Tag Archives: C.M. Ward

Revivaltime: How Radio Helped Shape Assemblies of God Identity

Revivaltime

C. M. Ward at microphone, with Revivaltime Choir in background, 1958.

This Week in AG History — December 11, 1960

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG News, 12 December 2019

Revivaltime, the Assemblies of God weekly radio program broadcast from 1950 until 1995, was one of the Fellowship’s most successful national ministries. Its hosts, C. M. Ward (1953-1978) and Dan Betzer (1979-1995), became two of the best-known Assemblies of God personalities, known to millions of listeners “coast to coast and around the world,” as the program’s familiar introduction intoned.

The broadcast, established in 1946 as Sermons in Song, was renamed Revivaltime in 1950. In 1953, Ward became the first full-time speaker, and the program began broadcasting on the ABC radio network. Each program began with the song, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” sung by the Revivaltime choir. The song became so ingrained into the program’s identity that some have called it the “unofficial anthem” of the Assemblies of God. The reading of a biblical text and a sermon came next, followed by an invitation to kneel at the “radio altar” while the choir sang Ira Stanphill’s “There’s Room at the Cross for You.”

The program saw almost immediate success. For decades, over 10,000 letters from listeners poured into the Revivaltime offices each month. By 1960, church officials estimated that Revivaltime’s U.S. radio audience was 12 million people — 12 times as large as the Sunday morning attendance at Assemblies of God churches in America. Add to that the numerous Revivaltime broadcasts in other countries, and the magnitude of the program’s influence quickly becomes obvious.

Ward and Betzer engaged audiences with sermons employing simple, direct language and powerful illustrations and human-interest stories. They also modeled the charismatic gifts on the air, sometimes exercising a “word of knowledge” — communicating messages under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to specific unknown listeners. Countless thousands of people wrote in and credited Revivaltime for playing a role in a relative’s salvation, a healing, or other divine interventions.

Revivaltime and other national ministries — such as Christ’s Ambassadors (the ministry to youth and young adults), Royal Rangers (the Scout-like boys ministry), and Missionettes (now National Girls Ministries) — helped to give the Assemblies of God a sense of national identity and branding. While the focus in the Assemblies of God remained on the local church, these national ministries provided generations of Assemblies of God members with a sense that they were a part of a larger community of believers.

The Dec. 11, 1960, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel celebrated the seventh anniversary of Revivaltime, featuring C. M. Ward, D. V. Hurst (national secretary of Radio), and Bartlett Peterson (Revivaltime executive director) prominently on the cover. Together, these three men and hundreds of others labored to develop Revivaltime into a ministry that not only helped to evangelize and disciple believers, but also helped shape the identity of the Assemblies of God.

Read articles about Revivaltime’s seventh anniversary on pages 2 and 12 of the Dec. 11, 1960, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:

• “The Security of the Believer,” by Myer Pearlman

• “Predestination: What Does the Bible Teach about this Mysterious Subject?” by Ralph M. Riggs

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Listen to classic Revivaltime radio episodes 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
Website: iFPHC.org

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The Remarkable Life and Conversion of KFC Founder Colonel Sanders

sanders1400

National Secretary of Radio Lee Shultz (left), Colonel Harland Sanders, and Revivaltime host C.M. Ward (right) share a time of prayer.

This Week in AG History — May 12, 1968

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG News, 10 May 2018

Colonel Harland Sanders (1890-1980) was best known for founding the iconic restaurant chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken. After he accepted Christ at age 75 in an Assemblies of God church in Louisville, Kentucky, the news of his conversion spread quickly. During the last 15 years of his life, Colonel Sanders shared his Christian testimony countless times. Fifty years ago, the Pentecostal Evangel featured his story.

Sanders’ colorful life and personality earned him a storied place in American history. Young Sanders experienced a difficult childhood and home life. He began working as a farmhand at age 10, he left home at age 13, and he falsified his date of birth and joined the U.S. Army in 1906 at age 16.

Following his 1907 honorable discharge from the Army, Sanders held a succession of short-term jobs. He worked for a railroad, a ferry line, an insurance company, and a chamber of commerce, among other businesses. He was a hard-working entrepreneur, but his temperament led to frequent personality clashes. He studied law and worked as an attorney for three years in Arkansas, but his legal career ended after he got into a courtroom brawl with his own client.

