified: “For every one who has proclaimed a cure, a score more have faded off into the darkness, as miserable and heartsick as when they came” (Wayne Warner, The Woman Behind the Miracles: Kathryn Kuhlman, p. 145). Kurt Koch was a renowned evangelical researcher into the occult. In his book Occult ABC he describes his research into Kathryn Kuhlman’s healing ministry. He carefully followed up on a list of 28 cases of alleged healings in the Minneapolis, Minnesota, area. These cases were submitted to him by the Kuhlman organization as the best examples of healings which had occurred under her ministrations. The following is the summary of his findings: “Ten had not been healed, seven had experienced an improvement in their condition, eleven had diseases in which the mind can play an important part. In the whole of this extensive report, there is not one clear case of healing from an organic disease” (Kurt Koch, Occult ABC, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishers, 1981).
Kuhlman taught that people could be healed and then lose their healing if they failed to come up to the stage and testify.
In her later years, Kuhlman was very ecumenical, drawing denominationally diverse crowds, then urging them not to leave their churches but to return to be a healing force. Kuhlman also purposefully preached a positive message, refusing to expose doctrinal error or warn against drinking and other social evils. She believed that preaching a positive gospel would accomplish more. Her biographer says Kuhlman is credited with helping to bridge gaps between Protestants and Catholics (Warner, p. 163). Kuhlman was strongly influenced by Maria Woodworth-Etter and occasionally preached for her in Indianapolis. The unscriptural and dangerous practice of “spirit slaying” was frequently manifested in the services of both women. Even her sympathetic Pentecostal biographer, the late Jamie Buckingham, could not hide Kuhlman’s inordinate love for expensive clothes and jewelry and her first class lifestyle. Her evangelistic ministry took in from $2 to $3 million annually. While pastoring the 2,000-seat Denver Revival Tabernacle in the mid-1930s, Kuhlman became romantically involved with married evangelist Burroughs Waltrip, who subsequently left his wife and two children and married her. Kuhlman and Waltrip were romantically involved for two or three years prior to their marriage. In the summer of 1935, two years prior to his June 1937 divorce, Waltrip and Kuhlman were caught hugging and kissing in the church office prior to a service. The two were married in October 1938. A few years after her illicit marriage, Kuhlman left Waltrip, claiming that God had given her a choice between her love for a man and her love for God and His calling. Waltrip’s first wife was left alone to raise her two sons and to pay off her husband’s debts. He never returned to visit them and he failed even to send the court-appointed child support payments. After the divorce from Kuhlman, Waltrip dropped out of sight. His brother later found that he had died in a California prison, convicted of taking money from a woman.
AIMEE SEMPLE MCPHERSON
Another very influential Pentecostal evangelist and faith healer was AIMEE SEMPLE MCPHERSON (1890-1944), founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements calls her “the most prominent woman leader Pentecostalism has produced to date.” She was married three times and divorced twice. Her first husband, Robert Semple, died in China in 1910, where the young couple had gone as missionaries. In 1911 she married Harold Stewart McPherson. He complained about her hysterical behavior and her neglect of him, and in 1921 the marriage ended in divorce (Eve Simson, The Faith Healer, p. 36). Aimee had left Harold to attend to her preaching. Interestingly, Aimee’s associate pastor, Rheba Crawford, also left her husband to preach, and Rheba’s husband also divorced her.
In May 1926, McPherson disappeared and was thought to have been drowned while swimming off the California coast. A month later she turned up in Mexico, claiming to have been kidnapped, but the evidence led most people to believe that she had an affair with a former employee, Kenneth Ormiston, who was married at the time. The two had been seen together earlier in the year during Aimee McPherson’s trip to Europe. At the same time Aimee sailed for Europe, Ormiston disappeared from his job, and his wife, Ruth, registered a missing-person report at police headquarters. She told police a certain prominent woman was responsible for her husband’s disappearance (Lately Thomas, The Vanishing Evangelist, p. 29). They had also been seen together checking into the same hotels at various times in California, after her return from Europe, prior to the alleged kidnapping. Though McPherson claimed to have wandered for 14 hours across roughly 20 miles of cruel desert covered with mesquite, cactus, and catclaw to escape her captors, when she was found she showed no sign of having been through such an ordeal. Her shoes were not scuffed or worn; there were grass stains on the insteps (there was no grass in the desert through which she claims to have wandered); she was not dehydrated or sunburned; her lips were not parched, cracked, or swollen; her tongue was not swollen; her color was normal; her dress was not torn and bore no dust or perspiration stains. The dress collar and cuffs, though white in color, were barely soiled. Further, she was wearing a watch her mother had given her–a watch she had not taken with her to the beach! (Epstein, Sister Aimee, p. 299; Thomas, The Vanishing Evangelist, p. 59,66,78). Aimee told reporters that her ankles were bruised and torn by ropes from her captivity, but there had been no sign of such injuries when she was examined. An exhaustive search was made to find the adobe shack with a wooden floor where she claimed she had been held captive and which she described in detail to the authorities, but no such shack was found in a 46-square-mile area. Experienced desert men and trackers (one had ridden that country as a cowboy for 37 years, another for 20), who attempted to find her attackers, traced her footsteps, and they found where she apparently had gotten out of an automobile on a road not far from where she was found. The senior tracker testified that he examined every foot of the ground over which she had claimed to have walked and that her tracks had been found nowhere. As for the shack, he said: “I do not know of an adobe house such as the one described by Mrs. McPherson within a hundred and fifty miles of Agua Prieta, and I know every house in this vast area” (Lately, The Vanishing Evangelist, p. 84). A grocery receipt signed by McPherson was found in a Carmel, California, cottage where it appears Aimee had met Ormiston during the time she was alleged to have been kidnapped. Several eye-witnesses testified that they saw the two together during that period.
