Historical Archives | Pentecostal History 5
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Background of Sonship
The Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th century is recognized today as a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit in bringing life to the "Pentecostal" truths of the new Testament. Neglected gifts of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy were manifested in the early meetings and have since gained acceptance among most traditional denominational groups under the banner "Charismatic Renewal".
Many Christians were deeply touched by the "new revelation" of ancient Biblical truths which had laid dormant in a state of neglect among the traditional churches. Now, suddenly the "gifts" were falling upon hungry souls willing to receive the "fullness" of God's spirit.
These sincere believers shared their new experience wherever they went with the result that thousands of Christians received the "baptism of the Holy Spirit". Not willing to form denominations and organize the "move of God", they struggled with problems of polity and extremism, and were finally forced to organize due to the tremendous growth of churches and need for balanced leadership.
By 1935 the previously spontaneous and miraculous excitement had generally dissipated as the various groups settled into "business as usual."
For almost twenty years the new institutions formed from the Pentecostal outpouring grew and became the Pentecostal denominations which we recognize today. Then suddenly, something happened.
In an obscure corner of the world another sovereign move of God took place, very much like the 1906 outpouring. On February 11 or 12, 1948, during meetings in North Battleford, Saskatchewan at the Sharon Bible School, there was a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit--with tongues, prophecy, laying on of hands for healing and gifts, and "heavenly singing" - similar to what had been experienced in the earlier "move".
This happening had been precipitated by seasons of fasting and prayer as faculty and students alike hungered for all that God desired to give them. Later called the "New Order of the Latter Rain" or the "move of 1948" or simply "the move", the events in western Canada attracted thousands of believers from all over the world, who flocked to North Battleford to experience God's power, At about the same period, God was also raising up men like William Branham, Oral Roberts, and others with powerful, anointed ministries which were definitely "spectacular" in scope.
However, there was opposition. Just as the denominational churches had opposed the 1906 outpouring, so now the Pentecostal denominations opposed the new move. They were concerned about possible excesses as well as the potential loss of members and churches to the "radical" ideas represented by the leaders of the movement.
Thomas Holdcroft, the president of the Western Canadian Bible College, has written that the movement "was an organizational schism before it was a spiritual cause". (1) As a member of the P.A.O.C. (Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada) he views the events prior to the 1948 outpouring as divisive and characterized by "unrestrained zeal".
Briefly, what happened was that the leaders of the Bethel Bible Institute of Saskatoon, George Hawtin and Percy Hunt separated from the Assembly "fold". They had been in conflict over the establishment of a high school to accompany the Bible Institute, and, chafing under the restraints of denominational administration, had decided to open another work 80 miles north of Saskatoon, in North Battleford,
When Holdcroft writes that the "New Order began as a protest movement by a small company of men who felt unduly restricted by their denomination", (2) he fails to account for the spectacular outpouring of the Holy Spirit which lasted for almost ten months. He is correct, however, when he points out that the North Battleford group became "anti-organized church". These were capable men whose vision at the time for the work which God had given them superseded the vision of the denominational figures who maintained control. George Hawtin had originally founded Bethel Bible Institute and had joined the P.A.O.C. in order to draw more students.
At any rate, the lesson concerning non-sectarian alignment learned during the North Battleford encounters still characterizes the movement today. Denominational centralized control is considered a threat to the pure movement of God's Holy Spirit.
To North Battleford came pastors and believers hungry for a fresh outpouring of God. What they experienced in Canada they took back with them, and sparked revivals in their home churches. Several better known ministries which adopted the "move" ideas were: Myrtle Beall's Bethesda Temple in Detroit, Michigan; Thomas Wyatt and the Wings of Healing in Portland, Oregon; Earl Lee at Immanuel Temple in Los Angeles; Paul Grubb in Memphis, Tennessee; and Bill Britton In Springfield, Missouri.
Key doctrines consisted of prophecy; impartation of resident gifts through laying on of hands; trans-local church authority; renewed emphasis upon the importance of modern day apostolic and prophetic ministries; willingness to receive "new" or fresh revelation on scriptural truths; and later the development of "Sonship" truths.