In 1930, Sanders started a restaurant located adjacent to the Shell Oil station in Kentucky that he managed. His cooking became a local sensation and, in 1952, he began franchising his secret “Kentucky Fried Chicken” recipe. Sanders became a well-known philanthropist and was given an honorary title of “Colonel” for his charitable work by the governor of Kentucky. The company grew rapidly to 600 franchises by 1963. Sanders, with his white suit and white hair and beard, helped market Kentucky Fried Chicken and became a familiar image across the world.

Despite this success, Sanders felt troubled in his soul. Over the years, he had been active in church, but he had never wholly committed himself to God. He had developed a habit of cursing that had become ingrained in his lifestyle. He wanted to be free of the guilt and inner torment, but he did not know how to achieve the peace that he sought.

Then, one day in 1965, a stranger approached Sanders on the street and invited him to evangelistic services with the McDuff Brothers at Evangel Tabernacle Assembly of God in Louisville, Kentucky. Sanders visited the church and asked the pastor, Waymon Rodgers, whether God could give him an assurance that he would go to heaven, and whether God could deliver him from his habit of cursing. Rodgers responded affirmatively on both counts and led Sanders in a prayer to accept Christ. Sanders became a faithful member of Evangel Tabernacle.

Sanders frequently testified of his Christian conversion. In a 1979 interview on the PTL Club, Sanders noted that God both saved him and took away his desire to swear. Various Assemblies of God publications also featured Sanders’ testimony. In 1968, Revivaltime radio personalities C. M. Ward and Lee Shultz interviewed Sanders, which resulted in the publication of a small Revivaltime booklet, Colonel Sanders Begins a New Life.

In the Revivaltime booklet, Sanders summarized his testimony:

“You can join the church. You can serve on committees. You can be baptized and receive communion. You can become the superintendent of the Sunday School — and not be saved. I know. It happened in my life. There I was. I didn’t have enough spiritual power in my life to keep me from cussin’. I know there is an experience of salvation. It is my personal experience today. I know I am right with God. I know my sins are pardoned.”

Thirty-eight years after his death, Colonel Sanders remains a larger-than-life figure in American culture. The company he founded, Kentucky Fried Chicken, continues to use Sanders’ image and life story in its marketing campaigns. But Sanders’s life represents much more than fried chicken; his story illustrates that the gospel can provide hope and new life to anyone — regardless of age or social background.

Read the article, “Colonel Sanders Begins a New Life,” on page 14 of the May 12, 1968, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Pure Stream of Christianity,” by H. Paul Holdridge

• “Paul Slept Here,” by R. D. E. Smith

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
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Nazi Rocket Scientist Wernher von Braun Converted to Christ, Interviewed by C. M. Ward

Wernher von Braun

C. M. Ward interviews Dr. Wernher von Braun (center) in his office at the Space Center headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama, May 9, 1966. Lee Shultz (right) looks on.

This Week in AG History — June 26, 1966

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 26 June 2016

Wernher von Braun (1912-1977), one of Nazi Germany’s leading rocket scientists, became a pioneer in America’s space program following World War II. But it was von Braun’s conversion to Christ that captured the attention of Assemblies of God radio preacher C. M. Ward. Ward interviewed the scientist in 1966, during which von Braun described the relationship between his newfound faith and his lifework in science.

Von Braun’s interest in rocket science had been sparked by a desire to explore space, but he came to regret that his work was being used to cause tremendous destruction of human life. He had developed the V-1 and V-2 rockets, which allowed Germany to pummel Allied targets up to 500 miles away during World War II. The rockets, manufactured by slave labor, indiscriminately killed thousands of people.

Sensing disloyalty, the Gestapo arrested von Braun in 1944 and charged him with espionage. Von Braun’s work was deemed essential to the success of the war effort, so Nazi leader Albert Speer intervened and ordered the release of the scientist. When American soldiers marched into central Germany in May 1945, they found that von Braun had organized the surrender of 500 of his top scientists, along with plans and test vehicles.

Von Braun and his German scientists were relocated to the United States, where they became indispensable to the development of American military and space programs. Von Braun’s life had changed drastically within the course of a year. But it was in a little church in El Paso, Texas, that von Braun experienced a spiritual transformation that would change him from the inside out.

