Eschatological Women of the Assemblies of God: Elizabeth Sisson

In my studies of AG eschatology I was delighted to uncover a couple women who were influential with their eschatological writings.  One such woman was Elizabeth Sisson who had the unique opportunity to transition with from the late nineteenth century healing holiness movement, to the Pentecostal movement and finally into the AG.

Sisson had a long and varied career as an evangelist, missionary to India, editor and was close friends of Carrie Judd Montgomery and Maria Woodworth-Etter. In 1871, prior to leaving for India as a missionary, Sisson attended a holiness convention led by William Boardman in which she testifies, ‘God met me again, baptizing me with His Spirit, and taking me into closest relation with Himself’.[1] In the early 1880s, Sisson left India in order to recover from an illness and she settled into a healing house in Bethshan, London. In 1885, she attended the Keswick convention and spoke during many sessions.[2] In 1887, equipped with her health and an experience with the Spirit, she returned to the US to minister with Carrie Jude Montgomery. She even for a short time she co-edited Triumphs of Faith. [3] She also regularly spoke at meetings in England at the Sunderland Pentecostal conventions of A.A. Boddy.[4] Prior to the organizing of the AG, she spent time ministering along side of F.F. Bosworth and S.A. Jamieson in Pentecostal Meetings in Texas.[5] Sisson was well known in early Pentecostal circles and was a regular guest at the Stone Church in Chicago.[6]

As a high profile evangelist and voice in Pentecostal literature, Sisson was invited to be the first woman to be a keynote speaker at a General Council when she gave the keynote address at the 1917 Council in St. Louis.[7] Later that year, she officially joined the AG at the age of seventy-four, despite her insistence that she did not need ordination ‘from man’.[8] Since the AG did not accept women as Presbyters, Sisson held no official office but she holds the distinction of the only woman to speak at General Council early years of the AG.[9]

She was a frequent contributor on eschatological topics to the many Pentecostal periodicals including the Confidence in England, Carrie Judd Montgomery’s Triumphs Of Faith, the Pentecostal Evangel and Latter Rain Evangel. The Evangel Publishing House published her book Foregleams of Glory in 1912, which contained a collection of her writings including a collection of ‘Resurrection Papers’.[10]  Sisson also became the first AG woman to have a doctrinal book published when GPH published her Faith Reminiscences as a part of the first series of books called The Pulpit and Pew Full Gospel Series that were offered in 1925.[11]

Sisson regularly wrote articles on the latter rain outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the return of Jesus, and her favorite eschatological topic was the resurrection.  She believed that not only was the Pentecostal movement a sign of the nearness of Jesus, but that Pentecostal people themselves were signs.  She says, ‘Pentecost with all its demonstrations of the Spirit is a sign. A mighty sign. And the Pentecostallers when yielded to the Holy Spirit are a sign people’.[12]

One important aspect of Sisson’s eschatology was the relationship that resurrection had to creation and Romans 8:19-20. She recognizes that the world is ‘groaningly anticipating a release form bondage into the liberty of the glory of God’s children’ and that ‘with resurrection is somehow involved the liberation of all creation’.[13] The creation, which was subject to sin and frustration, shares the fate of the human beings God created. The resurrection of believers therefore ‘ends creation’s wait, and begins creation’s deliverance from the bondage of sin into the liberty of the resurrection.[14]

Another significant eschatological concept in Sisson’s writing is the Tribulation. Reading Revelation in a literal sense, she believes the Tribulation will be an awful period in the future, but will not be empty of purpose. The tribulation period will be a time of purging for the Church, Israel and the nations. The coming judgment in the tribulation is not an act of vengeance, it is an act of his grace and love. Jesus came in love to the world as ‘remedy’ for sin, however, many did not receive this gift of his love. As part of God’s plan, the tribulation serves as a gift to the world. She says, ‘A new expression of his love! Judgment is His second remedy when His first has proved ineffectual’.[15]

More of Sisson’s eschatology will be featured in my dissertation. Sisson represents several firsts for the AG. Sisson as the first AG woman to publish a book on eschatology in her Foregleams of Glory in 1912.  She was the first woman to have spoken at General Council in 1917.  She was the first woman to have a doctrinal book published by the Gospel Publishing House in 1925.  Although women were not permitted to be pastors in the early years of the AG, Sisson was an influential woman that was highly respected.  A.G. Ward called Sisson ‘a rare Christian character, a woman deeply taught of God, and of wide Christian experience. Her articles are worthy of a place in the writings of the church’. I agree.