The fact remains, however, that people were "hungry for God" and in need of revival. Yes, there were dangers. There were abuses of the gift of prophecy. Some, ignorant of good Biblical exegesis, developed wild, fanatical, and erroneous teachings. Established church leaders had a duty to warn against excesses and through teaching and loving example correct abuses.
Instead, many leaders reacted harshly. Those who had become "contaminated" with "New Order" teachings were banned from fellowship. The teachings were considered divisive and were not tolerated. Many felt that the "new attitudes favored a mystical subjective inner intuition above the authority of the exegesis of the written word". (3) William Menzies has written that there appeared "a meteoric movement appealing to the sensational, which succeeded in generating widespread hysteria throughout the Pentecostal denominations in the late 40's..." (14) Some called what was going on a "reappearance of enthusiastic mysticism".(5)
This denominational backlash, though sincere in its attempts to maintain scriptural guidelines, succeeded in further alienating the "move" groups.
Paul Grubb writing in the early 50's asserted the following: "Certainly that Unit, that Body, that Bride, that Church will not be any one denominational body, nor group of bodies. It will be that spiritual remnant out of every religious group which has risen to that place of mystical union with Christ in which love has dissolved sectarian spirit. Yes, this is God's revival --- God's last revival before the coming of Jesus Christ." (6)
And George Hawtin, writing in the first edition of the "Page" in 1961, thirteen years, after the initial '48 outpouring wrote, "I have come to the conclusion that to be joined to Christ in Sonship demands our separation and divorce from every last vestige of the Babylonish church system..."
The leaders had from the beginning pictured organized religion as "Mystery Babylon". These kinds of references did not help heal the breach. Some of the "move" leaders felt that they had "moved" beyond mere sectarianism and had begun to understand the meaning of the "Body of Christ". The fact that one was not included in "The Bride" if still under "denominational bondage" led their detractors to cry, "elitism!". Those who left church membership behind called themselves "come-outers". They had "seen the light". Only if truly placed within "the Bride" could he respond to the revelation given in the scriptural command to "come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins..." (Rev. 18:4)
Bill Britton has written that one of the basic beliefs of the movement is anti-sectarian. He writes, "That the sectarian system of denominationalism is an artificial invention of men, and was never ordained by God, and that it will be destroyed so that Christ will have one glorious Church on the earth." (7) He also warned in the same publication of the danger of religious pride among the "come-outers" in not being willing to fellowship with or be a part of denominational Christians.
But at the time, 1949-51, there was real concern expressed by some of the major Pentecostal leaders that the excesses of the movement might weaken their ranks, The Assemblies of God denomination especially was concerned as they began to lose several key pastors and congregations. At the 1949 General Council, a resolution was passed condemning what was believed to be the key doctrinal deviations of the "movement". They were:
The overemphasis relative to imparting, identifying, bestowing or confirming gifts by the laying on of hands and prophecy.
The erroneous teaching that the church is built on the foundation of present-day apostles and prophets.
The extreme teaching as advocated by the "New Order" regarding the confession of sin to man and deliverance as practiced, which claims prerogatives to human agency which belong only to Christ.
The erroneous teaching concerning the impartation of the gift of languages as special equipment for missionary service.
The extreme and unscriptural practice of imparting or imposing personal leadings by the means of gifts of utterance.
Such other wrestings and distortions of scripture interpretation which are in opposition to teachings and practices generally accepted among us.(8)The problem was, however, that these six errors were not necessarily representative of the movement. Myrtle Beall in Detroit at Bethesda Missionary Temple, (recognized as one of the most powerful centers of the movement), wrote in 1951 that three of the above list of six errors ascribed to them were not their beliefs. (9)
It appears that denominational power was quickly exercised in order to stamp out the fires before they got out of hand. There were abuses, especially concerning "revelations" and prophecy and yet after reading the writings of many of the leaders of the movement, I found the teachings to be basically sound fundamental Pentecostal doctrine. Much of the misunderstanding resulted from lack of first-hand experience by those who were responsible to exercise control.
