Elmer F. Muir: A Baptist Pastor Discovers the Power of the Holy Spirit

Elmer F. Muir

Elmer F. Muir

This Week in AG History–April 25, 1925

By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in PE News, 23 April 2015

A Pentecostal revival in the 1920s touched numerous Baptist ministers and churches, resulting in the cross-pollination of the two traditions. High-profile Baptists who became Pentecostal included Mae Eleanor Frey, an evangelist and author ordained by the National Baptist Convention in 1905, and William Keeney Towner, pastor of First Baptist Church in San Jose, California.

Many lesser-known Baptist ministers also embraced the Pentecostal movement, but their stories have been largely forgotten. Among these was Elmer F. Muir, a pastor who had experienced great discouragement in his ministry. He was spiritually refreshed by the winds of Pentecostal revival. He received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and testified that he experienced “the deep things of God.” Muir’s testimony was published in the April 25, 1925, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Elmer Ferguson Muir (1890-1947), the son of Scottish immigrants, was born in Dubuque, Iowa. He received a call to the ministry at age 21 while attending a revival campaign held by legendary evangelist Billy Sunday. Muir quickly discovered that the road to the ministry would be challenging. Muir had dropped out of high school, but his Presbyterian denomination required that ministers have a college degree. He enrolled at Coe College, a Presbyterian school in Iowa, where he recalled “burning the candle at both ends” both day and night for five years. He graduated from Coe College in 1917 and became a Baptist pastor.

Muir served as pastor of the Baptist church in Arkansas City, Kansas, in the early 1920s. He sometimes found the work of the ministry overwhelming. He described a revival campaign at his church: “It was one that was worked up instead of prayed down.” The experience wore him out. He wrote, “I never want to go through one again, it was dental work from beginning to end.”

Muir received a fine theological education. However, he came to realize that he needed more than mere knowledge “to bring about this great, wonderful program of God.” What did he need? He was uncertain. He recalled, “But how [the program of God] was to be brought about I had no conception.”

To add to his problems, a lady in Muir’s congregation kept asking him if he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. He was not sure how to answer. At first, he responded that the experience was only for the early church. She kept pestering Muir for over two years until he relented. Finally, he agreed to preach one Wednesday night on the subject of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He titled the sermon, “Has the Church Lost Its Power?” But as Muir studied the Word of God, he came to realize that the lady in his congregation had been right – the baptism in the Holy Spirit was for him, and it could empower him in ministry.

Muir and his wife both sought and received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. At first, Muir was hesitant to tell his congregation. What would people say? Ultimately, he shared his Pentecostal testimony and was forced to resign from the church. He transferred his ministerial credentials to the Assemblies of God in 1925 and started a small congregation (now known as First Assembly of God, Arkansas City, Kansas). In 1927 he moved to San Diego, California, where he pastored Full Gospel Tabernacle. He also edited a book of articles by Pentecostal missionary Cornelia Nuzum, The Life of Faith. The book, originally published by Gospel Published House in 1928, remains in print 87 years later.

Elmer F. Muir decided to transfer his credentials back to the Baptist church in 1929. He resigned from the Assemblies of God in good standing and spent the rest of his ministry in Baptist churches. Muir’s ministry in the Assemblies of God lasted only four years, but it demonstrates the porous borders between the Assemblies of God and other evangelical denominations. The Pentecostal movement has helped to refresh many ministers and laypersons from other denominations, some of whom ultimately returned to their former churches. This cross-pollination between the Assemblies of God and other churches helped to build bridges across the denominational divides, laying the foundation for future generations who would be more concerned with building the kingdom of God rather than a particular denomination.

Read Elmer F. Muir’s powerful testimony, “Why I Am No Longer a Baptist Preacher,” on pages 2 and 3 of the April 25, 1925, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Our Great Equipment,” by A. H. Argue

• “A Notable Miracle,” by Amelia De Franchi

• “Healed of Paralysis,” by G. E. Wolfe

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Click here to order a copy of Cornelia Nuzum’s classic book, The Life of Faith, which was edited by Elmer F. Muir.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

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Mary Weems Chapman: Called to the Prostitutes and Untouchables of South India

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This Week in AG History–April 18, 1925
By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in PE News, 15 April 2015

When veteran missionary Mary Weems Chapman (1857-1927) felt God’s call to return to India, her family told her she was too old. But she persevered and became the first Assemblies of God missionary to South India. A veteran Free Methodist missionary before identifying with the Pentecostal movement, Mary was well-known in Holiness circles for her preaching, teaching, and writing. But she was perhaps best known for her advocacy of ministry to girl prostitutes and the “untouchables” – members of India’s lowest social caste.

