First person to speak in tongues in the Assemblies of God was William Jethro Walthall of the Holiness Baptist Churches of Southwestern Arkansas

September 1, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured, News, Research

William Jethro WalthallBy Glenn Gohr
A/G Heritage, Fall 1992

Although the modern Pentecostal movement relates its beginnings to Charles Parham, who formulated classical Pentecostal theology at his Bible school in Topeka at the turn of the century, throughout history, from apostolic times to the present, there have been certain religious groups and isolated cases of individuals who have experienced tongues-speaking and spiritual gifts.

William Jethro Walthall, who founded the Holiness Baptist Churches of Southwestern Arkansas, a group which later merged with the Assemblies of God, is an important figure who received his baptism in the Spirit prior to Parham’s launching of Pentecostalism in 1901.

Walthall’s Spirit baptism, which occurred 113 years ago, is one of the earliest documented cases of speaking in tongues in North America. Earlier instances of tongues-speaking have been reported among the Shakers, the Holiness Movement, the “Gift People” or “Gift Adventists” in New England, and others. It is very possible that Walthall is the earliest person to have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and who later joined the Assemblies of God.

William Jethro Walthall was born in Nevada County, Arkansas, March 9, 1858, the son of Charles Featherston Walthall and Mary Jemima Meador. His father died in 1863 at Rock Island, Illinois, as a prisoner in the Civil War, and his mother died 2 years later. Orphaned at age 7, he was reared by his widowed grandmother. However he had no Christian upbringing, so it was not until 1877 that he was confronted with the claims of the Gospel. That happened when he attended an old-time Methodist meeting and conviction gripped his heart, resulting in his conversion at age 19. Two years later, on August 3, 1879, he was married to his first wife, Melissa P. “Missy” Beavers, who bore him two children, Millard and Ibber Mae. After Melissa passed away, he married Hattie Vaughn on March 24, 1915.

While a young Christian, Walthall had a yearning for more of the workings of God in his life. He earnestly began to seek for a fullness of power to witness and better serve the Lord. This spiritual hunger led him to carefully study the Book of Acts and other scriptures. There he found recorded an enduement with power of the Holy Ghost which had accompanied the Early Church. He wanted this same experience in his life.

During a season of fervent prayer, he received a mighty infilling of the Spirit on September 3, 1879. Since he had never heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, he did not receive his Baptism through any prescribed theory or method.

Until that time all he knew about the Holy Spirit came from the teachings of the Methodists and Baptists. But this was something new. His experience came about in answer to prayer and through his own study of the Word of God. From the outset he understood that his experience corresponded with the records given in the Book of Acts.

In his testimony, Walthall describes his infilling by saying, “I was carried out of myself for the time being.” From the time of his Baptism, he testified that he often felt the strong anointing power of God. At times he would fall under the power of God when the Spirit came upon him. He also spoke in tongues as the Spirit directed.

For two years, during which time the Holy Ghost would often fall on me, I walked with God. Sometimes while in service and sometimes when alone in prayer I would fall prostrate under His mighty power. While under this power my tongue seemed to be tied in the center and loosed at both ends. I knew nothing of the Bible teaching on the Baptism or speaking with tongues, and thought nothing of what had happened in my experience.

Walthall was ordained by the Missionary Baptist Church on May 29, 1887, and served several congregations in Southwest Arkansas. He was active in various associational committees including foreign missions and temperance. In 1891 he was pastor of Piney Grove Church at Boughton, Arkansas, which was a part of the Red River Baptist Association of the Southern Baptist Convention. In fact, the annual associational meeting was held that year at Walthall’s church. The next year he was pastoring two churches at Bluff City and Prescott. From 1894-1895 he was pastoring at Stephens. The last Baptist church he pastored was at Buena Vista. Because of the prevalent view of the Holy Spirit held by Baptists, Methodists, and other mainline churches, Walthall had some reservations about his experience, as he shares in his testimony:

The ordinary Methodist and Baptist teaching was all that I knew, and, of course, that served to diminish my experience and to paralyze my faith rather than build me up. In the meantime, I began preaching a work to which I was called when the blessed Spirit filled me. I always felt that there was a lost chord in the Gospel ministry. My own ministry never measured up to my ideal, nor did the teaching of my church (Baptist) measure up to my experience.

