The September 2020 Debate
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On September 12, 2020 the first-ever English language debate was held between a message pastor (Jesse Smith of Akron, OH) and an ex-message Christian (Rod Bergen from the Off The Shelf podcast and the BelieveTheSign website). The discussion was moderated by C. Jay Cox and Tim Kraus.
The agreed question for discussion:
- William Branham is considered by his followers to be a prophet and, specifically, the messenger to the church of Laodicea (the fulfillment of Rev 3:14), the Elijah prophet (fulfilling Malachi4:5-6) and the angel of Revelation 10:7.
- Was William Branham who his followers say he is?
Part 1 of the Debate
The September 2020 debate was released in seven parts as listed below - you are currently in the category that is in bold:
- The Debate - Part 1
- The Debate - Part 2
- The Debate - Part 3
- The Debate - Part 4
- The Debate - Part 5
- The Debate - Part 6
- The Debate - Part 7
Jay Cox: [00:00:00] Shalom friends. And thank you very much for watching this blessings to you all in the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I would say welcome to unapologetics, but this is not actually that this is we are hosting a debate today. Actually, many of you are aware of this because this has been something we've been excited about for quite some time.
But we are having, it's not really a debate. I got it. I should temper my language here and actually put it forward to what it actually does. We are going to have a discussion today about whether or not William Branham was a prophet specifically, whether or not he was what his followers claim him to be the Elijah prophet of the last age, the seventh day angel of the church of Laodicea and so on and so forth.
And we're very excited to have that. So thank you guys very much for joining us today. I'm CJ Cox joined here today with Rod Bergen of Believe The Sign, pastor Jesse Smith of Bride of Christ Fellowship, and Tim Kraus here as well, who's going to be helping me moderate this conversation. And we're all just very happy to be [00:01:00] having you guys. And then, real quick before we moving forward or move any more forward, go ahead and say hello and Shalom, if you guys like.
Tim Kraus: [00:01:08] Hey, thanks a lot, CJ. This is Tim Kraus. I'm a former message believer. I attended the Cloverdale Bible Way assembly in Cloverdale, Canada, where I met Rod. Gosh, some number of years ago. I left the message subsequently and and then Got caught up with rod again, since having been in the message.
I have been ordained as a minister in the Foursquare Church and proud to be able to sit and chat with you guys. I'm really glad that we were able to put this together. And I'd like to introduce Rod if I may, and then give you a chance to introduce pastor Smith as well.
Rod Bergen is a CPA from the Vancouver area in British Columbia, Canada. He was raised in a oneness Pentecostal church, started attending a message service church when he was 18 years old, [00:02:00] rod was a senior partner with one of the world's largest accounting firms. And in 1998, Joined Canada's second largest private company as a senior executive.
He was in the message for 40 years spending most of that time as a trustee and a song leader at one of the largest message churches in North America, Rod's son, Jeremy started the Believe The Sign website in 2007 to promote the message of William Branham. But in August of 2012, published an article entitled humble pie in which he apologized for having promoted a false doctrine.
Rod retired from the corporate world in 2012, took a year off to, and re-engage with his Christian faith. In 2013, he joined Power to Change, a large Christian ministry. That's the Canadian affiliate of Cru and Campus Crusade For Christ. Rod is currently the president of Power To Change. And also co-hosts the off the shelf podcast, along with myself and Emily Arndt.
Rod is married with four kids, eight grandkids, all of whom are no longer in the [00:03:00] message. So that's Rod and that's me.
Jay Cox: [00:03:04] And we'll go ahead and give a little bit of an introduction here for Pastor Smith as well, by the way, I just want to let everybody both in the room and the audience know my camera will periodically decide that it doesn't want to work.
My audio is still here, if that happens. And I am definitely still here, but I just have that happen. I figured I should let you guys know about that. Nonetheless, So we are here joined today with pastor Jesse Smith of bride of Christ fellowship in Ohio. My first personal experience with pastor Smith is actually as the I almost refer to him as the message apologist having found on YouTube videos where he was actually going out of his way to address some of the criticisms levied against.
What is commonly referred to as the message, namely the teachings of William Branham as well as William Branham's prophethood statuses as well. The first video I recall seeing of this was I think you can correct me if I'm wrong on this pastor [00:04:00] Jesse, but about 2013 area. That's right. And yeah, and it was done actually as direct response.
