Ever since Martin Luther boldly nailed his 95 theses to the church door, the Christian church has been unbelievably open to new doctrines, and challenges to old ones. Not willing to continue in heresy, as some had before, the reformers bravely stood up to the powerful Roman Catholic Church and challenged everything from ethical practices to hermeneutics. This intrepid tradition has continued from Luther through people like Calvin and the Wesley brothers, to more contemporary theologians like Durham, Barth, and Fee. Since about the turn of the century these and other theologians have been busy writing doctrines for Pentecostals. Most we adopted from other denominations, while some, like the baptism in the Holy Spirit and initial evidence, are unique to Pentecostals.
Pentecostals especially like to divide over small issues in doctrine. One of the first examples we see of is a division in Pentecostal circles that comes in 1910 when a Chicago preacher by the name of William H. Durham challenged the adopted Pentecostal doctrine of entire sanctification. Taken directly from the Wesleyan movement, Pentecostals led primarily by Charles F. Parham, believed that sanctification was a separate experience from salvation. Durham, on the other hand, simply argued that, “the finished work of Christ on Calvary provided not only for the forgiveness of sins but for the sanctification of the believer” (NIDPCM, 638). In this experience, we see that William Durham was the first to effectively argue for the finished work doctrine and therefore define the dominant doctrine in Pentecostalism concerning sanctification.
Understanding the controversy hinges on an understanding of the central ideas held by each party. Beginning with the entire/crisis sanctification group, we see that they believed that Christian life consisted of a three-stage experience. The First two stages were adopted from the Methodist movement, and the early Pentecostals added the third “blessing” to their doctrine. Christians beginning obviously with the conversion experience where they repent of sins and begin their Christian walk. After that is an experience that is separate from the conversion in which, “There is an instantaneous experience of “entire sanctification” or “Christian perfection” (NIDPCM, 638). This experience “was seen as a prerequisite ‘cleansing’ that qualified the seeker to experience the ‘third blessing’” (Synan, 99). The third stage was the baptism in the Holy Spirit with tongues as the initial physical evidence. This third stage “brought power for witnessing to those who had already been sanctified” and from this doctrine we get “the historic Azusa Street testimony [that] ‘I am saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost’” (Synan, 99).
The finished work doctrine stresses that one does not have a separate experience of sanctification after conversion, but that sanctification occurs and continues from the moment of conversion. William Durham stated his position clearly in his paper The Pentecostal Testimony by stating,
“I deny that a man who is converted or born again is outwardly washed and cleansed but that his heart is left unclean with enmity against God in it… This would not be salvation. Salvation is an inward work. It means a change of heart. It means a change of nature. It means that old things pass away and that all things become new.” (Menzies, 75).
Thus, we see that the traditional three-stage doctrine has been reduced to two stages. Salvation is combined with sanctification as one experience with sanctification continuing throughout the believer’s life. Then, as a second work, is the baptism in the Holy Spirit with tongues for power. “Sanctification for Durham was a gradual process of appropriating the benefits of the finished work of Christ, not a second instantaneous work of grace subsequent to conversion” (NIDPCM, 638). Indeed the writing of Paul stresses the need to continue working on living for God. In Philippians 2:12 we see Paul exhorting believers to work out their salvation. Paul Jenkins put this verse into perspective by saying, “While Paul is adamant one cannot work ‘for’ salvation, he is just as convinced one must work ‘out’ salvation. The Christian knows as well as Paul about the daily struggle involved in living the Christian life […] Struggling through the sanctification part of salvation, which is our post-conversion life, not only authenticates our relationship with Christ, it also drives us to grow deeper in our Christian experience” (qtd. in Mounce, 278-279). Thus, we see that Paul and Durham’s understanding of sanctification is that of an ongoing process.
Catalyst: How did we get here?
When considering the impact of the debate that will follow this new and controversial doctrine, one must ask what the major issues were that brought about this debate. Allen Clayton proposes two forms of how we arrived at this doctrinal impasse.
Form A perceives Pentecostalism as a branch of the holiness movement; and as the movement grew and matured it gained followers from Baptist and other non- Wesleyan backgrounds. Eventually this integration undermined the doctrinal unity and led to the split of the movement between three and two stage believers. Form B contends that two theological traditions contributed to the movement. These were Wesleyan and Reformed. Both forms portray Durham as the leader of the reformed faction. (Clayton 33)
In this theory, we see a steady stream of people from Baptists and other non-holiness backgrounds coming into the pentecostal experience. As Menzies points out, “A problem began to manifest itself in the ranks of the early pentecostal movement when large numbers of people began to enter the movement from groups who knew neither the Wesleyan nor Keswickian type of holiness doctrine” (qtd. in Synan, 90). Most of these new congregants were from the Baptist church and held that sanctification was more like a process than an event. Durham, himself a Baptist, would fall into this non-holiness pentecostal group. This made the transition easier for the newcomers, and provided for new pentecostal’s all the same doctrines of a mainstream church, or as Frank Ewart once wrote that “he found it easy to accept Durham’s message, since he had believed it while still in the Baptist church” (NIDPCM, 638).