Darrin Rogers and the The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center has featured Sisson in several articles.

Sisson’s 1905 vision of a World Wide Revival

This Week in AG History

[1] Elizabeth Sisson, Foregleams of Glory (Chicago, IL: Evangel Publishing House, 1912), p. 126; Cecil M. Robeck Jr, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’ IDPCM, pp. 788-89; LRE (May, 1909), p. 6-10.

[2] Record of the International Conference on Divine Healing and True Holines, (London, UK: 1885), p. 74-75, 161-62.Sisson attended the 1885 Keswick Convention where she was exposed to Boardman and teaching on the latter rain teaching on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

[3] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 195-98.

[4] Confidence, (June, 1908), pp. 6-7.

[5] Confidence, (June, 1914), p. 110. See also Robeck, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’, pp. 788-789.

[6] The Latter Rain Evangel published over 70 of her sermons and articles, many of which she delivered at the Stone Church Pentecostal conventions.

[7] GC Minutes (Sept 9, 1917), p. 5. Sisson also spoke in response to a sermon by A.P. Collins on the Second Coming of the Lord where she remarked that she ‘left a letter at home directing what to do in case she should be caught up whilst away on her present trip’. p. 20.

[8] In Sisson’s application for ordination, when asked whom she is ordained by, she replies, ‘By the Lord’. ‘Application for Ordination’, (Dec 18, 1917), held at IFPHC, Springfield, MO.

[9] For more on the role of women in the early AG see Joy E. Qualls, ‘‘God Forgive Us for Being Women’: The Rhetorical Negotiations and Renegotiations of the Role of Women in the Assemblies of God’ Unpublished (PhD Thesis; Regent University, 2010) pp. 25, 161.

[10] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 9-88. Foregleams was a collection of sermons and articles published in the LRE from 1909-1912. Although an AG publishing house did not publish this work, I have included it with the criteria that the Latter Rain Evangel was so closely associated with the AG and because it predates the formation of the AG.

[11] Elizabeth Sisson, Faith Reminiscences and Heart to Heart Talks (Springfield MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1927). For a full list of this series see the ad in PE (Dec 17, 1927), p. 16.

[12] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘These Wars! Why?’ LRE (July, 1916), p. 16.

[13] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, p. 9.

[14] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 50-51.

[15] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘A Sign People’ PE (Jan 11, 1919).

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An Introduction to Pentecostal Theology by William K. Kay

I wanted to share this brief video featuring my Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. William K. Kay.  Kay is a renown professor of theology who holds multiple posts in several universities in the UK. He has written numerous books and a vast number of articles on Pentecostalism,  religious education, and practical theology. Kay was the founding director for the Centre for Pentecostal Theology at Bangor University, a program that has continued to produce a new generation of Pentecostal scholarship. In addition to his  achievements as a scholar, Professor Kay is also a wonderfully gracious man. I count myself so blessed to have been able to have been able to study under him.

Making Progress

Making_Progress_ComputerI often get asked how things are going on writing my thesis.  I am so blessed that people are interested in what I am doing. So I thought it may be time for an update on my progress. Since I rejoined my PhD program in 2015, I have been writing in various chapters but none of them were complete enough to submit.  Last year I concentrated on completing chapter one and in November I submitted it.

In March, I stepped down from my position as Pastor because I felt like the Lord told us it was time.  However, I didn’t know exactly what I was supposed to do next.  All I knew to do was to write. So that’s what I have been doing.  The last two months have been a sovereign gift to my life.  I have made tremendous progress.    Since I left the church, I have been able to work full time on writing while we have been waiting on God for what he wants me to do next.  Turns out, for now, this is what he wants me to do. He wants me to make progress.  I have been able to spend most of my days and many of my nights writing.  It has been a wonderful gift. It hasn’t been easy and sometimes its quite lonely. But truly, I have enjoyed it all.  It feels like a true sabbatical.