Actually, it's interesting. This has come full circle, a direct response actually to. Rod Bergen and Believe The Sign. So to a certain extent, this has been a long time coming. I don't have so much of the more detailed, rich oriented stuff, but what I do know in his disregard is that this has been something that I think both for myself and for pastor Smith has definitely been almost a calling.
Right to the point of where like this, if nothing else gets done in this particular in this particular YouTube sphere for us, the fact that we actually have a conversation on this matter, which I believe to be the most vital of matters. Is indeed a huge win for the cause of Christ.
And let me say too, plainly, that is regardless of who is right, because if William Branham is a prophet. [00:05:00] We should be following him. And if he's not a prophet, then there are Christian brothers and sisters who need to get out. And regardless of which side you come down on, I believe this conversation is vitally important.
So I want to point that out. But nonetheless that has been something that I think not only pastor Smith a couple others. Owen Jorgensen is somebody who comes to mind, right? We're starting to see a little bit of a rise here in what I would term a message apologetics. And I appreciate it.
I think pastor Smith, to a certain extent is the leader in that, whether or not that was the intention that is, that does seem to be the way things have established themselves just by virtue of taking the initiative. And I greatly do appreciate that. And with that, I'll end the introduction there of pastor Smith.
And maybe it, unless there's anything that the speakers would like to say before we get started we can jump into a brief prayer.
Rod Bergen: [00:05:46] Let's go. Sounds good.
Jay Cox: [00:05:48] Alrighty. So heavenly father, I just want to thank you for the opportunity to have this video today. Lord Jesus. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak with these gentlemen, Lord, all three of them. I pray Lord that you fill us all with the Holy spirit, Lord Jesus and guide us so that this video is used for nothing more than glorification of you. Lord Jesus and not glorification of any man, none of the speakers nor the man in question here today, or Jesus. But glorification of you and you alone is the most high in Supreme.
God, I pray that if William Branham is your prophet today that he is vindicated 100%. And I pray that if he is not that we leave this area knowing full well that he is not. So that your truth and only your truth, maybe proclaimed in this video has these things in Jesus Christ. Holy name, when we give you the glory.
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. Alrighty. And so with that, I will start our 10 minute timer here. Again, if my camera cuts out, fret not, I am still here it is just simply video that is not here. Also we do have extra moderator here with Mr. Kraus. Fret not in either of those ways, but nonetheless, I'm gonna go ahead and jump right into that. Your 10 minutes, pastor Smith will begin right about. Now.
Jesse Smith: [00:07:05] All right. Well, thank you. Somebody give me a wave when I got one minute left. Okay. My notes are over here on another screen. So I'm looking over there. I'm grateful to have this discussion. I've viewed all of Believe The Sign's YouTube videos over the years.
And I've listened to most of their podcasts. I respect the fact that you want to fulfill first Timothy or first Peter 3:15, Acts 17:11, searching the scriptures daily, whether these things be so. I think that's of utmost importance and all glory in all of our lives should go to the Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
Apart from him, we can do nothing. John 15 five. And if I don't have a full answer, like I said I just got these questions two days ago, then please forgive me and I'll do my best to follow up on a later whether it's email or another conversation. like the idea of just having a conversation rather than debate.
I'm not much of [00:08:00] into debater. I didn't have a debate class in high school, so I'm not much of a debater. But I'll start by defining the message what I consider the message to be. And I know it's different from many people. The message to me is what brother Branham said in the rapture, 1965, he said the message is God's promise of this hour, what he promised, what he would do.
And we see him scripturally, vindicating, just exactly what he said he would do. So to me, the message of the hour that I follow is the Bible scriptures. The true revelation of the Bible. So the message to me is not brother Branham's opinions. It's not every word on brother Branham's tapes. I believe it's heresy to say every word on brother Branham's tapes is thus sayeth the Lord or infallible brother Branham called that Tommy rot. He called it one of the most awful things he said, and brother Branham was also open to correction. I don't know how much, because I wasn't there. But I do have quotes. He said, [00:09:00] test me by the word.
