Question 18 (ABM) - Why do we need the message?
On September 12, 2020, the first-ever English language debate between a message pastor (Jesse Smith of Akron, OH) and an ex-message Christian (Rod Bergen from the Off The Shelf podcast) took place. The discussion was moderated by Jay Cox and Tim Kraus.
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Question 18 - Why do we need the message?
Further to Question 15, “What doctrines comprise the message?”, I would say, with respect, that you did not answer the question. It is my view that WMB’s message is completely inconsequential to my faith in Christ and my Christian growth as a Christian.
I agree and do not take issue with the fact that WMB was part of the progression of what is now the Charismatic Movement. However, his penchant for strange doctrine and sowing discord among the brethren has largely led to his elimination from the collective memory of the church. Others in the development of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement have played a larger role than WMB.
WMB did not start the Pentecostal movement. And there are others before and after WMB that have had at least as great an influence as he did. WMB was part of what is referred to as the “first wave” of Pentecostalism. This started with the Azuza revival and resulted in the classical Pentecostal churches (the “Pentecostal renewal”). WMB’s audience for the most part was those in classic Pentecostalism. Certainly, WMB’s ministry had a much lesser impact than the Azuza revival itself which initiated the Pentecostal movement. The first wave resulted in about 65 million adherents at present.
The “second wave” were the charismatics in the mainline churches (the charismatic renewal). WMB had no significant part in the second wave and just briefly interacted with some of its early players. The second wave swept through all the major non-Pentecostal denominations to reach 175 million charismatics today.
The “third wave” (or the neocharismatic renewal) originated at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1981 under the classroom ministry of John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement. The third wave has now reached 295 million neo-charismatics, bigger than the two previous waves combined.
These statistics are taken from Vinson Synan’s book - The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal.
It is interesting to note that WMB is mentioned 24 times in Synan’s book but Oral Roberts is mentioned 207 times. The onset of Oral Roberts’s television ministry is credited with bringing divine healing into the living rooms of the American people and he has had a much larger and lasting impact on the Pentecostal movement than WMB.
You stated in the answer to Question 15 that:
- “It is the message that is the forerunner, not Bro. Branham. Bro. Branham's message, in its basic form, is known and had an impact on a large portion of Christianity.”
- "The message... is told in the Bible itself.”
Peter tells us that "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Pe 1:3–4)
I have no need of WMB’s message. All believers have access to everything needed for life and godliness. Obviously, we choose whether we follow Christ or not.
Why do I need to listen to WMB? Paul reminds us that there should be no more boasting about human leaders. All things are ours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are things are ours, and we are of Christ, and Christ is of God. (1 Co 3:21–23)
As Jesus prayed, "this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (Jn 17:3)
Paul tells us that we were included in Christ when we heard the message of truth, the gospel of our salvation. When we believed, we were marked in Christ with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13–14)
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit I received did not make me a slave, so that I live in fear again; rather, the Spirit I received brought about my adoption to sonship. And by him I cry, “Papa, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with my spirit that I am God’s child. (Rom 8:14–16)
You have not told me what it is in WMB's message that I need to believe (other than the Bible itself). But since I believe the Bible, since I am a follower of Christ, since I have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, I do not understand why I need to listen to WMB’s sermons.
My question to you, in light of the plain meaning of scripture, is… Why do I need to listen to the message of William Branham?
I will try to answer you more plainly if you were not able to glean from my previous statements what the answer is. I can understand it is probably quite different from what you have heard from the idolaters, so let me try to be as clear as possible so you don't think I am trying to avoid the question.
What we believe his message was, is what we can see that the bible says it was. There are only a few scriptures that do that. The message is not every word and sermon Bro. Branham preached, contrary to what the idolaters have made of it. It is not his voice or magnetic tapes or the spoken word. The message is the revelation behind those things, and it is possible to have that message and never heard a tape or read a spoken word book in your life.
Bro. Branham got his message from the bible directly. We can do the same without using his tapes and messages and a middle man. Our relationship is with Christ, not Christ via Bro. Branham.
What was the message of John the Baptist? "Prepare ye the way of the Lord". He "turned the heart of the fathers to the children". The bible defines to us what his message was. His message to get ready for the coming of Christ. The bible also defines to us what Bro. Branham's message was.
Malachi 3:4-6 says "he will turn the hearts of the children to the fathers". We believe this is the core of the message, a call for people to return to the roots of Christianity, to a true form of Christianity like the early church. We believe Bro. Braham's message is the voice of Revelation 18:4 saying "Come out of her my people that ye be not partakers of her sins", which we interpret as a call for believers to exit the denominations. This is directly related to Malachi 3:4-6. We believe the voice is the message of truth, not the vocalizations of a person. We believe the voice of Revelation 18:4 is the same voice as Revelation 10:7. During the days of the voice, the mystery of God will be finished. We believe William Branham was the thunder of Revelation 6:1, and the voice of Revelation 6:7. These verses both link him to the revelation of the six seals. (He did not open the seals, Jesus Christ did.)
These are the only verses we use to interpret what the message was. What other scriptural means are there to define it?We are bible believers, not idolaters. From these verses, we interpret that his message was to call the Christian Church to prepare for the second coming of the Lord by returning to the faith and form of the early church. That is the message.
Now beyond that, he preached a great many things. But that was not the message. Those other things he preached were a product of the message, and not the message itself. I hope you are understanding my semantics. To me and those who believe like me, this is an important distinction. So you asked "what is the message?", and I have done by best to answer that. If you want to get into the doctrines he preached as a result of his message, I am glad to do that as well.
