William Branham said the following about Ern Baxter, while in Chicago, IL, in 1958, a number of years after Ern Baxter returned to pastor his church in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
- I haven't got an official campaign manager at these times, since our dear precious brother Ern Baxter, had to return to his church. It was calling for him. His church is almost the size of this auditorium. So to be gadding around across the country with me, his church wouldn't stand for it any longer. He had to return back to them or he'd probably lose his church. A wonderful soul, a wonderful man of God, and I love him. (Sermon: Door to the Heart, Chicago, Il, 01-12-58)
Interview with Ern Baxter
The following is a portion of an interview with Ern Baxter published in the December 1978 issue of New Wine Magazine.
In his book All Things Are Possible, which is a historical look at the healing and charismatic revivals in modern America, David Harrell makes this statement: "Few learned observers recognized the significance of the huge healing campaigns of the 1950's; not many of those enthralled by the charismatic movement today understand its origins." Can you tell us what kind of religious "climate" than there was in the post-World War II years, and what circumstances made the era of the healing the revivals possible?
- The atmosphere and religious "climate" at the time was one of low spirituality. All supernatural happenings around the world were reported on as being quite significant.
- In my opinion, the whole supernatural element in Pentecostalism generally was very low. There were pockets of blessing, but there was no widespread revival. One of the reasons for the impact which the healings accompanying the healing movement made, was that there had not been a wave of healings for a long time. In 1933 at a big Pentecostal conference, much of the delegates' time was spent discussing reasons why people weren't getting the baptism of the Holy Spirit anymore and the lack of healings and conversions. Consequently, I would have to say that the spiritual climate was very low. This provided a backdrop, then, for the advent of the healing revival.
- When William Branham came on the scene, he was the only one who had a genuine healing ministry at that time. Even the Jeffreys brothers for Great Britain had passed the peak of their ministry, which was in the late 1930s.
- So the religious "climate" was one in which the supernatural had seem to cease.
- Then when Branham broke in on the scene with the quality of supernaturalism that he demonstrated, it was newsworthy because of its relative novelty.
What led up to your joining his team? Did he ask you, or did you just have contact with him and then a relationship developed?
- I was going on a vacation and read about him in Time Magazine on the airplane. I was on my way with my wife to Winnipeg, Canada, to visit friends there. During dinner with them, my host, a prominent businessman in Winnipeg, said, "There's an unusual minister down at Zion Church. His name is William Branham."
- I said, "I just read about him on the airplane." So we decided to attend. After dinner, we left for the meeting and arrived around nine o'clock at this rather large church. (I think it seated about two thousand.) The site I saw was, for those days, very impressive. There was a crowd of people outside, listening to Branham by loudspeakers because they couldn't get in. I stood there in the darkness and listen to him.
- What I heard was unique, unusual! I had never heard anything like it before. It was simple and direct. He was talking about demons and God's power to heal. Though it was basic, there was something very attractive about it.
- As I stood in the darkness, I said to my host, "I have a sense that I am going to have something to do with this man." We went on home and made no attempt to contact him. Later, Branham went to Calgary, Alberta. By then, of course, his reputation was well known, and I decided to take some of my people to Calgary.
- At that time Branham had one or two men traveling with him, whose responsibilities centered in arranging the meetings. Branham was doing the bulk of the ministry. He would pray for several thousand people each night. Because his load was so heavy, other ministers who could handle large crowds were invited to share the afternoon meetings. Because I was known in Calgary, I was invited to take one afternoon service. I recall the theme I spoke on: "This is the day that the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." I pointed out that this was the Gospel day and the day in which we should be enjoying all the blessings of God's grace. Presumably, the men that heard me took word back to him.
- After staying for two or three days, I went back home, again making no attempt to contact Branham personally. When I arrived back in Vancouver, a number of ministers came together and said, "We must bring William Branham here." I was asked to lead the meetings, which I did.
- Later, Branham asked to see me personally. He said that he had been in prayer and the Angel of the Lord had spoken to him and told him that I was to be his companion in ministry. He invited me to join him.
- At the time, I was pastor of a large church, and obtained leave from them, joining Branham in Ashland, Oregon. I started to travel with him as often as I could be away from my church. One year I was away eight months.
- When he would speak, especially in those early days, he would say some things that were terribly provocative. To me, unnecessarily so. So when we talked together, we agreed that apart from his giving testimonies and relating his life story, I would do all the speaking, and he would do all of the ministering to the sick. That was the way it was when we were together.
- I was with Branham from 1947 until I had to leave him, in about 1953 or 1954. F. F. Bosworth joined up later than I did and shared in some of the meetings.
Could you briefly describe Branham's ministry and some of its high points? What caused him to break in on the national scene?
