This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Taking Up the Serpent

And He said unto them, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  And these signs shall follow those who believe:  in My name they will cast out devils, they will speak with new tongues, they will take up serpents, and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
Mark 16:15-18 (NKJV)
This verse provides the primary basis for a series of practices called "the Five Bible Signs" that are kept by a number of small, devout Pentecostal churches scattered across the country, primarily in Appalachia where I grew up as well.  The one that garners the most attention when these groups merit discussion is the "sign" of taking up serpents, which these people take seriously because they also believe that the Bible is a true book (which of course it is).  I have for some years been following this group, being I am both a religious scholar and a native Appalachian-American myself, and there have been some of my friends who have wanted me to address this.  Therefore, that is what this article is going to do.

Recently, interest in the serpent-handlers has been piqued by a series of programs on some educational channels, such as Snake Man of Appalachia on Animal Planet, Hillbilly Venom on the National Geographic channel, and now Snake Salvation on Discovery.   Additionally, the publication of Dennis Covington's Salvation on Sand Mountain in 1995 also generated some renewed interest. For the most part, these programs do show the people in a sympathetic light (thanks in part to consultations with capable and fair scholars like Dr. Ralph Hood) but I fear that maybe the American public's penchant for sensationalism may taint their view of these individuals as real human beings, as well as being fellow Christians who for the most part (aside from their distinctive belief in "following the signs") are pretty much in agreement with most of the rest of American Pentecostalism.  Therefore, I want to accomplish two things in this article.  First, I am going to give a brief historical overview of the movement as a whole - brief because many good reference works are available which will be more comprehensive - and then I want to give my own perspective, which will be lengthier as there is much to say.  I mainly want to encourage you as the reader to have an open mind to these people, for they are real people, and being I have gotten to know many of them personally myself over the years, I can attest that they are just good, decent human beings who maybe worship a little different than most of us are comfortable with, but they are still very much Christians. 

A Brief History of Those Who "Follow the Signs"

Serpent-handling did not appear out of a void, and indeed it shares a sort of affinity with other expressions of distinct piety in the Christian tradition.  Although the current serpent-handling church movement is just over 100 years old now, there are evidences that the practice in some form or another pre-dates the current movement by centuries.  I came across something very interesting, for instance, in C.A. Wallis Budge's translation of the Egyptian monastic writings that documents an Abbe Paule in Thebes who would take up poisonous snakes and scorpions and actually kill them with his bare hands.  His disciples, upon questioning in marvel how they could receive this gift, were told by the great sage the following: "Forgive me, O my fathers, if ye possess purity of heart, every living thing will be subject unto you as it was unto Adam before he transgressed the commandment of God." (C.A. Wallace Budge, The Sayings and Stories of the Christian Fathers of Egypt, Vol. 2 {London:  Kegan Paul LTD, 2002} p. 142-143).  There are two things of note in that example.   First, notice that Abbe Paule killed the venomous creatures, which meant that possibly the area where his hermitage was had an abundance of such things - in the Nile Valley, there are asps, Egyptian cobras, and horned vipers, so this is highly possible.  This relates back to Mark 16 as well, because it notes that Jesus said "in My name" one could do these things, denoting an authority bestowed on the believer by Christ Himself.  The modern-day serpent handlers in Appalachia do it because they believe that Christ mandated it in Scripture, and to them doing these things denotes a sign to the unbeliever that the Bible is true in what it says.  Abbe Paule, on the other hand, noted that the authority was given as part of the salvation covenant Jesus initiated at His Passion, and therefore it is restorative in that sense because humanity, through Christ, is restored to what it should be.  One aspect of that restoration is having authority over all creatures of the earth.  Authority though is the key concept in all instances, and it is an authority bestowed on those whom Christ has redeemed.   Second, note that Abbe Paule actually killed the creatures, which would indicate that he was endowed with a supernatural gift that gave him protection as well from the venomous bites of such creatures.  That is significantly different from the manner modern Appalachian serpent-handlers deal with snakes they encounter - indeed, a healthy respect is seen among the latter regarding serpents, and many of them even have convictions that the snakes need to be treated humanely and protected - Verlin Short in Kentucky is a good example of this, as he often rescues snakes - both venomous and non-venomous - from areas damaged by strip-mining.  This is the conviction of stewardship over God's creation that humanity is entrusted with, and echoes in many ways St. Francis of Assisi and others.  
Serpent-handling is one of many ascetic practices that pre-date the Appalachian handlers, as it relates as well to other such practices carried out by saints and monastics, including pillar-sitting (as in the case of the Studite monks) as well as the yurodivi ("Holy Fools") in the Eastern Christian tradition.  A more marked contemporary similarity could also be noted between the serpent handlers and the Los Hermanos Penitentes in the American Southwest, a traditionalist Catholic community which practices a rigid asceticism that even includes self-flagellation in order to grow closer to the Lord by sharing in His sufferings.  

Contemporary serpent-handling, however, is often traced back to Tennessee in 1910 when a Church of God preacher named George Went Hensley became the first to "preach the signs" and introduced them to many congregations.  Hensley was believed to have been a native of West Virginia, and although in early life a notorious bootlegger, he later found Christ.  George was a controversial character, as he was often without work and ended up marrying twice and having several children by both women.  As Thomas Burton records as well, there seems to be times when Hensley's faith lapsed, but he always seemed to find his way back (Thomas Burton, Serpent Handling Believers {Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993} pp. 40-44).  He continued to "preach the signs" for the remainder of his life until a rattler took him down finally at a revival in Florida in 1955.   Hensley is generally considered to be the originator of this movement, although other authorities have different conclusions, which we will now talk about as well.

The Church of God with Signs Following at Dolly Pond in TN, one of the first serpent-handling congregations. (today it houses a congregation of the Church of God of Prophecy)
George Went Hensley (1880-1955), the accepted "father" of the serpent-handling movement