William H. Durham was the pastor of North Avenue Mission in Chicago. He received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in 1907 at Azusa Street. After leaving Azusa, he returned to his mission in Chicago only to find that some of his congregants had already received the baptism with tongues. Here God was pouring out His Spirit very mightily and Durham’s mission became known as a Midwestern center of revival. In this mission a prominent future evangelist by the name of Aimee Semple McPherson was instantly healed of a broken foot; she would later go on to be the founder of the Foursquare Gospel Church that was another prominent two-stage denomination.
1910 would prove to be the spark of the rather intense debate between Durham and Parham and Seymour as well as the other holiness followers. In 1910, Durham, a dynamic and charismatic speaker, proposed his finished work doctrine at a Pentecostal convention in Chicago. Durham’s message was radically different from that of the traditional holiness Pentecostals, yet it attracted the interest of non-holiness/Wesleyan, as well as some classical Pentecostals. This teaching quickly caught attention and later that year Durham “was invited to preach at a camp meeting in Malvern, AR, there he converted Howard Goss and many of Parham’s former followers in the southern Midwest” (NIDPCM, 638).
Durham’s success would not be as great on the west coast as it was in the Midwest. In February 1911, Durham left to preach the Finished Work of Calvary at Elmer K. Fisher’s Upper Room Mission. However, Fisher refused to allow Durham to preach. Durham letting the rejection roll off his back went back to Azusa Street. In Seymour’s absence, Durham was free to teach his doctrine, even though Seymour opposed it; and because of Durham’s preaching and the people’s openness to it, revival began to stir at Azusa again. A.C. Valdez described this new revival as the, “Second Azusa outpouring” (qtd. in NIDPCM, 638), and Frank Bartleman comments on Durham’s success at Azusa by saying, “Here [at Azusa] the ‘cloud’ rested […] The Lord was with Brother Durham in great power. God sets His seal on present truth to be established […] This had become very much needed, even among Pentecostal people” (qtd. in Menzies, 76). Even though Durham was invited to preach at Azusa Street while Seymour was away on a preaching trip, when Seymour “heard what was going on, he promptly returned and padlocked the church door [with the agreement of the church elders] to prevent the Chicago preacher from speaking further in his pulpit” (Synan, 126). He did this obviously forgetting that he had earlier prophesied that, “whenever this man preaches, the Holy Spirit will come down on the people” (Hollenweger). Rejected twice in Los Angeles, Durham was finding out that the traditional Holiness believers were strong, and in many ways very outspoken.
Frank Bartleman informs us that when Durham preached his doctrine of sanctification in Los Angeles some,
“abused the message by going to the extreme of declaring that because the work of redemption was fully accomplished on the cross it was of necessity finished in us also, the moment we believed. In other words, antinomianism was an unfortunate side effect suffered by some who believed they were totally and inherently righteous and, as a consequence, they would remain so no matter how much they sinned.” (Clayton 30).
When the Holiness congregants of Los Angeles were not confusing the doctrine with other wild thoughts, they were just plain hostile. Numerous records indicate that the debate was so intense that even physical violence was recorded as a young woman attacked Durham with her hatpin. As oddly funny as that sounds, the point is that there was intense and very emotional feelings of opposition by the Holiness believers. Other less dramatic, but strong quarrels come from the words of J.H. King who called Durham’s doctrine “Satan’s big gun,” also Hollenweger […] relates the story of one woman’s vision of demons discussing how to counteract the present Spirit–led awakening. When “a very distorted demon said, ‘I have it, give them a baptism on an unsanctified life,’ all the demons clapped and roared in approval” (qtd. in Clayton, 31). These quotes seem to be laced with exaggeration and anguish about the new doctrine that many understood “as promoting empowerment without holiness” (NIDPCM, 1129). Durham however, was able to somewhat overcome the opposition and lead a great revival just down the street from Azusa. Durham set up a mission on 7th St and Los Angeles St. in LA. 1,000 people attended the Sunday services, 400 or more during the weekly services. It is rather interesting to notice that in Los Angeles every time Durham was confronted, he simply went on somewhere else and got good but temporary results. For example, being rejected at Fisher’s mission, Durham went to Azusa where a second revival was experienced. After being locked out there, he moved camp again and saw nightly attendance and Sunday attendance rise to outstanding numbers for that time. Finally, as we will see, although initially resisted, his doctrine would become the majority pentecostal position.