Mary and her husband, George, were pioneer leaders in the Pentecost Bands, a Free Methodist missions organization known for promoting both holiness and social ministry. They founded the Free Methodist work in Monrovia, Liberia, in 1889.

Mary was a prolific author. She edited a volume of writings by Holiness advocate Eunice Parsons Cobb, “Mother Cobb, or Sixty Years with God” (1896). She also served a one year stint (1898) as founding editor of “Missionary Tidings,” published by the General Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Free Methodist Church.

George seemingly disappeared from Mary’s writings and missionary reports in the 1890s and 1900s. Whether he died or something else happened is unknown. But she continued in ministry as a single woman. She spent time in India, where she worked at a “Pentecostal Rescue Home” that plucked young girls out of prostitution and provided education and spiritual help.

Single and aging, she returned to America. But she could not shake the sense that God wanted her to help the suffering girls of India. By 1911 she surfaced in Pentecostal periodicals, writing gut-wrenching articles about the great need to rescue girls in India who had been sold into sexual slavery.

Feeling a holy restlessness, Mary decided to return to India. She was approaching 60 years old. Her family tried to dissuade her, telling her she was too old to endure the rigors of missionary work. But her mind was made up. She told her family, “If young people are not able to go, old people must go.”

Mary arrived in India one hundred years ago, in 1915, and established her first missionary base in Doddaballapur, near Bangalore. She conducted evangelistic meeting in numerous parts of South India. In 1917, she affiliated with the Assemblies of God and became that Fellowship’s first missionary in South India.

Mary’s extensive writing and editing skills proved useful in her missions work. She was concerned by the poor discipleship of new converts and by the vast amount of anti-Christian and anti-Pentecostal literature that was causing confusion. To help remedy these problems, in 1925 she co-founded a magazine called Penthecosthu Kahalam (Pentecostal Trumpet) in the Malayalam language. She also wrote over 50 articles and letters published in the Pentecostal Evangel from 1913 to 1927.

In one of those letters, published in the April 18, 1925, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, Mary described the plight of the Dalits, also called the “untouchables” because of their low social position. She described the joy of the Dalits who accepted Christ and were “adopted in the family of heaven.” She noted that her missionary colleagues started a school to educate young converts, because Dalits were not permitted to attend school with people from other classes in Indian society.

After 10 years of ministry under the Assemblies of God banner, Mary Weems Chapman died on November 27, 1927. She was 70 years old.

Samuel Jabarethnan, Chapman’s interpreter for the last eight years of her life, wrote the following tribute: “I found Sister Chapman to be a most devoted and spiritual missionary. She stood not just for the Pentecostal experience, but emphasized the need for a deep spiritual, sanctified life…Sister Chapman was never satisfied with shallow, superficial things, either in a worker, a Christian or an assembly. She demanded reality and set the example in her own life…Sister Chapman loved to spend much of her time in prayer. She never allowed the duties or responsibilities of her work to interfere with her prayer life. She labored and groaned in deep intercessory prayer for the souls of men to be saved, and as a result the Lord richly blessed her ministry.”

Read Mary Chapman’s article, “Ministering to the Untouchables,” on page 11 of the April 18, 1925, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Faith in the Invisible,” by Ernest S. Williams

• “Gleanings from the Book of Ruth,” by A. G. Ward

• “Denying Self,” by Alice Rowlands Frodsham

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

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Elsie Peters, Pioneer of Assemblies of God Deaf Ministries

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This Week in AG History–April 11, 1931
By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in PE News, 9 April 2015

Elsie Peters (1898-1965) was the earliest known Assemblies of God minister to the deaf. Peters’ call to deaf ministry came in 1919, when she befriended a deaf couple in Springfield, Missouri. At the time, Peters was a housewife with three children. One day, when stopping to catch her breath from the busyness of daily life, she uttered a little prayer, “Lord, what can I do for You today?” To her surprise, she felt the Lord answer her with the following instruction: “Go and visit a deaf mute.”

