The story of the Elim Pentecostal Church in the UK is an inspirational and, at times, a miraculous one. Its beginnings, in particular, have that obvious touch of divine activity. Not only was the presence of God obviously experienced throughout the first twenty-five years of Elim’s existence, but the fact that the Movementi survived the ravages heaped upon it by the double effect of the Second World War and a major schism that saw its founder and leader leave and start up another Christian denomination is, in itself, an astonishing witness to God’s hand being clearly upon it.
To date, there has been no full historical account written concerning the Elim Pentecostal Church throughout its 105 years existence. Biographical books have been penned on the life of the Movement’s founder, George Jeffreys, that give a clear account of the developing years of Elim, but little has been published on the post-war history of the Movement.ii An early history of Elim was written and published, but covered only the years 1915-28.iii Two later biographies on the life and ministry of George Jeffreys, by Cartwrightiv and Kay,v contain valuable historical information on the first twenty-five years of Elim. James Robinson, in his book Pentecostal Origins,vi has devoted four chapters on George Jeffreys and the early years of Elim in Ireland that provide great historical data on the early years of the Elim Pentecostal Church. The intention in this book is to give a historical record of the Elim Pentecostal Church since its beginnings in 1915 to the year 2015 in two volumes.
In his introduction, Kay highlights the absence of Pentecostal activity in secular histories.vii This is despite the fact that the revival campaigns of George Jeffreys received a great deal of coverage in the national press. His healing campaigns saw huge crowds and included numerous verified accounts of people being healed. The phenomenal growth of Elim during the 1920s and thirties warranted historical documentation. History must not only be documented, but observed. We ignore history at our peril. We must learn from history. Because history is an account of the past, many people are apt to consider it irrelevant.
Any written account of history inevitably bears views and opinions of the author. The challenge set before any historian is that of impartiality. ‘History as a disciplined enquiry aims to sustain the widest possible definition of memory, and to make the process of recall as accurate as possible, so that a knowledge of the past is not confined to what is immediately relevant.’viii
The Executive Council of Elim (now the National Leadership Team), commissioned George Cantyix who was an Elim minister for more than sixty years and a past president of the Movement, to write a history of Elim which was written, but not published. Many references to Canty’s manuscript and quotations from it, will be found throughout the book. However, this will not be a regurgitation of Canty’s work, but will rather serve as a reference point and seek to bring to light hidden facts concerning Elim’s history.
The first four chapters focus on the movements that led up to the establishing of the Pentecostal denominations in the United Kingdom. Only one of these will be the subject matter of the book, although there will be some inevitable cross-references to the others. The five movements that had a major impact on the developing Pentecostal Movement in Britain were 1) the Holiness Movements, particularly in the Wesleyan tradition, of the latter half of the nineteenth century, 2) the Keswick Conventions, 3) the Welsh Revival 1904-05, 4) the Azusa Street Revival, 5) the Sunderland Conventions.
In his excellent biography of George Jeffreys, the founder of Elim, William Kay has not gone into great detail on the ‘Irish Years’ and has not provided much detail as to the names and sequence of the churches that were opened in Northern Ireland during the years 1915 to 1921, when Jeffreys moved across to England. Indeed, there is not a great deal mentioned about the Irish churches and work from that point on.x The author will seek to address this and remind his readers that before it became a British Movement, Elim was an Irish work with its headquarters in Belfast, from 1917 to 1923.xi
Elim’s first official historian was Desmond W Cartwright who, almost single-handedly, built up the Archives of the Elim Pentecostal Church. His contribution to British Pentecostal history is phenomenal and the Archives at the Elim International Offices in Malvern bear his name. As his successor, I acknowledge his immense work in collecting and contributing historical documentation relating to Elim that is a major foundation for this book.
The book will outline the establishment of the Elim Pentecostal Church as a major Pentecostal denomination within the United Kingdom. It will cover the remarkable campaigns of George Jeffreys held in the major halls in the country, including the majestic Royal Albert Hall and the glittering Crystal Palace. It will contain an account of the sad schism within Elim that saw the founder leave the Movement that he had commenced and start another denomination. The Second Volume will give details of Elim’s struggles throughout the Second World War, hampered greatly by internal strife, as well as the Movement’s survival against all odds and its steady, if unspectacular growth through the post war period and into the seventies where Elim experienced a second crisis in the form of the challenge of the House Church and Restoration movements. Details will be given of the Southport conferences that were crucial in avoiding a second major division.
