Category Archives: History

The Pentecostal “Angel of Mercy” During the Armenian Genocide

by Darrin J. Rodgers, originally posted at AG News and Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

An estimated 800,000 to 1,500,000 ethnic Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey) were systematically rounded up and killed by Ottoman authorities between the years 1915 and 1918. The Armenian Genocide, as it came to be known, is the second-most studied case of genocide, following the Jewish Holocaust.

Newspapers around the world reported on the suffering endured by the mostly Christian Armenians. Right in the midst of the conflict was Maria A. Gerber (1858-1917), an early Pentecostal missionary who had established an orphanage in Turkey for Armenian victims.

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Gerber was born in Switzerland, where she was raised with 11 siblings by Mennonite parents. As a child, she did not have an interest in spiritual things, because she saw her mother weep when she read her Bible. She thought that Scripture must be the cause of sadness.

Gerber was a carefree child and loved to sing and dance. But, at age 12, she was stricken with multiple ailments, including rheumatic fever, heart trouble, tuberculosis, and dropsy. The doctor’s prognosis was not good — Gerber only had a short time to live.

Fear gripped Gerber’s heart. She had never committed her life to the Lord. She knew that if she died, she would not go to heaven. Gerber cried out, “Jesus, I want you to save me from my sins.” Immediately, she felt peace deep inside her soul. She was ready to die.

But God had other plans for the young girl. Gerber quickly recovered from her incurable illness, much to everyone’s surprise. Gerber’s mother had been so confident that her daughter was on death’s doorstep that she had already given away all of her clothing. Her mother scrounged around and found clothes for Gerber.

Gerber shared her testimony of salvation and healing at school and in surrounding villages. She found her calling. She read Matthew 28:18 and sensed that verse was meant for her: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [Jesus]. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”

Gerber’s faith deepened as she blossomed into a young woman. She received training as a nurse, but in her heart she wanted to become a missionary. In 1889 a remarkable revival featuring healing and speaking in tongues came to her town in Switzerland. In her 1917 autobiography, Passed Experiences, Present Conditions, Hope for the Future, Gerber recounted the rapturous praise and numerous miracles that occurred in that early Swiss revival.

The young nurse wanted training for missions work and, in 1891, she headed for Chicago, where she attended Moody Bible Institute. By the mid-1890s, she heard about massacres of Armenian Christians that were occurring in the Ottoman Empire. Gerber and a friend, Rose Lambert, felt God calling them to minister to the Armenian widows and orphans.

Gerber and Lambert arrived in Turkey in 1898 and began working with the besieged Armenians. They began caring for orphans and purchased camel loads of cotton for widows to make garments for the orphans and for sale. Donors from America and Europe began supporting these two audacious women who had ventured into very dangerous territory to do the Lord’s work.

Gerber, in particular, found support among wealthy German Mennonites who lived in Russia. In 1904, they funded the construction of a series of large buildings to house hundreds of orphans and widows. Zion Orphans’ Home, located near Caesarea, became a hub of relief work and ministry in central Turkey. When persecution of Armenians intensified in 1915, resulting in the extermination of most Christian Armenians from Turkey, Zion Orphans’ Home was ready to help those in distress.

Gerber identified with the emerging Pentecostal movement as early as 1910. This should not be surprising, as she had experienced her own Pentecost 21 years earlier. The Assemblies of God supported her missions efforts, and numerous letters by Gerber were published in the Pentecostal Evangel. Assemblies of God leader D. W. Kerr, in the foreword to Gerber’s 1917 autobiography, wrote that he had known Gerber for 26 years and that her story will encourage readers “to greater self-denial and a deeper surrender.”

Gerber suffered a stroke and passed away on Dec. 6, 1917. Gerber’s obituary, published in the Pentecostal Evangel, stated that she was known as “the angel of mercy to the downtrodden Armenians.”

It would have been easy for Gerber to ignore the persecution of Armenians. The massacres were on the other side of the world. She could have stayed safe in America or in Europe. But Gerber followed God’s call and spent almost 20 years ministering to refugees who faced persecution and death. Few people today remember her name. But according to early Assemblies of God leaders, Maria Gerber personified what it meant to be Pentecostal.

Read one of Gerber’s articles, “Great Results Seen in Answer to Prayer,” on page 4 of the Dec. 4, 1915, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Divine Love: The Supreme Test,” by Arch P. Collins

• “What Think Ye of Christ?” by M. M. Pinson

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Read Maria A. Gerber’s obituary in the Jan. 5, 1918, edition of the Pentecostal Evangel (p. 13).

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

Darrin J. Rodgers has served as director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC) since 2005. He earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and a juris doctorate from the University of North Dakota School of Law. He previously served at the David du Plessis Archive and the McAlister Library at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of Northern Harvest, a history of Pentecostalism in North Dakota. His FPHC portfolio includes acquisitions, editing Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, and conducting oral history interviews. His wife, Desiree, is an ordained AG minister.

ska%cc%88rmavbild-2017-01-06-kl-21-17-02Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

The Absence of Racism and Xenophobia in the Early Church

by David W. T. Brattston.

Any article on attitudes to racism in the Christian church’s foundational period would be necessarily short. There simply was none. The matter was sometimes different for foreigners and strangers in general.

Racism was absent in the earliest church and in the non-Christian society surrounding it.  Christians and other subjects of the Roman Empire simply did not make distinctions based on race.  In fact, mentions of a person’s skin color are so rare as to be insignificant.  For instance, the Christian Bardesanes in early third-century eastern Syria mentioned the fact that people come in different colors as an example of what everyone agreed was inconsequential.

