WILLIAM BRANHAM


Inscribed on a pyramid-shaped tombstone in a Jeffersonville, Indiana cemetery, are the names of the seven churches of Revelation, "Ephesian" at the base representing the beginning of the Church Age, "Laodicean" near the top the end of the Church Age. On the opposite face are the names of seven men whose impact on the Church throughout its history has been significant.

Were the two faces of the pyramid juxtaposed one over the other, we would see the names of the churches superimposed over the men's names in the following order, from bottom to top:

    Ephesian - Paul
    Smyrnean - Ireneaus
    Pergamean - Martin
    Thyatirean - Columba
    Sardisean - Luther
    Philadelphian - Wesley
    Laodicean - Branham

Among most major proponents of Kingdom Theology these men are considered the great reformers of the various stages of Church history. To many Kingdom Theology proponents William Branham was perhaps the greatest "prophet" for the Church's final age.

In 1948, Branham, a Baptist preacher turned Pentecostal, and influenced by Franklin Hall, gained notoriety for his teachings on what he called, "God's Seventh Church Age" (supposedly the final move of God before the manifestation of His Kingdom on earth). Branham based this teaching primarily on Joel 2:23 and Revelation 1:20-3:22, the latter recording Jesus' messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor.

Branham claimed that the angels (messengers) to the churches were men who appeared at various times throughout Church history to usher in revelations that would lead the Church in new directions according to the purpose of God.

As indicated on his tombstone, Branham was thought to be the angel to the Church of Laodicea - the end-time Church.

In his teachings on Joel 2:23, Branham defined the "latter rain" as the Pentecostal Movement of his day. God's promise to restore what the locust, cankerworm, caterpillar, and palmerworm had eaten, he defined as the "restoration" of the Church out of denominationalism (which he equated with "the Mark of the Beast").

Although denying he was a believer in the "oneness" doctrine, Branham had his own form of "oneness" teaching that defined God as one person who manifested Himself as three different "attributes": the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, rather than three Persons comprising one Godhead.21 He believed the doctrine of the Trinity was the "Babylonian Foundation" of the denominations, inherited from Roman Catholicism.22

Branham also believed that the Word of God was given in three forms: the Zodiac, the Egyptian pyramids, and the written Scriptures.23 The Zodiac theory was not new, having been put forth by Franklin Hall previously, and as early as 1893 by historian E.W. Bullinger in his book, 'The Witness of the Stars.' The idea that the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt was constructed by God (possibly through Enoch) is at least as old as the Zodiac theory, and is popular with the Dawn Bible Students, an offshoot of the Jehovah's Witnesses.

It can be said of Branham that he had a simplicity and apparent humility which attracted many followers. "Gordon Lindsay told of how he impressed audiences with his utter and complete consecration."24


The Serpent's Seed

In spite of his apparent humility and consecration, Branham had great difficulty controlling a strident, hateful attitude toward women. In his own poor English, transcribed from a sermon, Branham stated, "But I remember when my father's still up there running, I had to be out there with water and stuff, see young ladies that wasn't over seventeen, eighteen years, up there with a man my age now, drunk. And they'd have to sober them up and give them black coffee, to get them home to cook their husband's supper. Oh, something like that, I said, 'I...This was my remarked [sic] then, THEY'RE NOT WORTH A GOOD CLEAN BULLET TO KILL THEM WITH IT.' That's right. And I hated women. That's right. And I just have to watch every move now, to keep from still thinking the same thing." 25

This attitude toward women may have played a part in the development of Branham's bizarre "Serpent Seed" teaching. This was based on a twisted interpretation of Genesis 3:13, where Eve is recorded as saying, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." The word "beguiled" Branham defined as "seduced sexually." He claimed that Satan and Eve engaged in an adulterous affair out of which Cain was born. Since that time evil has passed from generation to generation through women, who keep the seed of the serpent alive. 26 He seemed to think that women are responsible for the evil in the world because of their enticements.