I have to say, that without Amonda, none of this would be possible.  She has been amazing. She has been willing to sacrifice to allow me this time to work toward completion. She has steadied me when I get nervous and re-assured me of God’s plan and showed faith even when I have doubted. Most of all, she has supported me and the call on my life and for our family.  I am so grateful for her. I am so blessed. There is no greater gift in my life than she is. Since we are not pastoring we have been able to worship together as a family for the first time in our married life.  We also have been able to visit different churches of some of my pastor friends.  I even got to be a guest speaker a few weeks back.

The past two months have been a tremendous season of grace and progress.  Since March I have completed chapter 2 and chapter 3 and submitted them to my supervisor.  Now I am working on chapter 4, which is mostly written, and hope to submit it later this month.  Also, Chapter 5 is about half way written.  This leaves only my final chapter to be written.  So in total, I have about 4 1/2 of 6 chapters written, 3 of which have been submitted. My page total is somewhere around 230 of 250 pages. I can see the finish line!  Praise God!

Since I have made so much progress I wanted to share a brief synopsis of each chapter for those who want to know more about what I am researching.

Chapter 1:  This is the introduction chapter where I outline the scope of the study and the question I am trying to answer. My main research question is why did the Assemblies of God chose the particular positions on eschatology that they chose.  Four out of the sixteen doctrines in the Statement of Fundamental Truths has to do with eschatology. Why is that?  And is the eschatology they chose reflective of their Pentecostal Spirituality or was it just adopted from the primary evangelical positions of the day.

Chapter 2: This is my literature review. I look at all of the scholarchip pertaining the the AG and to the topic of Pentecostal eschatology. You might be surprised to know that Pentecostal eschatology is a popular topic among scolars today.  This chapter helps paint the picture of what they are saying.

Chapter 3: In this chapter I look at the rise of Pentecostalism and the influences that were present in 19th Century Evangelicalism that gave rise to the Pentecostal movement.  Here I trace back all the language of the Holy Spirit and the eschatological metaphors, such as the Bride of Christ and Latter rain, into the movement. I look at the eschatology of Darby, Scofield, Parham, Seymour, and Durham.  From there I build a narrative of what type of theology and eschatology contributed to the forming of the AG.  I conclude by discussing the role of the AG as part of the Finished Work Stream of Pentecostalism and how that influenced their theology.

Chapter 4: In this chapter I discuss the origin of the AG Statement of Fundamental Truths.  I go through each of the eschatological truths and trace the ways in which they have been revised and changed over the past 100 years. (There is whole lot of misunderstanding about what the AG actually believes!).  I also chart all of the doctrinal controversies the AG has responded to  over the years and how that effected the AG positions.

Chapter 5:  IN this chapter I go through 100 years of articles on eschatology in the Evangel.  I also outline the eschatological positions in the various doctrinal books published by the AG.  The goal is to chart the way in which the AG has expressed eschatology and the nuances of how they have seen it function as a part of their Pentecostal theology.

Chapter 6:  This is my concluding chapter where I will summarize my findings and make some suggestions for areas in which AG eschatology needs to develop. The final goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of AG eschatology.

Keep me in you prayers as I continue to make progress. If I keep my current pace, I feel like I could potentially complete my writing by the end of summer. Its an ambitious goal but one I am working hard to try to accomplish.  The rest I am leaving in God’s hands. He has a place for me.  Until then, we will continue to wait on the Lord.

 

 

SPS Paper 2017

I just submitted my proposal for a paper for the 2017 meeting of the Society of Pentecostal Studies.  My proposal last year did not make the program. I am really hoping this paper will be accepted.  SPS is a community of scholars that have the opportunity to read each other’s work and give feedback. The purpose is to advance the field of Pentecostal scholarship and is a great encouragement to those of us working in the area of Pentecostal studies.  I am hoping to add my voice to the conversation with this paper.  The research I have been doing on my dissertation has led me to uncover things in AG history that I don’t believe others have noted.

Here is my paper proposal:

The Pentecostals Evangelical Church: the theological self-identity of the Assemblies of God as evangelical “plus”.  

