Quaker Theology #12 Fall-Winter 2005-2006

Historical and Theological Origins of Assemblies of God Pacifism

Paul Alexander


The General Council of the Assemblies of God changed their official position regarding war from absolute pacifism to freedom of conscience in a mere fifty years.(1) They stated their early adamant stance in the following resolution during World War One:

Therefore, we, as a body of Christians, while purposing to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizenship, are nevertheless constrained to declare we cannot conscientiously participate in war and armed resistance which involves the actual destruction of human life since this is contrary to our view of the clear teachings of the inspired Word of God, which is the sole basis of our faith. (2)

Previous to and during World War I several historical influences, theological emphases, and the social situation of the Assemblies of God contributed to their pacifistic stance. During and after World War II these emphases and situations changed and the pacifistic nature of the Assemblies of God changed as well. In 1967, the same body declared:

As a Movement we affirm our loyalty to the government of the United States in war or peace. We shall continue to insist, as we have historically, on the right of each member to choose for himself whether to declare his position as a combatant, a noncombatant, or a conscientious objector. (3)

The early claim of a nonviolent ethic is rooted historically among the predecessors of the Pentecostal movement. Both Quakerism and the nineteenth century Holiness Movement contributed to Assemblies of God pacifism.(4)

The Quaker Influence on Assemblies of God Pacifism

A 1917 explanation of the Assemblies of God declaration of pacifism referred to Quakerism in its opening sentence:

From the very beginning the movement has been characterized by Quaker principles. The laws of the Kingdom, laid down by our elder brother, Jesus Christ in His Sermon on the Mount, have been unqualifiedly adopted, consequently the movement has found itself opposed to the spilling of the blood of any man, or of offering resistance to any aggression. Every branch of the movement, whether in the United States, Canada, Great Britain or Germany, has held to this principle.(5)

Murray Dempster called the Quaker influence on Pentecostal pacifism "enigmatic."(6) However, the Quakerism of Arthur Sidney Booth-Clibborn (a Pentecostal minister with a 250 year Quaker family heritage), his children (some of whom were founders and ministers in the Assemblies of God), and Hannah Whitall Smith influenced the Assemblies of God. Each was influenced by a Quaker heritage and they each had a significant impact on Pentecostal pacifism. The most direct evidence of this was the Pentecostal use of Booth-Clibborn’s 1914 book, Blood Against Blood. (7) It was highly recommended in the Assemblies of God and reflected classic Quaker arguments against war and violence.(8)

There was also evidence that the early Quaker peace testimony contained many parallels to early Pentecostal pacifism. These parallels reveal why an Assemblies of God mention of "Quaker principles" was not only appropriate but was indeed a deliberate reference.

Pentecostal Scholarship

Few Pentecostal historians, theologians, or ethicists have noted the influence of Quakerism upon the movement.(9) The few who have noticed relationships between Quakerism and Pentecostalism focused upon the similar emphases on the Holy Spirit and glossolalia while they neglected to discuss the pacifistic parallels in detail.(10)

This is seen most clearly in the article "Quakers (Society of Friends)" in the comprehensive Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements.(11) In the article, Burgess highlighted the fact that the Quakers emphasized the "experience of the Holy Spirit" and that they believed "Scripture corroborates and interprets one’s prior spiritual experience." He also referred to their "visions, healings, prophecies, and a power from God that they likened to first-century Pentecost. There is even evidence of tongues-speech . . . ." The only reference to any relationship between the Quaker peace ethic and Pentecostalism was the final sentence of the eight paragraph article, "Quakers even provided arguments for early Pentecostals who tended to be strongly pacifistic." This was probably a reference to Booth-Clibborn’s book but he provided no further explanation. (12)

Assemblies of God Scholarship

Assemblies of God scholars have not thoroughly investigated Quaker influence even though early Assemblies of God officials cited a Quaker heritage for their early peace ethic.(13) The early Assemblies of God leaders thought it necessary to refer to the Quaker principles that characterized the Pentecostal movement.(15) They could have thought this was important because the Quakers were widely recognized as a peace church and the General Council sought to gain conscientious objector status for their ministers during World War I. They might have hoped that they could provide a simple reference to the Friends and the affair would then be settled easily.

But the constituency of the Assemblies of God accepted this relationship with Quakerism without quarrel, and this signified that Assemblies of God persons must have agreed with the claim that their movement was defined by Quaker principles "from the very beginning." The claim and widespread acceptance of Quaker influence demands a thorough investigation to discover the nature of the relationships between historic Quakerism and early Pentecostalism. This is accomplished by first examining the Quakers who influenced the early Assemblies of God and then investigating the many similarities that existed between the two groups.