Peters visited a local deaf couple, Sullivan and Addie Chainey, who gladly welcomed her into their home. They told her that they often felt overlooked. It was difficult for them to make friends. Through their friendship with Peters, the Chaineys eventually accepted Christ and also entered into deaf ministry.

Elsie’s husband, Grover, worked for the railroad. His job meant they had to relocate to a new city every few years. In each new city, Elsie immersed herself in ministry. When they moved to Fort Worth, Texas, in 1920, Elsie brought with her a passion for working with deaf people. She could not keep quiet about the calling God had placed in her heart.

Assemblies of God leaders in Texas confirmed Elsie’s calling and, in 1924, ordained her to the ministry. In 1926, she secured the use of the Y.M.C.A. building in Fort Worth and held what she deemed to be the first Pentecostal revival services for the deaf. Deaf came from across the Midwest to attend the services. She later held similar revival campaigns across America, helping to meet the spiritual needs of the deaf and raising the profile of the deaf community within the church.

In the late 1920s, Elsie and Grover moved to Los Angeles. Elsie saw the move as an opportunity to reach the city’s large deaf community, which had been largely ignored by other churches. They launched the first Assemblies of God church started specifically for the deaf — First Full Gospel Church for the Deaf. The first service was held in a small mission on Hoover Street on Tuesday, October 29, 1929. That same day the stock markets crashed, which resulted in the Great Depression. But the small mission flourished and soon relocated to a 300-seat stucco church with parsonage. The April 11, 1931, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel included a report of this first Assemblies of God deaf congregation.

From this inauspicious beginning, the Assemblies of God ministry to the deaf emerged. Lottie Riekehof began teaching sign language at Central Bible Institute in 1948, and Home Missions (now U.S. Missions) created a division for Deaf Ministries in 1953. In 2014, the Assemblies of God included 33 deaf culture churches and 538 churches with some type of ministry in working with deaf people in the United States.

See the report and photograph of the First Full Gospel Church for the Deaf on page 13 of the April 11, 1931, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “An Open Door in Africa,” by W. Lloyd Shirer

• “A Visit to Central America and Mexico,” by Sunshine (Mrs. H. C.) Ball

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

– See more at: http://penews.org/Article/This-Week-in-AG-History-April-11-1931/#sthash.hQubSM28.dpuf

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

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Pentecostals, Pacifism, and Religious Liberty in World War I: The Waldron Case

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This Week in AG History–April 5, 1919
By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in PE News, 2 April 2015

Clarence H. Waldron (1885-1926), an early Baptist-turned-Pentecostal minister, became the central figure in the first important criminal court case involving religious opposition to World War I. Newspapers across America carried reports of Waldron’s trial in 1918 for violations of the Federal Espionage Act. Later historians dissected the case, determining that the pastor was likely unjustly convicted based on suspect allegations made by members of his Vermont Baptist church who did not like their pastor’s embrace of the Pentecostal revival.

The pages of the Pentecostal Evangel remained silent about the Waldron case until April 5, 1919, when Samuel R. Waldron, an Assemblies of God minister, reported on the status of his son. The Pentecostal Evangel editor prefaced the elder Waldron’s letter by noting, “Many of our readers have been interested in what is known as the ‘Waldron Case.'” Undoubtedly many Pentecostals were apprehensive about the case’s outcome. Waldron’s case carried weighty implications regarding religious liberty for Americans.

Waldron had been accused of attempting to undermine the U.S. government in a time of war. Early Pentecostals, like most other premillennialists of that era, preached that believers should be fully committed to Christ and His kingdom. They admonished avoidance of worldly entanglements that would conflict with their heavenly allegiance. Accordingly, most Pentecostals avoided politics. Many likewise believed that killing in war was moral compromise. When America entered World War I, it became increasingly difficult for Pentecostals to maintain their pacifist stance in the face of intense societal pressure to support the war effort.

Waldron had a respectable, successful background in Baptist ministry. He was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1907. When he accepted the pastorate of the Baptist church in Windsor, Vermont, in 1915, the church’s prospects seemed bleak. But Waldron’s energetic and winsome ministry won hearts and converts, and by 1917 attendance had tripled. In that year, a Pentecostal evangelist began holding revival services in Windsor. Waldron and about half of his growing congregation attended the services and embraced the Pentecostal movement. A segment of the church that opposed the revival decided to force the resignation of Waldron. They did this by accusing him of violating the Federal Espionage Act.