The "Serpent's Seed" teaching obviously indicated that Branham didn't take the Scriptures literally, where we read, "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bare Cain..." (Genesis 4:1).

His animosity toward women led to the preaching of a rigid moral code that lambasted them on their manner of dress, and may have been responsible for his "revelation" that allowed for divorce.27

Supernatural Manifestations

From the time of his infancy it was evident to his parents that William's life had upon it the touch of the supernatural. Born in 1909 in a mountain cabin near Berksville, Kentucky, William Marrion Branham's childhood was spent in extreme poverty. His father was only eighteen years of age, and his mother fifteen when he came into the world weighing a scant five pounds, the first of nine boys and one girl.28

The following account may be legend or fact, but it was part of Branham's testimony from the start: On the day of his birth, after being washed, he was placed in his mother's arms by the midwife who then went to a window to open the shutter. (There was no glass in the Branham house in those days.) As dawn broke sending a few rays of light into the room, there was seen a small circular halo about a foot in diameter, above the bed where little William lay in his mother's arms.29

Thousands of people have supposedly seen this halo, which is ostensibly revealed in a photograph taken in Houston, Texas, during a January, 1950, campaign. (The best we've been able to obtain is a photostatic copy of a copy which, though poorly reproduced here, will allow the reader to see what has been taken for a "halo." Whether this is a halo or a flaw in the negative - whether it is a manifestation from God or Satan or poor photography, we will leave to the reader's judgment.)

When he was three years of age, Branham experienced for the first time what he called "the Voice." At age seven "the Voice" commanded him, "Don't you never drink, smoke, or defile your body in any way. There'll be work for you to do when you get older."30

This "Voice" accompanied Branham throughout his lifetime, and eventually made itself known as an "angel" that directed him in every aspect of his personal life.31 During healing services Branham would often fall into a trance during which his angel would work through him. Asked once if the healings were done by the Holy Spirit, Branham replied, "No, my angel does it."32

Branham was one of the foremost proponents of the theory of healing and imparting the Holy Spirit through the "laying on of hands." He would often feel a heat in his hand as he touched affected parts, and exhibited a remarkable clairvoyancy in knowing intimate details of the lives of people he had never seen before. No doubt this was due to the angel's possession of his mind.


Difficulties With The Brethren

Branham's unorthodox methods of healing and allegedly imparting the Holy Spirit by the laying on of his hands came under severe criticism by the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. These practices became major sources of controversy between the Latter Rain Movement and the established Pentecostal denominations who held to their belief that one must "tarry" in prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In spite of his bizarre healing methods and aberrant doctrines, Branham enjoyed remarkable popularity among many Pentecostals, and was warmly received by such notables as Demos Shakarian (founder of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International), Oral Roberts, W.V. Grant, A.A. Allen, Gordon Lindsay (founder of Christ for the Nations), O.L. Jaggers, George Warnock, and Franklin Hall.

Although many Pentecostals were willing to embrace Branham as an "apostle" and "prophet" while overlooking his aberrant teachings, his popularity declined in the late 1950's after his numerous bold proclamations of "thus saith the Lord" to establish his doctrines. Many Pentecostal churches became reluctant to allow him to speak.33

N

o one conversant with Pentecostalism will deny that, for better or for worse, William Branham had a tremendous effect on the neo-Pentecostalism of his time. From all accounts, he did exhibit remarkable healing powers which no doubt played a significant part in giving credibility to his teachings.

Branham was warmly welcomed by Pentecostal churches and organizations such as the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International. This organization in particular provided his most reliable support. In 1961, the editor of FGBMFI's magazine, 'Voice, ' wrote, "In Bible Days, there were men of God who were Prophets and Seers. But in all the Sacred Records, none of these had a greater ministry than that of William Branham."34

It should be noted that often what Branham taught as a guest speaker differed from what he taught at his own church, Branham Tabernacle, where he felt freer to disclose his more aberrant teachings.