He said, prove all things. And there are quotes where he said, say what the tapes say, but we know that's not every word. He didn't say every word I said. I understand that means the revelations from the Bible because the brother Branham obviously grew in revelation of the Bible. And so we have I as a message follower, I have a right to, or I have, I have the duty to rightly divide the word of truth within brother Branham's sermons.
And take everything back to the word, just like Acts 17:11 says next the scripture foretold restoration at the end time. And I know I'm short on time, but When we put all these scriptures together, we come to this conclusion and I'll list the scriptures first acts 3:20 and 21, Matthew 17:11, Malachai 4:5 and 6 Revelation 10:7, Amos 3:7, and Luke 17:30.
When I put all those scriptures together. This is my understanding. Jesus will remain in heaven and not physically returned to the earth until all things, including Bible doctrines, and the hearts of believers, are restored to the original apostolic conditions by the preaching of a prophet anointed with the spirit of Elijah.
So though that's why I believe the message there. I'm sorry, I just got to call my screen. Sorry. Let me freeze that. So that's the scriptural foundation, I believe for William Branham's prophecy right out of the scripture. I know there's multiple historians that say brother Branam spearheaded the post world war two revival.
I just bought a dictionary about that. Beginning in 1946, he was the pacesetter of the revival. Those Pentecostal stories call him the giant. Of the age with Oral Roberts being the second giant. And so next I would just say that I do believe God hides himself. The proverb says [00:11:00] God's hides himself from the eyes of the wise and prudent, but he will truly reveal himself to anyone who has a genuine hunger and thirst for righteousness.
And I believe God is doing that today. Obviously still one thing I want to say too, is that brother Branham as a prophet, he gave us thus sayeth the Lord on doctrine, which is extremely crucial, prophecy which I believe at least three, three of them are coming to pass right now in the process of coming to pass.
And then also future prophecy. So how much time do I got, brother Jay?
Rod Bergen: [00:11:40] You're half way.
Jesse Smith: [00:11:42] Okay. Thank you. About five minutes. Okay.
Jay Cox: [00:11:43] Sorry. My microphone was muted. Yeah. It's five minutes.
Jesse Smith: [00:11:46] Oh yeah, no problem. So I'll just go quickly through them, you know as a prophet brother Branham gave us thus saith the Lord on the Godhead, on Israel's blindness to their own Messiah. The baptism of the Holy ghost the seven church ages, [00:12:00] the seven seals.
The Roman Catholic church as the mother harlot of revelation 17 and the antichrist spirit spoken of in second Thessalonians chapter two also, he gave us eight individual doctrines as thus saith, the Lord, the water baptism in the literal name of the Lord. Jesus Christ, marriage and divorce.
Ancient Rome morphing into papal Rome in Revelation 13. Who purposely dressed sexy will have to answer for that, as having the wrong seductive spirit, that's thus sayeth the Lord, a woman who cuts her hair can not be born again. That's thus saith the scripture. Brother Branham's message from God would restore the hearts. That's thus sayeth the Lord, according to Joel 2:23-26 and the Elijah coming of the Elijah messenger to the Gentile was thus sayeth the Lord as well.
[00:13:00] Now the prophecies that were in the process of coming to pass, I listed three of them. The one about the preview of the bride. The preview of the bride with the American church, turning into this rock and roll loving, sin loving group. I believe that's currently coming to pass foretold beforehand.
Brother Branham said the last sign before the rapture to the Gentiles would be his ministry. And no, there'd be no greater ministry. I believe that's coming to pass. That's what stood the test of time. And he said, no denomination. Thus saith the Lord will return to the apostolic teachings, such as the water baptism in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and more.
And then there's many future prophecies that I have on a separate video. I'm probably running out of time. So. Let me say this I've heard numerous podcasts of Rod. And one good question. I asked, I liked that he asked is what has the message done for you or now in his case, it'd be what you know, how do you feel since you left a message, but for me, what has the message [00:14:00] done for me?
It's done tremendous things for me. It's given me what I believe a true relationship between myself and the Lord Jesus Christ, because I was raised in a domination church where there was the anointing. My mom was healed of cancer, liver, liver cancer in 1988. So I'd seen miracles and I'd seen supernatural things, speaking in tongues, interpretations.
I grew up seeing that but I didn't see the life of holiness, a life that was dedicated to the doctrine of the word of God. So that's what the message has done for me. You know, I had long hair when I come to message, I cut my hair, cause I didn't want to look anything like a woman. I don't want to bring any shame upon anyone.