Although Hensley's role is generally accepted by most scholars, it is only logical to understand that serpent-handling didn't appear out of a vacuum either, and there almost certainly had to be some antecedents to the movement.  Jimmy Morrow, a pastor in Edwina, TN, who authored his own book on the movement called Handling Serpents (Macon, GA:  Mercer University Press, 2005) notes that years before Hensley appeared on the scene a lady by the name of Nancy Kleinick in Virginia was taking up the serpent in the late 1800's, and contemporary to that, a Oneness preacher (not Pentecostal as of this time though) by the name of Oscar Hutton was taking up serpents in the 1890's (Morrow, p. 4-5).  I personally would trust Morrow's observations on this, for although an unlettered man, he displays an excellent talent for research and documentation, as testified by Dr. Hood who assisted him in writing the book.  Therefore, like any religious movement, no one individual can be said to have "founded" it, and serpent-handling churches are no different in that regard.
It also must be understood that there are two separate serpent-handling traditions.  The one, which is often traced back to Hensley's ministry, is Trinitarian in doctrine and generally evolved out of the Church of God tradition in Tennessee and Kentucky.   A second serpent-handling tradition, however, embraced Oneness Pentecostal doctrine, and for the most part it is generally accepted that the genesis of these churches can be traced to a Rev. James Miller who in 1912 began to engage in taking up serpents in Alabama (Hood and Williamson, Them That Believe {Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008} p. 40).   In North Carolina, an evangelist named Albert Teester also began taking up serpents independent of Hensley's influence as early as the 1920's.  Ralph Hood correctly notes, however, that although Hensley may not be the sole progenitor of the movement, most scholars do concur that he was indirectly responsible for its propagation throughout the Appalachian South (Hood, p. 40). 
Although over the decades serpent-handling has had its peaks and valleys as a movement, the current program on Discovery, Snake Salvation, documents at least a hundred congregations still engage in the practice and they are found not only in Appalachia, but also in the major industrial centers of the upper Midwest - congregations exist, for instance, in Detroit, Fort Wayne, and Columbus and Cleveland.  Now, I understand that there may be four Canadian congregations of snake-handlers as well.  
That essentially is a brief historical overview of the movement to give some background, and if you want to read more on it, there are an abundance of excellent resources out there available.  Some of the best are Thomas Burton's Serpent Handling Believers, David Kimbrough's Taking Up Serpents, and Ralph Hood's and Paul Williamson's Them That Believe.  Another good reference is Fred Brown's book The Serpent Handlers - Their Families and Their Faith, which focuses specifically on three prominent families in this movement; the Browns in Tennessee, the Coots in Kentucky, and the Elkins in West Virginia.  And, for a first-hand perspective written by one of their own pastors, Jimmy Morrow's Handling Serpents is a valuable resource.  There are others, however, that I would not recommend due to the fact they misrepresent the people and cannot be trusted except for minimal reference purposes.  One book that is actually a shameful piece of scholarship is Weston LaBarre's 1973 text, They Shall Take Up Serpents.  LaBarre was an anthropologist who often presented his subjects in a condescending manner, and therefore he has no credibility for me.  Also, I would read Dennis Covington's Salvation on Sand Mountain with extreme caution - the book has some value as a reference, but Covington comes across as being a little flaky and he also created some issues among the serpent-handlers which hurt his credibility with them.  These references, as well as the 1982 Foxfire 7 volume which also gives a good documentation on a serpent-handling church in Kentucky, will aid in research.  
The Apostolic House of Prayer in WV
The Edwina Church of God in Jesus Christ's name, Del Rio, TN - pastored by Jimmy Morrow
The Full Gospel Jesus Church in Columbus, OH - formerly pastored by Richard Williams
The Church of the Lord Jesus in Jolo, WV, perhaps the most famous serpent-handling church in existence.
The Pentecostal Church of God in Lejunior, KY, an early serpent-handling congregation
The Full Gospel Tabernacle in Middlesboro, KY, pastored by Jamie Coots
The Rock House Holiness Church, Sand Mountain, AL
the Tabernacle Church of God in Jesus Name in Lafollette, TN, pastored by Andrew Hamblin
Now that I have given you a historical overview of this fascinating movement, I want to now give you my perspective as to where I stand with it.  To begin, I am speaking as a Christian, and also as an Appalachian-American, and on that this subject bears considerable merit.  Also, I want to say that I know many of the people in these churches as friends, and they are decent people who have given me a lot of insight and appreciation for the movement.
As a Christian, I am an Anglo-Catholic traditionalist, which means I do not personally practice serpent-handling.  I tend to follow a traditional understanding of the Mark 16 passage, meaning two things.  First, the "serpents" it talks about I believe are spiritual forces we all encounter, and that by the authority of Christ within us through His Holy Spirit, we do have the authority to "take them up" so to speak and have victory over those situations.  Second, although I do believe it from a more traditional allegorical approach, I would also acknowledge that if a Christian were in a situation where an actual poisonous snake or other wild beast posed a danger, I believe God is by all means capable of allowing someone in a situation like that to actually physically engage the snake and remove the danger - that is really what I believe the context of Abbe Paule, the Egyptian Coptic Church Father, entailed that we talked about earlier.  To this I would add a third understanding I have been considering for some time, especially in lieu of actually getting to know many serpent-handling Christians personally.  I would not rule out the possibility at all that perhaps some individuals are gifted in this way to handle serpents, and being that is the case, I think some of these people may have an actual spiritual gift for doing it.  I am not dogmatic on that, but I am just saying the witness of the Spirit does bear out with many of these individuals, and it challenges me.   Much of my position on this still needs some development, but I can confidently say that I believe these people are genuine Christians, and that they are not crazy, nor are they just a bunch of "dumb hillbillies" either - on the contrary, Thomas Burton records that some of these serpent-handlers actually appear more mentally stable than some "normal" people they tested (Burton, p.129-130)!  It is truly a case where God indeed uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (I Corinthians 1:25-27).  And, if one studies the Eastern Christian "Fools for Christ," one will find that many eccentric practices of saints were considered holy attributes as a result, so why should serpent-handlers be any different?  
Although I have been highly critical of Dennis Covington's book in this article, I must admit that he did say something that has merit in this discussion when he noted in his closing chapters this: " Feeling after God is a dangerous business.  And Christianity without passion, danger, and mystery may not really be Christianity at all." (Dennis Covington, Salvation on Sand Mountain {New York: Penguin Books, 1995} p. 177).  I would actually agree with Covington on that.  Over the years, Christianity has gotten more complacent, more accomodating to the culture, and many of its pastors have entered "confort zones" in which they don't want to "rock the boat."  Sin and salvation are not preached as much, and "Christian humanitarianism" (also called by Barton Gingerich "Moralistic Therapeutic Relativism") has made much of the message of contemporary Christianity about what makes me feel good instead of what will save my neighbor.  Sacrifice and self-depreciation are not only ignored, but apostates such as Joel Osteen even say it is "dangerous" to think like that because in their eyes we (and by that, they) are to be "healthy, wealthy, and wise" with a daily dose of "I love me."   Serpent handlers fly in the face of that mentality, for to them Christianity is about obedience to God's Word rather than self-gratification, and sometimes obedience means a subjection of our own will and desires.  I respect the serpent-handlers for that, because unlike so many wishy-washy pastors and seminary professors, they actually believe and take seriously what the Bible says, even to the point of great personal risk - I recall Jesus did that too when He was crucified for our sins, right?   I may not practice what they practice, and personally may differ with their interpretation, but I know where they are coming from.  As an Appalachian-American, I also know what it is like to grow up poor, and to be honest it makes taking a risk a little more realistic - these serpent-handlers are the same type of people I am, and when I see their struggles I can see me, because in many cases I am them.  Joel Osteen, as well as many professors in theological graduate-school programs, don't relate to that and therefore are quick to be skeptical and dismissive of these things.  This, despite many of them spouting rhetoric about "identifying with the poor."  If they truly believed what they are saying, then perhaps some of them need to attend a service where people "follow the signs," and maybe they would be challenged to come out of those comfort zones.  Many old-time Pentecostals - whether they handle snakes or not - know what I am saying, because they live it.  Many "mainline" Pentecostals and others don't have a clue - just saying....
That leads me to one further thought about the various programs on cable television that have been popping up lately.  I do watch a lot of these programs, and many of them are good, but I have an issue with them as a danger exists.  The American public these days is infatuated with the sensational and bizarre, and slick TV producers often will make things that are not bizarre enough to them look bizarre.  That is why some of this trend in so-called "reality TV" is suspect, in particular the recent interest in "rural reality," which in part has led to these programs about serpent-handlers.  Some of these programs are actually good - for instance, I think Duck Dynasty and Swamp People are two of the best shows on TV these days because what they depict are real people in real situations, and in many cases they also communicate solid values.  However, there are other shows, in particular those targeting religious groups, that are so sensationalized that unless you know better you would believe them as fact.  One such show, totally unrelated to serpent handlers, is this Amish Mafia.   Many capable scholars such as Dr. Donald Kraybill, as well as even former Amish people such as my good friend Mose Gingrich, have stated that Amish Mafia is more fiction than fact.  And, the show has depicted the Amish community in an unnecessarily negative light - secular TV loves picking on Christians, yet I find it fascinating that while they are degrading Amish and other Christian groups, they make sinful lifestyles like homosexuality look so good.  If that is not an agenda, I don't know what you would call it then.  It is my hope and prayer that these secular networks don't treat the serpent-handlers as nasty as they have the Amish, which is why they need to be monitored.  Fortunately, so far the serpent-handlers have been treated objectively, thanks again in part to good scholars like Dr. Ralph Hood who are often consulted for these projects.  Let's hope that continues.  Also, it would be in Discovery's best interest to maybe consult actual Anabaptist scholars like Dr. Kraybill in dealing with Amish subjects as well.  In the case of the serpent-handlers though, many pastors of their congregations take good precautions against thrill-seeking journalists who want to exploit their apparent eccentricity, and the Amish likewise have a prohibition against having film and photographs, and for good reason - the press in this country is biased, has an agenda, and will do almost anything to discredit people of faith.  It is our duty as Christians to enforce responsible journalism when it comes to any publicity - we are exercising wise stewardship and preserving the integrity of our witness when we do so.