The only discriminations were based on cultural factors.  Jews divided the world into themselves and Gentiles, while for Greeks the distinction was between themselves and “barbarians” i.e. people who did not share Greek language or culture.  The Romans divided people between citizens and non-citizens, and then among various economic classes of citizens.  The main Roman xenophobia was of hostile peoples outside the Empire.  Continue reading The Absence of Racism and Xenophobia in the Early Church

Early Pentecostals on Patriotism and Nationalism

These days, love of God is often mixed up with love of country, patriotism and national pride. This was not the case with most early Pentecostals. In line with their pacifism, many influential Spirit-filled leaders criticized patriotism and nationalism. Here are some examples:

parhamCharles Fox Parham (4 June 1873 – c. 29 January 1929) was an American preacher who was instrumental in the formation of Pentecostalism.

The past order of civilization was upheld by the power of nationalism, which in turn was upheld by the spirit of patriotism, which divided the peoples of the world by geographical boundaries, over which each fought the other until they turned the world into a shamble. The ruling power of this old order has always been the rich, who exploited the masses for profit or drove them en masse to war, to perpetuate their misrule.

The principle teachers of patriotism maintaining nationalism were the churches, who have lost their spiritual power and been forsaken of God. Thus, on the side of the old order in the coming struggle, will be arrayed the governments, the rich, and the churches, and whatever forces they can drive or patriotically inspire to fight for them. On the other hand the new order that rises out of the sea of humanity knows no national boundaries, believing in the universal brotherhood of mankind and the establishment of the teachings of Jesus Christ as a foundation for all laws, whether political or social.
Charles F. Parham, Everlasting Gospel, pp. 27-28. Continue reading Early Pentecostals on Patriotism and Nationalism

The Biblical and Apostolic Foundation of Pacifism

Quite consistently in my life the issue of Christian pacifism has been a subject of interest. Even well before I became a Christian, I held to a deeply pacifist morality. I distinctly remember one conversation at a family gathering when I expressed disagreement with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. My brother (an enthusiastic Charismatic Christian at the time) said something that stuck with me; he called me “the family Democrat”. To him at the time, pacifism was not a Gospel or Biblical issue. Pacifism was entirely partisan (despite Democrats engaging in just as much violence as Republicans).

For many people, this continues to be the case. Regularly with my work in the church and wider community, the issue of Christian morality comes up, and this inevitably leads to a discussion about pacifism. As I observed with my brother many years ago, pacifism is often understood as a somehow disconnected from Christian values. For many, there is simple ignorance about the teachings of peace found in the Gospel, and for many others, they are aware of such teachings, but find them unrealistic, and do not believe that they are relevant for post-New Testament Christians.  Continue reading The Biblical and Apostolic Foundation of Pacifism

Free E-Book on Early Christian Pacifism

Hopefully, you’ve already discovered our resource pages filled with free articles, book recommendations, and links to other great ministries and podcasts. We’ve just added our first free e-book on the Books section: The Early Christian Attitude to War by Cecil John Cadoux.

Published almost 100 years ago in 1919, Cadoux did the first – and many argue still the best – comprehensive review of basically everything early Christian leaders and church fathers said regarding war, violence, soldiers and peace. His conclusion is that most of them were pacifists, and that the strong Christian commitment to nonviolence was overturned by the Constantinian influence in the fourth century.

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Cecil John Cadoux (1883-1947)

It’s amazing to see how Cadoux debunks arguments still used today by non-pacifist Christians, for example the idea that Tertullian only became a pacifist after he joined the “heretic” Montanist movement, or that Origen supported Christians becoming soldiers even though he wrote:

“You cannot demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests. We do not go forth as soldiers.” (Against Celsus VIII.7.3)

Cadoux’ book is a well-worth read if you want to understand how the earliest Christians interpreted the Sermon on the Mount. Also, it’s very interesting to see that when Christians abandoned pacifism in the fourth century, the charismatic gifts and ministries also faded. The Holy Spirit clearly doesn’t like when God’s children start killing others.

ska%cc%88rmavbild-2017-01-06-kl-21-17-02Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

The Early Christian View on Generosity Was Incredibly Radical

Generosity, in Christian understanding, goes further than simply the wallet – it reveals the condition of the soul. There is a natural selfishness in our conditioned responses, which instinctively says spend and not give. But is this really the mindset that we want to pass on to our children? As someone has said, “we must teach them the greater joy of giving before they figure out the lesser joy of receiving.”

One very early Christian text can back this up. The ‘Didache‘ (pronounced “didder-key”, it’s Greek for “teaching”) is of uncertain date, but internal evidence leads most commentators to place it at the latest AD 100. It is a short handbook of moral and practical governance for churches, perhaps in Syria, and it is anonymous. Continue reading The Early Christian View on Generosity Was Incredibly Radical

What Do We Mean By “Evangelical”?

In recent news, the term “Evangelical” has been used a lot. It was used during last year’s American elections due to Donald Trump and the Republican Party, and recently, the term has come up in response to scandals involving politician Ray Moore.

Whenever I see the term “Evangelical” used today, it always refers to a very specific group of people. It is always used in the context of politically/socially conservative American Protestants, especially from the southern United States. However, this use of the term is both historically and theologically inaccurate, and I believe that this needs to be addressed. This is especially true because of this organization — Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice. The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is in fact a part of the wider Evangelical tradition, so I think that we need to discuss what that term means in its wider context.  Continue reading What Do We Mean By “Evangelical”?