Branhamism

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"Branhamism" is the general term for the religious movement based on the distinctive doctrines of William M. Branham (1909–65),[1] an American faith healer and preacher of the mid-twentieth century.

After Branham's death, his followers formed numerous independent congregations which refer to themselves as "The Message". William Branham is, at a minimum, revered by Message believers as the "end-time" prophet whose "message" is the Word of God "in its purest form". Branham's sermons have obtained scriptural status for most followers as the infallible "voice of God" to the Bride of Christ before the Second Coming of Jesus.[2]

History[edit]

Weaver states that:

The most enduring and comprehensive manifestation of Branham's influence is the continued existence of a religious movement based on his teachings. Since Branham's death, his disciples have continued to exist in several feuding groups.[3]

The initial reaction of Branham's followers to his death was one of shocking disbelief. In the confusion immediately following his death, expectations developed that he would rise from the dead. His funeral was held on December 29, 1965 but his burial was delayed indefinitely. The press surmised that this was a result of Branham's expected resurrection. He was finally buried on April 11, 1966, the day after Easter Sunday, which was accepted reluctantly by his followers. Most believed that he would have to return to fulfill a vision that he had regarding future tent meetings.[4]

During the ensuing eleven years, much of the excitement dealt with Branham's prediction that 1977 represented the inception of the millenium. In 1973, a 735 page computer generated concordance of Branham sermons was published by A. David Mamalis.[5] In 1976, Spoken Word Publications, a distributor of Branham's sermons, published a book entitled "1977".[6]

After 1977, some of Branham's followers abandoned the "Message", although most explained it away by explaining that Branham's comments about 1977 were a "prediction" and not a "prophecy". Many disciples began to look toward 1988 as the time of Branham's return.[7]

At present, there are numerous beliefs among his followers regarding his return. Most no longer insist on the literal fulfillment of his "tent" vision. A small minority believe that the Rapture is past and they are already living in the millenium. Yet the persistence of the belief in Branham's resurrection is still evidence each Easter.[7]

While Branham himself seemed to believe that he was the prophet of Malachi 4, his sometimes ambiguous comments open the door for others to assert successorship to Branham's mantle. similar to Elijah and Elisha. One of the more bizarre attempts was R. Paulaseer Lawrie whose followers believed that the second coming of Christ had arrived through Lawrie on "moonlanding day" - July 21, 1969.[8]

Others, such as Pearry Green or Ewald Frank, see themselves as the primary interpreter of Branham's message.[8] A growing number of Branham's disciples look to Branham's youngest son, Joseph, to fulfill his father's vision and lead the Bride into the Rapture.[9]

In its essence, the "Message" is now characterized by two perspectives, "liberal" and "fundamentalist". The liberals primarily emphasize that Branham was the prophet of Malachi 4 and their attitude towards Branham's words vary. Some select only those teachings that are prefaced by "Thus saith the Lord", while others see all of his sermonic materials as inerrant scripture. The liberal camp also tend to spiritualize Branham's ideas or visions, such as the tent campaign.[10]

The fundamentalist camp view Branham as quasi-divine, although a small minority view him as the literal return of Jesus Christ. Fundamentalists also hold Branham's sermons as infallible and also literally true, such that Branham will return to fulfill the tent vision. A growing sentiment in this group is to view Joseph Branham as the inheritor of Branham's mantle.[11]

The primary medium of evangelization in the "Message" are the publication of Branham's sermons of approximately 1,100 audio sermons of which over 300 are in print.[12] The leading publisher of Branham's materials is Voice of God Recordings, Inc. of Jeffersonville, IN.[13]

The lack of a denominational structure makes numbers difficult to estimate. In 1986, Voice of God Recordings estimated the total followers at 300,000. In 2000, Weaver, estimated that there were 50,000 followers in the United States; 40,000 in Brazil and 25,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[14] In 2004, the William Branham Evangelistic Association claimed to have more than half a million followers worldwide, a figure which is viewed by outsiders as being a wild exaggeration.[13]

Major doctrines and teachings of the Message[edit]

