Nationalism and the Heavenly Kingdom: How Pentecostals Responded to World War I

1918 PE NEWS

A French couple welcome liberating American soldiers in 1918, after four years of German occupation.

This Week in AG History — July 1, 1916

By Darrin Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 1 July 2016

The summer of 1916, one hundred years ago, was bloody. The Great War, later dubbed World War I, had been raging for two years. Nearly every nation in Europe was embroiled in conflict. Political and economic turmoil and famine resulted in the death of millions.

Just a few years earlier, everything had seemed so different. Politicians and mainline church leaders had been confident that scientific, technological, and social advances would make war a thing of the past. These progressives aimed to perfect humanity through education and social change. They equated Christianization with Westernization, replacing the biblical notion of a transformative encounter with God with a “social gospel” that de-emphasized conversion in favor of cultural education.

The outbreak of war shattered these illusions of social progress. Progressives in America were divided on how to cope with this new reality. But for Pentecostals, the war merely confirmed what they already knew. Humanity was deeply stained by sin and only Christ, not culture, could save.

The pages of the Pentecostal Evangel during the war years were filled with warnings against confusing the Christian faith with national identities. The July 1, 1916, issue was no exception. In an article titled, “Light on this Present Crisis,” British pastor Leonard Newby responded to several difficult questions arising from the war.

Newby related a question: “Is it not an awful thing for one Christian nation to be fighting another Christian nation?” Newby disagreed with the assumption that a nation could be Christian. He wrote, “There is not, and never has been, such a company of people as a CHRISTIAN NATION, and never will be until the Lord comes.” Rather, he explained, “The people of God who form the mystical body of Jesus Christ are a small company of people scattered among the nations.”

Newby warned against those who advocated a “social gospel” without need of personal conversion: “They are preaching the Universal Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, instead of the need of regeneration and redemption through the blood of His Cross.”

Newby also responded to the question, “Does not this war show the failure of Christianity?” Newby stated that it did not. According to Scripture, Newby insisted, “Christianity is one thing, civilization is quite another.” He wrote, “What men and women need is not civilization merely (although God knows how much in some quarters that is needed) but they need TO BE BORN AGAIN (St. John 3:3), not to be veneered, but to become the subjects of a mighty spiritual revolution from within.”

Newby’s concern that Christians not confuse their faith with nationalism reflected not only the beliefs of the Assemblies of God at the time, but also those of many other premillennial evangelicals. This view sometimes had the effect of preventing significant cultural engagement by believers. Over time many within the Assemblies of God became leaders in the broader society, leading to further reflection about the proper relationship between Christians and national identity. However, the primary point of Newby and other early Pentecostals remains valid today: earthly allegiances should pale in comparison to the Christian’s heavenly citizenship.

Read the entire article by Leonard Newby, “Light on this Present Crisis,” on pages 6, 7, and 9 of the July 1, 1916, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:
* “Further Incidents from the Early Days in Azusa Mission,” by B. F. Lawrence
* “The Baptism of the Holy Ghost,” by H. M. Turney
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


Filed under Ethics, History, Theology

3 responses to “Nationalism and the Heavenly Kingdom: How Pentecostals Responded to World War I


    So interesting, my uncle Glenn Reed was in the army then. He also taught
    at CBI for 20 years.

  2. Pingback: 7/17/2016 What Matters Most? | ForeWords


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