Toward the end of his career, however, Branham's public espousal of his strange doctrines became even more controversial and he was used less and less by the FGBMFI, though for several years his speaking engagements were underwritten by local chapters. For years he had been a frequent speaker at regional and national conventions.


Eulogies

Branham's life ended abruptly. While on a trip to Arizona, his car was hit head-on by one driven by a drunken driver. For six days he lay in a coma and, on Christmas Eve, 1965, he passed away.

The entire Pentecostal world was shaken by the tragedy. "A number of old friends - Oral Roberts, Demos Shakarian, T.L. Osborn - telephoned their concern."35

When Branham died, Demos Shakarian wrote, "Rev. Branham often made the statement that the only Fellowship to which he belonged was FGBMFI. Often, when called upon to speak at various conventions and chapter meetings, he has traveled long distances to keep those engagements. His spirit of service was an inspiration."36

Many of Branham's followers believed that he had truly come in the spirit of Elijah; some believed him to be God, born of a virgin.37

They fully expected him to rise from the dead and come back to them at the end of three days.

Five days after his passing, William Branham was buried, and his grave was soon marked by the pyramid-shaped tombstone.

To date, William Branham's body is still in the grave. But his approach to healing was picked up by hundreds of pastors and teachers who have traded on it to a greater or lesser degree.


THE SHARON BRETHREN

In the fall of 1947, two former pastors for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, George Hawtin and Percy G. Hunt, joined with Herrick Holt, a pastor of the North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Church of the Foursquare Gospel, in an independent work. That work - Sharon Orphanage and Schools which Holt had originally started in a large residence in North Battleford - had come to occupy about one thousand acres of farmland about ten miles distant from the city limits.

With Hawtin and Hunt came seventy students from Bethel Bible Institute where both had formerly taught before Hawtin was asked to resign for lack of cooperation, and Hunt resigned out of sympathy. George Hawtin's brother-in-law, Milford Kirkpatrick, and Ernest Hawtin, George's brother, soon joined in ministry at Sharon.38

Herrick Holt had been preaching that God was going to be doing a "new thing" in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah 43:18-19:

"Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. "Behold I will do a new thing; Now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert."

Of great influence upon the work at Sharon were the teachings of William Branham. Several of the school's brethren visited one of his campaigns shortly after George Hawtin and P.G. Hunt had come on staff. With renewed fervor, the brethren took Branham's teachings back to Sharon, unaware that the supernatural power bestowed upon them by Branham would make their ministry the focal point of the Latter Rain Movement for several years to come.39

Another influence, on the Hawtin brothers in particular, was J.E. Stile's book, 'The Gift of the Holy Spirit,' which asserted that if one were truly repentant, and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, all that was necessary for him to receive the Holy Spirit was for another believer to lay hands on him.40

Franklin Hall's book was especially utilized at Sharon. Ernest Hawtin wrote: "The truth of fasting was one great contributing factor to the revival. One year before this we had read Franklin Hall's book, entitled 'Atomic Power With God Through Fasting and Prayer.' We immediately began to practise [sic] fasting. Previously we had not understood the possibility of long fasts. The revival would never have been possible without the restoration of this great truth through our good brother Hall."41

On February 11, 1948, a young woman at the Bible school prophesied that a great revival was about to break out. The next day, according to Ern Hawtin, the Holy Spirit fell with great power. "Day after day the Glory and Power of God came among us. Great repentance, humbling, fasting and prayer prevailed in everyone."42

Because of the manifestation of power at North Battleford, news of the outbreak spread, and soon people were coming from everywhere to receive that power. They believed that the long drought was over for Pentecostals, whose use of the gifts had gradually declined since the advent of Pentecostalism at the turn of the century.43

A striking characteristic of the Sharon revival was the effort to avoid the establishment of another denomination as had happened during the earlier Pentecostal Movement. George Hawtin was especially adamant about this and labored to instruct those who were touched by his ministry not to fall into that trap. He felt that the unity of the Church was essential to bring about its restoration, and therefore encouraged the establishment of autonomous, local congregations.