As soon as I was baptized the name of Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus took my cussing away. So the message of the hours brought me out of my denominational creed, where we believe tongues was the evidence. And I'm not putting any shame on anybody. Please know, I'm I want to be a very loving person. I don't want to condemn anybody.
I just want to be against false things [00:15:00] and stand for what I believe to be the truth. Through the message, god delivered me from my addiction, such as pornography cigarettes, chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol. Idolizing sports figures, watching sports, watching sinful movies. I watched WWE wrestling.
I would overeat on food. Like all these addictions I had. The power of the message.
Jay Cox: [00:15:22] One minute.
Jesse Smith: [00:15:22] Okay. The power of the message has pointed me to the Bible. Like brother Branham said he wanted to point us to the absolute, the word of God. And so that's what the message has done to me. It's brought a true relationship between the Lord, Jesus Christ and myself. And I thank the Lord for that. And I'll just stop right there.
Jay Cox: [00:15:42] Thank you very much for that preface, Pastor Smith. I've got about 36 seconds to spare, but like we said, we're not going to harsh with that. Let me set this up again so that we give Mr. Bergen had the proper time. All right. I got this ready and you are good in three, [00:16:00] two... Go.
Rod Bergen: [00:16:04] Thanks. Thanks, Jesse. And Jay. As Tim indicated I was in the message for almost 40 years.
The majority of those years spent at probably the largest message church in North America, with certainly more than 800 people in the congregation. And I can tell you, I believe the message wholeheartedly, and notwithstanding that it caused some significant conflict with my parents who brought me up in a oneness Pentecostal church.
I had no significant issues with the doctrines of the message and was a trustee and song leader for almost the whole of my time in the message. In 2012, I found out that the pastor of our church had covered up the sexual abuse of a minor. And what caused me to begin to question the message was not the fact that our pastor had committed this terrible act, nor that he had lied to me about it on several occasions.
I understand that leaders can fail. What caused me concern was the unbiblical [00:17:00] response to this grievous sin from the many message pastors that I knew, none of them seem to care about proper church discipline, Matthew 18:15 to 17, or First Timothy 5:19 to 20. From my perspective, there were two potential causes for this failure either there was a problem with the message itself or message ministers had perverted William Branham's message. The logical place for me to start was to confirm that the message was true. The first problem we encountered was two prophecies of William Branham's death, which were given by a lady by the name of Anna Schrader, who William Branham admitted had the gift of prophecy.
And by Kenneth Hagan. The detailed research is on our website, but we confirmed that both of these individuals prophesied William Branham's death in 1963. Now, please understand this doesn't mean that we follow Kenneth Hagan or anyone else. It simply means that we confirmed that the prophecies took place before the event.
The problem was that both of these prophecies stated that [00:18:00] William Branham had fallen into error. And so the question was, what might this error be? And we started examining things that we'd previously taken for granted to be true, things that people we trusted said were true. And we looked at the visions that William Branham said were indications that he was a prophet.
The municipal bridge vision, the visions of the meetings in South Africa, the vision of the Brown bear, all of these visions failed. Almost all the visions that William Branham had were only made public after the fact, which means they can't really be classified as prophecies. We came to understand that there was not a single clear unambiguous vision that William Branham related before the fact that was later fulfilled in a clear manner.
And I can't tell you how disturbing this was to us. I started to have significant issues with doubt, a single sentence in a preface to Tim Keller's book, The Reason For God, changed my life. He said this, [00:19:00] "faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it." Doubt can actually protect us.
If I doubted nothing, then I would have to be a Mormon, a JW, and a Buddhist. I would believe everything and anything. But as Keller says, "believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts, not only their own, but their friends and neighbors. Only if you struggled long and hard with objections to your faith, will you be able to provide the grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive." And so my motto became "question everything, assume nothing." The next difficulty we ran into related to William Branham's credibility. We discovered a letter from Roy Davis, William Branham's first pastor, that showed that William Branham's story about his introduction to Pentecostalism was false. And we started checking out the stories that William Branham had told.
