The Pentecostal Evangel: 5,000 Issues and Counting
By Ken Horn
March 7, 2010
It was 1913, one year before the First World War. The Azusa Street Revival, the spiritual awakening that had propelled the fledgling Pentecostal Movement onto the world stage, had waned but its impact had not.
When Pentecost burst on the scene, the news was carried by word of mouth, letters and print media. Magazines — or “Pentecostal papers” — began to spring up to spread the word, the most notable initially being William Seymour’s Apostolic Faith, generated from Azusa Street.
J. Roswell and Alice Reynolds Flower’s weekly magazine, the Christian Evangel, began in July 1913, nine months before the Assemblies of God was born. The Evangel was a model of diversity from the start. Early issues featured content by and about women and African-Americans. The first masthead carried the words “The simplicity of the gospel, In the bonds of peace, The unity of the Spirit, Till we all come to the unity of the faith.”
Another Pentecostal publication, Word and Witness (which had been around since 1911), was published by E.N. Bell. When the Assemblies of God was formed in 1914, Bell and J. Roswell Flower became the first chairman and secretary of the Fellowship, respectively. The AG had two official periodicals — Flower’s Evangel and Bell’s monthly Word and Witness — until they were rolled into one at the end of 1915. Word and Witness was officially discontinued. The Christian Evangel became the official publication of the AG, with a beginning circulation of 25,000.
The publication became an essential tool to stabilize, inform, inspire and evangelize. “The Pentecostal Evangel, one of the most prominent early Pentecostal periodicals, networked far-flung believers who often otherwise felt isolated,” says Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center Director Darrin Rodgers. “The Evangel built a sense of community and provided a rich source of theological essays, news articles, missionary letters and revival reports.” Much of the early content was composed of transcribed sermons, but the Pentecostal Evangel also contained the first known weekly Pentecostal Sunday School curriculum. Alice Reynolds Flower was the author.
Wayne Warner, past director of the Flower Center has said: “The Evangel has always been an evangelistic, missionary, family and teaching tool. In the early days the Assemblies of God was trying to establish its doctrine and trying to create a Pentecostal identity. Editors would take a sermon, and most of it would go into the Evangel. As early as the 1920s they called it a family and missionary magazine. It’s still doing the same thing.”
In 1915, when the Fellowship’s headquarters moved to St. Louis, they changed the name to the Weekly Evangel. The name changed back to Christian Evangel in 1918 when the organization moved its offices to Springfield, Mo. In 1919, the magazine took its current name, the Pentecostal Evangel. It was officially known as Today’s Pentecostal Evangel from June 2002 to July 2009.
The change to the word “Pentecostal” was no cavalier decision. It came because of an official action of the 1918 General Council. A resolution of this Council stated: “Resolved, That we again declare our Christian fellowship with every true child of God, and that we stand ready to cooperate with all Christians ….” As historian Carl Brumback said: “This resolution manifested a spirit of Christian love that extended beyond Pentecostal doctrine, but it also took a firm stand for what was believed to be the clear teaching of the Word of God. As a direct result of this Council, it was decided at the next General Council to change the name of the official organ from the Christian Evangel to the Pentecostal Evangel; not because the Assemblies of God desired to be less Christian, but rather, because the Assemblies of God desired to be more New Testament Christian.” (1)
Brumback identified it as “the ‘tie that binds’ Assemblies of God hearts all over the world….The Pentecostal Evangel has been a uniting element for the entire fellowship, as well as the consistent voice of its full-gospel beliefs.” (2)
From 1915 to 1919, then chairman of the AG J.W. Welch also served as editor, at least in name.
Welch was secure in leadership but not in publishing. He wrote a young British pastor, Stanley H. Frodsham, who was pastoring a small church in California at the time and had submitted some articles: “I read those three articles; they will be published later. They asked me to be editor of the Evangel but I’m a misfit. We’re praying for God’s man for the Evangel. Are you that man?”
