Also published in AG-News, Tue, 01 Jul 2014 – 1:17 PM CST.
Eudorus Neander Bell’s name was not the only thing about him that stood out. Better known as E. N. Bell (1866-1923), he served as first chairman (this title was later changed to general superintendent) of the Assemblies of God. He and his twin, Endorus, learned to work hard at a young age. Their father died when the boys were two years old, and they had to help provide for the family.
A sincere and studious Christian, E. N. Bell felt a call to the ministry at a young age. However, his family’s poverty meant that this calling would be postponed. He dropped out of high school and instead worked to put bread on his family’s table. At times, the only bread he could afford was stale and had to be dipped in water to be edible. Finally, at age 30, he achieved a longtime dream and graduated from high school.
Bell proved to be an adept student. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Stetson University, attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville from 1900 to 1902, and received a bachelor of divinity degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School (then a Baptist school) the following year.
He pastored Baptist churches for about 17 years. Despite success in the ministry, Bell was hungry for more of God. After he heard about the emerging Pentecostal movement in 1907, he took a leave of absence from his church in Fort Worth, Texas, and traveled to William Durham’s North Avenue Mission in Chicago to wait upon the Lord. He prayed expectantly for 11 months, until he received the baptism in the Holy Spirit on July 18, 1908.
Bell described his Spirit baptism in a testimony published five months after the experience: “God baptized me in His Spirit. Wave after wave fell on me from heaven, striking me in the forehead like electric currents and passing over and through my whole being…. [The Spirit] began to speak through me in a tongue I never heard before and continued for 2 hours…. After 3 months of testing, I can say before God, the experience is as fresh and sweet as ever.”
Bell traveled back to the South, uncertain what his next steps should be. He ministered across the South, seeking God’s will for his life. Then, in 1909, God answered two prayers. At age 44, Bell finally married. He also became pastor of a Pentecostal congregation in Malvern, Arkansas. He began publishing a monthly periodical, Word and Witness, which became a prominent voice within the young Pentecostal movement.
In 1913, Bell published the “call” to Hot Springs. Those who attended the April 1914 meeting in Hot Springs organized the Assemblies of God and elected Bell to serve as its first chairman. Bell, a Pentecostal statesman with a pastoral heart, proved a wise choice. He helped to lay the theological and organizational foundation for the young fellowship
J. Roswell Flower wrote that Bell was the “sweetest, safest and sanest man” he had ever met in the Pentecostal movement. According to Flower, Bell was “a big-hearted man” and took time to pray with the sick and tend to other pastoral duties, despite the numerous pressures of his office. He slept little, traveled much, and wrote constantly. He did all this “without murmur or complaint.” Flower noted that Bell looked much older than his 56 years. “He grew old in the service,” Flower wrote. “He had purposed in his heart that he would give all that was in him for the faithful performance of the work that had been allotted to him.”
Bell’s health broke, so he stepped down as chairman in November 1914. He returned to the pastorate but remained active as an executive presbyter and editor of the Weekly Evangel andWord and Witness. He was elected as chairman again in 1919 once he had recovered. He intended to leave office in 1924 and to pour himself into budding ministers by teaching at the newly-formed Central Bible Institute.
Bell’s work ethic took a toll on his health. He literally worked himself to death, dying in office on June 15, 1923. Tributes to the fallen leader were published on six pages of the June 30, 1923, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Early Pentecostals taught that those who truly had Christian love would lay down their lives for one another (1 John 3:16). So perhaps it should not be surprising that the first chairman of the Assemblies of God did just that.
Read tributes to E. N. Bell on pages 1 through 6 of the June 30, 1923, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
* “Many Members, One Body,” by Zelma Argue
* “On the Top of the World,” by Victor G. Plymire
And many more!
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