My argument to you is this: His message, as I have defined it to you, can be traced throughout the charismatic movement, and he is given broad credit throughout charismatic Christianity as the key teacher and definer of the doctrine of Christian Restorationism. I have provided multiples references previously, but if I could point you to one you may find particularly enlightening, it would be the "New Charistimatics" by Michael Moriarty. Bro. Branham himself is not so widely known, I agree. But he is still known. Other men were and are more influential than he was, like the Pope. But the bible tells about that too.
There is a logical fallacy in your position. (I do not mean that personally, just observing.) You link Bro. Branham to the Latter Rain Movement and the Manifested Sons of God, yet say he has no legacy outside of the Branham movement. The Latter Rain Movement influenced churches, Manifested Sons of God influenced church (this would be from the Kansas City Prophets and Vineyard Association), and the Word of Faith Movement (which is a cousin to Manifested Sons of God) are the majority of non-denominational charismatic Christianity. If you throw in the prosperity gospel influenced churches, which are tenuously linked to Bro. Branham's teachings, it becomes the overwhelming majority. Additionally, through one of my missionary journeys I was surprised to find Bro. Branham's teachings in a stream of Messianic Christianity, and they openly attributed the teachings to him.
You say that William Branham had no significant part in the second or third wave - and you are correct that he personally did not. He did not believe the gospel in the same manner as the second and third wave do. I do not either. But some of his teachings most certainly did go into those movements. You reference the Vineyard Association - do you disagree that they do not adhere to some of Bro. Branham's teachings? In the 1980s the Kansas City Prophets merged with the Vineyard Association, and with them imported a fair number of Bro. Branham's teachings. The Vineyard Association, in its present form, is still influenced by the Manifested Sons of God theology. Please do not think I am endorsing any of that, I am just relating history. Bro. Branham is in no way a central figure in the Charisimatic movement, but his core teachings are most certainly still accepted and widely taught within them, and without his name attached to them.
Perhaps you and I agree more than you think. I agree, the message is in the bible. Do you need to hear Bro. Branham to be saved? No. Do you need to hear him to go in the rapture? No. Only the idolators ever thought otherwise. But you do need what is in the bible, which is what I believe he was pointing to. You need what he was pointing to.
If I was going to summarize the message I would say it is this, quoting Bro. Branham "We only have one hope. Get back to the Word!"
You see Bro. Branham as antithetical to getting back to the Word. I would say this, the manner in which Eddie Byskal and much of the Branham movement view Bro. Branham and his teachings are absolutely antithetical to getting back to the Word. But we are not all like that. They believe Bro. Branham brought a boatload of new unique teachings which needs to be analyzed according to how he spoken and accepted verbatim. In reality, Bro. Branham taught very few unique or new doctrines. He was rather pointing to a great many of already established doctrines we should accept. And truthfully the originators of those doctrines taught them more clearly and better detail than Bro. Branham did.
Please do not take what I am saying to you as a personal attack. I do not mean it in that way. You were indeed part of a cult. Had you asked me ten years ago if you were in a cult, I would have told you yes then. Alot of the message churches are that way. But we are not all that way. There are many of us that are probably not terribly different than you are right now. And we believe what we believe as a result of William Branham.
I will try to explain again what we believe, and what Bro. Branham taught. You are saved by faith, a free gift, by believing and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins. You then shall receive the gift of the holy spirit. There are no strings attached, it is not connected to how well you live your life, or whether or not you believe serpent seed or any doctrine other than repentance and salvation. And in that state you are saved, justified, and you are washed in the blood of the lamb. A great many people fall into this first state. But there is a higher state, and that higher state is made clear throughout the scriptures and has it roots in the teachings of John Wesley. To go in the rapture, we we need also to be fully sanctified. Sanctification is achieved through obedience or living of the Word of God. As the Word of God is progressively revealed, new revelation must also be accepted and applied to further our sanctification. So to the extent Bro. Branahm bought us additional truth and revelation, which is established by the Word of God, we need also to apply that to our lives. Bro. Branham's core message brought us two key things which we must apply to our life. Leave denominational systems behind and return to the form of early Christianity. These elements of Bro. Branham's teachings are directly from the bible, so to believe it is to believe the bible. Whether you believe it because you heard it from Bro. Branham or you believe it because you heard it though some other means, that is not relevant.
So you ask me "Why do I need to listen to the message of William Branham?" If you accept the manner in which I have defined the message to you I would answer it like this. You need his message so you can get ready for the rapture by separating yourself from the creeds of man and the liturgy of denominations and believe the bible in its pure form. If you serve God with all your heart and soul in that manner, he lead you in all truth, the truth by which we are sanctified. Being thus sanctified by it, you will be ready for the rapture. Bro. Branham did not bring us all truth, but he did bring us some. It is not possible to be fully sanctified by the teachings of William Branham, neither is it possible to be fully sanctified without the key doctrines and teachings of William Branham (but whether you accept those key doctrines and teachings by William Branham or some other source is irrelevant.)
As I have thought about this a little more, I wanted to provide you an example.
Bro. Branham preached church order. You may already know, but that was to deal with a specific problem in the Branham Tabernacle. Church Order is actually contrary to the teachings of the Apostle Paul concerning the gifts of the Spirit. Yet the idolators took church order and applied very widely in the Branham movement, to the extent it had really become a key liturgy of some sects of the Branham movement. They were always taking things out of context and trying to make Bro. Branham's statements greater than the Word of God. Rev. Don Ruddel, for example, refused to implement church order for this reason. He was one of the men who spoke at Bro. Branham's funeral. I could list off the different ministers at that time who rejected it for their church, and the idolaters who went crazy because they refused. I know you have said that people did not challenge Bro. Branham in those days he was living, but this is mistaken. He was challenged and changed his mind on a number of things as a result of those challenges. Church order is one example of that. Church order was not the message, church order was in fact unscriptural and wrong.