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This Week in AG History -- Sept. 6, 1919

Early in the history of the Assemblies of God, Chairman E. N. Bell held firm to God's Word even though it meant a split in the young Movement.
In 1913, a doctrinal view that later fractured the young Pentecostal movement found its roots in a camp meeting In Los Angeles. The resulting divide into Trinitarians and Oneness Pentecostals, sometimes called “The New Issue,” was addressed many times by early Assemblies of God leaders, coming down firmly on the side of the historic Christian view of the Trinity.

At a camp meeting at Arroyo Seco, California, many people began to notice the miracles that came in response to prayers, “in the name of Jesus.” Amid this focus, a man named John Scheppe claimed to have had a revelation of the power of the name of Jesus. Another minister remarked that the apostles did not mention baptizing in the “name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” but rather “in the name of Jesus.” After the camp meeting, many began to rebaptize in “the name of Jesus” only.

Gradually, some began to consider what baptizing in “Jesus Only” implied. Some preachers began to preach that when Scripture speaks of “the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” that it meant that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost had a name: Jesus. Eventually, this led to the understanding that there was only one person in the godhead — Jesus Christ. The teaching spread that Jesus IS the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Many Pentecostals accepted rebaptism in Jesus’ name (including E. N. Bell, the first general chairman of the Assemblies of God) without accepting a denial of the Trinity. Wanting everything that Jesus had for them they gladly were willing to undergo the waters of baptism in identifying with the power of His name. However, the confusion that resulted led to many ministerial discussions, debates, and numerous articles. At the 1915 General Council it was recommended that there be no divisions based on baptismal formulas but a resolution was passed affirming the distinctions with the Trinity. In 1916, the General Council approved a “Statement of Fundamental Truths” that clearly articulated where the Assemblies of God stood on the deity of Christ and the Trinity.

E. N. Bell, the first general chairman (later called general superintendent), in the Sept. 6, 1919, Pentecostal Evangel addressed this issue in an article entitled, “The Great Controversy and Confusion.” Some of the brothers advocating the “Jesus Only” position had reported that the newly formed Assemblies of God was opposed to baptism in the manner in which the apostles baptized in the book of Acts and that church leadership was preventing “teaching that exalts Him (Jesus) as God.”

Bell explained that the General Council of the Assemblies of God did not raise any issue over people baptizing in the name of Jesus until “there came to be attached to it certain fundamental errors” that “made only the entering wedge for other teaching not found in Acts” or “a single line in the whole New Testament.”

Bell continued to expound upon the understanding of the nature of the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: “There is That in the Father of Jesus which makes Him the Father and not the Son; there in That in the Son of God which makes Him the Son and not the Father; and there is That in the Holy Ghost which makes Him the Holy Ghost and not the Son. Yes, the Father is the Begetter of Jesus, and Jesus is the Begotten. The Father is not the Begotten of Jesus, and Jesus is not the Begetter of the Father … God in His Word uniformly maintains these distinctions.”

The split in the young Pentecostal movement was difficult for the leaders on both sides as each sought to lift up the name of Jesus and see Him glorified in the power of the Holy Spirit through their lives and ministry. Differences in scriptural understanding led to difficult choices in supporting ministries and in fellowshipping together.

Bell ended his 1919 article with these words, “If the other brethren had never introduced other matters dishonoring to the Father and to the Son, and contrary to the Scriptures, and had held only for the matchless and glorious TRUE DEITY of the blessed Son of God, then we would be all pulling together today … if they will drop all these unscriptural issues and hold only for His true Deity, we can do it yet.”

Doctrinal divides are never easy within the body of Christ. The Assemblies of God has sought, since its beginning, to hold fast to scriptural teachings as a primary way to uphold unity within the Church of Jesus Christ.

Read E. N. Bell’s article, “The Great Controversy and Confusion,” on page 6 of the Sept. 6, 1919, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Soul Food for Hungry Saints,” by A.G. Ward

• “Sunday School Lesson from a Pentecostal Perspective”

• “Pacific Pentecostal Bible School,” by Elder D.W. Kerr

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Ruthie Edgerly Oberg

Ruthie Edgerly Oberg is an ordained Assemblies of God minister and fourth generation Pentecostal. She served in senior and associate pastoral roles for 25 years. Oberg speaks at national conferences and local churches.