It became a hallmark of the Latter Rain Movement that innumerable independent churches sprang up with no denominational affiliation. This did not set well with the Pentecostal denominations, who lost many members to this "new thing."

A major point of controversy between the North Battleford brethren and some Pentecostal denominations was the teaching by the former that there are present-day apostles and prophets for the Church.44 And though George Hawtin wrote in the June, 1948, issue of 'The Sharon Star' (the school's newsletter) that "no church exercises or has any right to exercise authority of jurisdiction over another church, its pastors or members," the travelling "presbytery" from Sharon, of which he was a part, did indeed exercise authority over people in other congregations through personal "directive prophecy. "45

In spite of the Sharon group's insistence upon autonomy, they eventually became sectarian to the extreme, holding to the notions that no teaching was valid unless it originated with them, no fellowship was to be engaged in with anyone outside their own confines, and they alone were the purveyors of God's truth. If anyone would be an "overcomer," it must be through obedience to their authority.

Even some who were endorsed as apostles and prophets by the Sharon group eventually became disillusioned and broke ties from Sharon. Among these was Reg Layzell who wrote: "At the first camp meeting you were made a member of the Body of Christ by the Spirit of God. And even if you said you were not in the Body you still were. No man could put you in or take you out. Now the error: they claim you are only put in by them and can be put out by them."46

A significant event in the history of Sharon Orphanage and School was its July 7-18, 1948 Camp Meeting, during which thousands of people from Canada and the United States flocked in hopes of receiving something special from God. Residents from at least twenty states attended, and the great Latter Rain Movement burst upon the world.

From that time the movement spread rapidly and Sharon shortly became just one of many centers of teaching for the Latter Rain Movement.

In his thesis on this movement, Richard Riss states: "It should be noted however, that prior to the revival, these practices [laying on of hands and acceptance of apostles and prophets] were already commonplace in some places, including Elim Bible Institute, which was at that time in Hornell, N.Y., and which, until the revival, had not had contact with North Battleford."47

"It should also be noted...that prophecy was a major distinguishing mark of the Latter Rain Movement, whereas, in the case of the healing evangelists, healing was more prominent, and in the case of the early pentecostal revival, tongues had prominence."48

Elim Bible Institute was for years prior to the outbreak of the Latter Rain Movement a center for neo-Pentecostal teachings. Although it was Sharon Orphanage that gave real impetus to these teachings, it is Elim Bible Institute that has continued even to this day with its influence, while the Sharon group has largely been relegated to obscurity.


GEORGE WARNOCK

Among those present at the Sharon Camp Meeting in July, 1948, was George Warnock who at one time had been personal secretary to Ern Baxter (an associate with William Branham's healing ministry).49 At this meeting one of the teachers, James Watt, made a passing remark that the third of Israel's feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles, was yet to be fulfilled.50 This struck Warnock and he began to associate it with the end-time ministry of the Church, and the concept of restoration.

In the fall of 1949 Warnock took up residence at Sharon, "assisting in the office work, and helping in the Bible School and in the local church."51

In 1951 Warnock wrote his book, 'The Feast of Tabernacles,' in which he layed out a specific doctrine for the Latter Rain Movement, and those who came after. He taught that the Church was about to usher in the completion of God's feasts for Israel, through perfection of the saints and their dominion over the earth.

Essentially, this Latter Rain teaching implies that the three great annual feasts of the Lord in Israel's worship (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles) pre-figure and typify the whole Church Age, beginning with the death of Jesus on the cross, and consummating in "the manifestation of the Sons of God" - the "overcomers" who will step into immortality and establish the Kingdom of God on earth.52

Warnock teaches that this will be accomplished through the restoration of the Church in unity and, once done, the saints will "eat the Lord's Supper in reality."53 (as if we are not doing so now).

