*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 30th of December 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
If you’ve listened to this show for a while, you will not be surprised that when I saw this anniversary coming up on the calendar, I had to jump at it. We all have blind spots, and we all have favorites. And as a historian, there are few things more interesting to me than the history of American church bodies in the 20th century. You may know I am a West Coast fellow and partial to southern California, especially the east side of Los Angeles. And that is the home of the Angelus Temple, the church of Aimee Semple McPherson, whom we have talked about a few times on the show.
One of the things that makes Sister Aimee’s church so fascinating is its history outside of her theatrics and controversy. You might not know that her famous church in the 1920s became the founding church of the Foursquare Denomination. On the 30th of December in 1927, The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel was incorporated in Los Angeles, California.
The church has had to survive the scandalous stories dogging Sister Aimee in the 1930s to losing 15 million dollars in a Ponzi scheme just a few years ago. Nevertheless, today’s church claims over 8.8 million members in over 67,000 churches across more than 150 nations.
The church grew up in the shadow of the Azusa Street Revivals and the new Pentecostal movement. Sister Aimee’s background was in the Holiness/Methodist tradition and the Salvation Army. It seems that what the Foursquare Church has done is to moderate both the extremes of the charismatic movement and the Holiness movement.
The church is Pentecostal and believes in a Baptism of the Holy Spirit that can result in speaking in tongues as a manifestation of the gift- but this is, for the Foursquare Church, not a requirement for saving faith. Furthermore, while some holiness traditions call for “complete sanctification” (or sinlessness on this side of the grave), the Foursquare Church never taught that this was required or even possible in a literal sense.
The term “foursquare” came from a revival meeting in Oakland, California, where Sister Aimee was preaching from the book of Ezekiel. Following other charismatic preachers of her day, she claimed that “the four faces of the living creatures in Ezekiel’s vision—those of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle” represented the four ministries of Christ.
“She describes the inspiration as follows: I thought upon the vision of the prophet Ezekiel; I stood still for a moment and listened, gripping the pulpit, almost shaking with wonder and joy. Then there burst from the white heat of my heart the words, “Why—why it’s the Foursquare Gospel. The Foursquare Gospel!” Instantly the Spirit bore witness. Waves, billows, oceans of praises rocked the audience, which was borne aloft on the rushing winds of Holy Ghost revival.”
The Foursquare Gospel referred to four of Jesus’ roles- that of savior, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, of Healer and coming King
The church seems to have skirted some of the trappings of fundamentalism while being a conservative “Bible” church. Some of this was due to the sophistication and sensationalism of Sister Aimee’s delivery. She attracted local celebrities, preached with visuals and props, and bought only the second ever radio station dedicated to religious programming. By the 1980s, about 40% of their rostered clergy were women- this is not normal for 20th-century conservative evangelical churches. Sister Aimee claimed that preachers were merely vessels of God’s word, and their gender was irrelevant. At the same time, the church held and held to the verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.
Throughout the 20th century, the church remained dedicated to its evangelistic and educational goals- opening churches worldwide and supporting L.I.F.E. Bible college in California and other Foursquare institutions. The modernist/Fundamentalist debates did little to affect this church- a rarity and dogged leadership testimony. It helps that the church works with a modified Episcopal polity- that is, congregations aren’t independent, and the national church body must approve pastors. Communities do give approved pastors a one-year contract renewable every year.
Without giving too much away as I work on the newest addition to CHA (coming soon), I can tell you that the story of Sister Aimee and the Foursquare Church will feature in a new series of Almanac extended editions- be on the lookout! In the meantime, today, we remember the founding of the Foursquare Church on this day in 1927.
The Last Word for today comes from 1 John again:
5 This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: “God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.” 6 If we claim, “We have fellowship with him,” and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. 7 But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin. 8 If we claim, “We don’t have any sin,” we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from everything we’ve done wrong. 10 If we claim, “We have never sinned,” we make him a liar and his word is not in us.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of December 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a big fan of foursquare- he is known for his killer slices. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who is not a fan of foursquare- that weird app that always wanted me to “check-in” wherever I was. Creepy. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.