Branham became more controversial in his later years and this was particularly evident in his development of a theology that emphasized a few select doctrines. Although not always consistent with each other, his primary concerns were eschatology, the denial of an eternal hell, Oneness Pentecostalism, predestination, eternal security and the serpent's seed.[15] Branham asserted that his doctrinal teachings were given to him by divine revelation.[16]

The prophet-messenger[edit]

Branham's central teaching in his latter years was his identity as the end-time messenger and the necessity of the church's heeding the worlds of the "prophet".[17] Branham taught that the message could not be separated from the messenger. As a result, some followers assert that Branham was the one and only prophet of the last days.[18]

Since denominationalism was extra-biblical dogma, the purpose of the Laodicean messenger was to announce "the Message of the hour".[19]

A chief concern of the "Message" is "Branhamology" - the issue of who Branham represented. Most disciples simply emphasize that Branham was the prophet of Malachi 4, the forerunner of Christs second coming, manifesting Luke 17:30 and restoring the original apostolic faith. But many go much further, considering Branham to be the messenger of Revelation 22, the Son of man that Jesus predicted as opposed to merely a manifestation of Luke 17:30. Branham is seen as the greatest prophet of all time, second only to Christ himself. The second coming of Christ is primarily through Branham's ministry with most of the prophecies regarding the second coming being fulfilled in Branham.[20]

Finally, a small minority of Branham's followers hold to the most radical view that Branham was God himself, born of a virgin. These followers pray to Branham and baptize in his name.[20]

Denial of an eternal hell[edit]

Prior to 1957, Branham taught a doctrine of eternal punishment in hell. However, by 1957 he was proclaiming that hell was not eternal:[16]

If you see a man that's cheating, stealing, lying, just remember, his part is waiting in hell, for him, his place where he'll be tormented in the Presence of God and the holy Angels, with fire and brimstone. He'll be tormented there. Not forever, he can't be tormented forever, forever don't mean all, for all times. Eternity is forever, Eternity is... has no beginning or end. But forever is "a space of time." The Bible said, "Forever and," conjunction, "forever." Jonah said he was in the belly of the whale "forever." Is a space of time.[21]

Annihilationism was not a new concept to Pentecostalism as Charles Fox Parham had also advocated the doctrine.[22]

While Braham had taught the doctrine since 1957, he suggested in 1960 that the Holy Spirit had just revealed it to him as one of the mysteries that God was revealing in the "end-time".[22]

Vindication[edit]

Branham viewed the gift of healing as a divine vindication of his prophetic identity. He demanded an affirmative assent to his identity as God's prophet.[23] If a person did not believe that Branhan was a prophet commissioned to bring the gift of healing to the world, they could not claim the promise of physical healing. Faith was insufficient withou believe in Christ and Branham.[24]

While Branham claimed that he only identified himself as a prophet while under the "anointing", this was greater proof for his followers. They believe that this confirmation came directly from God. Branham also claimed that those guilty of criticizing him were disrespectful of the Gospel issuing dire warnings against those that dare question him.[25]

Oneness Pentecostalism[edit]

Early in his ministry, Branham at times referred to the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity.[22] It was even reported that Branham had told some trinitarians that he agreed with them but that he felt obligated to the "Jesus Only" Pentecostals because they had supported him early in the revival. However, by the 1960s Branham was openly teaching the oneness position.[26]

Branham preached that trinitarianism was tritheism and insisted that members of his congregation be rebaptized in Jesus' name in imitation of the example of the Apostle Paul. He tried to distinguish himself from the Oneness baptism in the name of "Jesus" by teaching the baptism in the name of the "Lord Jesus Christ".[27]

While Branham was at times inconsistent with respect to the need to be rebaptized, by the end of his ministry fidelity to the eschatological "message" required an acceptance of the "oneness" of the Godhead and rebaptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.[28]

Serpent's Seed Doctrine[edit]