The quest for articulating a truly Pentecostal theology has been of primary concern to Pentecostal scholars. The heart of Pentecostal theology has been pneumatically oriented and is represented by five-fold gospel of Jesus as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, Spirit-baptizer and Coming King. This pneumatological orientation has led many to argue that Pentecostal theology is not simply evangelical theology plus a doctrine of the Spirit. Further, it is suggested that the adoption of evangelical/fundamentalist approaches to theological inquiry and hermeneutics are foreign to the ethos of early Pentecostalism. Despite these recent attempts to find an alternative identity for the Pentecostal movement as a whole, this paper will show that the Assemblies of God has always self-identified as evangelical ‘plus.’ A study of the periodical literature of the early years of the Assemblies of God reveals that an evangelical identity became an important self-identification from the very beginning. They saw themselves as evangelicals who also believed in the Pentecostal baptism with the Spirit and speaking in tongues. This evangelical identity was expressed in literature, bible school courses and even resulted in an attempt to officially change the name of the Assemblies of God to “The Pentecostal Evangelical Church” in 1925.   During the next decade, the evangelical identity was challenged when the fundamentalist community ‘disfellowshipped’ the Pentecostal community.  Today, the Pentecostal theological community is returning the favor by disfellowshiping evangelicalism as an acceptable Pentecostal identity. Pentecostal scholars have become embarrassed by the historic ties to evangelicalism and its preoccupation with fundamentalist dispensationalism, political religion and rigid modernistic impulses. The largest group of scholars who have recognized the theological tensions of accepting an evangelical identity are within the AG family. Yet, the move to distance Pentecostalism from evangelical theology is a denial of its historic character and theological antecedents. This paper will explore the historical  evangelical identity as an important expression of Pentecostal theology, rather than being foreign to early Pentecostalism. It will look at the ways in which turn of the Century evangelical theology gave birth to the Pentecostal movement. Virtually every theological impulse that characterizes Pentecostalism was already present in late 19th Century evangelicals. The dominant AG theological views of the ‘latter rain’, Spirit empowerment, healing, pre-millennial eschatology, and finished work sanctification were all inherited from late 19th century radical evangelical theology. This paper will also argue that The Assemblies of God represents a theological stream within Pentecostalism that is essentially pentecostalized evangelical theology. Finally this paper will look at the ways in which the evangelical theology was modified and the ways in which tensions were reconciled within the Assemblies of God understanding of Pentecostal theology.

The Assemblies of God and Varieties of Pentecostal Theology

20160523_092405This past week was my latest doctoral seminar for my PhD at Centre for Pentecostal Theology in Cleveland, TN. Every time I go to these meetings I am so very encouraged not only as a scholar but also by the way in which the individuals take seriously the pursuit of articulating a truly Pentecostal theology.  Anyone who attends a Pentecostal or Charismatic church knows that Spirit-filled people just have a different perspective on spirituality and theology. The Spirit plays a large role in how we worship, how we read the scripture and how we do theology.  Those essential differences is what the CPT is trying to explore.

For my part, I am researching Assemblies of God eschatology and asking the question, “Is there anything uniquely “Pentecostal” about AG doctrine?  My chapter I submitted for this seminar was building the case that there are two approaches to Pentecostal theology that affect the way in which the AG does Pentecostal theology.

The first approach is the historical AG position.  It sees Pentecostalism as a stream of Evangelical theology that has experienced Spirit baptism.  This model was adopted very early.  As early as 1919, J. Roswell Flower commented that the AG was ‘just like all other Evangelicals’ but believed in the additional doctrine of Spirit baptism.  Later, a group of presbyters who were charged with re-writing the constitution proposed that the AG change its name to “Pentecostal Evangelical Church.”  The measure was not adopted.  Yet, this way of seeing ourselves as essentially the same as Evangelicals except we believe in the Pentecostal experience of the Spirit has been the way the AG has seen itself for the past 100 years.