In conclusion, here is my final thoughts on serpent-handlers.  Over the years, I have gotten to know many of them personally, and the ones I have gotten to know are decent, Godly people who just want to practice their faith in peace.  I have serpent-handlers who are my prayer partners as well, and I would trust their agreement in prayer on my behalf anyday.  That being said, again, I do not practice those things myself, and probably never will, but I have an openness and respect for them doing that.  I also want to emphasize that too many people focus on the snakes and not on the fact there is much more to these individuals than just the ability to heft a diamondback under the anointing.  Many are insightful people with their own individual God-given personalities, and a couple of them are gifted in many other ways too - Verlin Short, for instance, has a great respect for the environment of his home, and may actually be doing a service as far as protecting endangered rattlesnake species.  Jimmy Morrow, the unlettered pastor of the Edwina, TN, church, is also a gifted historian, and what he has done as far as personal research would put some Ivey-League scholars to shame.  Intelligence is not automatically bestowed with a college degree in other words, and Jimmy Morrow is actually quite an intelligent guy.  The same could be said as well of a non-serpent handling old-time Pentecostal pastor in Morristown, TN, by the name of Richard Crayne.  As far as I can tell, Pastor Crayne has never went to college, but he has one of the most comprehensive reference books on the independent Pentecostal movement I have seen, and I use it extensively in my research as well - it is called The Pentecostal Handbook, and although out-of-print now you might still be able to find a copy of it on Amazon or someplace.  Many of these people are also gifted songwriters, and yes, even among the serpent-handlers there are degreed people!  I said all that to close by saying that studies like this one are meant to show people there are more to the oft-presented "facts" than we see on the surface, and I want to be one of those who sees the whole picture.  And, I intend to do that with serpent-handlers as well as others - they deserve to be presented fairly and not sensationalized.  God bless until next time.


Monday, September 9, 2013

John 1: 1-10 - The Deity of Christ Affirmed

The first few passages of the first chapter of the Gospel of John are very integral to our faith as Christians.  They emphasize the deity of Jesus Christ by emphasizing many attributes Jesus has as God in the flesh.  This particular passage, due to its importance in emphasizing Christ and His deity, is often read at the conclusion of the traditional Anglo-Catholic Mass, as it is customarily called in that setting the Last Gospel.   Dom Gregory Dix notes that the evolution for the inclusion of the last Gospel in the Anglican Mass is rooted in the 11th century, when it originally was a private devotion but later formally incorporated into the Liturgy in the 16th century (Dom Gregory Dix, On The Shape of The Liturgy {New York: Seabury Press, 1945}p. 526).  Archbishop Haverland also notes that this passage of John’s Gospel explicity teaches that Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, and by the “Light” He imparts new creation and life to those who willingly receive Him (Mark Haverland, Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice {Athens, GA: Anglican Parishes Association, 2011} p. 27-28).  In other words, there is a definite connection between Jesus and His divinity, and our subsequent rebirth through Him, and through the new nature He gives us, we witness to the world around us.  Therefore, the Gospel passage is read at the end of the Liturgy to remind us that we have received something very special, and it is a gift not only freely given to us, but to be shared with the world around us.  

We begin this lesson with a word study on the first verse.  John 1:1 is a familiar passage even to the new believer, and as such it is telling us that Jesus was co-eternal with God, and indeed is God!   When we look at the verbiage “in the beginning” in Greek, what we see is that this is a dative-case phrase, and it can also be read as “from the beginning.”  Therefore, it would not even be wrong to read the verse as saying “The Word (ό Λογος) was from the beginning,” as the placement of this dative clause doesn’t alter the meaning of the text at all.  The “from the beginning” can even be utilized in other parts of the sentence too - for instance, it would proclaim a profound theological truth if one read the passage like this - “The Word was, and the Word was with the God from the beginning,”  or the last clause, “and the Word was the God from the beginning.”   This emphasizes a very important truth - that Jesus is eternal, being fully God as well as being fully man, and this is correlated elsewhere in Scripture, in particular in Revelation 1:8, where Jesus is called “The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”  Note also the definite article “the.”  There is something very important about the definite article here, because even the inclusion of something that small affirms a great theological truth.  Some cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, often claim to have “special insight” into the original language, but when one reads the New World Translation, which is the Jehovah’s Witness Bible, they don’t say “the Word was God,” but rather “the Word was a God.”   Charles Taze Russell, who founded the Jehovah’s Witness sect, claimed to be a Greek scholar, but even with my rudimentary knowledge of Greek I can see Russell made a grave error in translation.  Any credible Greek scholar will tell you that when looking at this verse, the definite article “ό” is always translated as “the,” not “a.”  So, when the passage is translated properly, it does not say “a god,” but rather “the God” (ό Τηεος), just like the proper translation of the phrase “the Word” is from ό Λογος.   So, if one were to summarize and pharaphrase John 1:1, it would communicate this essential truth - the incarnate Word (Jesus Christ) was the God from the beginning!  In other words, it tells us three important facts about Jesus Christ:

1.  He is God
2.  He is part of the Trinity
3.  He was involved in the creative process from the beginning

The reason that John 1:1 is important is that it provides a foundation for John 3:16 later - Jesus’ redemptive act upon the Cross for our sins.  The historic creeds of the Church also uphold these truths as well, for as we recite during our Masses on Sundays in the Nicene Creed, that we believe in Jesus Christ as the only-begotten Son of God, “Begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father, By Whom all things were made…”  Jesus, therefore, is not only the Son of God, but He is indeed God the Son!  Therefore, unlike some agnostic wags who mock our Lord by calling Him “zombie Jesus,” we as Christians affirm that before we were, Jesus is, as one of His titles in Scripture is the “Great I AM.”   This also is communicated further in John 1:2, where Jesus’ involvement in the creative process is affirmed - All things were made through Christ, and without Him creation would not have come to be.  I am amazed sometimes at how ignorant and arrogant some professing Christians are when it comes to the deity of Christ - they are almost ashamed to affirm it!  One classmate I had in graduate school (mind you, this was supposed to be a conservative Pentecostal university too!) even suggested that Jesus was “still evolving” in His understanding and was “still in the learning process.”  Although otherwise that particular classmate is a nice guy, he is also a fool, and an arrogant one at that.  We are not in the position to tell God Himself - and Jesus is God, as He is firmly a part of the triune Godhead - what He supposedly “knows” and “doesn’t know” based on our own finite understanding, and to do so is to say we know more than Jesus, who was from the beginning of the world, and that is the stupidest blasphemy a supposed learned person could utter, especially one who claims to “know” Jesus personally!  However, I have come to the conclusion that a lot of theological education these days lacks, and it lacks on such a serious scale that those claiming to be “theologians” often apostatize their own faith because they discount things that do not fit into their own little boxes - sorry to you theologians, but as Scripture affirms, you profess to be wise but are fools.  The divinity, eternity, and creative attributes of Jesus are not negotiable for the Christian - the Church has defined what those doctrines are, and therefore they should be accepted and not picked apart.  Until some people get that fact, they walk around blinded.  

As we move down to verse 4, we notice that it states that in Jesus is life - this affirms what a key verse says a few chapters later, in 14:6, when Jesus Himself affirms that He - and He alone! - is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  OK, this now ties back into John 1:1, and we look to the wisdom of the Church Fathers, as they explain this more eloquently.  Athenagoras, in his writings, affirms that the Son is the “intelligence, reason, and wisdom of the Father,” which is where this ό Λογος comes in, as the Fathers understood it that way.  Lactantius concurs with this when he says that Jesus is speech (γλοσσα) and reason of God.  Irenaeus likewise calls Jesus the “voice of God” in his writings (David Bercot.  Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs {Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998} p. 695-697).   “Word,” then, is inextricably connected to Jesus as the “Light” as well, and this “Light” is important because as Origen noted, He takes away from us all the irrational nature of sin and makes us truly reasonable by illuminating or understanding (Bercot, p. 405) - Jesus is the Light therefore, because He brings true enlightenment to those who receive Him.   So, in Jesus, the Word (ό Λογος) we find the source of true life, true reasoning, and He is the one, true God!  In other words, He is not a “zombie” as some agnostic fools have mocked him, nor is he still “growing in knowledge,” as some arrogant “Christian” theologians (also fools) say, but He is the ultimate source of all life and understanding.

We now go to verse 4, and what we see there is that the “Light” of Christ (remember Psalm 119:105?) is life unto man.  That Light shines into the darkness that sin shrouds mankind with, and sin cannot understand life (note here also Psalms 27:1; I John 2:9; and Revelation 21:23), as is communicated in verse 5.  Verse 5 also correlates with other passages, such as Ephesians 5:8 (we were once in darkness, but now walk as children of light), I John 1:5 (God is light and no darkness is found where He is), and John 3:19 (sinful nature loves darkness, and those who practice evil hate the light - the light brings condemnation to such people).  The message here is clear - Jesus is the ultimate source of life, and He is the light of understanding that illumines our souls.  If evil dwells in the soul, the Light of God brings condemnation to it because if we are Christians in particular, this conflicts with the new nature God gave us when Jesus washed away our sins.  For most of the world - and for carnal nature in general - darkness is attractive; sin gratifies the flesh, and human nature seeks to do just that.  This is why in this day and age, one of Satan’s greatest attacks against the true faith is a shroud of darkness when it comes to understanding the grave consequences of sin.  This junk has even infested churches, as now there are so many people professing Christianity yet think their wisdom is so great - again, professing to be wise, they are fools!  When we try to justify, cover up, and redefine behaviors and attitudes to make Scripture conform to them, we fail - that is one reason why “gay marriage” and other such abominations, regardless of what some jack-leg “theologian” or vote-drooling politician says, can never be accepted by someone who walks in the light of God’s Holy Word.  Sinful behavior, while humans are given the free will to indulge in it, is not a civil right; it is a behavior contrary to God’s created order and will reap consequences for those who indulge in such stuff.  Another thing is occultism.  Too many people professing Christianity are messing around in occultic practices - they “read” pictures and engage in other divination practices, many cannot start the day without consulting a horoscope (too bad their Bibles are often neglected!), and they engage in the practice of yoga and other pagan disciplines (Yoga, by the way, is not just some mere “exercise” - it is a discipline associated with Hindu deities and its ultimate and misdirected goal is pantheistic).  These things are “works of darkness” that Christians should not be engaging in.  But, again, many professing Christians tend to try to “get one up” on God, whether intentionally or not, and their own flawed human reasoning clouds their understanding, which is why people claim to follow Jesus but fail to know the Jesus they claim to serve.  

