Video available here: http://youtu.be/9MoieCzHpo0
About 20 miles south of Jeffersonville, in Shepherdsville Kentucky, a new leader started spreading the Pentecostal message. But it was a slightly different message than the one spreading from Azusa Street – a message of common interest that was reaching out to the Oneness and the Trinitarian Christians to bring them together into this new teaching. The leader of this movement denied the Trinitarian belief in a triune nature of God, denied the Oneness belief in a modalistic god, and started a ministry persuading the people that his middle ground was a divine inspiration.
William Sowders, born to Charles and Florence Meeky Sowders in Louisville, Kentucky on September 13, 1879, about thirty years before the Azusa Street Revival. When the Pentecostal message started spreading into the Midwest, Sowders stumbled onto a meeting while fishing the Ohio River. In 1912, he was baptized into the Pentecostal faith.
Not long after, Sowders started preaching while floating up and down the Ohio River. His “Gospel Boat” baptized many into the Pentecostal faith as it moved from town to town with preaching, baptismal services, and praying for the sick, and ministry of tongues as was common in the Pentecostal movement.
It was when Sowders started making claims that God had spoke to the world to announce his coming that his ministry started so stray from the Bible. Sowders began claiming that God spoke from the heavens as he stood baptizing in the Ohio River to announce his ministry. In this claim, God’s thundering voice spoke through the heavens to commission him to spread the Pentecostal message: Evidence of the Spirit, Divine Healing, speaking in tongues, and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.
This was very attractive to many people. To his followers, the ministry of William Sowders was the return ministry of Jesus Christ. They associated this baptism with the story told in the 1st chapter of the Gospel according to John. But there was one very important element missing from the story: Christ.
John 1 tells the story of John the Baptist as he began to spread the news of the coming Kingdom of Heaven, preparing the way for Christ. John was the messenger to the people, and his message was to announce the arrival of the King.
John did not point people to himself, and did not claim any spiritual significance. When asked if he was the coming Prophet, John denied the claims to say that he was nothing more than a simple man crying out for others to prepare for the coming King. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John was preparing the pathway for the King to arrive, rolling out the red carpet and asking others to join in the preparation.
When Jesus approached John during his ministry, John recognized the Anointing. He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
As John baptized Jesus, the Father spoke from the heavens and announced to the world that the King had arrived. God spoke to the people present, saying, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him,” instructing the people to hear the message of Jesus Christ.
What Sowders failed to recognize was that God’s voice did not point to the messenger, John the Baptist. God’s voice did not announce the coming of a man who would announce the coming of the Christ – God’s voice announced the arrival of the King!
When later asked about this event, John was very clear in removing himself from the picture so that others would begin to focus on Christ. And the focus was not the baptism of John; John was simply preparing the people for the coming King. He was washing them clean for the arrival of the greatest Gift that God would send the world: His Son.
When the disciples of John noticed the disciples of Jesus also baptizing the people, they questioned the competition. But John plainly told them that this was not competitors, this was the main event.
“You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.
“He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
But in Sowder’s claim, there was no decrease to prepare the way. If this claim were true, God would be telling the people to increase the ministry of Sowders, and the people would focus their hearts on the man instead of God. God would be asking people to focus on the work of a mortal instead of the Work already accomplished on the cross.
Sowders was a strong proponent of dispensationalism, and preached that we were now living in the Gentile dispensation. His gospel described the times before this “commission,” claiming that there was not sufficient grace to “rapture” the church. The work that Christ did on Calvary was made non-effect under this teaching.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is vastly different. The Work that Christ did on Calvary was a completed work, once for all. When Christ came to earth in order to fulfill the Old Covenant and remove the sin of the world, that removal was everlasting. He established an everlasting covenant of Grace that did not have a “variable speed.” There was to be no periods of time when God’s Grace was limited.
But there is nothing new under the sun. No false teaching or false doctrine rises today that has not already been presented to the Church of the Living God. The same thing happened during Paul’s ministry. Paul’s letter to the Galatians describes the very same thing – the people being persuaded to listen to a different gospel.
The word “Gospel” means “Good News.” It is the Good News that Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant Law, died for our sins, and rose again so that we can rise with Him. He offered us the Gift of Salvation by simply believing in Him. It is by Grace that we are saved, through faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul rebuked the Galatians for turning away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”
But again, there is nothing new under the sun. Satan does not have the power to create, and reuses the same recurring themes over and over. Sowders came with a different gospel. One that pointed to himself. One that caused the people to become followers of Sowders. One that claimed God spoke through the heavens to announce the arrival of a man.