In Germany, von Braun had been nominally Lutheran but functionally atheist. He had no interest in religion or God. In Texas, while living at Fort Bliss, a neighbor invited him to church. He went, expecting to find the religious equivalent of a country club. Instead, he found a small white frame building with a vibrant congregation of people who loved the Lord. He realized that he had been morally adrift and that he needed to surrender himself to God. He converted to Christ and, over the coming years, became quite outspoken in his evangelical faith and frequently addressed the complementarity of faith and science.

C. M. Ward’s 1966 interview of von Braun took place in Huntsville, Alabama, at the George Marshall Space Flight Center (NASA), where he served as director. Von Braun contrasted the large empty cathedrals of Europe to the large numbers of churches he found in Texas, many meeting in temporary buildings, pastored by “humble preachers driving second-hand buses,” who led “thriving congregations.” The German scientist was impressed and noted: “Here is a growing, aggressive church and not a dignified, half-dead institution. Here is spiritual life.”

Ward published von Braun’s story and his thoughts on faith and science in an article in the June 2, 1966, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, as well as in a 15-page booklet, The Farther We Probe into Space, the Greater My Faith (Gospel Publishing House, 1966), of which almost 500,000 copies were published.

Wernher von Braun booklets

The booklet containing C. M. Ward’s interview with Wernher von Braun was published in several languages, including English, Croatian (pictured), and German.

Read the article by Lee Shultz, “Revivaltime Speaker C. M. Ward Interviews Dr. Wernher von Braun,” on page 26-27 of the June 26, 1966, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Circuit-riding Chaplain,” by Richard D. Wood

• “I Discovered God in the Manned Spacecraft Center,” by David L. Johnson

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
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Revivaltime: How Radio Helped Shape Assemblies of God Identity

Revivaltime

Revivaltime broadcast, circa 1958. Bartlet Peterson announcing for Revivaltime; C.M. Ward (seated at table on left); Cyril McLellan (directing Revivaltime choir); C.T. Beem (standing behind piano)

This Week in AG History — December 11, 1960

By Darrin Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 10 December 2015

Revivaltime, the Assemblies of God weekly broadcast heard on the ABC radio network from 1953 to 1995, was one of the Fellowship’s most successful national ministries. Its hosts, C. M. Ward (1953-1978) and Dan Betzer (1979-1995), became two of the best-known Assemblies of God personalities, known to millions of listeners “coast to coast and around the world,” as the program’s familiar introduction intoned.

Ward established the 30-minute program’s format. Each program began with the song, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” sung by the Revivaltime choir. The song became so ingrained into the program’s identity that some have called it the “unofficial anthem” of the Assemblies of God. The reading of a biblical text and a sermon came next, followed by an invitation to kneel at the “radio altar” while the choir sang Ira Stanphill’s “There’s Room at the Cross for You.”

The program saw almost immediate success. For decades, over 10,000 letters from listeners poured into the Revivaltime offices each month. By 1960, church officials estimated that Revivaltime’s U.S. radio audience was 12 million people — 12 times as large as the Sunday morning attendance at Assemblies of God churches in America. Add to that the numerous Revivaltime broadcasts in other countries, and the magnitude of the program’s influence quickly becomes obvious.

Ward and Betzer engaged audiences with sermons employing simple, direct language and powerful illustrations and human-interest stories. They also modeled the charismatic gifts on the air, sometimes exercising a “word of knowledge” — communicating messages under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to specific unknown listeners. Countless thousands of people wrote in and credited Revivaltime for playing a role in a relative’s salvation, a healing, or other divine interventions.

Revivaltime and other national ministries — such as Christ’s Ambassadors (the ministry to youth and young adults), Royal Rangers (the Scout-like boys ministry), and Missionettes (now National Girls Ministries) — helped to give the Assemblies of God a sense of national identity and branding. While the focus in the Assemblies of God remained on the local church, these national ministries provided generations of Assemblies of God members with a sense that they were a part of a larger community of believers.

The December 11, 1960, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel celebrated the seventh anniversary of Revivaltime, featuring C. M. Ward, D. V. Hurst (national secretary of Radio), and Bartlett Peterson (Revivaltime executive director) prominently on the cover. Together, these three men and hundreds of others labored to develop Revivaltime into a ministry that not only helped to evangelize and disciple believers, but also helped shape the identity of the Assemblies of God.

