E.N. Bell A Voice of Restraint in an Era of Controversy
The history of the Assemblies of God is filled with individuals who shaped the fledgling organization into what it is today. One of these influential founding fathers was Eudorus Neander Bell (18661923). In citing even a few of his accomplishments, we discover just how invaluable he was. Recognizing the need to organize the revival and with only the initial support of H.A. Goss, Bell agreed to issue the call in his magazine, Word and Witness, for Pentecostals to convene in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Joining these two men in this endeavor were M.M. Pinson, A.P. Collins, and D.C.O. Opperman. This resulted in the formation of the Assemblies of God.
Bell was the first and fourth chairman (general superintendent) of the Fellowship. Between his terms as chairman, he served the young organization as general secretary and as a pastor. Bell was also the first editor of two organizational papers, the aforementioned Word and Witness and the Weekly Evangel, both precursors to the Pentecostal Evangel.
If this were not enough to assure his status, E.N., as he preferred over Eudorus, wrote the first adult and intermediate Sunday school quarterlies. His popular question-and-answer column in the Evangel proved to be an influential as well as a moderating voice of reason in the early years of the Assemblies of God. Several districts were also organized under his direction as chairman. When the decision was made to write a Statement of Fundamental Truths, E.N. was a member of the five-man committee appointed to the task. He championed the autonomy of the local church and congregational church government. Bell also recommended Springfield, Missouri, to be the home of the Fellowship's national headquarters.
Bell, and his twin brother, Endorus E., were born June 27, 1866, at Lake Butler, Florida. Their father George died when the boys were only 2 years old. E.N. and his family lived in the severest of poverty during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. He was converted at an early age and felt called to full-time ministry. Realizing the need for training, E.N. enrolled at Stetson Academy, and later Stetson University.
Many have struggled to make ends meet as they have worked their way through school, but few have overcome the challenges faced by E.N. Bell. He was forced to adopt a steady diet of hard, stale bread dipped in water when finances ran low. The dream of completing college would have ended for most when faced with such sacrifice. This did not prove to be the case for Bell. He graduated at age 30 from the Academy, enrolled and earned a B.A. from Stetson University. He attended Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville from 1900 to 1902, and received a bachelor of divinity degree from the University of Chicago the following year. Later he would seriously consider continuing his education at Oxford, believing it would be a wonderful opportunity both for travel and for study abroad. In considering all of his education, there is little doubt Bell was one of the most academically qualified persons of the early Pentecostal movement.
Bell pastored Baptist congregations for 17 years in America's South and Southwest before hearing about the Pentecostal experience in 1907. He was granted a 1-year leave of absence from his church in Fort Worth, Texas, to seek a deeper experience with God. He made his way to William H. Durham's mission in Chicago. Durham described E.N. as a sharp looking big fellow. Feeling led by the Spirit to abide in the city until endued with power from on high, he tarried there for 11 months before receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. It was well worth the wait, and by his own account changed his life forever. His dramatic testimony published about 5 months later fills several pagesbut in part reads:
On July 18, 1908, God baptized me in His Spirit. Wave after wave fell on me from heaven, striking me in the forehead like electric currents and passing over and through my whole being . [The Spirit] began to speak through me in a tongue I never heard before and continued for 2 hours . After 3 months of testing, I can say before God, the experience is as fresh and sweet as ever.
Upon accepting this new Pentecostal experience and teaching, Bell returned to Texas and offered his resignation to the church he was pastoring. They refused to accept it, and he continued as their pastor. During this period he married Katie Kimbrough, a widow with three children. This was Bell's first marriage. Shortly after his marriage Bell resigned from the church in Fort Worth and accepted his first Pentecostal pastorate in Malvern, Arkansas.
Five years later, the newly organized General Council of the Assemblies of God elected him as its first chairman. As one of his first orders of business, he donated his paper, the Word and Witness, to the organization and helped establish the headquarters to its original home in Findlay, Ohio. Seven months later at the second General Council meeting, he stepped down as chairman and his friend from Fort Worth, Arch P. Collins, assumed leadership.
E.N. Bell would prove to be a vitally important leader to the young Pentecostal organization. He helped it steer a steady course through many troubled waters. Carl Brumback reports that Bell was a big-hearted man. J. Roswell Flower described Bell as the sweetest, safest, and sanest man he had met in the Pentecostal movement. A sister-in-law of Flower shares that E.N. was a wonderful storyteller and a typical Southerner, in every way. She continues her description by commenting he was very pleasant in his business dealings. Others described him as being fair, balanced, and a peacemaker. These very attributes, though, would guide the Fellowship through many of its most dangerous waters.
It is possible to index most of the problems and issues that vexed the Pentecostals in their infancy by the articles, editorials, and answers to questions written by E.N. Bell in these early years. In some ways he reminds one of a forest ranger whose job is to spot fires and extinguish them before they become uncontrollable conflagrations. Many of the problems he addressed monthly and then weekly seem almost humorous today. Others are recognized as periodic hot spots that flare up for a time to only die down again. There are others, though, that helped form the doctrines and beliefs of the Assemblies of God.
Of course the three biggest controversies he faced were first, the Finished Work dispute concerning sanctification. This would ultimately lead to division within the Pentecostal movement and the formation of the Assemblies of God. The second problem concerned the doctrine of the Trinity and was identified as the New Issue, also called Oneness or Jesus Only. This teaching would ultimately claim nearly one-third of the ministers in the Assemblies of God. The third issue dealt with tongues as the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit and whether this evidence should be identified as a Pentecostal distinctive. Bell played a major role in all three of these controversies and would nearly be lost to one.
Because of his unwillingness to confront those he counted dear friends and his willingness to experience what he understood might be a new direction of the Lord, Bell briefly identified with the unorthodox position of Oneness. In 1915, he accepted rebaptism by immersion using the formula in the name of Jesus. He never endorsed the non-trinitarian views that gradually evolved among these Pentecostals. Nevertheless, this lapse would plague him the rest of his life and has suggested to some that he was less than orthodox in his doctrine. Those who knew him best never suggested he ever surrendered to heresy, though they willingly recognized he succumbed to bad judgment. Even after his return from this defection, Bell was still elected as general secretary and reelected as chairman.
E.N. Bell did much in molding the theological understanding and ethos of the Assemblies of God. His belief in congregational autonomy and church government still guides us today. His non-Wesleyan views on sanctification continue to direct the Fellowship in this doctrinal position. His broadmindedness and willingness to entertain varying views with charity have had a profound and long-lasting impact on the Assemblies. Consider the growth of many of our churches during the charismatic renewal. While other Pentecostal denominations turned away many of these new believers from traditional churches because of perceived doctrinal error, the Assemblies of God grew and prospered. His commitment to the doctrine of tongues as the initial evidence continues to be a distinctive as well. E.N. Bell is a worthy standard-bearerone we should certainly honor at the dawn of the new millennium.
Anderson, Robert Mapes. Vision of the Disinherited, the Making of American Pentecostalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Bell, E.N. Questions and Answers. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1923.
Blumhofer, Edith L. The Assemblies of God: A Chapter in the Story of American Pentecostalism. 2 Vols. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1989.
Brumback, Carl. Suddenly From Heaven. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1961.
Goss, Ethel E. The Winds of God. 2nd ed. Hazelwood, Mo.: Word Aflame Press, 1977.
Lewis, Richard A. E.N. Bell, An Early Pentecostal Spokesman (unpublished paper), 1985.
Menzies, William W. Anointed To Serve, the Story of the Assemblies of God. Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1971.