The second approach is a recent move among Pentecostal scholars who appreciate the Protestant/Evangelical heritage, but argue that Pentecostalism has its own unique way of seeing theology.  The Spirit not only effects a Pentecostal view of Spirit baptism, but it also effects our view of Salvation, sanctification, healing, the Lord Supper, Baptism, ecclesiology and eschatology.  Not to mention the ways in which Pentecostals practice community, gifts, worship, and prayer are all effected by the role of the Spirit.  Evangelical theology is not sufficient to express Pentecostal Theology.  Pentecostal theology is more than just Baptist or Reformed theology plus an openness to the Holy Spirit.  It is a complete foundational orientation in both thought and practice.

Just to give you an idea of how this works out, my fellow PhD students are studying the following topics:

What is a Pentecostal understanding of water baptism?

What is a Pentecostal understanding of sanctification?

How does the the Spirit effect the reading of the Torah?

How does the Spirit effect the reading of Jeremiah’s lament passages?

How does the Spirit effect the reading of Ezekiel’s visions?

How does the Spirit effect the way in which Pentecostals worship?

How does the Spirit function as one reads the Spirit passages in Judges, Kings and Samuel?

How does the Spirit help with the memories of terror and the ways in which that effect society?

As you can see from this list, the role of the Spirit is vital as an orientation for the ways in which Pentecostals are reading, thinking, theologizing, expressing doctrine and relating to society.  This is Pentecostal theology.  It is a Spirit-oriented expression of every area of faith and practice.  It recognizes that we as Pentecostals do theology from our experience with the Spirit. Its more than just Protestant theology plus speaking in tongues.

This is what I love about this program. I am so blessed to be a part of it. I am excited about the future of theology for the AG as we join in the conversation and look at our own doctrine.  There is so much more than needs to be done to express AG theology in ways that capture that Spirit-orientation toward a unique perspective on theology.  Spirit baptism has been a hallmark of our theology. But we still need the Spirit to inform our whole theology so that we are Pentecostal from first to last, rather than just adding on a Pentecostal doctrine to someone else’s theology.  I am hoping my contribution to that conversation will spur on others to join in the conversation.

 

ORU’s 50th Anniversary: Don’t Overlook Howard Ervin

20151028_192759This past week Oral Roberts University celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was a wonderful celebration full of chapels, banquets, reunions and launching of new initiatives for the University. One celebration I thought was particularly meaningful was the “Lifetime Global Achievement Awards” given out to individuals who had made a significant impact on the history of ORU and have lived out the University’s mission of taking the healing gospel into every person’s world. The individuals honored had shown “outstanding excellence or deep impact” in the areas of intellectual advancement, spiritual vibrancy, physical discipline, social adeptness, professional excellence, global focus, and university support and healing initiative.

The list of honorees listed in Commemorative Edition of Excellence Magazine included University legends such as the Cardone Family, Ralph Fagan, Carl Hamilton and even “Miss Pansey” Wallace who served in the dining hall for 40 years.  Ministers  and pastors such as Terry Law, Myles Monroe, Larry Stockstill and Billy Joe & Sharon Daughtery received awards.  Athletic legends such as Bernis Duke, Madeline Manning Mims, Andretti Bain, and Ken Tricky were also recognized. Doctors, singers, entertainers, authors, politicians and business men were also honored.  Some of the honorees where recognized posthhumously. I was particularly happy to see that several of my friends I admire such as Missionary to Kenya, Dr. Bill Kuert and Author Clifton Taulbert were honored as well.

Dr. Bill Kuert, Lifetime Global Achievement Award Recipient.

Dr. Bill Kuert, Lifetime Global Achievement Award Recipient.

In total, 50 outstanding recipients of this Global Achievement Award were chosen.  I can’t imagine how difficult it was to select these 50 individuals out of the thousands of alumni and faculty that they could have chosen for this honor.  I have no complaints with anyone on this list.  It is a fine list that represents Oral Roberts University well.  I would just like to offer an addendum to this list.  A 51st candidate for the Global Achievement Award:  Dr. Howard M. Ervin.

No one exemplifies the characteristics of “intellectual advancement, spiritual vibrancy, professional excellence” or has “significantly impacted the history of Oral Roberts University and the world” more than Dr. Howard M. Ervin.