Read articles about Revivaltime’s seventh anniversary on pages 2 and 12 of the December 11, 1960, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Security of the Believer,” by Myer Pearlman

• “Predestination: What Does the Bible Teach about this Mysterious Subject?” by Ralph M. Riggs

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Listen to classic Revivaltime radio episodes 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
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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TBN Donates C.M. Ward Library to Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

C. M. Ward, circa 1970

C. M. Ward, circa 1970

Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world’s largest Christian broadcaster and America’s most watched faith channel, announced today that it has donated the personal library of Dr. C.M. Ward (1909-1996) to the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC), the official archives and research center of the Assemblies of God fellowship.

For 25 years, from 1953 to 1978, Dr. Ward was host of Revivaltime, the flagship weekly radio broadcast of the Assemblies of God. During its heyday Revivaltime was heard on hundreds of stations via the ABC radio network, and the program received from 12,000 to 15,000 letters each month from listeners around the world, including notes of appreciation from such well-known individuals as President Lyndon Johnson and Queen Juliana of Holland.

Thousands of listeners across the earth considered C.M. Ward their pastor, and many in the radio industry of the 1950s placed Revivaltime second in popularity only to Hour of Decision, the weekly radio program of the young evangelist Billy Graham.

A meticulous researcher who read voraciously in preparation for the weekly Revivaltime broadcasts, Dr. Ward was also a close personal friend of TBN founders Paul and Jan Crouch, and a regular guest on the network’s Praise the Lord show, where viewers looked forward to the warmth and practical approach to the gospel that made him such a popular radio pastor.

TBN Vice President Matthew Crouch recalled that in 1990 Dr. Ward donated a large portion of his personal library to TBN, including his collection of theology books, Bible commentaries, history volumes, biographies, and other Christian resources.

“My parents Paul and Jan Crouch realized the rich reservoir of Pentecostal history and heritage that Dr. Ward’s library represented,” explained Mr. Crouch, “and following the passing of my father in November of 2013, we decided to turn it over to the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, where it will be used and enjoyed for generations to come.”

FPHC Director Darrin Rodgers said that Dr. Ward’s library represents a significant chapter in the Assemblies of God fellowship’s evangelistic outreach through media. “For 25 years C.M. Ward took a message of salvation, hope, and healing to countless thousands of radio listeners on behalf of the Assemblies of God,” he said. “We are thankful to TBN for this generous donation that will help to honor Dr. Ward’s legacy.”

One Hundred Years of Pentecostal Heritage

It is significant that the donation from TBN comes during the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Assemblies of God. Paul and Jan Crouch were both raised in the Assemblies of God, and the roots of that fellowship’s faith and spiritual passion ran deep in their lives. Among the many connections:

– Paul Crouch’s father, Andrew Crouch, was a founding member of the Assemblies of God. As a young child Paul lived in Egypt, where his parents served as Assemblies of God missionaries.

– Jan Crouch’s father, Edgar Bethany, was one of the principal founders of what is now Southeastern University, the Assemblies of God’s university in Lakeland, Florida, and served as the Assemblies of God’s Executive Presbyter for the Southeastern United States until his passing in 1975.

– Paul Crouch graduated from the fellowship’s Central Bible Institute in 1955, and in 1961 the Assemblies of God appointed him to organize its newly formed Department of Television and Film Production in Burbank, California, a position he held until 1965.

Matthew Crouch said that his parents’ close connection with the Assemblies of God was foundational when they launched TBN in 1973. “The flame of the Holy Spirit that burned deeply in the hearts of the men and women who started this great fellowship back in 1914, was the same fire that ignited the passion of Paul and Jan Crouch to take the gospel around the world through television.”

He noted that in 1964 while serving with the Assemblies of God, his parents produced an historical documentary, entitled Like a River, for the fiftieth anniversary of the fellowship. “This year my wife Laurie and I have had the honor of working with Dr. George Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, to produce a documentary to be aired on TBN for the fellowship’s centennial celebration.”

Added Mr. Crouch: “I think there is powerful significance that my grandfather was part of the founding of the Assemblies of God, my parents were there to document its first fifty years, and now as the third generation we are present to honor the hundredth anniversary of this continuing move of God. As with so many families, it’s one generation declaring God’s power to the next.”

Tune in to TBN Friday, August 15th, at 7 p.m. (Pacific Time) as Matthew and Laurie Crouch host a very special program celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Assemblies of God.