Durham while experiencing success among conflict still had to duke it out with another prominent (although fading) leader in the person of Charles F. Parham. Parham was not at all shy in his refutation of Durham. Parham and Seymour were adamant in their belief that this doctrine was a threat to the movement, and early on Parham would publish articles that publicly criticized Durham. “Parham in reflecting on the division of Pentecostalism over the doctrine said, ‘The diabolical end and purpose of his Satanic majesty, in perpetrating Durhamism in the world, in repudiating sanctification, as a definite work of grace, has now been clearly revealed’” (qtd. in Clayton, 31). Parham however, did not stop there and as an almost desperate attempt to discredit Durham, Parham proposed that “‘If this man’s doctrine is true, let my life go out to prove it, but if our teaching on a definite grace of sanctification in true, let his life pay the forfeit.’ When Durham passed away unexpediately later that year, Parham claimed vindication and remarked to his followers ‘how signally God has answered.’” (Synan, 126). Although we would like to see Durham as a solid and meek character in this story, we also should know “that Durham himself could not stay above the turmoil. “On one occasion he lashed out so harshly against his detractors that Bartleman, though sympathetic, left the platform because he was ‘not willing to stand for a spirit of retaliation’” (Clayton 31). Durham left L.A. and engaged in a short East coast preaching tour and after several months, he returned to Chicago where in 1912 he died of complications from a cold. Frank Ewart, a supporter of Durham remarked about the debate that, “The struggle was fraught with much bitterness, and Pastor Durham soon found himself in the position of a speckled bird amongst his brethren in the ministry” (qtd. in Synan, 92).
Though there was a lot of drama and in some cases violence surrounding this doctrine, for the most part, it settled down after Durham’s death, although there were a few quarrels left to be hashed out. For instance, “In 1926 J.H. King stopped one of Aimee Semple McPherson’s meetings Roanoke, Virginia, on the grounds that her doctrine of sanctification was not in harmony with that of the Pentecostal Holiness Church” (Clayton, 36). Through these examples of the early Pentecostals we can see that there was a lot of turmoil and to some degree close-mindedness to examine doctrine. It is interesting that the same Pentecostal people who were adamant in their willingness to depart from traditional churches because of their persuasion in the doctrines of 1) the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues and 2) the soon return of Jesus Christ would be so unwilling to examine their own presuppositions on sanctification. I believe that this shows that even people “led by the Spirit” can falter in areas of pride, and to some degree, making their own doctrines.
Not all of the debate and turmoil that surrounded the ministry of Durham because of his “Finished Work of Calvary” doctrine was in vain. In fact, many positive things came from his leadership in formulating this doctrine. While I do not believe that it was Durham’s intention to split Pentecostalism into three and two stage camps, I think that Durham was very admirable in his stand for his convictions. As I have already mentioned, some of the good results were that revival spread at Durham’s first location in Chicago, at the camp meeting with Goss, and finally in Los Angeles with the renewed revival at Azusa, and later at his mission on 7th and Los Angeles Streets.
Notable leaders that followed the finished work doctrine were Aimee Semple McPherson, E.N. Bell, J.R. Flower, and M.M. Pinson who would deliver the keynote address, at the first meeting of the General Council of the Assemblies of God, entitled “The Finished Work of Calvary.”
Durham’s influence also extended internationally; and at his mission in Chicago, he persuaded G. Smidt, a Finnish preacher and one of the founders of Pentecostalism in Finland. Smidt returned to Finland with the new Finished Work teaching where, oddly enough, Pentecostal leaders also resisted the teaching.
Two of Pentecostalism’s more popular, and in some ways more mainstream denominations, were born from the controversy. As noted earlier, Aimee Semple McPherson was an earlier follower of Durham; she would adopt and defend the two-stage doctrine, and go on to found the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, as well as, Angelus Temple in Los Angeles where many were saved. In addition, the General Council of the Assemblies of God would spring from this division. Although there was a bit of obscurity in the initial statement of faith concerning the sanctification process, the A/G leaders would soon define it along definite two stage lines. The Assemblies of God would go on to be the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world.
The first major debate in Pentecostalism is the one that split the movement into two distinct groups. William H. Durham was a strong leader who was not afraid to stand up for what he believed. As a result, the impact of his life and the lives of his followers would sculpt the new face of Pentecostalism, and Durham “is often called the theological father of the Assemblies of God” (Synan, 125). Furthermore, we have seen through this study that William Durham was the first to effectively argue for the finished work doctrine and therefore define the dominant doctrine in pentecostalism concerning sanctification. Though there was a lot of controversy and a lot of awful things said and printed E.N. Bell said after the death of Durham that, “He was no compromiser. When he had on his face prayed a thing through, and believed he knew the truth and will of God, though all men forsook him and every devil in hell rose up to oppose, he would stand for God” (page 3).
Bell, E.N. Editor's word about Bro. Durham. Word and Witness 20 Aug 1912. 1 April 2006 < http://www.agheritage.org/pdf2//Word_and_Witness/08-1912.pdf#Page3>
Clayton, Allen L. The significance of William H. Durham for Pentecostal Historiography. Pneuma 1.2 (Fall 1979), p 27-42. 1April 2006
Hollenweger, W.J. The Pentecostals, the Charismatic Movement in the Churches. Minneapolis: Angsberg Publishing House, 1972.
Menzies, William W. Anointed to Serve. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2000.
Burgess Stanly, ed. The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.
Synan, Vinson. ed. Aspects of Pentecostal Charismatic Origins. Plainfield, NJ: Logos, 1975.
________. The Century of the Holy Spirit. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001.
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