There will be biographical outlines of the work and ministry of some of Elim’s key leaders pointing out their contribution and impact, not only on Elim itself, but on the wider Pentecostal and charismatic scene.
The period covered in this first volume is: 1915-40. So, let the story begin.
There are many streams that flowed into the river of the British Pentecostal Movement in general, and the Elim Pentecostal Church, in particular. Elim was the name that was given to the denomination on its establishment in 1915. This name was given for two reasons. Firstly, it was called after the Elim mission in Lytham, Lancashire where George Jeffreys had preached on a number of occasions while he was a student at the Preston Bible School. xii
Secondly, Elim is a biblical name taken from Exodus 15:27. This was an oasis in the desert that the Children of Israel came to on their journey from captivity in Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan. The oasis had seventy palm trees and twelve wells. As such, it signifies a place of refreshment, a most appropriate symbol of what was to become one of the major British Pentecostal denominations.
A unique factor concerning Elim is that it is the product of pioneering evangelism and church planting by its founder George Jeffreys (1889-1962).xiii The results of his pioneering work show him to be arguably the greatest British evangelist of the last century. He occupied some of the greatest buildings in the land and conducted evangelistic crusades that established large churches throughout the country. Undoubtedly, his greatest campaign was in Birmingham in 1930 where meetings were held in the great Bingley Hall with a seating capacity of 17,000. Jeffreys filled this hall each night for a fortnight. Prior to that, services had been held at the Town Hall and the Embassy Ice Rink in Sparkbrook, Birmingham. There were more than 10,000 converts and 1,000 baptised in water. Three large churches were established in Graham Street, Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Smethwick. Within six years, a total of eleven Elim churches had been established in Birmingham.
George Jeffreys, along with his elder brother, Stephen, was converted during the Welsh Revival under the ministry of Rev W Glasnant Jones on the 20th November 1904 in Siloh Congregational Chapel, Maesteg.xiv His pastor soon realised that there was an anointing on young George and claimed that he was ‘a chosen vessel’. Boulton gives the following quotation by Glasnant Jones:
At the open air revival services, I always found young Jeffreys at my side. I was privileged to give him his early religious tuition and a splendid scholar he was. Superior to other lads, there was a character in his face: I knew he was a ‘chosen vessel.’ When I left Siloh, Maesteg in 1907 young Jeffreys was in business, and had he remained in that calling, I am convinced he would have become a merchant prince.xv
The Holiness Movements
The Holiness Movements both in Britain and America had a great influence on the developing Pentecostal Movements. It was the Wesleyan concept of a ‘second blessing’ that was to be most influential. The concept of ‘entire sanctification’ or ‘perfect love’ was the idea that it was possible for Christians to become so close to Christ in holiness that they would reach the place where they would be without sin. It taught an experience which totally eradicated sin from the heart.xvi The idea of perfection within the life of the believer had a profound effect upon the early Pentecostals. Charles Finney, among others, came to see it as a distinct crisis experience of sanctification, a second work of grace by which a Christian may be entirely sanctified.xvii The proliferation of the Holiness groups in America was fuelled by the 1858 revival and they strongly taught this concept of a ‘second blessing’. This, in turn, matured into this being termed as the ‘Baptism in the Holy Ghost’. Some historians are of the opinion that the inspiration behind the Holiness Movement was the idea of Christian perfection as embraced by John Wesley. Seeking a deeper relationship with God, like that experienced by the apostles with Jesus, Holiness Movement Christians made this idea of holiness through being sanctified by the Holy Spirit into a primary goal. This took hold in America during the first part of the nineteenth century.xviii Some Pentecostal historians believe that Pentecostalism rose out of the Holiness Movement.