One prominent Assembly leader, Stanley Frodsham, then editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and an important influence in the denomination, attended the meetings in Detroit where the Hawtins of Saskatchewan were holding meetings. He came away convinced that what was transpiring was "of God". What he saw was a tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit similar to the early days at Azusa. There were dramatic healings, anointed preaching, and thousands were flocking to Detroit to experience what God was doing.
As a result, he was quietly asked to resign his editorship. His Influence was too great for his peers to brand him a heretic. But Stanley Frodsham remained convinced that the Assemblies had acted too quickly in squelching the new movement, in so doing, they were in effect "throwing the baby out with the bath water". (10) Frodsham had an association with Bill Britton who represented the movement in Springfield.
With this background in mind, let us examine one important doctrine which emerged from the 1948 outpouring - the doctrine of Sonship.
What is Sonship?
Sonship as a doctrine represents a large and complex set of teachings all the way from Genesis through Revelation regarding the ultimate purpose of God's dealing with mankind, if several key verses could represent the basic thrust of the doctrine, they might be Romans 8:30. Verses which highlight Paul's teaching might be, verse 23, "for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God;" verse 23, "...and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." And finally verses 29 and 30: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified."
The doctrine teaches that God will, at some future date, glorify Individual Christians, male and female, and invest them, in Christ, with the power and authority to set creation free from its present bondage and decay. (Rom. 821)
Some of the more obvious historical roots concerning this doctrine are: Augustine, Thomas A'Kempis, the Pietists, Quietism, and even some earlier Gnostic tendencies. Augustine's "The City of God" presented the ideal hope of a restored creation. In A'Kempis' devotional book, "The Image of Christ" he teaches the development of a rich, inner experience with Christ. For the Pietists, the emphasis was upon holiness of thought and conduct, maintained by the Christ within. The later Quietists like Fenelon and Madame Guyon stressed the interior life above all others and along with men like St. Francis of Asissi, taught. the necessity of bodily mortification or suffering in order for the inner life to shine forth. The Gnostic tendency lies in the "proclivity to feel that one has a more profound "revelation" and belongs to some spiritually elite group". (11)
Tangential to, the teaching are the later Holiness doctrines regarding complete or entire sanctification with the stress upon the "possibility" of reaching a sinless state.
The two men in the 20th century who have contributed the most to the doctrine of Sonship are Paul Grubb, and Bill Britton. Since Paul Grubb was well into' the mainstream of the Latter Rain movement before Bill Britton ever heard the terminology, we will begin with his ideas.
For Paul Grubb the key thought is the initiation into the mystery of "Christ in you, the hope of glory". (Col. 1:27b) The language he used had a decided Gnostic flavor. "How marvelous is the prospect of the blessings of this new fellowship. .an illumination or revelation, sealing of God to sonship, and a perfection or initiation into the mysteries that the rest of Christendom knows nothing about." (12)
It was this kind of terminology -- which at the beginning made those who had not studied the entire scriptural development of the concept -- immediately send up red flags. Grubb tended to take a concept and run with it, fitting proof texts in where they might apply. He was not a careful exegete.
For Grubb, there were five privileges granted to those who "achieved Sonship: a new fellowship based on suffering with Christ in order to reign with him - (Rom. 8:17), a new position - heavenlies, (Eph. 2:6), on the throne to rule with Christ..., a new name (not developed), a new nature - imperishable, (1 Cor. 15:53), and a new dominion (Ps. 8:6 and Rev. 3:21). These ideas are supported by proof texts and some hold up better than others. Obviously it requires a certain "special insight" to grasp all these truths. Grubb writes, "...To rise to the Headship company which occupies the throne with Christ in spiritual rulership, forgiving, delivering, and imparting God's nature to others, involves more than simple faith for healing or forgiveness. Just simple faith is insufficient for this elevation... Faith will obtain the deliverance from the powers of darkness but is not sufficient for translation into the kingdom of God's dear Son...Obedience is the key..." (13) "The Throne promised to overcomers in Revelation is obtained with him in the same manner in which Jesus secured it. That was not by believing, but by obeying...overcoming," (14)
For both Grubb and Britton there was always a certain element of speculation involved in comprehending these truths. The revelation was continually unfolding to them and they were quick to alter the picture as study of the Word or prophetic utterances seemed to clarify individual points. There is never an arrogance or superiority attitude in the writings. Bill Britton especially is quick to admit that he does not have it all figured out. The Sonship message was a progressive revelation as prophets and teachers began to put the fragmented pieces together. They were "seeing through a glass darkly".