- Well, Branham had a tremendous word of knowledge. Before praying for a person, he would give accurate details concerning the person's ailments, and also details of their lives - their hometown, activities, actions - even way back in their childhood. Branham never once made a mistake with the word of knowledge in all the years I was with him. That covers, in my case, thousands of instances.
- Branham's use of the word of knowledge actually started out as a phenomenon in his hand. He would take the hand of the person in his. Immediately at the base of his thumb, in the thick part of his hand, there would be a specific manifestation according to the sickness or need. From seeing the phenomenon so often, I began to pick up what these were and became adept at reading them. Tuberculosis was a light pink flush. Cancer was an angry red appearance in which the ball of his thumb would just seem to surge like a wave.
Was it actually visible?
- Yes, you could see it. Then this gave way to the straight oral word where he would give accurate details concerning the person. He never missed, and this made a tremendous impact.
- Branham also probably introduced deliverance in its form at that time. He cast out spirits. This made the large congregations very sensitive to the presence of demonic powers. There was a lot of primitiveness about it. For instance, he would insist the audience bow their heads during exorcism lest the spirits get in another person! The whole ministry was so new and so powerful that, when I met him in 1947, his mail was enormous.
- Many of the subsequent healers receive their initiative from him. He was relieved the fountainhead of the healing revival of the 50's and 60's. Many of the men who began to hold healing meeting subsequent to Branham's had short-lived ministries. Many of them couldn't handle what the ministry and its consequent recognition did to them personally
- The prominence and visibility it created was unbelievable. Many people did not know healing or anything supernatural existed. The ministry reached out and touched people in the denominations. It was very effective that way. People, of course, care about their bodies, so they came - some hundreds and others thousands of miles. It was hard to handle the adulation and the praise. It was almost like Barnabas and Paul's experience when they were considered "gods from heaven".
Can you recount some of the most memorable times with him and some of the events you vividly remember from your time together with him?
- Well, to try to remember or to pick out a few outstanding supernatural occurrences with Branham is somewhat difficult because it was just a parade of the supernatural. On one occasion, we were down in the southern states, and a big auditorium meeting. The first or second night there, Brother Branham came to a certain man in the healing line. He looked at him and said, "Sir, I see you have come into this line tonight to trick me. In fact, I see you last night in a room sitting around a table with four other ministers. You are a minister of such and such a denomination." He pointed up to the balcony and said, "Those four men sitting up, there are your friends, and you plotted last night how to trick me. I was going to tell you what was wrong with you, and you were going to deny it." They just turned around and fled the building.
- I was with him in South Africa at a time when a large number of religious people rejected the ministry of healing, creating real pressures. There was a man in the meeting who was interested. He was of a denomination that was coming down on us very heavily. On the way home from the meeting, this man felt a hand on the back of his shirt. He turned around and there was no one there. But when he got home, he took off his shirt and found a handprint there - just as if a hot iron had left its imprint on his shirt. The shirt was shown in the next day’s newspaper.
- Once in Des Moines, Iowa, a missionary from the South Seas who had just flown home because of a very serious ailment was standing in front of him. Branham started out by saying, "Oh, you're a missionary. You just flew in today," and then he named the place the man had come from. At that, the entire crowd went into jubilation.
Had Branham had any contact with any of the earlier men, like Smith Wigglesworth, or the Jeffreys? Would that have been the inspiration for his ministry?
- I was very careful to check that out at the time. Branham had no direct link with pentecostalism in terms of his gift. In his home there had been no deep spiritual life, but he told me stories that indicated this gift was with him as a child. (He made some very significant prophecies, for instance, concerning the collapse of a bridge in his area of Ohio.) He once said to me, “If anybody ever writes my biography, you’re the only one I’ve ever told everything to.” He and I had many sessions that were hours long. During one of these, he told me he didn’t believe that tongues was the evidence of the baptism. So I asked him about speaking in tongues, and he said that he had gone to a pentecostal mission and had told God, “These are apparently the only people that will accept my gift - let me talk in tongues so I’ll be acceptable.” And he said God let him talk in tongues, but he never talked in tongues again. That seemed to be his introduction to the pentecostals, and they apparently accepted him because of it. Few people would know that story, but I mention it because as his gift became more apparent as he grew older, he saw that the pentecostal people were probably the only ones who would receive it.
- He was a relatively illiterate man, and so had not read widely. He was a great hunter. His abilities were in the realm of natural and intuitive abilities. I questioned him about many people. He didn't know Dr. Charles Price, who had had quite a healing ministry back in the 1920's - 30's, or any others whom I mentioned.
