Historic Meeting of Oneness Pentecostal Leaders
At its fifth annual Symposium, Urshan Graduate School of Theology invited the leaders of the six largest Oneness Pentecostal organizations in the United States to meet for public and private discussions under the theme of “Laboring Together for the Harvest.” The symposium took place on March 30-31, 2006, at the UGST campus in suburban St. Louis, Missouri.
On Thursday afternoon, the leaders attended a three-hour class in Systematic Theology that was open to all symposium attendees. UGST President David Bernard taught on “Early Doctrines and Controversies in the Pentecostal Movement,” covering topics such as baptism in Jesus’ name, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, sanctification, and the life of holiness. On Thursday night, the participants attended “I See a Crimson Stream of Blood,” an original drama on the life of Oneness pioneer G. T. Haywood written by UGST Professor David Norris. The drama was presented at Bethesda Temple, whose pastor is James Johnson, former presiding bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and a UGST board member. There was a powerful move of God’s Spirit at the close, as people responded to the presentation of water baptism in Jesus’ name and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
On Friday morning, Dr. Bernard spoke at a general symposium session on “Laboring Together.” He dealt with Apostolic history in the early twentieth century and particularly with the racial tensions that caused divisions in the 1920s and 1930s. He explained that these issues needed to be discussed honestly and all forms of racism renounced forthrightly in order for the Oneness movement to please God and to be effective in reaching the world. After this session, the Oneness leaders met in his office for a frank and friendly discussion of these and other matters. This meeting was followed by lunch at the home of Evelyn Drury, UGST dean of administration, and her husband, Stephen Drury. In the afternoon was a panel discussion in which the leaders discussed how to promote the Oneness movement worldwide and how to unite around the common cause of Apostolic revival, and they received questions from the symposium participants.
The symposium concluded on Friday night with a worship service at Bethesda Temple, which featured a mass choir from area Oneness churches and the ministry of the Oneness leaders. Once again, there was a strong witness of the Holy Spirit as the preachers exalted the Lord Jesus Christ.
The following organizations were represented at the symposium by the leaders listed:
· Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus: Daniel Sanchez, president (could not attend at the last moment due to birth of grandchild, but a presentation was made on behalf of the organization)
· Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ: Robert Martin, first assistant superintendent and editor
· Bible Way Churches of Our Lord Jesus Christ World Wide: Cornelius Showell, second vice presiding bishop
· Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith: Matthew Norwood, vice presiding bishop
· Pentecostal Assemblies of the World: Horace Smith, M.D., presiding bishop
· United Pentecostal Church International: Kenneth Haney, general superintendent, and on Friday night, Jerry Jones, general secretary
In addition, the following scholars and educators participated in the discussions:
· Dr. David Bernard, president, Urshan Graduate School of Theology
· Dr. David Norris, professor of biblical theology, Urshan Graduate School of Theology
· Rev. Jesse Williams, chairman of the board, Urshan Graduate School of Theology
· Dr. Daniel Ramirez, historian and assistant professor, Arizona State University
· Dr. Robert Spellman, editor and Bible college president, Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ
In private meetings, the leaders spoke candidly about the historical divisions caused by various factors and agreed that all racism must be repudiated as sinful. Professor Norris, the grandson of a white Pentecostal pioneer, asked to wash the feet of Bishop Smith to demonstrate a true spirit of repentance for the sins of past generations and to display a spirit of reconciliation and service. Bishop Smith agreed on the condition that he could wash the feet of Dr. Norris. This action resulted in heartfelt prayer and a spirit of unity.
The leaders also discussed the Apostolic doctrinal position and how Apostolics relate to other movements, particularly Trinitarian Pentecostals. They strongly affirmed that the New Testament message of salvation consists of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance from sin, water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial sign of speaking in tongues. At the same time, they acknowledged the importance of recognizing the spiritual experiences of other Pentecostals and encouraging them to continue walking in the revelation of scriptural truth. They affirmed that the theology of Oneness pioneers such as G. T. Haywood and Andrew D. Urshan are foundational for the Apostolic movement and serve as the basis of common heritage and identity.
They agreed that it would be appropriate for Oneness organizations to be represented at the Azusa Centennial celebration in Los Angeles in April. Several leaders gave information about their planned attendance as well as plans for Apostolic celebrations and invited the other groups to participate in these events.
The Oneness leaders also heard brief presentations by Bruce Leaman, pastor in Detroit, Michigan, and Mark Christian, director of promotions for the Pentecostal Publishing House. Pastor Leaman reported on meetings that he has hosted for Apostolic pastors in Detroit and described their great hunger for spiritual fellowship and training in the Apostolic doctrine and lifestyle. Reverend Christian discussed opportunities for Oneness organizations to partner with PPH in the printing and marketing of Apostolic literature. He explained that PPH currently has working agreements with several Oneness organizations and serves a diverse customer base. The leaders received copies of official periodicals and other literature from four of the organizations represented. Dr. Bernard also remarked that UGST is committed to serving the entire Apostolic movement and exhibits diversity in its school board, faculty, staff, and student body.
Dr. Spellman contributed the following comments to Dr. Bernard about the meeting:
“The Urshan Graduate School of Theology is to be commended for its initiative, diligent planning, and execution of such a historic event. Both days were full of learning, fellowship, excitement, and understanding. It was a chance for a number of us to communicate with each other and to discover that every organization represented has its own problems, yet the Holy Spirit continues to take each of us on to victory.
“One of the most memorable events, in my opinion, was our foot washing unity prayer, which seemed to fuse us together in an immediate spiritual and loving way. That shared Pentecostal event, which is a part of our Apostolic inheritance, reminded us that irrespective of position, title, or association, we are one in Christ….
“It was a pleasure to see the dream of my late friend and brother, Nathaniel Urshan, come to reality; that of bringing the heads and key leaders of many Oneness Pentecostal organizations together for some rather frank collective thinking. Our sessions in your office and the luncheons went a long way towards bringing us closer and helping us to become more informed. Each individual leader is to be appreciated for his own personality, gifts, and contributions. Each demonstrated that not only are they profound individual thinkers, but gifted preachers of the gospel, and we certainly enjoyed how the Lord used them so effectively both in the meetings and in the pulpit.”
The Oneness leaders concluded that much was accomplished in this initial meeting but much more needs to be done. Therefore, they unanimously agreed to meet again at Urshan Graduate School of Theology in October 2006.