Then in 1895 Walthall came into contact with the Holiness revival. Its emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit impressed him. Its teachings approximated his ideal more nearly than anything else, but he never fully ascribed to the Holiness theology. He could not accept its theory of sanctification; nor could he accept its abridgement of the supernatural. Even so, the Holiness revival opened him up to a larger sphere of ministry, This in turn gave him the encouragement he needed to preach the full gospel message as he understood it from the Scriptures. As he began to preach a full gospel message, the Baptist leaders excluded him from his church and he was ostracized from the Baptist ministry in 1896. He continued preaching on his own.

After my new vision of the Word of truth, and my expulsion from the Baptist fellowship and ministry, I went alone with a new zeal in an independent, plodding ministry, with church and school houses closed against me. I was looked upon with suspicion, as unbalanced but was so animated by the divine presence that it seemed at times as if terrestrial bearing was almost lost. Baptist minister, J. C, Kelly, and other Baptists who became disfellowshipped because of their beliefs in entire sanctification and the work of the Holy Spirit.

He was soon followed by another Baptist minister, J. C. Kelly, and other Baptists who became disfellowshipped because of their beliefs in entire sanctification and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Historical and Doctrinal Formation of Holiness Teachings and Praxis among Bulgarian Pentecostals

June 5, 2015 by  
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Slide15Research presentation prepared for the Society of Pentecostal Studies, Seattle, 2013 – Lakeland, 2015, thesis in partial fulfillment of the degree of D. Phil., Trinity College

In conclusion, it must be noted that like many other places around the world, Bulgarian Pentecostalism began and continues to be in the periphery of both social and religious life. The movement has been persecuted as new, extreme, outcast and even satanic, but in the end Pentecostalism prevailed from the periphery. The only problem with holding strong in the periphery of society is that you spend all your money, all your time, all your motivation, everything you have to change the center – to change reality itself. It demands an extreme internal passion to continue and to become a movement of social influence. For the external observer this makes no sense. The time and resources spent could be so much helpful somewhere else. Perhaps, in an environment that is more suitable for the center – more controlled by the center. And an environment that does not make the center look bad.

But when this environment is not the center itself, then the periphery becomes a public enemy to the centralized society and is discarded as crazy, obscene and even inhumane. To the point that after giving it all, you start to feel like it was all spent for nothing.

Then you get back to the mission that is more important than our feelings or emotions and convince yourself with all you have left, that the end result is worthy. And then one day you wake up in the center of reality. Even more, you become the center of reality.

And the question remaining is how to balance the center with the periphery. If we were always in the center of culture, religion and economics, we would have never heard the voice of the God of the periphery. The God of the enslaved, oppressed, persecuted, poor, sick and suffering – God of the miraculous…

Baptism in the Fire of Persecutions as the Final Stand for Holiness

June 1, 2015 by  
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Slide15Historical and Doctrinal Formation of Holiness Teachings and Praxis among Bulgarian Pentecostals (Research presentation prepared for the Society of Pentecostal Studies, Seattle, 2013 – Lakeland, 2015, thesis in partial fulfillment of the degree of D. Phil., Trinity College)

The eschatology of the first Pentecostals in Bulgaria was definitely Premillennial, built around the suffering of the church and the coming final deliverance. “Christ shall return in person,” not just in spirit or presence, read the Pentecostal Union’s first Declaration of Faith. But first they were to be tested in a baptism of fire…

After the 1923 unrest in Bulgaria, Pentecostal missionary Dionesy Zaplishny was abducted, severely beaten and held in a well for a week. His health was never the same and he passed away at an early age in 1935. But this was only the beginning of the persecution upcoming with the Communist Regime.