More and more, the link between the ‘second blessing’ and a Spirit baptism became closer. A B Simpson, the son of Scottish covenanters who had moved to Canada, became a prominent figure in holiness circles at that time. At the age of twenty-one he was appointed minister of the Knox Presbyterian Church in Hamilton. It was a large church for such a young man. The church grew through his ministry and he later moved to an even bigger church in Louisville, Kentucky. He came under the influence of Major Whittle who had close connections with D L Moody. After a difficult time while leading the Broadway Tabernacle in New York, he had a breakdown, was healed, but resigned from his position and from the Presbyterian denomination. He did so on the issue of infant baptism. He started a new outreach with just a few members. In 1889, work was finished on the building that was named the Gospel Tabernacle, just one block from Times Square. He set up a Training Institute and a Missionary Home.xix
It was clear to Simpson that healing, prophecy and tongues were an important part of God’s provision to the Church at the end of the age.xx He had an influence on Charles Parham, who was to become an important figure in the fledgling Pentecostal Movement.xxi It seemed that he believed in seeking the baptism of the Spirit which would be accompanied by the gift of tonguesxxii, although he did not take what was to become the classical Pentecostal view that tongues was the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It was Simpson who crystalised what was to become the major focus of some Pentecostal denominations world-wide, including Elim. This was belief in the four cardinal points of the work of Christ; Saviour, Healer, Baptiser (in the Holy Spirit) and Coming King. ‘It was not the uniqueness of Simpson’s doctrines that marked him out, for each of his four elements was represented by a substantial spiritual movement in the late nineteenth century. Rather, it was his original combination of them … that distinguished him.’xxiii
In combining the four-fold pattern in the way that he did, Simpson elaborated on the concept that emphasised the ‘full gospel’ term that characteristically formulised early Pentecostal theology. It was a refinement of the five-fold theological emphasis that was adhered to by some of the early Pentecostal pioneers including Parham and Seymour. This five-fold pattern included within it the Wesleyan holiness tradition of three works of grace.xxiv This is the pattern that was adopted by the Apostolic Faith Mission which traced its origin directly to the Azusa Street Revival.
This church … places special emphasis on the need of having three definite, separate, spiritual experiences wrought out in the heart and life: JUSTIFICATION, SANCTIFICATION, THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY GHOST … These doctrines concerning spiritual experience, together with the teachings on Divine Healing, the Imminent Second Coming of Jesus – premillennial … provide the solid, scriptural foundation on which the church stands.xxv
Simpson departed from the five-fold emphasis and ‘introduced a four-fold gospel of salvation, healing, sanctification and the second coming of Christ’xxvi – ‘emergence of this pattern is in fact, the last step in the complex process of development that culminated in Pentecostalism.’xxvii The Christocentric four-fold formula presented by Simpson was adopted by many of the early Pentecostals. The only change in this formula became the substituting of ‘Sanctifier’ by ‘Baptiser in the Holy Spirit’. This was to be popularised by Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944) whose claim that she had received it by divine revelation was challenged by James Bradley, who claimed that it was ‘borrowed’ (from Simpson).xxviii
Simpson’s four-fold Christocentric formula, modified by McPherson, became the doctrinal basis of the Elim Movement and Elim adopted the title ‘Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance’ in 1925. Simpson, although parting company with some of the early Pentecostal pioneers in America, influenced men such as T B Barratt and A A Boddy, who were to become very influential in the development of the British Pentecostal Movement. The subject of tongues as the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was to become an issue in the British Pentecostal Movement. Malcolm Hathaway claims that George Jeffreys and Elim shared Simpson’s view as regards initial evidence. He says that both were probably influenced in this respect by their emphasis on mission rather than charismata. This may be true, but certainly, in the early days, most Elim leaders believed that speaking in other tongues was the initial evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in Elim’s first Statement of Fundamentals published in 1922, this is clearly stated.