Did Waldron “willfully attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, and refusal of duty in the United States military forces”? This was the question that the courts tried to resolve. Waldron’s accusers identified at least two events they believed constituted offenses. First, Waldron refused to allow his church to participate in a patriotic-themed “Liberty Loan Sunday” event. He told his congregation that he believed that Sunday morning services should be reserved for preaching the gospel and not for politics or nationalism. Second, they accused Waldron of advising his church members, through preaching and the distribution of literature, that Christians should not bear arms in war.

A trial in January 1918 ended with a hung jury. Jury members could not reach a verdict, in part because they identified significant bias by witnesses on both sides. Cross-examination seemed to reveal that a church squabble was at the heart of the case, and Waldron’s accusers seemed to be using the law to force the pastor to resign.

At a second trial, in March 1918, the judge did not allow testimony regarding the anti-Pentecostal religious prejudice of Waldron’s accusers. The jury returned a guilty verdict and the judge sentenced Waldron to 15 years in federal prison.

The 1919 letter from Waldron’s father, published in the Pentecostal Evangel, reported that President Woodrow Wilson had commuted his sentence following the conclusion of the war. Waldron, according to his father, almost died from influenza and pneumonia during his year-long incarceration.

Shortly after his release from prison, Clarence Waldron received ordination with the Assemblies of God and moved to California. He spent the remaining years of his life in bivocational ministry, working in secular employment and occasionally ministering alongside Aimee Semple McPherson in San Diego and Los Angeles. Waldron’s trial and imprisonment had broken his health. He died in 1926 at the age of 41.

The trial of Clarence H. Waldron was widely reported in the press in 1917 and 1918, and historians have studied it ever since. The Waldron case highlights the fragility of religious liberty. Historian Gene Sessions, in his definitive 1993 article on the Waldron case published in “Vermont History,” concluded the following:

“In Windsor that national legislation, ostensibly directed against spies, provided a way to remove from town an individual whose religious views had split his congregation and embarrassed his denomination’s state hierarchy and whose pacifism, rooted in those same views, had confused and infuriated local patriots … the Espionage Act became in the hands of Windsor citizens a potent instrument for disciplining, harassing, and punishing a neighbor no longer welcome.”

While Clarence Waldron was tried for his advocacy of pacifism, the Waldron case stands for a broader proposition — that religious liberty needs to be carefully guarded.

Read “A Note of Praise,” by Samuel R. Waldron, on page 14 of the April 5, 1919, issue of the Christian Evangel [the predecessor of the Pentecostal Evangel].

Other articles also featured in this issue of the Evangel include:
• “The Pentecostal Baptism: Its Foundation,” by David H. McDowell
• “Healed and Filled with the Spirit,” by Mrs. E. M. Whittemore
And many more! Click here to read this issue now.

The fascinating account of Waldron’s trial, “Espionage in Windsor: Clarence H. Waldron and Patriotism in World War I,” published in the Summer 1993 issue of Vermont History, is accessible by clicking here.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

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Pentecostal Evangel Sparked Great Revival in Nigeria in 1930s

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This Week in AG History–March 29, 1959
By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in PE News, 26 March 2015

A great revival in Nigeria that led to the formation of the Assemblies of God in that nation can be traced back to a single issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, which somehow found its way from America to Africa in the early 1930s. Histories of the Assemblies of God of Nigeria credit the periodical for sparking a hunger for the baptism in the Holy Spirit among Nigerians.

The March 29, 1959, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel recounted this story of the origins of the Nigerian Assemblies of God. “It is not known how the magazine came into their possession,” according to the article, “but it is known that they were deeply stirred by the accounts of healing and of believers being baptized in the Holy Spirit.”

The Nigerians who first read this “missionary” issue of the Pentecostal Evangel were members of a small Holiness denomination, Faith Tabernacle, which had headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Faith Tabernacle leaders in America told the Nigerians to stay away from the Pentecostals. But as the Nigerians searched scriptures, they saw that the Pentecostal message was biblical. They started praying, and many were healed and filled with the Holy Spirit. “Overjoyed, these newly baptized believers went from place to place testifying and preaching to all who would hear,” the article reported, “with the result that converts were won and small church groups were formed in various places.”

