Will the Pentecostal movement follow “the path of gradual surrender to carnal forces” like most Christian renewal movements before it? This question, posed by former General Superintendent W. T. Gaston (1925-1929) in the Aug. 16, 1953, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, remains strikingly relevant.
Gaston wrote that history’s “tragic lesson” is that a church’s solid foundation does not prevent corruption from “fleshly elements within.” He offered this warning at a time when certain media-savvy Pentecostal healing evangelists had been exposed for their ungodly lifestyles, but who continued to promote themselves and their unbiblical message that God guarantees financial prosperity to believers.
Gaston suggested, “If we are to have a future that is better or even comparable and worthy of our past, we will need to learn over again some of the lessons of yesterday.” One of the important lessons to rediscover, he wrote, was the importance of promoting “pure, undefiled” religion.
He recalled that many early 20th-century Pentecostal pioneers were bivocational ministers, that often met in homes or rented buildings, and that most were not very impressive by the standards of the surrounding culture. However, they did not need worldly goods and accolades in order for the Holy Spirit to accomplish great things through their lives and ministries.
Gaston wrote that he witnessed an “utter disregard for poverty or wealth or station in life” in the early Pentecostal movement. Yet “those rugged pioneers,” he noted, “had something that made them attractive and convincing.” The contrast between the attitudes of the world and the early Pentecostals was striking. According to Gaston, early believers were “completely satisfied without the world’s glittering tinsel, and content to be the objects of its scornful hatred.”
Believers must carefully guard their hearts, Gaston warned, or face a dissipation of this consecration and sacrificial spirit. He noted, as an example, that some ministers in the 1950s seemed to “project themselves and their projects instead of promoting the common cause and sharing equally in the honors and sufferings of the common brotherhood.”
Gaston identified a love of money as a danger to the Pentecostal movement and an impediment to the gospel. We “must draw the line against all comers with a money complex,” he asserted, in order “to retain its good sense and religious balance.” He lamented that certain high-profile evangelists promised God’s blessings to those who would give money to their ministries. He wrote, “Ministers of the gospel who lay up treasure on earth while they preach that people should lay theirs up in heaven are neither consistent nor worthy.” Gaston suspected that the “selfless, lowly Jesus” would “refuse to go along” with such ministers.
Furthermore, Gaston was troubled by sensationalism promoted by some of the big-name preachers in his day. “Full-orbed religion throbs with sensation,” he wrote. However, he warned against “unbridled sensationalism,” which could easily bring “disillusionment and disintegration” to those who have not developed a strong faith. Gaston concluded with “a simple appeal for consistency and reality in our religious approach,” praying that the Pentecostal movement would “purge itself of practices or propaganda patterns which are not compatible with the spirit and letter of the New Testament.”
Gaston’s article offers several important lessons to 21st-century Pentecostals. First, Pentecostals should carefully guard their hearts. History demonstrates that selfishness and worldliness tend to creep into the church, and that even Christian renewal movements can drift from their founding ideals. Second, early Pentecostalism grew amidst widespread scorn and persecution as believers joyfully embodied consecrated, holy living. Third, Pentecostals can avoid the dangers of extremism and sensationalism by being solidly grounded in Scripture and biblical values.
Read W. T. Gaston’s article, “Guarding our Priceless Heritage,” in the Aug. 16, 1953, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Eternity-Proof,” by Arne Vick
• “Sunday Schools around the World”
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.