The Keswick Movement
The Keswick Movement was to play a seminal role in the origins of the Welsh Revival (1904-05) and the British Pentecostal Movement.xxix It was an effective counter to the rapid advance of higher criticism and theological liberalism that infected the British ecclesiastical system towards the end of the nineteenth century. The emphasis of the Keswick Conventions was the deepening of spiritual life. This was associated with the baptism in the Holy Spirit, although not with the charismata, and certainly not speaking with other tongues at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But the Keswick Conventions and its message, certainly prepared the way for the Pentecostal doctrine of a Spirit baptism accompanied by charismatic gifts which gave way to power for service.xxx
The major impact that Keswick was to have on the Pentecostal Movement, especially in Britain, was to view Spirit baptism, not so much in terms of holiness but as empowering for service. This was a departure from the Wesleyan holiness tradition and certainly paved the way for the Pentecostal emphasis on the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In particular, this change in emphasis was taught by Torrey, Moody’s associate evangelist and successor, who wrote that ‘The baptism with the Holy Spirit’ was a definite experience separate from regeneration and ‘always connected with testimony and service’.xxxi He implied that it had nothing to do with sanctification and that the form of the power received during Spirit baptism varied according to the different gifts of the Spirit. This interpretation of the purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit was the groundwork that was laid for the birth of Pentecostalism, particularly in Britain.xxxii Glossolalia was to be seen as the evidence of Pentecostalism, not its message. This was articulated strongly by Alexander Tee who was to become a leading evangelist within Elim in the latter half of the last century.
There were many prominent British evangelicals who spoke at the Keswick Conventions. Among them were Hanley Moule, A T Pierson, F B Meyer, G Campbell-Morgan and J H Jowett. These preachers came from various denominational backgrounds and proclaimed a message of unity among God’s people. Hudson Taylor and D L Moody preached at the convention in 1892 and Andrew Murray of South Africa in 1895. The organisers proved that they saw the gospel as embracing the whole world when they invited Pandita Ramabai of India to speak in 1898.xxxiii
The main emphasis of the Keswick Movement was the teaching that came to be known as ‘The Higher Life’. The idea was that Christians should move on from their initial conversion experience to grow and mature in the knowledge of God. This was seen as a second work of grace in the believer’s life. The Keswick Movement taught, and still teaches, that Christians who receive this blessing from God can live a more sin-free life as they grow to be more like Christ. This view quickly separated Keswick from the traditional Wesleyan teaching of ‘entire sanctification’. ‘They managed to steer a middle road between reserved reformed views of sanctification and erroneous Wesleyan teachings.’xxxiv
Many early British Pentecostals attended the Keswick conventions, among them, Alexander Boddy, Smith Wigglesworth and J Nelson Parr. The Keswick Conventions had a secondary impact upon the early British Pentecostal pioneers in that it showed them the value of a national platform from which to declare their message. This was to see its fulfilment in the Sunderland Conventions that were to prove to be massively influential in the development of British Pentecostalism.
There is no doubt that the Keswick Conventions impacted not only some of the men that were to become influential in the nascent Pentecostal Movement in Britain,xxxv but, in that it gave rise to the description of a second work of grace as being an endowment with power to serve and was given the designation ‘baptism in the Spirit’, it also proved to be one of the catalysts that caused these men to seek the experience with a supernatural evidence. ‘Moreover, as the 19th Century drew to an end, there was a widely held desire for Christians to face the new challenges of the 20th century with fresh power bestowed by the Holy Spirit.’xxxvi Kay goes on to say that the phrase ‘baptism in the Spirit’ was used quite extensively across the theological spectrum to refer to a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit, but beyond this, preachers did not go.xxxvii
Keswick certainly had an influence on the birth of the Welsh revival. Malcolmson claims that in 1905 some 300 Welsh delegates fresh from the revival held an all-night of prayer where tongues were manifest.xxxviii There is no substantive proof that speaking in other tongues took place during the Welsh revival. Some claim that Evan Roberts, the acknowledged leader during the revival of 1904-05, spoke in other tongues after being baptised in the Holy Spirit. According to Malcolmson, A T Pierson called the Welsh prayer meeting at the convention a ‘satanic disturbance’; but that could have been with reference to the highly emotional nature of the prayer meeting.xxxix
The Keswick conventions made a huge impact on Welsh evangelicals. At Keswick in 1903, two Welsh ministers recalled how thirteen Welsh people had gathered in 1896 at the convention, meeting together to pray for Wales and asking God to give to Wales a similar convention for the deepening of the spiritual life.xl This resulted in the Welsh Keswick convention at Llandrindod Wells in 1903. Among the speakers at this convention were R B Jones and Seth Joshua who were to become influential in the Welsh Revival.