Augustus Ehurie Wogu, a prominent civil servant with the Nigerian Marine Department, was one of the early converts. Wogu, along with Augustus Asonye, G. M. Alioha and others, helped to lay the foundation for the young Pentecostal movement in Nigeria.

Nigerian Pentecostals made contact with the American Assemblies of God, which published the Pentecostal Evangel. American church leaders put them in contact a missionary laboring in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), W. Lloyd Shirer. Shirer helped to organize the Assemblies of God in Nigeria in 1939.

The Assemblies of God in Nigeria has experienced phenomenal growth. In 1959, the fellowship had 293 churches with 14,794 adherents. By 2013, this tally increased to 11,993 churches and outstations with 3,095,144 members and adherents. And all of this happened because someone whose name is now forgotten sent an issue of the Pentecostal Evangel to a place which had no Assemblies of God missionaries.

Read “Pentecostal Progress in Nigeria,” on pages 22 and 23 of the March 29, 1959, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Resurrection and Missions,” by Robert L. Brandt

• “Ministry on the Danish Islands,” by Victor G. Greisen

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

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Methodist and United Brethren Churches Embrace 1919 Pentecostal Revival in Baltimore


This Week in AG History–March 19, 1921
By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in PE News, 19 March 2015

Methodist and United Brethren congregations in Baltimore, Maryland, embraced a revival sparked by Pentecostal evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in 1919. McPherson, the most widely-known Pentecostal evangelist of her era in the United States, was a gifted orator who built bridges between Pentecostals and evangelicals. Her messages, focusing primarily on salvation, healing, and the spiritual life, garnered the cooperation of churches of various denominations. She was a credentialed minister with the Assemblies of God for several years (1919-1922) prior to forming the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

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McPherson’s evangelistic efforts in Baltimore began with three weeks of daily services in the Lyric Theatre, December 4-21, 1919. Numerous healings attracted the attention of the secular press. She was invited to hold services in two Methodist and one United Brethren churches, where large audiences gathered to hear the female evangelist who preached that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”

McPherson returned to Baltimore in January 1920, where she held meetings for several weeks at the Franklin Street Memorial United Brethren Church (pastored by Edward Leech). After she left, Leech and another staff pastor at the church continued to hold special prayer meetings and revival services. The Pentecostal Evangel reprinted a 1921 report of the ongoing revival, authored by Leech and originally published in the United Brethren Church’s denominational periodical.

According to Leech, hundreds of people had accepted Christ and “a large number were instantaneously healed” in his church. In an era of religious skepticism, the healings provided proof of God’s power. “Surely no one will be so skeptical,” wrote Leech, “as to doubt the power of God to touch the sick with healing now as in that first century.”

Leech was initially cautious about telling others in his denomination that he had embraced the Pentecostal revival. He remained quiet about it for about a year, he wrote, “to test out my own church and people.” But in his 1921 article he proclaimed, “today I am fully persuaded as to the genuineness of the full gospel program.” He spoke favorably of McPherson’s ministry: “She preaches the whole truth, attracts the crowds, fills the altar with sinners and backsliders, prays down healing for the sick, and seeks to deepen the spiritual life of believers.”

McPherson, like many other early Pentecostals, aimed to build the kingdom of God and not merely a denomination. Leech warmly embraced this aim, writing that he had never before seen such levels of “cooperation” and “Christian love and fellowship.”

Read the article, “Big Revival in Baltimore,” on page 6 of the March 19, 1921, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel .

Also featured in this issue:

• “Is the Holy Spirit in All Believers?” by J. T. Boddy

• “The Modern Church in Effigy,” by W. V. Kneisley

• “The Coming Chinese Church”

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

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Prominent Novelist Sven Lidman Shocked Sweden by 1921 Conversion to Pentecostalism

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This Week in AG History–March 12, 1927
By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in PE News, 12 March 2015

When Sven Lidman (1882-1960), one of Sweden’s most prominent authors, accepted Christ as Savior and was baptized at the leading Pentecostal church in Stockholm in 1921, it seemed as though the entire nation took notice.

Lidman was born into great privilege. He received a classical education and he earned a law degree from the University of Uppsala. He spent several years in the military and then studied the Italian language and literature. By 1920, he was an acclaimed author and had published 13 books and collections of poetry.