About the Trinity Broadcasting Family of Networks

With 28 networks and growing worldwide, the Trinity Broadcasting Family of Networks is the world’s largest faith-and-family television group, airing a broad range of church and ministry programming, Christian music, family friendly movies, children’s programming, and shows for teens and young adults 24 hours a day to every inhabited continent via 87 satellites and 20,000 television and cable affiliates. In addition, TBN’s most popular global networks are available on computers, smart phones, and other mobile devices, and over 25,000 hours of entertaining and inspiring On-Demand programming is accessible via TBN’s innovative online network, iTBN.org. To find out more about the Trinity Broadcasting Family of Networks, log on to www.tbn.org.

______________

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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Seize the Moment

How will the current economic troubles affect the Assemblies of God? According to common wisdom, economic downturns bring spiritual upturns. As the theory goes, when people discover they cannot be self-sufficient, they look for spiritual solutions to their problems.

But is this really the case? History reveals that the Assemblies of God grew significantly during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but its growth was a deviation from the norm. Most churches suffered great setbacks. What really happened during the Great Depression? What lessons can this history provide for the Assemblies of God of the twenty-first century?

Mainline Decline
The Great Depression of the 1930s devastated many segments of American Christianity. Historian Mark Noll noted that mainline Protestants not only faced economic uncertainties, but also theological uncertainties as liberal theology had begun to replace historic Christian beliefs. Many mainline congregations, schools, and ministries had to close or drastically cut back. Their institutions, funded by endowments that disappeared with the Wall Street crash, were running off the fumes of the past.

However, there was a noticeable exception to the decline of religious institutions in the 1930s: evangelical and Pentecostal churches made significant gains. According to Noll, these “sectarian” churches “knew better how to redeem the times.”

Pentecostal Growth
In September 1929, the AG reported 1,612 churches with 91,981 members in the US. By 1944, this tally increased to 5,055 churches with 227,349 members. During that 15-year period, the number of AG churches tripled and membership almost tripled.

This growth didn’t happen by accident. Our forefathers and foremothers during the Great Depression laid a foundation for the expansion of the Assemblies of God, often at a tremendous cost. Of today’s seven largest AG colleges and universities, four were started during the Great Depression: North Central University (1930); Northwest University (1934); Southeastern University (1935); and Valley Forge Christian College (1939).

Myer Pearlman was a prolific writer during the Great Depression.

It was during these hard times that AG scholarship blossomed. Myer Pearlman (1898-1943), P. C. Nelson (1868-1942), and E. S. Williams (1885-1981) wrote many of their influential theological books in the midst of the Great Depression. Pearlman and Nelson literally worked themselves to death, their health breaking under the strain of constant writing, teaching, and preaching.

The AG’s foreign missions enterprise was centralized and strengthened during the Depression. This change encouraged coordination of efforts and accountability. The AG published its first Missionary Manual in 1931 and in 1933 the AG began providing funding for a missions staff at Headquarters. While the Great Depression made finances tight, in 1933 the Foreign Missions Department trumpeted that it did not have to recall any missionaries because of shortage of funds. Indeed, from 1930 to 1939, AG world missions giving increased by 47 percent, the number of world missionaries increased by 25 percent, and the constituency outside the US increased by 132 percent. When other denominations were retreating, the AG was making significant advances in missions.

While Pentecostals decried the Social Gospel movement, which they viewed as caring for physical needs while neglecting spiritual needs, many churches strove to evangelize in both word and deed. One of the best-known churches engaged in social outreach during the Depression was Pentecostal — Angelus Temple, the Los Angeles congregation founded by Aimee Semple McPherson. The congregation operated numerous soup kitchens and free clinics in the 1930s. Countless smaller storefront rescue missions dotted the Pentecostal landscape of that era.

Large-scale population migrations forced by the economic upheaval of the 1930s resulted in the unplanned evangelization of new regions. Pentecostals who left the Midwest during the Dustbowl established numerous Assemblies of God, Pentecostal Holiness, and Pentecostal Church of God congregations in the western states. African-American Pentecostals from the rural South migrated to northern cities and started Church of God in Christ congregations in almost every major city. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in the U.S. returned to Mexico, including many new Pentecostal believers who, in effect, became indigenous missionaries to their homeland. In the providence of God, the painful social dislocation of the 1930s helped bring about the rapid spread of Pentecostalism. Like pollen scattered by a strong wind, Pentecostal refugees planted churches wherever they happened to land.