Bulgaria’s Pentecostal movement entered the oppression period split and divided. The westernized denominational structure, which Nikoloff proposed in 1928, never fit the existing Pentecostal churches and was unable to unite them as a whole. When the communists took over in 1944 they used the existing church defragmentation to infiltrate and manipulate the congregations. Thus, the eschatological suffering of the church experienced its prime under Communist dictatorship.

In 1948-49 two consecutive trials targeted evangelical pastors effectively sentenced fifteen of them and virtually beheading the evangelical movement in Bulgaria from its leadership. When a new generation of leaders became involved some 30 years later, another similar trial imprisoned six of them in 1979. The evangelical churches were left without any leaders, except the ones placed under the control of the communist state. The congregations that refused to accept them were outlawed and marginalized with no contact with the outside world. But through all these trials and tribulations, the believers learned how to survive the persecution and overcame…

Pacifism as a Social Stand for Holiness among Early Bulgarian Pentecostals

May 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Events, Missions, News

Slide15Historical and Doctrinal Formation of Holiness Teachings and Praxis among Bulgarian Pentecostals (Research presentation prepared for the Society of Pentecostal Studies, Seattle, 2013 – Lakeland, 2015, thesis in partial fulfillment of the degree of D. Phil., Trinity College)

When Pentecostalism began to spread rapidly in Bulgaria in the 1920s, it was viewed hostile as by both Protestant and Orthodox traditions. Not fasting during lent and not sacrificing for the dead, not honoring Mary or the saints was all detrimental in the formation of the identity of Pentecostal churches in Bulgaria. Even insignificant things like not wearing a cross, or not making the sign of the cross and not lighting candles and incense were noticed and severely criticized by the surrounding culture. And of course not drinking alcohol in Bulgaria and the Pentecostal abstinence was met with enormous opposition from other religious groups. Along with that any benevolence, social involvement, spiritual upbringing of minors (including sport actives) was all condemned as harmful protestant propaganda.

But one specific evangelical stand could never be forgiven – the protestant pacifism in the form of conscientious objection against carrying arms. For the newly re-born Balkan state, in a place where war has been ongoing for centuries, to refusal to go to war was essentially to refuse to be a Bulgarian.

The pacifism of Bulgaria’s evangelicals was silent but powerful against both Hitler’s fascism and the militant atheism of the coming Communist Regime. Their deep Christian conviction simply did not allow them to kill, carry a weapon, imprison another human being, swear allegiance to the communist state or take orders from another authority but God. And for their stand, many ministers and believers paid a heavy price. About 40 ministers and members of the Bulgarian Church of God alone were sentenced to hard prison labor for noncompliance with the mandatory military service. Hundreds more known and unknown believers from other evangelical churches followed.

The Practice of Corporate Holiness within the Communion Service of Bulgarian Pentecostals

May 20, 2015 by  
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by Dony K. Donev, D.Min.

Historical and Doctrinal Formation of Holiness Teachings and Praxis among Bulgarian Pentecostals (Research presentation prepared for the Society of Pentecostal Studies, Seattle, 2013 – Lakeland, 2015, thesis in partial fulfillment of the degree of D. Phil., Trinity College)

Pentecostal identity was corporately practiced and celebrated within the fellowship of believers through the partaking of Holy Communion. We have otherwise extensively described the Communion service among Bulgaria’s conservatives in Theology of the Persecuted Church (Part 1: Lord’s Supper http://cupandcross.com/theology-of-the-persecuted-church/). Therefore, here we offer just a brief overview of its main characteristics.