We found out that many of the [00:20:00] stories changed dramatically over time. When someone tells a story, it might change slightly over time. I get that, but dramatic shifts in facts usually mean that the original story wasn't true. As Mark Twain said, if you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
Examples of this would be his story about the man from Windsor. Which we did a video on. Not once, in his myriad tellings of the story, are the facts the same. The story of the light over the Ohio river in 1933 is similar. William Branham stated, after he preached the church ages, that the Holy spirit revealed and opened to him all the mysteries of the seven church ages.
But the truth is, he copied verbatim almost all the details of the church ages from a book by Clarence Larkin. This is referred to as plagiarism, which God condemns in Jeremiah 23:30. He says, "I, the Lord affirm that I am opposed to those prophets who steal messages from one another, that they claim are for me."
And that is what William Branham did. He stole the seven [00:21:00] church age doctrine from Clarence Larkin and said it was from God. He never gave Larkin and credit for this. And only mentioned him seven months after preaching the seven church ages and stated that he disagreed with Larkin. As a schoolteacher, Jesse, you would not tolerate plagiarism in your students. Why would you tolerate it in your prophet?
And while William Branham stated that he only preached what Paul preached, we have scores of examples of where William Brown disagreed with the plain wording of scripture. A cult can be defined as a religious group founded by, and built upon, the teachings of a religious leader whose authority is viewed as being equal to or greater than the Bible, and whose teachings are in opposition to the doctrines of biblical and historic Christianity. As Jay said, and this was the statement we agreed to talk about, Jesse, you believe that William Branham was not only a prophet, but specifically he was the messenger to the church of Laodicea, Revelation 3:14 the Elijah [00:22:00] prophet fulfilling Malachi 4:5 to 6, and the angel of Revelation 10:7.
But if you believe this, you must exalt William Branham's teaching above the Bible. There are some people I understand, as Jay mentioned, that you mentioned, that believe every word that William Branham uttered was inspired. I understand Jesse that you don't believe this, however you might state emphatically that the Bible is your absolute and not William Branham.
I don't know how this can be true. So I would ask you. If you could tell us where you disagree with William Branham's message. Because if there is no disagreement with what he taught, then by definition, you hold his teachings above scripture. You can't disagree with them. You exalt William Branham's message above the Bible. Now there is a place in the church for prophets, those with the gift of prophecy, but the purpose of the gift is to equip God's people for works of service, and to bring unity to the church. As we read in Ephesians 4:11. William Branham did not bring unity and he did not [00:23:00] equip the church for works of service.
In fact, it's just the opposite. He brought division to the church and his followers are insular and self-focused, they're not focused on works of service. True followers of Jesus should be pointing people to Jesus Christ and the Bible and not to some self appointed prophet and his books. So let me conclude. William Branham led us to believe that he was a great prophet, an old Testament prophet. But three things prove that this could not be true. First, the only visions he ever related publicly, before the fact, all failed. As such, he cannot be compared to any biblical prophet. He is a failure in any way you would measure a prophet. Second. He was not credible. He said numerous things over the pulpit on repeated occasions that were simply not true.
He's either a liar or someone who had a callous disregard for the truth. And third, many of his core doctrines were not biblical and were rejected by the church. Also, he did not bring any clarity, but brought [00:24:00] confusion. Simply look at his followers and you will see the massive confusion. Those that follow him are members of a cult because they exalt his teachings over scripture.
Now I cannot judge William Branham. God is as judge, but the new Testament requires that the church judge his visions, his prophecies, his credibility, and his teaching. Deuteronomy 28:19 to 22 is very clear and I will read it, appropriately, from Eugene Peterson's, the Message Bible. " You may be wondering among yourselves. How can we tell the difference whether it was God who spoke or not? Here's how. If what the prophet spoke in God's name doesn't happen, then obviously God wasn't behind it. The prophet made it up. Forget about him."
I believe we should simply ignore William Branham. The only people who know who William Branham was are primarily his followers and their numbers are shrinking rapidly. We should forget William Branham and his message. [00:25:00] As I stated before, I cannot judge William Branham. God is his judge, but I certainly would not want to be shoes. That's it. Thanks, Jay.
Jay Cox: [00:25:14] Thank you. And about the exact same amount of time to spare, about 36 seconds. So that's somewhat, I guess we'll say, the divine hand of God there in a little way.
Rod Bergen: [00:25:24] But maybe not in the future on some of these questions.