In raw economic terms, an economic downturn offers a great opportunity for churches to expand their base. Finances will be tight in the meantime, but once the economy turns around, the churches will be much better off than they had been previously, with a larger and more committed membership.

Despair or Desperation?
Some Pentecostals actually seemed to celebrate the challenges of the Depression. The monthly magazine of The Stone Church (an AG congregation in Chicago) published this editorial note: “Our chief difficulty is that we have been bitten by the luxury bug. Nations can stand almost any adversity better than that of the debilitating, enervating, calamity of prosperity. The Word of God declares that, ‘In prosperity the destroyer shall come’” (Job 15:21). One can almost hear the writer saying, “Bring it on, financial struggles will only make us stronger.”

C. M. Ward and his wife, Dorothy, were married just after the stock market crashed in 1929.

C. M. Ward, the voice of the Revivaltime radio broadcast from 1953 to 1978, echoed this sentiment. He and his fiancée, Dorothy, set their wedding date for Christmas Day, 1929. Of course, one month before their wedding, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Ward couldn’t afford to buy a wedding ring, much less presents, for their first Christmas. He later learned that times of deprivation like this birthed one of two things: either despair or desperation. Despair caused people to simply give up, but desperation spurred people to work hard and be creative.

Need for Vision
Churches, however, are not guaranteed to grow during bad times. Indeed, AG evangelist Christine Kerr Peirce observed in 1935, “Instead of the depression driving people to God, there has developed an apathy and indifference which has not characterized previous periods of distress, when men have turned to God for help.”

Peirce’s lament for the church in 1935 could easily describe the condition of the American church in 2009: “Our modern methods are fast wearing out. That which a few years ago attracted the great crowds, attracts them no more. We have worn out every spectacular appeal we could make and while a few are reached here and there, yet the truth stares us plainly in the face that nowhere are we doing more than just scratching the surface, in comparison with the great number of unchurched and unsaved that should be reached.”

Why was the church in such a state of spiritual stupor? According to Peirce, “The backslidden, apathetic, lethargic condition of the pew today is due largely to the fact that this work [evangelism] has been left in the hands of the pulpit.” Instead, she averred, every Christian is called to be a witness.

How can the church remedy this problem? Peirce dismissed the idea that the church needs methods that are even “more spectacular.” Instead, she propounded, “The need of the present moment is Men and Women of Vision!” Christians first “must see God Himself,” and then must have a “vision of others.” She elaborated, “A true vision of the lost world will prostrate us on our face with a burden of intercession.”

According to Peirce, then, the visionary church must be worshipful and missional. While Peirce’s critique was aimed at the American church in general, she recognized that Assemblies of God members could very easily lose their vision and replace their passion for God and for souls with a reliance on modern methods. However, visionary Assemblies of God leaders viewed the economic crisis as an opportunity, leading the Fellowship to engage in ardent prayer and great personal sacrifice to advance a cause that was much bigger than any one person.

Seize the Moment
The history of the Assemblies of God illustrates the Fellowship’s compelling vision of world evangelization through voluntary cooperation to accomplish what individual Pentecostal believers or churches could not do alone. Hopefully, these testimonies will encourage readers to likewise see the current economic turmoil as an opportunity to reassess priorities, to love those who are hurting, and to lay a broader foundation for the future of the Assemblies of God. Even as we look back at the heroes of the faith who grabbed hold of big ideas and sacrificed greatly to bring them to fruition, I pray that we, the inheritors of this legacy, will seize this moment and invest in the future of our faith.

To learn more about the history of the Assemblies of God, visit the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center’s Web site.

Written by Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center Director Darrin J. Rodgers, this editorial was published in the 2009 Assemblies of God Heritage magazine.

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Christmas Testimonies from Assemblies of God History

christmas-tree-great-depressionBy Darrin J. Rodgers

In the West, Christmas has become a symbol of excess. For most Christians in other times and places, however, Christmas has been a reminder that God came down to meet each one of us at our point of need.

The following Christmas testimonies are from some of our Assemblies of God saints who blazed the trail that we now tread. Read how they celebrated Christmas, compare it with your own celebrations, then reflect about how God met each one of these dear saints at the point of their need. You will see that God didn’t always meet needs with provisions; sometimes He provided lessons.