See also: Serpent Seed

Branham taught that Eve and the serpent had sexual intercourse and Cain was born.[15] Consequently, every woman potentially carried the literal seed of the devil.[29] Cain's descendants were today masquerading as the educated and the scientists,[30] who were "a big religious bunch of illegitimate bastard children."[31] The serpent was the "missing link" between the chimpanzee and man, who was perhaps ten feet tall and looked just like a man.[32]

The central sins of modern culture - immoral women and education - were a result of the serpent's seed. Branham's attitude toward culture was a very extremist perspective of "Christ against Culture". Education was Satan's snare for intellectual Christians who rejected the supernatural. Education was Satan's tool for obscuring the "simplicity of the Message and the messenger".[33]

Eschatology[edit]

Branham claimed to have had a prophetic revelation in June 1933 that comprised seven major events that would occur before the Second Coming of Christ.[34] He believed that five of the seven predictions, relating to world politics, scence and the moral condition of the world, had been fulfilled. The final two visions, one related to the Roman Catholic Church gaining power in the United States and the second detailing the destruction of the USA, would be fulfilled by 1977, subsequent to which Christ would return. A comparison of Branham's descriptions of the prophecies reveals his tendency to exaggerate and embellish his actual predictions.[35]

In December 1964, Branham also prophesied that the city of Los Angeles would sink into the Pacific Ocean. This was subsequently embellished to a prediction that a chunk of land fifteen hundred miles long, three or four hundred miles wide and forty miles deep would break loose causing waves that would "shoot plumb out to Kentucky."[26][36]

In 1960, Branham preached a series of sermons on the seven church ages based on chapters two and three of The Book of Revelation. The sermons depended heavily on C. I. Scofield's dispensationalism. Branham described each church as representing an historical age and suggested that the angerl of each age was an earthly messenger. His most important "revelation" was the description of the messenger to the Laodicean Church, age immediately proceeding the Rapture, whose characteristics were all strikingly compatible to Branham's personality.[37]

Branham regarded his series of sermons on the Seven Seals in 1963 as a highlight of his ministry.[38] In reality, the opening of the seals revealed very little new doctrine and were essentially a laborious restatement of the dispensationalism espoused in the sermons on the seven church ages.[39]

Anti-denominationalism[edit]

Another contributor to the controversy surrounding Branham's ministry in his later ministry was that he believed that denominationalism was the mark of the beast.[33][26]

Much of Branham's "revelation" was similar to Scofield's dispensationalism and the anti-Catholic rhetoric of classical Pentecostalism. In his later years, he came to believe that all denominations were "synagogues of Satan". The heart of Branham's "message" was for the elect Bride to "come out" of denominationalism and to accept the message of the Laodicean messenger who had the "message of the hour". Continued allegiance to a denomination was to take the mark of the beast which would mean missing the Rapture.[40]

The role of women[edit]

Branham was very critical of the immorality of modern women.[41] He taught that a woman with short hair was breaking the commandments of God and ridiculed women's desire to artificially beautify themselves with make-up. Branham believed that scantily clad women were guilty of committing adultery because their appearance motivated men to lust. A woman's place was in the kitchen.[42]

Branham also taught that women were not a "created product of God". Rather she was merely a byproduct of man. His pronouncements with respect to women were often contradictory. He once told women who wore shorts not to call themselves Christians. But he qualified his denunciations by affirming that obedience to his moral code was not a requirement for salvation. However, he also implied that no woman that disobeyed his "Thus Saith the Lord" moral code would be part of the rapture.[29]

Branham's attitude towards women was decidedly misogynistic, covering physical appearance, sexual drive and marital relations.[43] Modern women were basically immoral sexual machines who were to blame for adultery, divorce and death. They were the tools of the Devil.[33]

Reception[edit]

The "Message" is considered by outsiders as an extremist Pentecostal expression of Protestant fundamentalism. Parallels are seen between the reverence of message believers for Branham and that of Mormons for Joseph Smith.[44]

For the most part, William Branham, his message and followers are little known in the Western world. Bob Larson, in Larson's Book of World Religions and Alternative Spirituality, refers to Branham as an "odd historical footnote".[45] Robert Price (as quoted by Douglas Weaver) summarized Branham's legacy as follows:

In the days of his prominence, the 1950's, what Spirit-filled believer did not know his name? Yet today, we may wonder, what believer does?"[46]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Larson, B., Larson's Book of Cults, Tyndale House Publishers Inc, 1982. (See Bob Larson)
  2. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. vi.
  3. ^ Weaver 2000, p. 151.
  4. ^ Weaver 2000, p. 153-154.
  5. ^ Kydd 1998, p. 175.
  6. ^ Weaver 2000, p. 154-155.
  7. ^ a b Weaver 2000, p. 155.
  8. ^ a b Weaver 2000, p. 160.
  9. ^ Weaver 2000, p. 161.
  10. ^ Weaver 2000, p. 163.
  11. ^ Weaver 2000, p. 164.
  12. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 152.
  13. ^ a b Larson 2004, pp. 77.
  14. ^ Larson 2004, pp. 152-153.
  15. ^ a b Weaver 2000, pp. 98.
  16. ^ a b Weaver 2000, pp. 118.
  17. ^ Weaver 2002, p. xiv.
  18. ^ Weaver 2002, p. 27.
  19. ^ Weaver 2002, p. 117.
  20. ^ a b Weaver 2002, p. 156.
  21. ^ William Branham, Sermon:Hebrews Chapter Four, September 1, 1957
  22. ^ a b c Weaver 2000, pp. 119.
  23. ^ Weaver 2002, p. 82.
  24. ^ Weaver 2002, p. 83.
  25. ^ Weaver 2002, p. 85.
  26. ^ a b c Harrel 1978, pp. 163.
  27. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 120.
  28. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 120-121.
  29. ^ a b Weaver 2000, pp. 111.
  30. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 113.
  31. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 125.
  32. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 124.
  33. ^ a b c Weaver 2000, pp. 114.
  34. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 29.
  35. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 30-31.
  36. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 103-104.
  37. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 99.
  38. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 99-100.
  39. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 101.
  40. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 116-117.
  41. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 109.
  42. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 110.
  43. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 112.
  44. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. 174.
  45. ^ Larson 2004, pp. 79.
  46. ^ Weaver 2000, pp. x.

Bibliography[edit]

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Anderson, A. (2004). An Introduction to Pentecostalism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521532808. 
  • Burgess, Stanley M.; van der Maas, Eduard M. (2002). The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Zondervan. ISBN 978-0310224815. 
  • Duyzer, Peter M. (2014). Legend of the Fall, An Evaluation of William Branham and His Message. Independent Scholar's Press. ISBN 9781927581155. 
  • Hanegraaff, Hank (2001). Counterfeit Revival. Thomas Nelson Publishers. ISBN 0-8499-4294-2. 
  • Harrell, David (1978). All Things Are Possible: The Healing and Charismatic Revivals in Modern America. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-525-24136-1. 
  • Hollenweger, Walter J. (1997). Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide. Baker Academic. ISBN 978-0801046605. 
  • Stewart, Don (1999). Only Believe: An Eyewitness Account of the Great Healing Revival of the 20th Century. Treasure House. ISBN 978-1560433408. 
  • Weaver, C. Douglas (2000). The Healer-Prophet: William Marrion Branham (A study of the Prophetic in American Pentecostalism). Mercer University Press. ISBN 978-0253202215. 

Primary sources[edit]

  • Branham, W. M., An Exposition of the Seven Church Ages Voice of God Recordings, Jeffersonville, Indiana, 1965.
  • Lindsay, Gordon (1950). William Branham: A Man Sent From God. William Branham Evangelistic Association. ASIN B0007ENQ64. 
  • Stadsklev, Julius (1952). William Branham: A Man Sent From God. Julius Stadsklev. ASIN B0007EW174. 
  • Vayle, Lee (1965). Twentieth Century Prophet. William Branham Evangelistic Association. 
  • Green, Pearry (1969). William Branham, The Acts of a Prophet. CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1463711344. 

External links[edit]

Supportive of William Branham[edit]

Neutral or Critical of William Branham[edit]