One cannot understand the Sonship message without reading and absorbing the writings of Bill Britton. More than any other man in the 20th century, he has developed and propagated Sonship teaching. He has written dozens of books, sent out thousands of tapes, traveled thousands of miles, and influenced many pastors and laymen alike to investigate the "deeper truths".
It all began in the spring of 1949. Britton was an Assemblies of God pastor, educated at Central Bible Institute in Springfield, Missouri, At a national Sunday school conference, he met several pastors who had been to Detroit and Canada. The feeling was at the time that the end-time revival had started.
He was troubled by the Assemblies stand against prophets and apostles in the church. He could not reconcile the Biblical record with the denominational position. Then, in 1950 during a visit to Memphis. Tennessee, he visited Paul Grubb's church. This was his first experience in a "New Order" service. Evangelist Fred Poole laid hands upon him and gave a prophecy over him. Immediately, the doors for ministry in the Assemblies slammed shut, and as word got out that he was leaning toward the revival teachings, the district in which he pastored demanded his ministerial credentials.
At about the same time he heard about a new message being preached in Detroit. The message dealt with the passages in Galatians 4:5-6 concerning the adoption as sons and heirs. Upon hearing this message he says, "It was as if a light when on inside me...it all made sense". (15)
From that day until the present, Britton has developed the teaching and many supporting doctrines. it would take a paper as lengthy. as the number of books and pamphlets he has written on the subject to fully develop the main elements. Most of Britton's ideas are based upon sound hermeneutical principles. He believes in a simple way that the Bible is the inspired word of God. However, there are also running throughout his writings strong speculative or rationalizing concepts as he struggles to fit the text to the paradigm or the paradigm to the text. Other insights are primarily revelational which means they cannot be drawn out from any one or more texts, and are subjective.
The 'Sonship' message is one of several messages which combine to make up "kingdom teaching" or "end-time truths". However, the message of "manifested sons" seems to be the core around which other related teachings depend.
Britton asks the question: "What lies beyond Pentecost!" He sees things in patterns of threes - Salvation, Pentecost, Sonship; - Jesus (salvation), Christ (anointing), Lord (dominion, rulership); - Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles; - 30 fold ministry, 60 fold, 100 fold; - and so on. We as saints are progressing from one state to another. We need to move beyond the Pentecostal experience and elemental doctrines (Heb.). Britton would agree with the wording of A. G. Wager when he states: Some people are called out of the world but do not believe in any further experience or revelation...From salvation to sanctification, from baptized to gifted... from gifts to fruit wand finally there will be a calling out of those who have reached the maturity of sonship...From the formal and sectarian ranks and the confusion of Babylon, a church is coming forth: a church of spiritually enduced saints, called out to attain the maturity of sonship-Now a body is being formed by the spirit of God who will be a first fruit company, a group of forerunners to live and demonstrate that perfect unity of the Spirit... (16)
There are three dimensions in the Spirit. The first two are Salvation and Pentecost. The third dimension is the dimension of Sonship. The key elements in this dimension are immortality - the state in which death no longer works in the body (see I Cor. 15); dominion - ruling with Christ; image of Christ (Eph 4:13, Gal. 4:19); complete leadership of the Holy Spirit; ministry without failure (the 100 fold ministry).