In fact, Lidman could have been considered a renaissance man. His writing explored family issues and sexuality, philosophy and ethics, and religion and politics. He cultivated relationships with the leaders of his day, and his early life was steeped in worldly pleasures.

Despite Lidman’s background, his conversion to Christ was not entirely unexpected. For years, he had experienced a deep spiritual struggle. He felt deep inner longings that could not be satisfied with brandy, tobacco, and women. He openly shared this struggle through his pen, most notably by authoring in 1920 an annotated translation of St. Augustine’s Confessions . Lidman closely identified with this fifth century Christian theologian who abandoned a life of youthful sin and who used his testimony to proclaim the transformative power of the Gospel. Lidman would soon follow in Augustine’s footsteps.

However, it came as a shock to many that Lidman cast his lot with the Pentecostals. Lidman could have easily joined a respectable Lutheran congregation of the State Church of Sweden. Instead, Swedish Pentecostal leader Lewi Pethrus baptized him at the Filadelfia Church.

Lidman’s conversion was widely covered by the nation’s press and became an ongoing topic of conversation at dinner tables across Scandinavia. The Christian press in other corners of the world also trumpeted this news.

Why did Lidman join the Pentecostals? Lidman’s conversion to Pentecostalism, according to a March 12, 1927, Pentecostal Evangel article, occurred because “Lidman is no half-way man.” Lidman would not settle for anything less than genuine, historic, biblical Christianity. “He believes in the power of Christ’s blood and redeeming death to save from sin,” the article continued. “He believes in a whole dedication to the Christian witness.”

Lidman rejected the notion that his conversion consisted merely of “a series of processes in the subconscious.” Rather, he maintained that “real conversion” to Christ was “the consequence of meeting with a supernatural power.” True Christians who have encountered and submitted to God’s power, Lidman wrote, are living sacrifices. “It is only upon the whole offering on the Lord’s altar that His fire falls,” he declared.

Lidman illustrated this theology of full consecration with his own testimony. At first, Lidman was not willing to surrender all of his ways to God. Early in his Christian life he defended his use of brandy and tobacco. But he recounted how his mind changed after an encounter with a man who had suffered the ravages of alcoholism. He realized he could not calmly stand before an alcoholic and say, “Drinking is an adiaphoron, a matter of indifference, and not a sin per se.” He could no longer in good conscience say, “There are many splendid and real Christians who are not abstainers.” Lidman came to believe that saving faith should permeate every aspect of a Christian’s life. Lidman submitted his destructive habits to God, and God took away his desire for alcohol and tobacco.

Although Lidman was an intellectual, he grew disenchanted with certain intellectual fads of his day. He had the independence of mind to challenge prevailing cultural assumptions and instead wanted something real. And reality, for Lidman, was the living Christian faith that he found in the Pentecostal church. The Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit, he wrote, “is a full-blooded reality and no pale intellectual ideal.”

Lewi Pethrus asked Lidman to become editor of the leading Pentecostal magazine, Evangelii Härold . Lidman accepted and served in that position from 1922 until 1948. Lidman became a popular Pentecostal preacher, and countless people accepted Christ through his voluminous writings. Lidman became the second best-known Pentecostal in Sweden, after Lewi Pethrus.

The article concluded by noting that Lidman encouraged both education and heartfelt faith. While some “rationalists” and “revivalists” seemed to believe that faith and understanding are mutually exclusive, Lidman asserted that Christians need both. “I know not how the forces of cold and darkness can ever be driven from the heart save through revival Christianity. They can never be cultivated away,” he wrote. “But after revival has gone ahead with its spring break-up of ice and frost the work of education begins.” According to Lidman, education is a work of the Spirit.

Sven Lidman’s profound influence on Swedish Pentecostalism may have faded from the memory of many American Pentecostals, but his testimony and writings continue to challenge readers to seek the fullness of God. Lidman had the world but found it wanting. Like Augustine before him, the Swedish novelist and intellectual found that only Jesus could satisfy his deepest longings.

Read the article, “The Witness of a Swedish Novelist,” on pages 4 and 5 of the March 12, 1927, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “Reminiscences of a Faith Life,” by Marie Burgess Brown

* “African or Scriptural Brick,” by Arthur S. Berg

* “The Blood,” by J. Narver Gortner

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions are courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

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