C. M. Ward was the voice of the Revivaltime radio broadcast from 1953 to 1978. He and his fiancée, Dorothy, set their wedding date for Christmas Day, 1929. Of course, one month before their wedding, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Ward couldn’t afford to buy a wedding ring, much less presents, for their first Christmas. He later learned that times of deprivation like this birthed one of two things: either desperation or despair. Desperation spurred people to work hard and be creative, while despair caused people to simply give up.

Daniel W. Kerr was the primary author of the 1916 Statement of Fundamental Truths. One of the early parsonages he and his family lived in was actually an abandoned log chicken house that Kerr made into living quarters. One Christmas, his two children each received one penny in their stockings. And for Christmas dinner — they boiled potatoes. With our material prosperity, we sometimes forget that many go without. When God does provide for our needs, but not our wants, do we express gratitude or do we grumble?

John Kolenda was a German District pastor and missionary to Brazil. His daughter, Graceann, recalled that “Dad always practiced and taught us to put God first, others second, and ourselves last.” She explained that, to her and her young sibling, “This seemed entirely wrong.” Two days before Christmas, Kolenda took his children aside and said that — absent a miracle — there would be no Christmas presents that year. After providing for the needy children in the Sunday school and for other people, he explained, there was nothing left to give his own children. Graceann recalled that her parents prayed in an unusually fervent manner that evening. The next day an unexpected check arrived in the mail, which provided for a memorable Christmas. When the situation seems hopeless — do we still pray to God to intervene?

Elizabeth Galley Wilson, a single female missionary, arrived in China in 1939 just before the outbreak of World War II. She wrote that she learned two things during her first Christmas in Peking. The first lesson was how lonely it could be in a foreign country without family, friends, or the traditional Christmas turkey or gifts. She got together with several other single female missionaries from other denominations, they ate, and Elizabeth distributed Christmas stockings to each of them. The second thing she learned, as she put it, was “that the Christ of Christmas can bring peace and dispel darkness as we seek Him in times like these.” Several years later, she became a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines. That Christmas, while in the internment camp, those little Christmas stockings that she made in Peking became the Christmas gift for the son of another missionary who was a fellow prisoner of war. Elizabeth’s testimony teaches us that seeking God during a struggle can “bring peace and dispel darkness.” Furthermore, just as the Christmas stockings were re-used to bring joy to the child who was a prisoner of war, we cannot begin to imagine how the good — or bad — things we do today might end up impacting others.

Esther Mae Cooper — also a single female — was a musical evangelist who ministered to servicemen. She described how she spent Christmas of 1942 on board a ship destined for Alaska. She was seasick, lonely, and bereft of her family and friends. She wrote the following: “Christmas morning I was awakened by the splashing of the waves against the ship. It was a peculiar sensation that I had when I realized I was spending my first Christmas away from home. I am ashamed of my first thoughts — Christmas morning, away from home, at sea, no friends. Merry Christmas! My heart sank! But again the voice of the Lord reassured me, ‘Lo, I am with you always!’” Esther Mae determined to make the best of the situation, and in her morning devotions she prayed, “make me a blessing all day and help me to spread cheer and sunshine.” This testimony reminds us that we can have confidence that God is always with us, particularly at our point of need. Because of this assurance, we can decide to be joyful and bless others, in spite of our circumstances.

Scholars employ a German word — Heilsgeschichte, meaning “salvation history” — to describe testimonies like these. The story of how God works among us is holy history. And this Christmas we are celebrating the central point in this holy history — the birth of Jesus, who is Immanuel, “God with us,” and who meets us in our weakness and in our poverty.

Sources:
Charles M. Ward, In Perils of…Brethren (Columbus, GA: Quill Publications, 1991), 55-57.
Lewis Wilson, “The Kerr-Peirce Role in A/G Education,” Assemblies of God Heritage 10:1 (Spring 1990): 6.
Graceann Kolenda, “John and Marguerite Kolenda: Putting God First,” Assemblies of God Heritage 13:1 (Spring 1993): 30.
Elizabeth Wilson, “A Special Christmas Eve in Peking,” Assemblies of God Heritage 2:4 (Winter 1982-1983): 3.
Esther Mae Cooper, “Christmas on the Pacific,” Christ’s Ambassadors Herald 16:12 (December 1943): 4.

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
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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