This Week in AG History — February 22, 1919
By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG News, 21 February 2019
One hundred years ago, Assemblies of God missionary Albert Norton witnessed the tragic starvation and suffering of countless people in India. He responded to this humanitarian crisis in a Pentecostal Evangel article, in which he argued that Christian preaching must be accompanied by works of compassion.
Norton’s experience in India gave him a different perspective than many other Christians in America. At the time, there was a growing divide within Christianity between evangelicals and theological liberals. In the early 20th century, many mainline Protestant churches were in the process of redefining the Christian faith. New academic theories undermined the authority of Scripture, and a faith in science replaced faith in the God of miracles as described in the Bible. These theological liberals pioneered a “Social Gospel” movement defined by doing good works, even as they left behind the seemingly antiquated notion that “Truth” could be found in Scripture.
In America, evangelicals and Pentecostals often responded to the Social Gospel movement by reasserting biblical truths. Some tried to reform older denominations from within; others formed new, purer churches. Some backed away from social action, concerned that an emphasis on good works could distract from what they believed was the more important duty to preach the Word.
Outside America, missionaries such as Albert Norton were often surrounded by great suffering and felt compelled to minister in both word and deed.
In a 1919 Pentecostal Evangel article, Norton wrote the following bold statement:
“A Christianity that coldly sits down, and goes on its routine of formal work, and allows its fellowmen to starve, or to be obliged to go through all the hard sufferings and exposure connected with famine, without effort to help them, might as well quit its preaching.”
Norton, who was witnessing an unfolding human tragedy, asked that “all missionaries, Mission Boards and Committees and all Christian Workers to do what they can to save their brothers and sisters in India from dying of starvation or from the kindred train of evils following famine.”
Pentecostal Evangel editor Stanley H. Frodsham responded and devoted the entire front page of the Feb. 22, 1919, issue to the desperate situation in India. He asked readers to send famine relief to Gospel Publishing House, which he promised would “be promptly sent to the field.”
Frodsham provided three justifications for this request to save bodies as well as souls. First, he stated that Scripture required it, quoting Proverbs 19:17 and 24:11-12. Second, he noted that the Methodist church had asked its members to forego luxuries for a few months and to instead provide money for Indian relief. He challenged Pentecostals to do likewise.
Third, he noted that the future of the church depended upon rescuing those who are starving now. He again quoted Norton, “There are young men and women in India today, who were saved as famine orphans several years ago, and now they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and being greatly used in the extension of Christ’s kingdom.” Meeting the physical needs to the starving today would yield preachers tomorrow. He continued, “How unutterably sad it would have been if they had been allowed to die of starvation.”
Early Pentecostal missionaries such as Norton had very limited physical resources to share, but they still recognized the need to minister in both word and deed. When the Assemblies of God, at its 2009 General Council, added compassion as the fourth element for its reason for being — joining worship, evangelism, and discipleship — this was an affirmation of a long-standing practice.
Read Frodsham’s entire article, “Plague and Famine Raging in India,” on pages 1-2 of the Feb. 22, 1919, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Run to Help the Dying,” by A. E. L.
• “Hints Regarding Divine Healing,” by Florence Burpee
And many more!
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.
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