In the next five verses, we see the role of John the Baptist in this.   John, the passage states was sent from God (v. 6) to bear witness of the Light (meaning Christ, in v. 7) in order that people might believe the truth.  Saint Augustine makes a very important point here in saying that the Light borne from God is distinct from the light created by God in that Jesus is not a mere element of physics, like say gamma radiation, but rather is much more.  Jesus is the True Light given to every man coming into the world (v. 9), but there are conditions.  Remember, God did give us free will to accept or reject His Light, and although the gift of salvation and eternal life is given to every human being by Christ’s atoning Passion, a gift has to be received in order to be something that benefits us.  Those who receive the Light of Christ also receive eternal life through Him, as He is the ultimate source of both.  And, as verse 10 affirms, Jesus came into the world to do just that - bestow life to lost humanity.  Yet, as unfortunate as it seems, not everyone receives this most perfect and ultimate gift, because in many cases the world chose not to know Him as a whole - that is why He underwent a lot of persecution when He walked on this earth from, of all people, religious leaders with a sense of self-importance.  Many people have used this rejection of Jesus by the Jewish religious leaders of the day as a justification for anti-semitism, yet many of the same people who have made that charge over the centuries have themselves been part of the religious establishment and guilty of doing the same thing - corrupt, apostate church leadership has been an ever-present and increasing reality, and I want to soapbox that for a minute.  In recent decades, there has been on the part of many “theologians” and “religious leaders” this concerted effort to re-write Christianity in their own image - whether it is the post-modern Emergents who prioritize cultural conformity over theological orthodoxy, off-base theologians like Jurgen Moltmann, who diminishes God by making him subject to time constraints (which God actually transcends) while making man have limitless power over the future (“Jurgen Moltmann and His Theology of Hope,” in The Springfielder, Vol. XXIV, No. 1, June 1970. p 14), and graduate and seminary faculty who diminish and mock basic Christian doctrines to make the Bible and Christian theology conform to their own standards.  This is not something that should shock us as Christians though, because I Timothy 4 warned us about these things happening.  The real shock is how fast a lot of this stuff did happen, however - it is almost as if this mindset exploded like a malignant cancer over much of Christendom in just the past 20 years, and the consequences have been dramatic to say the least.  And, thus, the reason why we must re-affirm basic doctrines that the Church has taught and believed for centuries, and one of the most foundational of those is the divinity of Jesus Christ and His inclusion in the Trinitarian Godhead.  

As I wrap this up today, I am addressing this to some people I know who are professing Christians yet have bought into some of the garbage floating around out there.  Some of these people are pastors too - scary! - and a couple of them are saying they are “still developing their theology.”  If you are a pastor and are saying that, it is time to resign your church, because if you cannot communicate basic doctrine to your people, you risk damning their souls.  There is no need whatsoever for anyone to “develop” their theology if they are in a position of leadership in a church - much of that should have been taken care of after you were discipled as a new Christian, and you should not be trying to “develop” anything in regard to theology or doctrine.  Scripture, as well as the clear teaching of the Church, has already spelled that stuff out for you.  Today, if you are one of those type of people, I am talking to you - you have a spiritual identity crisis, and you need to get in that prayer closet, get on your knees, and have a nice heart-to-heart with the Lord.  Then, until you are absolutely sure you accept what the Church has historically taught, you need to step down and let God do a work of restoration in your spirit.  We are in perilous times, people - there is no time to play games, or try to “figure out” or “develop” your theology if you are a minister!  You had best know what you believe, pray for the understanding you need to believe it if you are struggling, and mostly get ministered to before you go ministering to others!  Harsh words?  Maybe, but sometimes the most unpleasant medicine is the best.  And, John 1 is a good place for you to start, because within the 10 verses we just discussed is contained the orthodox Christology of the Church, as believed since its inception.   Jesus is the Word, and in Him (and Him alone!) is to be found true life and understanding.  Seek that, pastor, and re-commit yourself to proclaiming that message instead of some postmodernist, Emergent fluff.  God bless you until next time.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Romans 6:19-23 - Who Do YOU Serve??

Anyone who lives the Christian life knows that one major aspect of that is transformation.  The passage in Romans 6:19-23 is traditionally read in the old Anglican lectionary on the 7th Sunday of Trinity, and the passage has an inextricable link to the sacrament of Holy Baptism.  This is due to one very valid reason: in our initial conversion, which culminates in our baptism, we receive a new identity as a follower - servant (Greek doulos) - of Christ.  The passage seeks therefore to remind us that we have a new life as contrasted with our old, in which we were in bondage to sin.  The metaphor of the slave is thus utilized by the Apostle Paul to illustrate the point.

There are several things this passage communicates to us.  First, it is important to remember that no individual is a free agent, in that we all serve something or someone.  That being established, the question is not if we serve a master, but rather which master we choose to serve?  Unfortunately, we are all human beings still, and of course our limitations at times put us in a position of having divided loyalties.  The result of that is always disastrous, as we will (and Scripture bears this out!) ultimately give preference to one loyalty over another, and that leads to a despising of one master we are attempting to serve.   In our own selfish nature, our loyalties are often determined by one motivation - "what do I get out of this, and how will this benefit me?"  Let's be completely honest - we all are guilty of that one, as self-preservation is a major trait of the human condition.  That is why much of Scripture - in particular the example Jesus sets in many cases - admonishes us to benefit others and mortify our own fleshly desires when they become central to our existence.  And, as Christians, it is also important to remember from whence we came, lest we should forget and be ensnared by those things that once enslaved us. 

Note many important terms we see in the passage as well.  First, there is this word "subject," which is translated from the Greek hupotasso, which denotes a voluntary submission of one's will to the authority of another.  This same idea, used in the different context of the marital covenant, is used in Ephesians 5:22-23.  And, it involves two elements - obedience and honor.   Obedience of course comes from the root obey, which means simply we do what we are told, as in many cases if the authority directing us is honorable, then the task will be to our benefit.  Honor involves a reverential respect to that same authority, and in order to obey one must honor first.  Honor and obedience are often lacking in today's society of the postmodernist, who often thinks in terms of humanitarianism to save his own neck and the postmodernist in turn has a rebellious and crass attitude about authority - this is a reason why postmodernists are often, if religious, "post-Christian."  I have even heard once some younger people espousing this mindset say that they don't address people by proper titles because they want everyone (including God, ironically) to be on equal footing with them to make themselves feel important.  In other words, if they can't feel important, why should anyone else?   It must be remembered in the lessons from American Indians that if everyone is a chief, where are the braves to defend the tribal lands?  Even the lowly creatures of nature have been endowed with a sense of order by God which facilitates their survival as species.  As an example, a few years back there was a popular program on Animal Planet called Meerkat Manor, and the whole plot of this program centered around a research project that monitored the lives of a family of these little creatures in the Kalahari Desert in Africa called the Whiskers.  A meerkat is a type of mongoose that is social, and there is an order to their society that must be maintained in order to assure their survival.  In the program, the Whiskers colony is led by a matriarch the project participants named Flower, and she is what is called a dominant female.  In that role, she has exclusive breeding rights, and she also determines essentially who does what.  If one of her subordinate females - usually a daughter - defies the rules and gets pregnant, her babies can be killed and she can be evicted from the group.  It sounds cruel, but God made that particular aspect of nature in order to ensure that the dominant female has offspring and in that sense it is a deterrent to chaos.  And, as God's creatures, these little mongooses also have a capacity for compassion - they look out for each other, and they work together as a unit although everyone also knows their place.  On occasion, even orphaned babies from other groups are adopted and made part of the family as well.  These diminutive meerkats know more about social order than some humans do unfortunately, and one thing you automatically notice about them is a healthy respect for the dominant female on the part of the rest of the group, and older members are given a respect.  This ensures a continuity.  That, unfortunately, is lacking today in much of our society because respect is considered almost taboo by the new order of postmodern thinking, and as a result order is being compromised and our society is becoming more chaotic.  May God use the humble meerkat even to bring us back to a healthy appreciation for the concepts of obedience and respect, because it could cost us dearly if we do not.