Quakers Who Influenced the Early Assemblies of God

The historical connection between Quakerism and the Assemblies of God can be demonstrated by examining the lives of Arthur Sidney Booth-Clibborn, his descendants, and Hannah Whitall Smith.(16) This will contribute toward solving the mystery regarding the Quaker origins of Assemblies of God pacifism.

Arthur Sidney Booth-Clibborn.

Arthur Sidney Booth-Clibborn served as the clearest and strongest link between Quakerism and the Assemblies of God. His significant Quaker heritage has yet to be fully appreciated by any Pentecostal writer.(17) This section will elucidate Booth-Clibborn’s Quaker heritage, his arguments in favor of pacifism, and the impact that he had on the early Assemblies of God.

"The Society of Friends," wrote Donald Green, "has produced so far only two systematic thinkers . . . Robert Barclay and Joseph John Gurney."(18) Both of these authors, who wrote the most widely read and best known explanations and defenses of Quakerism, were ancestors of Arthur Sidney Booth-Clibborn. Robert Barclay penned An Apology for the True Christian Divinity as the Same is Held Forth and Preached by the People, in Scorn, Called Quakers in 1678 and Joseph John Gurney wrote Observations on the Religious Peculiarities of the Society of Friends in 1824. The former was lauded by Voltaire (19) and the latter went through ten editions in England and America. (20) When Booth-Clibborn stated that "ancestral examples. . . affected both my views and duties in this question of the two opposite kinds of war" (21) his readers could be assured that he had been influenced by some of the greatest examples of Quakerism.

Booth-Clibborn’s Quaker heritage began in the mid 1650s when John Clibborn tried to burn down a Quaker meeting house that had been erected on his land in Moate, Ireland. Instead, he converted to Quakerism because of the preaching of Thomas Lowe who also influenced William Penn to adopt Quaker peace principles. John Clibborn resigned his military position under Oliver Cromwell and harbored refugees during the wars that followed. "His life was attempted three times" because he was a Quaker but he would not testify against his enemies because "he bore them no ill-will."(22)

During that same decade Colonel David Barclay, who was at one time the military governor over the majority of Scotland, "experience[ed] the new birth," renounced war as anti-Christian, and was accused of succumbing to "the scandalous errours [sic] of Quaquarism [sic]."(23) John Greenleaf Whittier noted the persecutions suffered by David Barclay in both poetry and prose.(24) His son Robert Barclay became an influential Quaker theologian and traveled with both George Fox and William Penn. As previously mentioned, he also wrote his famous Apology, which is considered the classic presentation of the propositions of Quakerism. Joseph John Gurney was also a descendant of David Barclay. He argued for the relevance and importance of Quakerism on a broad scale through public speaking and publishing his famous work, Observations.

Booth-Clibborn touted his female Quaker ancestors as wonderful examples of nonviolence and "prominent women ministers in the Society."(25) He claimed that women in ministry encouraged peace, provided good role models, and that "the restoration of women’s ministry to its normal place in the public service of Christ [would show] the unlawfulness of war for the Christian"(26)

Arthur Sidney Booth-Clibborn was aware of his rich Quaker heritage, and he had no intention of distancing himself from it. His acceptance of the holiness movement and the Pentecostal message did not detract from his pacifism. He considered himself a Quaker and wrote his book, Blood Against Blood, from the perspective of a Quaker missionary. He was "recorded" as a Quaker minister at an "unusually early age" and never drifted from those Quaker truths even when he joined the Salvation Army in 1881.(27)

Blood Against Blood was the first of two systematic presentations of Christian pacifism by Quaker Pentecostals.(28) In it Booth-Clibborn encapsulated the Quaker arguments against war that were eventually adopted by the early Assemblies of God. He insisted that absolute nonparticipation in war should be a Christian ethic, not just a Quaker one. (29) The two-fold premise of his book was represented in the title. First, the blood of carnal warfare was opposite the blood of Christ and the two were "mutually excluding and never reconcilable."(30) Second, the blood of Christ was the only power by which the blood of warfare could be overcome and conquered. "Christianity is the only remedy to war. Not a bloodless gospel on the one hand, not an adulterated evangelicalism on the other. It must be Blood against blood."(31)

Booth-Clibborn did not support antiwar movements or arguments that were not Christian. He believed that "moralists" who placed their hopes "in the social effort of man to save his own world on material lines" were doomed for failure.(32) He declared that the nonresistance of Tolstoy and those who followed "Tolstoyism" was "purely a negative force" even though it attempted to follow the example of the Sermon on the Mount.(33) Booth-Clibborn’s reasoning was based on his understanding that Tolstoy denied both the divinity and the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus pacifism in itself was not the goal of Booth-Clibborn. He attempted to describe the life of a faithful Christian and participation in war was simply not an option.