Ervin Oct 1966 -4Howard Ervin, ThD served on the faculty of ORU as professor of Old Testament and Pneumatology from 1966-2006. He was first introduced to ORU in 1964 when he was invited by Oral Roberts to speak at Oral Roberts Partner Seminars on the Holy Spirit.  Oral was impressed with Ervin’s academic credentials (being a ThD from Princeton) and his testimony of being filled with the Spirit as a Baptist Pastor.  In 1966, Dr. R. O. Corvin asked Ervin to join the founding faculty of the school of theology. Over the next several decades, Ervin led thousands of people into the baptism in the Holy Spirit through Oral Robert’s Partners Seminars and Full Gospel Businessman meetings.  At these seminars, Oral would get them saved and Ervin would bring them into the baptism in the Spirit.  Oral Roberts looked to Howard Ervin to provide him with the biblical theological underpinning he needed for his message of healing and Spirit empowerment.

Howard Ervin Speaking at Oral Roberts Partners Seminar in 1965.

Howard Ervin Speaking at Oral Roberts Partner’s Seminar in 1965.

ervin emeritas

Ervin receiving the honor of Professor Emeritus at the age of 92.

After R. O. Corvin left ORU, Howard Ervin stepped in and served as the chair and help build the department of Theology from 1969-1978. He also served with Dr. James Buskirk (also a Global Achievement recipient) in founding the graduate school of theology in 1976. He taught his course on Pnuematology (the theology of the Holy Spirit) every year of his 40 years at ORU.  He was the anchor of the theology department.  He recieved numerous outstanding faculty awards and was awared professor emeritus of the School of Theology in 2007.

these are not drunken front coverHoward Ervin was a leading scholar of the Pentecostal theology of Holy Spirit in the academic world.  In 1968, Ervin wrote the first academic, exegetical and theological defense of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with his work These Are Not Druken As Ye Suppose.  In 1984, Ervin wrote a highly popular scholarly rebuttal to Evangelical scholar James Dunn’s polemic against Pentecostalism called Conversion, Initiation, and Baptism in the Holy Spirit. This work became a popular apologetic for Pentecostal scholars for the next two decades.  In 1987, Ervin revised and republished his previous work on the Holy Spirit with the new title Spirt-Baptism: A Biblical Investigation.  In 2002, Ervin published his final book called Healing: Sign of the Kingdom.  With six books published on Pneumatology over a span of 34 years, Ervin is the most published member in the history of ORU’s theological faculty.

Howard Ervin had a significant impact on the Charismatic Renewal in 1960’s-1970’s. Ervin regularly spoke in Charismatic Catholic conferences on the Holy Spirit.  He was instrumental in many people from mainline churches coming into the Charismatic Renewal.  From 1979-1987, Ervin was a participant in the Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogues.  Ervin had the ability to cross demoninational and liturgical lines to bring people into the fullness of the Spirit. Ervin was convinced that “The Spirit’s number one agenda is the healing of the Church.”  Ervin believed that the Charismatic Renewal was the vehicle God wanted to use to bring unity to the Church.

Ervin Oct 1966 -3

Dr. Howard M. Ervin joins the faculty of ORU in 1966.

As I look at the many wonderful people who occupy list of Lifetime Global Achievement recipients, I believe Howard M. Ervin is certainly worthy to be counted with this company.  He had a significat impact on Oral Roberts.  He had a significant impact on Oral Roberts University. He had a significant impact on Pentecostal and Charismatic scholarship. He had a significant impact bringing the message of healing and Spirit-empowerment to many denominations.  And as far as I know, he is the only person who has had a biography published about his life and impact on Oral Roberts University and the Pentecostal and Charismatic community.

In the past 50 years, many students, alumni and faculty have made a significant impact on ORU’s history. Howard Ervin exemplifies everything that ORU has stood for these past 50 years.  He was an outstanding academic, he trained countless ministers to go to “every man’s world,” he had a global impact on the body of Christ, and he advanced the message of Spirit-empowered life to thousands.   Though his name didn’t make the list, I believe that Howard M. Ervin is certainly worthy of an ORU 50th Anniversary Lifetime Global Achievement Award.

Read more on the Life and Legacy of Howard M. Ervin

Daniel D. Isgrigg is a graduate of Oral Roberts Unviersity (B.A. 00, M.A. 07) and the author of the theological tribute to Howard M. Ervin called Pilgrimage Into Pentecost (2008).