There is another repetitious term used in this passage, and that is the word "bondage."  There are actually two aspects to this term, one being positive and the other negative.  On a positive, let me use myself as an example.  I am a former Notary Public, and as such, like many similar professions one often has to be bonded for their own protection.  The bond - which if I recall in my case was $100,000 - was meant as a safeguard against possible litigation if per chance an error in my practice of the office of Notary (which is a type of minor government official, I might add) occurred.  As Christians, we have a bond that is far more valuable - the shed Blood of Jesus Christ for our sins.  it protects us against the sting of original sin, and also deters the proclivity to further bondage to that sin. 

The negative side of this word "bondage" has to do with enslavement to something.  If a person is addicted - to let's say, drugs - they will eventually reach the point where the consumption of that substance dictates the course of their lives and will cause the person with the addiction to invest every resource they have into the maintenance of the addiction.  Sin is like that as well - the more one engages in sinful behavior, the more control the sin has.  Addictions and bondage to sin are also a form of idolatry, as they demand the full reverence of the person in bondage to them. 

That being said, it is important to understand that a person in bondage to one thing is free from another (6:20).  This can be good or bad, depending on the choice one makes.  The beauty about God is that he has endowed us with the free will to make that decision, be it sin or righteousness.  However, there are two things to remember with that.  First, if we try to serve both masters - God and the enemy - we will fail because our own nature dictates that one will eventually come to demand more of our efforts than the other.  Second, these choices must be weighed carefully, because choices do have consequences.  If we choose sin, for instance, we risk our eternity. 

To illustrate this point, in much of this so-called "Emerging Church" movement, often a lot of non-Christian occultic mysticism is appropriated into what is supposed to be "Christian" worship, and it alters one's worldview.  As a matter of fact, some of those practices are directly in conflict with Scripture and the clear teaching of the Church.  One of our friends fell into this trap recently when he started engaging in a practice called psychometry.  Psychometry is an occultic practice similar to tarot reading in which the "reader" takes a personal effect of the person he or she is "reading" - a photograph or other item of sentimental value is the usual practice - and then tells the owner of the object some deep or "insightful" information.  In short, psychometry is a form of divination, and the "gift" to do these "readings" is a demonic work, and as such it is expressly forbidden by Scripture.  Our friend, who does profess Christianity, swears that what he does is a "ministry" he was gifted with by the Holy Spirit, and he vehemently denies that it is divination.  However, the Bible doesn't say that one can "read" things as a spiritual gift - in many cases, it forbids such practices as a consorting with evil spirits.  Our friend who practices this stuff is also involved in "ghost-hunting" and other such activities, and although he is technically not officially involved with any "Emergent" groups, it is worth noting that ignorance brought on by exposure to occult mysticism on the part of these Emergent people has contributed to the confusion our friend has.  Other such practices - contemplative prayer, yoga, etc. - that many Emergents do engage in are similarly suspect.  And, they unfortunately are making those professing Christianity attempt - futile - to serve two masters.  However, the results have been disastrous, as many Emergents have apostatized and now have embraced universalism, accepted "gay marriage," and other things Scripture opposes.  They are slowly moving away from Jesus as their master to serving demons and ingesting their doctrines. 

The end result of our choices can go one of two ways.  In Romans 6:21 is the first - the reward for a life given over to the bondage of sin is death!   On the other hand, in 6:22 it affirms that the reward for serving Christ is eternal life.  However, the free gift of salvation in Christ is not forced upon us, but rather we must make a conscious decision to accept it as it is offered to all men.  Until we do, according to Romans 3:23, our end is death because we are in bondage to sin.  Our righteousness is not sufficient enough to receive eternal life with God - only through the righteousness provided in the shed blood of Jesus Christ can we receive it.

As a closing thought, all humanity is ultimately in service to something else other than ourselves, although some philosophical humanists may think otherwise.  God gave us the freedom to choose the master we serve, be it Him or sin and death.  Each choice has its own consequences and rewards, and although we have the free will to make the choice, it is important that we carefully weigh the options.  If we accept righteousness, then the full climax of that is realized in the baptismal font (Romans 6:19).  Our choice is inevitable, whatever the one we make, and it must be an exclusive choice - contrary to some thinking today, we cannot have it both ways (see I Corinthians 6:14, 10:21).  Either we serve Christ, or we are in bondage to our sinful lifestyles.

I want to close on a related but somewhat humorous point.  On Saturday nights, I watch a program on RFD-TV called Larry's Country Diner, and one feature of this program is a character called Nadine.  Nadine's character is of this straight-laced but sharp-witted old church lady who wears print dresses, a pillbox hat, and she is seen carting around this huge Bible the size of a car door - she is really quite amusing!  However, in the humor is wisdom, and one thing she said once sums it well for what we have been talking about - "Some people sow their wild oats all week, and then pray for crop failure on Sunday."  I would say that is a good summary for this teaching, and it illustrates the futility of trying to serve two masters.  Our human nature has limits, is not perfect, and on occasion we will sin - Lord knows I screw up enough personally!  However, there is a big difference between the occasional screwup and the willful, rebellious embrace of a sinful lifestyle (you "gay marriage" proponents really need to get this, as I grow sick of the open defiance of the plainly-revealed truth about this sin in Scripture by its proponents who try to allegorize it, self-justify, etc. - it's time you listen to God and not to your own reasoning in this case, as your reasoning is flawed, especially if you are professing Christianity! That may get me into some trouble, but something has to be said).  The big difference between the two is the conviction of the Holy Spirit - when a Christian screws up or sins, the Holy Spirit that indwells the Christian does what is known as conviction, which essentially means that something within your being is saying, "Stop it - this is wrong!!".   If we respond in humility and sincerity to that conviction, it will lead us to repentance and we can therefore receive forgiveness for what we have done.  However, a willful, rebellious choice (such as "gay theology" as espoused by the Metropolitan Community Church or the justified racism of people like apostate "liberation theologian" James Cone) is giving allegiance to another master, and hence both a form of spiritual adultery as well as idolatry.  And, if one continues on that course, it will have eternal consequences.

