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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Highways and Hedges Part 5 - Miscellaneous Pentecostal/Holiness Fellowships

Introduction

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 www.dollasmesser.com 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 http://www.wpchurches.com 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 -   www.eaci.webs.com - 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 http://restinchrist.webs.com/.  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.  
 
Conclusion
 
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.