At Pentecost, the seed of a new race was planted in believers. Those who have been saved and baptized in the Holy Spirit are now moving toward "full salvation", which is not only the physical redemption of our bodies, but more importantly, the deliverance from the adamic nature or mind. This third dimension realm is a deliverance from dependence upon the five senses. The pre-trib rapture is not a "catching up" to heaven, but a catching up above the mortal mind. Entering this realm has nothing to do with the super-spirituality or Sonship talk. It is a work of grace and predestination. The symbolic meanings of the Old Testament feasts, the Tabernacle, the Ark, and the Temple play an important role in Sonship paradigms. Importance is placed upon all "types" and "shadows", for many of the, biblical events reveal clues to the mysteries of God. Many of these mysteries will not be fully understood 'until the last days before Jesus returns.
The Feast of Tabernacles plays an important part in understanding the third dimension of the Spirit. (Most of the teaching comes from a book entitled "The Feast of Tabernacles" by George Warnock, a past associate of Ern Baxter). Britton interprets the blowing of the trumpets on the first day of the month as the beginning of the Latter Rain movement. "The blowing of the trumpets" was calling the one body of Christ to come out of the "fragmented splinters" and form a mystical body in the land who would receive the concept of "going behind the veil". (17)
This "passing through the veil" refers to moving spiritually from the Holy Place in the Tabernacle (gifts, faith realm), into the Holy of Holies and the glorified state At the same time, the veil represents the adamic nature bound in death which at this time is "passed through". Some of these concepts were envisioned by a little-known prophet named Seeley D. Kinne, who has had a great influence on Bill Britton's understanding of these "mysteries".
This is all made possible by the death and planting of the "incorruptible seed" - Jesus. The "fall" described in Isaiah 14 is not the fall of Satan, but the fall of man. Jesus came to set the prisoners free; i.e., those who were imprisoned by the adamic nature which is made up of sin, death, and defeat. Jesus willingly laid down his life and shed his incorruptible blood not to appease an angry Father/God, but to be able to "bring many sons unto perfection". (Rom. 8) Jesus said in John 12:24, "Truly, truly, I say 'to you, unless a grain of wheat tails into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
The Holy Spirit was given to produce Sonship (Rom 8:15 Amp.). Jesus could not do this before he was glorified, because every seed brings forth after its own kind. He does not want to bring forth more sons after the image of the man from Galilee. The image of Christ to be made manifest is a post-glorification image. Jesus prayed in John 17:22, "The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one, even as we are one."
In I Cor. 15:45-47, Jesus Christ is the second Adam, who becomes a life-giving spirit. And in verse 49 we read, "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust,"We shall also bear the image of the man of heaven." Continuing on to verse 53 we see the teaching clarified, "For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality."
As previously mentioned, there are many facets to the doctrine of Sonship. Bill Britton is still writing and praying for more wisdom and understanding. However, the question remains. Should this message be taken seriously? Many who prefer the traditional interpretations of scriptures believe the Sonship message is the far out idea of a few misguided souls. They point out that if too much individual interpretation is allowed, well-meaning Christians might slide into error or heresy.
There has always been a tension existing between traditional interpretations and new Insights. We must thank this ambiguity for the Protestant Reformation.
There is always present in any change a certain amount of trauma. The chasms separating brothers and sisters during sovereign moves of God should be bridged. Tolerance and careful examination of "new truths" might lead to healing instead of schism. Time has a way of eliminating the extremes in individuals and doctrines. The doctrine of Sonship has withstood the test of time. It may well be the great contribution of the 1948 Latter Rain revival to modern Christendom. At the other end of the spectrum, the teachings of men like Bill Britton deserve more unbiased examination than they have received. it is too easy to attach labels to ideas we don't agree with as a way of relegating them to the ash heap. We need to guard against heresy and excess, but never at the expense of the Holy Spirit. The word of God is alive and active and we must allow the Holy Spirit the freedom to "reveal" fresh insight to otherwise lifeless words. May God grant us the wisdom to discern the difference between true revelation and error and quicken our hearts to His ways.
Since the writing of this thesis, The Doctrine of Sonship, by David Graham,
ORU, Tulsa, OK, Bill Britton, the father of the sonship message/latter rain revival (1948 - 1956)
has been ask by Heaven if he wouldn't mind to transcend -- time and walk behind eternities veil,
so that he might stand within his rank -- with the army that resides there among the ascended
Wm Daniel John
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