John Howard Yoder described this kind of pacifism as that of "the virtuous minority" or "vocational pacifism."(34) Christians were to live according to a different ethic than that which could be required of the rest of the world. This approach calls "into doubt this axiom that the same ethics are for everybody. . . all are invited to live on this level, but not all are expected or required to do so."(35) This minority morality allowed the church to function according to its prophetic vocation without demanding that everybody else live the same way.

Booth-Clibborn was a strong Quaker but he also appreciated and supported the Pentecostal movement, "all their [he and his wife’s] sympathies were with the Outpouring, even from the beginning. How could it be otherwise when nine of their children had received their Pentecost."(36) Indeed, Booth-Clibborn himself claimed to have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit under the ministry of a Quaker minister.(37)

Arthur Booth-Clibborn’s influence on the early Assemblies of God came primarily from his book and articles in The Pentecostal Evangel, but his children also had an effect.(38) William Booth-Clibborn, the fifth child of Arthur Booth-Clibborn, was a charter member of the Assemblies of God in 1914 and wrote many books of his own.(39) His 1936 work entitled The Baptism in the Holy Spirit. A Personal Testimony illustrates the close connection that his family, especially his pacifist father, had with the beginning of the Pentecostal movement.

William Booth-Clibborn related several statements that his father made about the Pentecostal revival and experience. In reference to a woman at a mission hall he wrote, "She is speaking by the Spirit and Power of God in a language unfamiliar to her. This is the unknown tongue you read about in Scripture. Is it not wonderful that God should be again baptizing with the Holy Ghost like He did in the early days of the Christian Church."(40) Arthur Booth-Clibborn also "proclaimed to one and all that this [Pentecostal] revival was destined to sweep the world." (41)

William Booth-Clibborn even claimed that "unless my parents had stepped out on questions of conscience and the advocacy of advanced truths such as . . . the anti-Christian character of all carnal warfare, we would never have been ready as a family to experience Pentecost in our home."(42) This significant statement revealed the connection between Quaker pacifism and early Pentecostalism in the mind of at least this one founder of the Assemblies of God. It also revealed the connection between the baptism in the Holy Spirit and pacifism.(43)

Three sons and two daughters of Arthur Booth-Clibborn were also related to the Assemblies of God. Eric Booth-Clibborn was an Assemblies of God missionary who died shortly after reaching the French African Sudan.(44) He wrote five articles for The Pentecostal Evangel and his wife wrote one as well.(45) Samuel Herbert Booth-Clibborn wrote two articles against war that were published in The Weekly Evangel in 1917. (46) They reflected the arguments presented by his father in Blood Against Blood and were therefore absolutely pacifistic. He also penned a book modeled after his father’s that declared the same unquestionable ethic for Christians.(47)

The early Assemblies of God leaders had great respect for Arthur Booth-Clibborn and his family. The Weekly Evangel strongly recommended Blood Against Blood to all of is readers in 1915.

A most striking, realistic and forceful book by Arthur Sidney Booth-Clibborn, an English Pentecostal Evangelist and Elder who has put into words the principles burning in the hearts of all the Pentecostal saints on the subject of whether a Christian should go to war or not. This book presents war from a Christian standpoint and is not intended for those out of Christ. Should the United States go to war with Germany, or any other nation, what shall be the attitude of the Pentecostal people. Send for a copy of this wonderful book and then make a decision. Price 55 cts. Postpaid. The Gospel Publishing House. (48)

Another advertisement lauded it by stating that "The Gospel Publishing House is in possession of a powerful book" and encouraged Pentecostals to "purchase it and become imbued with the spirit of its contents, in a complete opposition and protest against war and the shedding of blood."(49) The edition they were selling was replete with Quaker references, quotes, and an impressive account of Booth-Clibborn’s Quaker heritage. It had clearly already made an impact on the leadership of the Assemblies of God because that same issue of The Weekly Evangel contained a reference to Quakerism:

The Pentecostal people. . . are uncompromisingly opposed to war, having much the same spirit as the early Quakers, who would rather be shot themselves than that they should shed the blood of their fellow men.(50)

Furthermore, this official periodical of the Assemblies of God highly recommended Blood Against Blood two full years before the next reference to Quaker principles in 1917.

In 1917, as a way of advertising the book, The Weekly Evangel quoted fourteen lines from Blood Against Blood. The citation was antiwar in nature and quoted such eminent persons as George Fox, "I cannot fight for the spirit of war is slain within me" and the church father Tertullian, "Our religion teaches us that it is better to be killed than to kill."(51)

The final evidence that the Booth-Clibborn family had a great impact on the early Assemblies of God is the number of their articles printed in The Pentecostal Evangel. Arthur Booth-Clibbom authored thirteen articles that were published in the pages of The Pentecostal Evangel from 1918-1922. William Booth-Clibborn penned six articles from 1915-1926 and Eric Booth-Clibborn published five before his death in 1924 while Theodore, Lucile, and Genevieve each had one article printed in The Pentecostal Evangel. (52)

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