The year after this episode, McPherson rejected the social taboos preached against by Bible-believing churches of that day. She bobbed her hair and started drinking, dancing, and wearing short skirts. In her early years she had preached against such things. Her choir director, Gladwyn Nichols, and the entire 300-member choir resigned because of her lifestyle. He told the press that they left because of “Aimee’s surrender to worldliness–her wardrobe of fancy gowns and short skirts, jewelry, furs, her new infatuation with cosmetics and bobbed hair, all specifically condemned by the Scriptures” (Robert Bahr, Least of All Saints, p. 259).
In 1931 the divorced McPherson married the divorced David Hutton. He divorced Aimee in 1934.
McPherson’s ministry featured the unscriptural spirit slaying phenomenon. One of her biographies, Least of All Saints by Robert Bahr, contains a photo of McPherson followers lying on the floor after she had laid hands on them and they were allegedly “baptized of the Holy Spirit.” There were also cases of “spiritual drunkenness” in her early meetings (Epstein, Sister Aimee, p. 162), though her later ministry was not characterized by such displays.
McPherson taught that healing is guaranteed in the atonement. She falsely promised to the eager crowds: “Your chains will be shattered, your fetters crushed, your troubles healed, if you only believe–for where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (Epstein, Sister Aimee, p. 221). It is blessedly true, of course, that the Lord is a very present help in time of trouble and that He goes with His children through all their trials, but to promise that in this present life all problems will be removed and all sicknesses healed if one only has enough faith is a deception. McPherson warned that the attitude “if it is His will to heal me, I am willing” brings no results (Epstein, p. 224). In fact, McPherson claimed that physical healing is part of the gospel. The “foursquare” gospel she promoted was Jesus Christ as Savior, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, Healer, and Coming King. She claimed that she had obtained this gospel through a vision in 1922, in which God showed her that the Gospel was for body and soul and spirit. It was the same “foursquare gospel” being preached by the Elim Foursquare Gospel Association in Ireland (McPherson had worked with Elim’s founder, George Jeffrys), the Assemblies of God in the United States, and other Pentecostal groups. The “full” Gospel, though, is simply the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Aimee McPherson promised that physical healing is available to those who have complete faith. In spite of this, most who came to her meetings in search of healing left disappointed. To go through McPherson’s healing line required that one obtain a card, and these were normally limited to 75 people.
The following sad case of a little girl who attended a McPherson revival crusade illustrates the plight of those who are duped by this false teaching:
“A little girl wore a pair of glasses one-half of which was entirely black. I gathered that she was totally blind in one eye and almost blind in the other. I sat upon the stage very close to the whole procedure. While prayer was being made for her, the little girl, who appeared to be about 11 years of age, wept and sobbed and writhed in her eagerness to secure the help that she had been led to expect. She left the platform and public claim was made by one of the workers that she had been healed, and the little girl verified the claim by a nod of the head given in reply to the question of the workers. An hour later, when the meeting was out, I noticed a small cluster of women near the platform. I thought I saw the blind little girl in their midst, so I asked my wife to go over and investigate and talk to her if necessary. She found the erstwhile ‘cured’ girl flat on her face on the floor, sobbing, with shattered hopes and a breaking heart. Her disappointment was complete, and so was her disillusionment. The improved sight that she seemed to have had in the midst of the excitement on the platform had disappeared, and with it the hope of the little girl” (Arno Clemens Gaebelein, The Healing Question, New York: Our Hope Publications, 1925, p. 93).
Though there were some notable healings documented under McPherson’s ministry, one of McPherson’s biographers, Daniel Epstein (though extremely sympathetic to her), admitted that those healed were “mostly diseases of the immune system, or attributed to hysteria.” He said: “Sister Aimee is not credited with raising anyone from the dead, correcting a harelip or cleft palate, or restoring a missing limb, digit, or internal organ” (Epstein, Sister Aimee, New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1993, p. 112).