Sowders purchased a large plot of land in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, about twenty miles from Jeffersonville, Indiana. His ministry began to spread into Louisville and Southern Indiana, and that same theme that presented the people with a different gospel would be presented once more under a different name.
A man by the name of William Branham would later claim the same exact “commission.” Branham would claim that God spoke to the heavens to point people to himself, but increased the story considerably from the small number of people on Sowder’s “Gospel Boat.”
Branham would claim that he was baptizing 500 converts to Christ in the Ohio River when God pointed people to this Jeffersonville minister.
“Then, consider now, I ask you at this hour, you people here of Jeffersonville. In 1933, the supernatural Light that fell down yonder on the river, that day when I was baptizing five hundred in the Name of Jesus Christ, as about a twenty-year-old boy. What did It say, Jeffersonville? What was It at the foot of Spring Street there, when the Courier Journal, I believe it was the Louisville Herald, packed the article of It? It went plumb across the Associated Press, plumb into Canada. Doctor Lee Vayle cut it out of the paper, way up in Canada, in 1933.
When I was baptizing my seventeenth person, under this Witness; and you know the rest of the story. And when I was standing there, baptizing the seventeenth person, a Light come down from Heaven, shining down above there, like a Star falling from the Heaven. A Voice said, ‘As John the Baptist was sent to forerun the first coming of Christ, your Message shall forerun His second Coming, into all the world.’ This day this Scripture is fulfilled.”
Branham’s claim not only included the fantastic number of 500 people, but also the significance of the newspaper. God not only announced the arrival of this new minister and his new gospel, Branham claimed that God spread this news through use of the printing press. People from Jeffersonville into Canada were given the choice to either accept his new gospel, or to refuse it. And who could refuse a newspaper article of a “light shining down from heaven,” telling the people that this was God’s beloved human in which he is well pleased?
Branham would claim that after the seventeenth person, God spoke to the world to announce this Jeffersonville minister’s arrival:
“And I walked out in the water, with my seventeenth candidate, to baptize. And when I baptized, started to baptize, I said, ‘As I baptize thee with water, may the Lord Jesus...’ When I said that, Something struck me and said, "Look up." And as I turned to look, after the third time It said it, a place about fifteen-feet-square was churning up-and-down in them brassy skies. And down from there came that same Pillar of Light that come in when I was a little baby, that spoke to me in the burning bush, or the bush back there that day, and come into that bush, and come hung over where thousands of people. Newspapers packed it all across the nation, plumb into Canada. We got the clippings. ‘Mystic Light appears over local Baptist minister while preaching, or baptizing.’"
But the newspaper did not mention a “Mystic Light” and the voice of God announcing a human. There were not seventeen converts to have triggered this event. The newspaper article entitled “FOURTEEN CONVERTED” simply states: “Fourteen conversions are reported in a tent meeting conducted at Eighth and Pratt streets by the Rev. William Branham.
I stand amazed, just like the Apostle Paul. I was never taught the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ until I left the Branham movement. I never knew that Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant of Law and presented an Eternal Covenant of Grace. I never knew that the work Christ did on the cross for me was once-for-all.
I was raised to believe a different gospel. This Gospel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was new to me in January of 2012. I studied the scriptures, from cover to cover, completely shocked that anybody would even want to teach any other gospel. The Gospel that has the power to save was replaced by a gospel that placed the people back under a new version of law, but was much worse.
James 2:10 says that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it,” and Matthew 24:12 says that, “because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.”
This gospel, this mixture of law and grace has done just that. People do not keep the entire law, only portions of it. They do not stone their children for disobeying. They do not banish men from the congregation if they are injured in the genitals, or uphold even the full extent of the tithing system. They do not sacrifice animals to atone for sin – they abandon that particular law to replace it with the Atonement given under the New Covenant. But they break the law while upholding portions of it, becoming lawless.
It’s no wonder new gospels keep spreading. When the love of man grows cold, they look for something to replace the Love of God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is no longer valuable to the lawless.
The ministry of William Sowders has died out. Very few today, even in the Louisville area, have any idea that this ministry was established only a few minutes south of town. The Pentecostal movement was the life of the vine, and that vine had severed itself from the majority of Pentecostals. It could no longer feed on itself, so it withered and died.
Other gospels will come. Other gospels will go. But if their roots are built upon the foundation of a man’s doctrine, they will wither and die. There is only one Nourishment that can support healthy growth of the Body of Christ, and that Nourishment is found in God’s Word.