Today, the challenge is yours - which master will you serve??  Will you accept the free gift Jesus Christ gave you - salvation through His shed Blood for our sins - or will you remain in bondage to sinful attitudes and behaviors because for some reason it is "culturally relevant?"  Again, weigh that decision carefully, because you cannot have it both ways.  If you choose Christ, you need to do so with surrendering your whole self to Him.  Let us consult the Prayerbook on this, as it has some words of comfort for those who choose to follow Christ:

"Hear what comfortable words our Savior Christ saith unto all who truly turn unto Him:

Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you (Matt. 11;28).
So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Hear also what Saint Paul saith:
This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (I Timothy 1:15)
Hear also what Saint John saith:
If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins. (I John 2:1-2)"
(The Book of Common Prayer, 1928 edition, p. 76)

The above is said usually during the conclusion of the first portion of the Anglican Mass, when the priest traditionally dismisses the unbaptized and the catechumens in preparation for the Communion of the Faithful, the second part of the Mass in which the Eucharist is celebrated.  These "comfortable words," as they are called, are a sort of  "altar call" to the non-Christian to seriously consider salvation in Christ, and I like to believe that this was a similar thing John Wesley used during the Great Awakenings on the frontier to bring people to the Lord, as he preached out of this very same formula.  In that tradition, I challenge you today to examine the claims of Christ - He is not merely some "zombie Jesus," as some agnostic wag once called Him, but is God the Son, risen from the dead to bestow on us eternal life!  Sin can be an abusive taskmaster, and in return for living a life of sin, the unrepentant spend eternity in the unquenching fires of hell.  Jesus, on the other hand, is loving, and not only does He become our Master, but He is more than that - He is our friend, our big brother, and most important, our God who gave Himself for us.  If you are struggling today, seek the Lord, and let Him cleanse you and give you new life - the alternative is hell and damnation, total separation from God, for eternity.  God bless each of you, and may this lesson speak to your hearts today.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Highways and Hedges Part 5 - Miscellaneous Pentecostal/Holiness Fellowships


This is going to be the last article in this series, although it is an ongoing project I hope to turn into a book in the near future.  The purpose of the five parts of the "Highways and Hedges" series we have shared so far was to inform the reader about those small fellowships and churches that many people do not think much about, yet there is a rich legacy in such groups.  The majority of the fellowships we have discussed have been of the Holiness/Pentecostal tradition, and in the following it is pretty much the same.  First, however, one may ask "why the greatest attention to Pentecostal groups?"  Simply, it is because there are many of them, and many of them are also very diverse.  Superficially, many of these little Pentecostal groups may look similar - indeed, if you went to several of their churches, their worship would be pretty standard for their tradition, although it may vary considering if the group is more old-time or more progressive.   It is when you start to dig below the surface into the individual stories of these groups that you get a sense of their real heritage.  Dr. Kenneth Archer, a professor of Biblical studies at Southeastern University in Lakeland, FL, notes something interesting about this as well - he calls what many of these groups have in common central narrative convictions, or CNC's.   What he means by that is simply the primary narrative story as to why a Pentecostal community existed, how it fits into the larger scheme of Christian history, and what responsibilities should be borne by the community as a whole as well as its individual adherents (Kenneth J. Archer, A Pentecostal Hermeneutic: Spirit, Scripture, and Community {Cleveland, TN: CPT Press, 2009}p. 156).  Dr. Archer, who is a former professor of mine, has lucidly and accurately given a terminology to what I am trying to document here, and although I disagree with much of his other theology, he does give some valuable insight into such things as these CNC's and the "story" of a given group, which I would take a step further and say involves the individual as well.  The "Pentecostal Story" that Archer writes of in his book is in many aspects also my story, for although I am no longer officially affilliated with the Pentecostal tradition myself, I have roots in it that run deep, and many of the groups I have discussed thus far I can also relate to, as the Pentecostal church I grew up around was part of one of these smaller groups.  My natural love of Church History has also been a driving factor in this study, but much of the "official" history of bigger denominations like the Assemblies of God and Church of God has been copiously documented, and to be honest it gets kind of boring to read after seeing it so much.  These smaller groups are much more colorful and many represent a sort of atavistic (a negative term I know, but it communicates the point) portrait of what the larger denominations used to be before many of them modernized and entered what Dr. Donald Kraybill, Professor of Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, calls the "transformational phase."  Many larger groups have lost the original core of their identities, but these smaller fellowships - often made up of more conservative factions of the larger groups who broke away due to what they saw as an increasing worldliness and modernization in their parent groups - preserve much of the original mindset and convictions of the bigger groups who have by and large abandoned these things.   Any rate, this gives a historical overview to the project as a whole.

Dealing with this part of the study, I will be examining three pretty diverse but conservative groups which have their roots in different regions of the country, and rich histories of their own.  They are the Wesleyan Pentecostal Churches, headquartered in the Piedmont region of the Carolinas; the Living Word of Faith Fellowship, with its primary strength in the Panhandle of Florida; and finally the Emmanuel Apostolic Church, a small fellowship of Oneness Pentecostals headquartered in Acccident, MD, with the major concentration of its constituency in western Maryland and north-central West Virginia.   The interesting thing about all of these groups is that over the years I have had personal involvement and association with them, and will be documenting that as well as part of the overall story.  That being said, let us now begin.

1.  The Wesleyan Pentecostal Churches

This is a group I came into contact with approximately 10 years ago from this writing, and it fascinated me because I was thinking at first that maybe they were a group of Pentecostal Methodists or something similar to those in Chile.  However, as it turns out, their history actually is rooted in the Church of God tradition, and even today the great majority of its leadership has roots in the Church of God denomination.