McPherson preached an unscriptural positive-only message which predated the New Evangelical approach by many decades. Consider the following descriptions of her message by her biographer:
“Anticipating the ‘creation theology’ of Matthew Fox by sixty years, Aimee would stress grace above original sin, with the bait of love she would go ‘fishing for whales.’ Her preaching was anecdotal and affectionate, never threatening” (Epstein, p. 118).”And she took the opportunity to condemn the method of Billy Sunday, the teetotaler who yelled at sinners and threatened them with damnation and hellfire. ‘Let us lead them by kindness and sympathy,’ Aimee advised” (Epstein, pp. 221,222).
“Aimee built her career by replacing the ‘Gospel of Fear, Hellfire, and Damnation’ with the ‘Gospel of Reconciliation and Love'” (Epstein, p. 283).
McPherson’s mother, Mildred (Minnie) Kennedy, worked as a business associate in her daughter’s successful evangelistic empire. In fact, they owned the Angelus Temple outright, in a fifty-fifty partnership. They frequently got into terrific fights. In 1927 Aimee had her mother fired from the positions she had long held in her Foursquare church. Mildred returned for a brief time to help during a massive financial crisis created by Aimee’s unwise investments, but in 1929 Mildred left her daughter Aimee’s ministry permanently “after receiving a broken nose during an explosive argument” (Robert Bahr, Least of All Saints, p. 296). In 1937 Mildred sided with her granddaughter, Roberta, in a highly publicized lawsuit against Aimee’s lawyer. The widowed Mildred Kennedy wed in 1931, but the marriage was annulled when it was learned that the man was already married. Later that same year the man obtained a quickie divorce in Las Vegas, Mildred met him there and they were remarried. The strange marriage lasted less than a year. When Aimee McPherson died of a drug overdose in 1944, she left her mother ten dollars with the stipulation that if Mildred contested it she would get nothing (Bahr, p. 282).
Another of the early Pentecostal leaders was A.J. TOMLINSON (1865-1943), founder of the CHURCH OF GOD OF PROPHECY. Tomlinson was one of the most influential men in the formation of the Pentecostal movement. As a young man, Tomlinson, a mystical Quaker, accepted the teaching on healing in the atonement taught by Holiness-Pentecostal female evangelist Carrie Judd Montgomery. Before the turn of the century, he also accepted the false holiness doctrine of entire sanctification, that the dedicated Christian can be free from sin, and claimed that he had attained this experience. In 1901 he visited Frank Sandford’s work in Maine and was baptized by Sandford. He joined a group which called itself “The Church of the Living God for the Evangelization of the World, Gathering of Israel, New Order of Things at the Close of the Gentile Age.” The extreme latter rain position of this group was evident in its name. In 1903 he joined a congregation named the Holiness Church at Camp Creek, Tennessee, and was soon elected the pastor. In June of that year he claimed to have a vision that the true church of Jesus Christ was restored in his Holiness Church. Tomlinson believed the true church was lost in A.D. 325 and that it was restored in layers, beginning with the 16th-century Protestant Reformation and culminating with the founding of the Church of God in 1903. “To Tomlinson the group he was associated with was the only true and valid Christian communion ‘this side of the Dark Ages'” (Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, p. 76). Their meetings were often characterized by pandemonium, i.e., shouting, jerking, falling, writhing like serpents, trances. There were long lists of unscriptural prohibitions, including Coca Cola, pork, chewing gum, rings, bracelets, and neckties. Not only were such things forbidden, but those who used them were considered unsaved.
In 1907 the group officially adopted the name Church of God. In 1923 Tomlinson left the original Church of God group (which became the mainline Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) and formed his own organization, later called the Church of God of Prophecy. Tomlinson claimed that physical healing is guaranteed in the atonement and he taught against the use of medicine. He believed that tongues speaking is the evidence of salvation. He taught that a person can lose his salvation and then be reconverted, at which time he must be rebaptized. Tomlinson defended the practice of women preachers, and the Church of God of Prophecy has a large number of women pastors and denominational leaders. The unscriptural spirit slaying phenomenon has been a part of the Church of God of Prophecy from its inception. In 1940 Tomlinson purchased a 216-acre parcel and named it Field of the Woods, in recognition of the vision he was alleged to have had in 1903 by which he rediscovered the true church of God. After Tomlinson’s death in 1943, the courts decreed that the denomination would be called Church of God of Prophecy to differentiate it from other groups which used the name Church of God. Tomlinson’s successor was selected by a message allegedly given in tongues, then interpreted. Tomlinson’s oldest son, Homer, started his own church after his father’s death, and between 1954 and 1966 he traveled to the capitals of 101 countries and crowned himself as King of the World, promising peace and prosperity. He claimed that many national miracles followed these coronation ceremonies, and he took credit for stopping wars, halting massacres, and ending droughts.
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August 3, 1998 (David W. Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, 1701 Harns Rd., Oak Harbor, WA 98277) – by David W. Cloud–
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