"Unity" as defined by Kingdom Theology entails the putting on of "the mind of Christ" so that we all think, say, believe, and confess the same things.54 What we will think, say, believe, and confess will be told to us by the apostles and prophets.

Unity without regard to "doctrine" (except the doctrine of those imposing the unity) is the great cry among those today who think that the Body of Christ has thus far failed in its commission. We will deal with these teachings in more detail later.


THE LATTER RAIN CONTINUES

Many teachings of the Latter Rain Movement have been retained in the Church through the influence of various men and women, many of whom are still alive, and active in groups that spun off from the Latter Rain Movement.

Although the Latter Rain Movement has had lasting effects upon Pentecostalism in general, its effects upon the major Pentecostal denominations was minimal after the mid-1950's. This was due in part to the role the Assemblies of God played in confronting the Latter Rain extremes. That denomination, as well as others, lost many pastors and members to the Latter Rain as a consequence of their opposition

.

Today, the influence of the Latter Rain Movement upon traditional as well as Pentecostal denominations is growing. And although by all appearances the name has died out, the Latter Rain Movement has surfaced under other names and is held together by a network of teachers and organizations which are finding new acceptance on a wide scale in the Christian media.

NOTES

    1. Franklin Hall, "Miracle Word" (Phoenix; Hall Deliverance Foundation, Inc., Summer, 1985) p.10. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid, p.9. 6. Ibid. 7. Franklin Hall, 'Atomic Power With God Through Fasting and Prayer' (Phoenix: Hall Deliverance Foundation, Inc., 5th Ed., 1975), p.19. 8. Ibid., p.9. 9. Franklin Hall, Catalogue of Publications (Phoenix: Hall Deliverance Foundation, 1986). 10. Franklin Hall, 'The Return of Immortality' (Phoenix: Hall Deliverance Foundation, Inc., 1976), pp.2-3. 11. Ibid., p.3. 12. Ibid., Inside Front Cover. 13. Ibid., p.10. 14. Ibid., p.48. 15. Ibid., p.20. 16. 'Atomic Power With God Through Fasting and Prayer', pp.29,31. 17. Ibid., p.7. 18. Ibid., p.53 19. Ibid., p.55. 20. Catalogue of Publications. 21. William M. Branham, 'Adoption' (Jeffersonville, IN: Spoken Word Publications, 1960), p.21. 22. William M. Branham, 'The Serpent's Seed', taped sermon, undated. 23. 'Adoption', pp.31,104. 24. David E. Harrell, Jr., 'All Things Are Possible' (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976), p.162. 25. William M. Branham, 'My Life Story' (Spoken Word Publications, undated), p.27. 26. 'The Serpent's Seed'. 27. 'All Things Are Possible', p.162. 28. 'Brother Branham' (Jeffersonville, IN: Spoken Word Publications, undated), p.19. 29. 'My Life Story', p.21. 30. Ibid., p.24. 31. Kurt Koch, 'Occult Bondage and Deliverance' (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1972), p.50. 32. Ibid. 33. 'All Things Are Possible', p.159. 34. Ibid., p.161. 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid. 37. Ibid., p.164. 38. Richard Riss, 'The Latter Rain Movement of 1948 and the Mid-twentieth Century Evangelical Awakening' (Vancouver, B.C.: Thesis), p.79. 39. Ibid., p.80-81. 40. Ibid., p.83-84. 41. Ibid., p.86. 42. Ibid., p.89. 43. Ibid., p.89-90. 44. Ibid., p.101. 45. Ibid., p.102. 46. Ibid., p.154. 47. Ibid., p.108. 48. Ibid., p.116. 49. Ibid., p.104. 50. Ibid. 51. Ibid. 52. George Warnock, 'The Feast of Tabernacles' (Cranbrook, B.C.: George Warnock, 1951), p.14-20. 53. Ibid., p.22. 54. Ibid., p.23.

Media Spotlight Vol 7. - NO.2 April - June 1986
P.O. Box 1288
Costa Mesa, CA 92628
Written by Albert James Dager