  1. It was done in a time and place directed by the Holy Spirit
  1. If some did not have water baptism they were taken to a close by river to be baptized while the rest of the church prayed
  1. Upon returning, if some did not have yet the baptism with the Holy Spirit, the church would pray until all were baptized
  1. It began with each participant audibly asking all members for forgiveness
  1. they would also audible respond with the words: WE FORGIVE YOU and may GOD also forgive you
  1. The communion bread was prepared on the spot baked by women whose names were also reveled in prayer
  1. All drank from one cup, which strangely for their strict practice of abstinence from alcohol, was filled with alcoholic wine
  1. Communion was served only to those who had the fullness of the Spirit, and had just requested and were given forgiveness
  1. The presbyter would quote Jude 20 to each partaking believer thus directing them to audibly speak in tongues before they could participate in communion
  1. Interpretation often followed to confirm the spiritual stand of the believer
  1. If there were any leftovers, the Communion elements were served again until all was used
  1. Communion was incomplete without foot washing as a seal that the whole sacrament was fulfilled.

Sanctification and Personal Holiness among Early Bulgarian Pentecostals

May 5, 2015 by  
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Slide11by Dony K. Donev, D.Min.

Historical and Doctrinal Formation of Holiness Teachings and Praxis among Bulgarian Pentecostals (Research presentation prepared for the Society of Pentecostal Studies, Seattle, 2013 – Lakeland, 2015, thesis in partial fulfillment of the degree of D. Phil., Trinity College)

With all said about the importance of Spirit baptism and the importance of the Trinity in the Pentecostal experience of the believer, it comes as a great surprise that sanctification was never mentioned as a specific doctrine among early Bulgarian Pentecostals. Voronaev’s teaching included: (1) salvation through new birth, (2) baptism with the Holy Spirit, (3) healing and (4) the second return of Christ. Sanctification was never specifically mentioned as a separate doctrine.

To this day, sanctification is not an official doctrine for the Evangelical Methodist Episcopal Church of Bulgaria. In 1928, Bulgaria’s Pentecostal Union also included holiness as number ten in their first bylaws. Sanctification was not defined as a second work of grace, but as a “continuous life of holiness”. With the enormous theological Methodist influence, it is astounding that the doctrine of sanctification was never taught as a separate work of grace. Even when after Pentecostalism spread in Bulgaria, it was not included in the tri-fold formula for “spiritual fullness” of the believer.

Nevertheless, the search for a deeper spirituality was always there. When liberal theology entered Bulgaria in the beginning of the 20th century, the more conservative believers were forced to separate from the larger city congregations into home services and cottage meetings.

These small communities were enclosed, but easily identified by their extreme personal asceticism. There was no use of instruments in worship, no denominational structure and a distinct social disengagement from the world. Men shaved their heads completely and grew long mustaches. They wore no dress ties, because they pointed downward toward hell. Women wore head coverings as a sign for the angels both within and outside church services. Even the mother of Bulgaria’s Pentecostalism, Olga Zaplishny, who was college educated and spent years in the United States wore a head cover and enforced all ladies to follow her example.

Historical and Doctrinal Formation of Holiness Teachings and Praxis among Bulgarian Pentecostals

April 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Featured, Missions, News, Research

Slide2

by Dony K. Donev, D.Min.

Historical and Doctrinal Formation of Holiness Teachings and Praxis among Bulgarian Pentecostals (Research presentation prepared for the Society of Pentecostal Studies, Seattle, 2013 – Lakeland, 2015, thesis in partial fulfillment of the degree of D. Phil., Trinity College)

Protestant work in Bulgaria began in 1815 when agents of British and Foreign Bible Society, Robert Pinkerton (1780-1859) and Benjamin Barker (d.1859), initiated a search for Bible translators in the spoken Bulgarian vernacular. As a result a new translation of the New Testament in Bulgaria was published in 1840 and the whole Bible in 1871.

By the liberation of Bulgaria from Turkish Yoke in 1878 Protestantism was well established in Bulgaria. Graduates from Protestant Robert’s College became prominent politicians in the new Bulgarian state. When the first Pentecostal missionaries arrived in 1920, they found a century old protestant tradition in Bulgaria.