- I do not see any inspiration for his ministry coming from any of these earlier men, certainly not in the realm of his word of knowledge. Concerning whatever God may have done in the spirit, I have no knowledge. But in the realm of his word of knowledge, there were no apparent human models he could have patterned himself on. He just seemed to break from a whole new source. He was missionary Baptist, so his tradition would not link him into historic Pentecostalism.
How was he received by the people in the 50's?
- He was received gladly by the common people because of the manifestation of God and his ministry. But to most ministers he was an enigma from the very beginning. First of all, he was theologically, as well as academically, illiterate. When he would speak, his English grammar was bad, and his theology worse.
- A lot of ministers gnashed their teeth and wrung their hands when he preached. One of the reasons I joined him was try to articulate and provide an apologetic for his ministry.
What were some of the personal experiences that you had with him as his friend and companion and ministry?
- We had a great personal friendship. We hunted together and walked great deal. Branham was a very simple man. He had maintained and checked the lines for the power company in his area and walking in the outdoors was his life. So we walked and talked together. We were great friends.
What brought about the end of that era of the healing revival and what prompted the decline of William Branham’s ministry and others like him?
- Well, the healing movement began with such a spectacular display that the men involved in it faced major unprecedented problems. Men were suddenly ushered into very prominent, eye-catching, supernatural ministries. Many of them couldn’t handle it personally. One of the sad aspects of the healing movement is the personal shipwrecks and breakdowns. I think the healing movement began to subside because of the way it was mishandled.
- Men could not handle the pressures and personal temptations. In addition a number of extraneous elements came in, such as exaggeration, false reports, misrepresentation. Right at the beginning of the healing movement, I saw this starting to emerge. The healers could not meet together in any meaningful way. They would have a conference together, but it was not meaningful. They began to publish competitive exaggerated statistics on tent size, numbers, results and other things.
- At that time Gordon Lindsay, who was still relating to Branham, started the Voice of Healing Magazine. Because I was prominently involved with Branham, I was asked to contribute. I wrote an article out of my conviction and concern entitled, “The Curse of Carnal Comparisons,” in which I pointed out that there was a good deal of Corinthianism already in the healing movement. And that if something was not done by the healers to remedy it, this movement would self-destruct.
- As a result of that article I was persona non grata from there on as far as the healers were concerned, so I confined myself to Branham. Tragically, as these men violated the principles of plurality, each of them had his turn at the pinnacle of fame, but most of them were easily picked off by the enemy. Satan’s aim is good.
- I remember in the beginning of the healing movement, simply to report a healing would produce great jubilation and praise from congregations. However, the cynicism became so deep that the people’s confidence was diminished. Even to this day, people are affected. People began to circulate healing testimonies which, when they were checked out by reputable journalists and reporters, even those who were friendly to the movement, were found to be false. The percentage of healings that stood up after investigation was embarrassingly low. As a result, disillusionment set in, and the healing movement as it was known in the beginning declined in momentum until today you can’t say it really amounts to anything as a movement.
What brought William Branham’s ministry to a close?
- I believe there’s a Bible principle involved. No matter who we are, if we don’t relate to the principles of truth, we pay for it. We either fall on it and break in repentance, or it falls on us and breaks us in judgment.
- The measure of faith Paul talks about in Romans 12 where he says, “to each man is given a measure of faith . . . he that prophesieth, let him prophecy according to the measure of faith,” indicates that we all have been given a grace gift. But we must walk within the confines of our gift. For instance, if a miracle worker, who may be used mightily in working miiracles, steps over the boundaries of that gift and presumes, to be a teacher when God has not called him to teach, then he is violating the rule of walking within his grace.
- Branham saw himself as a teacher of some kind of “in” truth. To me, some of it was quite esoteric. I became aware early in his ministry that there was a mixture. I urged him not to say some things in public. As long as we worked together he refrained. One of the reasons for my leaving him was that he was starting to say some seriously wrong things. When that, coupled with other circumstances, eventually became unbearable, I resigned.
- I think there can be a lesson in this. Branham, as a miracle worker, had a real place. Branham as a teacher was outside of his calling. The fruits of his teaching ministry are not good.
What do you think is one of the main things that we can learn from the healing revival and the ministry of Branham and others?
- That’s an excellent question. I think we need to learn out of it the absolutely mandatory nature of the principle of plurality. No man, no matter how gifted, can afford to violate plurality and walk alone.
- Number two, I would say it points up the great necessity of staying in your calling or gift, and not making use of whatever accrues to you from that gift to get into other areas. I think it also points up the need of having responsible community to receive the fruits of this kind of evangelistic ministry. If the converts are not brought into a New Testament biblical community or church, they become followers of a man who cannot develop them into maturity.
- I believe these principles are very basic. In addition, man does not live by miracles alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Miracles and signs arid wonders are not food. They are signs to tell you where the food is. If you try to live on the signs, you get unbalanced nutrition.