In the latter part of the 20th century, as many larger Pentecostal denominations began to gain some level of respectability, their memberships blossomed.  In many cases, that was a good thing, but it also had some negative consequences.   Many of these larger denominations, such as the Assemblies, Church of God, and Foursquare, began to entertain and embrace some things inherent to contemporary culture, and this began to raise some concerns among some of their more conservative members.  One of those was a Church of God minister in Tennessee by the name of Dollas Messer, and at his home on February 5, 1989, a group of 54 people gathered for prayer and fellowship which led 9 months to the day later to their incorporation as a fellowship.   The original name of this group was the Elim Churches of God, but in 1992 they changed the name to Wesleyan Pentecostal Churches.  In the following year, they established the Grace and Truth magazine, and since then they have had modest but steady growth. (The WPC Manual, p. 7-8 {Wesleyan Pentecostal Churches, 2005})

Dr. Dollas Messer, founder and current General Overseer of the Wesleyan Pentecostal Churches
Their current General Overseer is Dr. Dollas Messer, in whose home the WPC was birthed, and Dr. Messer is a dynamic evangelist as well as a capable spiritual leader of his flock - check out his website at for more information, as he also has some books he's authored as well as a number of sermons available .  He is in great demand as a speaker in many like-minded fellowships, and his knowledge and uncompromising faith are two things God has gifted him tremendously.   The doctrine of the Wesleyan Pentecostal Churches is summed up in a document called the "Elim Covenant," which affirms a strongly conservative Holiness/Pentecostal faith.  Members of the WPC also still dress conservatively, with women generally having long hair and eschewing makeup, slacks, and outer adornments.   They are in many ways much like the old Church of God was many years ago before the latter group embraced many modern trends.    Although by count in my own research I found 8 congregations of this fellowship, their website at lists three main ones - Fayetteville, NC; Washington, NC; and Rossville, GA.  Though a small fellowship, the Wesleyan Pentecostal Churches are spiritually vibrant and faithful to their heritage and belief.

Wesleyan Pentecostal Church, Washington, NC
Wesleyan Pentecostal Church, Fayetteville, NC
Elim Wesleyan Pentecostal Church, Rossville, GA
2.  Living Word Of Faith Fellowship
My association with the Living Word of Faith Fellowship goes back a number of years when my wife Barbara (this was before we even dated) attended one of their congregations, Graceville Community Church, back in 1990.  The Graceville church was a mile or so from the college I was attending then, and was noted for having some old-fashioned campmeetings in October that featured great preaching and singing by many of their fellowship's ministers.   After that initial introduction, I became curious to learn more about this group, and later found it was called Living Word of Faith Fellowship.   Now, to talk about a little of its history. 
The history of this particular group begins in 1948, when an Assemblies of God evangelist by the name of J. W. Hunt began holding evangelistic services in Panama City, FL.  Hunt was an evangelist who apparently was part of the Salvation/Healing revival that swept the nation back then, as personified by ministers such as Oral Roberts, Jack Coe, and A.A. Allen.   The meetings that Rev. Hunt conducted in Panama City later birthed a congregation in the nearby community of Springfield called the Springfield Community Church, which was established at one of the evangelistic meetings in 1951.  Later in 1954, the Living Word of Faith Fellowship was formally chartered in the state of Florida. (Living Word of Faith Minister's Handbook, p. 3)
   The current sanctuary of the Springfield Community Church, Panama City, FL, founded in 1951 - the "mother church" of the Living Word of Faith Fellowship headquartered nearby.
Rev. Hunt passed away at the age of 81 on May 28, 2001, but the fellowship he founded is still very much alive and is now nationwide.   As of 2008, there are approximately 92 congregations with the majority being in western Florida and southern Alabama, although there are congregations nationwide.  They also count 107 pastors, 40 associate pastors, 6 youth ministers, 205 evangelists, and 4 campground facilities.  Both men and women may be ordained to the ministry by the Fellowship, and a significant number of female clergy are counted among its membership (Living Word of Faith August 2008-2009 Directory).  Many churches - at least the ones I have been familiar with - are more conservative, as many members do observe Holiness code in dress, etc.   

The main Campmeeting tabernacle in Panama City, FL.
Two photos of the Living Word of Faith Fellowship headquarters building.
3.  Emmanuel Apostolic Church
Back when I was in high school in Terra Alta, WV,  there was a tiny Pentecostal church located on Salt Lick Road just over the tracks from the town of Rowlesburg called the Rowlesburg Pentecostal Church.   Its pastor then, Rev. Lawson Henline, was a noted religious leader in the area although his flock was small.  I remember reading in the Preston County News sometime around then about Henline being ordained a bishop with a small Oneness group, but then I was not sure what the name of the group was because I didn't pay attention as closely as I should have, but it did create interest.  It wasn't until some years later, around 2010, that I discovered the name of the small fellowship was called Emmanuel Apostolic Church, and come to find out, they were pretty much concentrated in the area I grew up in.  Upon discovering who they were on the internet, I found out as well that they had a website - - and much of the information I gleaned for this article comes from that.  One of their bishops, Rev. Phillip Smith who pastors their church in Friendsville, MD, also has a good website for information found at  Given their small membership and also a general lack of historical documentation that unfortunately is characteristic of small groups like this, the early history of the Emmanuel Apostolic Church is a little hard to document, although I can be sure it has been around at least 40 years, possibly longer.  

The Emmanuel Apostolic Church is a little different than the other groups I have talked about because it is the only one that is Oneness Pentecostal (meaning that although they may not deny the doctrine of the Trinity in principle, they do not subscribe to the doctrine as many other Christians would - Oneness Pentecostal groups vary on this in degrees actually.  Primary though, they are what is called monarchal modalists, meaning they baptize in the name of Jesus only - hence they are often called "Jesus Only Pentecostals" as a result - which is the root of their origins which dates back to the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement in 1917).  It is also the only group that has its roots and the majority of its membership in the region where I am originally from too, as the bulk of its churches are located in north central West Vrginia and western Maryland.  

Phillip Smith, pastor of Freedom Chapel in Friendsville, MD, and current Bishop of the Emmanuel Apostolic Church
Bishop Martin Cline presiding over the ordinations of new EACI ministers in Fellowsville, WV.
As of this year and according to the EACI webpage, there are 7 churches (4 in WV, 2 in MD, and one in Ohio) affiliated with the EACI, and the fellowship is served by 23 ordained ministers and 6 affiliated ministers.  Both men and women appear to be accepted for ordination to ministry, as is testified many years ago by a very popular female evangelist, Rev. Leola Stepp, who spoke in their revivals and other meetings.  She also was noted for her singing talent, and had recorded a few LP's that have yet to be released as CD recordings.  
Well, there you have it - a few introductions to some of the more fascinating groups I have good information available to write about thus far.  There are many others however - some I haven't included in the articles here include the Pentecostal Revival Center in Palatka, FL, which was founded in the 1960's by a dynamic woman pastor, and the Wesley Synod, a UK-based fellowship with a growing US constituency that incorporates Wesleyan/Holiness theology and low-Church Anglican worship, among others.  In the bigger project, these will be given more attention.  There are literally hundreds of these little fellowships, which range from well-organized bodies with sizeable constituencies to single congregations with distinctive histories that have caught my attention over the years.  To document them all would be a daunting task that would entail years, and therefore it is not feasible.  And, thus, the purpose of this project has been to document significant groups that have garnered my attention.   Hopefully, getting to know the people and churches of these little fellowships will help you as the reader appreciate them better as well, and if so, then my mission has been accomplished.   God bless, and keep reading from time to time as more interesting information may be added about these or similar groups as I acquire access to the resources to get it.