Frodsham apparently was. He became general secretary of the AG from 1916 to 1919 and assistant to the editor of the Evangel from 1916 to 1921.
In 1919, J.T. Boddy was elected to the position, but a terminal illness meant that his assistant editor, Frodsham, continued to be the guiding force through most of that time. In 1921, Frodsham was formally elected as editor, a post he stayed at (with one brief intermission) until 1949.
Frodsham’s vision and international connections significantly expanded the scope and reach of the publication.
Robert C. Cunningham was next in line to move the publication to new heights. He initially served as Frodsham’s assistant editor for several years. Frodsham characterized Cunningham “a born editor,” so it was no surprise when Frodsham stepped down in 1949 that Cunningham was appointed editor. Cunningham adeptly guided the magazine and oversaw a period of progress and explosive growth.
Richard Champion, who had served as Cunningham’s managing editor, followed Cunningham as editor in 1984. Under Champion the publication continued to grow in circulation. In 1993 he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, and he passed away the following year. A moving and extensive tribute to Champion was published in the July 3, 1994, edition.
John Maempa took the reins as interim editor until 1995, when Hal Donaldson came to lead the publication. Donaldson, who was both a minister and journalist, brought fresh innovative leadership that saw the magazine make great strides in cultural connectivity.
The beginning of Donaldson’s 13 years at the helm coincided with the revival at Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida. Circulation of the Evangel peaked during this time, with Gospel Publishing House printing more than 300,000 copies of some issues.
Many readers scheduled trips and vacations around the locations of revivals, regularly contacting the Evangel offices for information about where such awakenings were taking place. An internal motto was coined for the Evangel staff: “At the Pentecostal Evangel, our goal is not to just report on revival; our goal is to experience revival.” This motto reflects the historic and still relevant emphasis on ministry in the offices of the publication. Each staff member, whether an editor, graphic designer or clerical worker, is considered a minister and is intimately connected to the fruitfulness of the magazine.
On June 10, 2001, Donaldson, in an editorial, asked the question “Is revival waning?” It was not the first time such a question had been asked in the pages of the Evangel.
In 1961, Brumback wrote, “It must be admitted that there is a general lessening of fervor and discipline in the Assemblies of God in America. This frank admission is not a wholly new sentiment, for down through the years in the pages of The Pentecostal Evangel and other periodicals correspondents have asked, ‘Is Pentecost the revival it was in the beginning?’ As early as five years after Azusa, they were looking for ‘the good old days’! Nevertheless, it is vital to any revival movement to reassess not too infrequently the state of its spiritual life.” (3)
The Pentecostal Evangel has been a regular part of that reassessment, doing its part to rekindle flagging revival fires by exhortation and by reporting where those fires continued to burn.
From the beginning, missions has been a hallmark of Evangel coverage. Of those early years, Edith Blumhofer says, “Because of it, leaders believed, ‘missionary enthusiasm’ was ‘kept at boiling point.’ ” (4) Generous giving from readers was the response to the publication of missionary needs.
The magazine was even instrumental in boosting missions endeavors. Many missionaries, past and present, have credited an article in the magazine as having a significant part in their call to the field.
In April of 1998, the AG’s missions magazine, Mountain Movers, ceased publication, and a strategic partnership was formed between the Pentecostal Evangel and AG World Missions. AGWM Communications staff, led by director Randy Hurst, combined with Pentecostal Evangel staff for a monthly edition of the magazine known today as the World Missions Edition. A new dimension was added to missions coverage with reporters from both departments traveling on-site to many places around the world where God was significantly using AG missionaries. Since 2009, the edition has been published nine times annually.
Since the beginning, the magazine has been found in lots of places other than churches. Early on, leadership urged that it be placed in “depots, jails and public places” as well as in public libraries.
Today, the Evangel is still found in all kinds of venues — many placed by readers. Its distribution to the military has touched many lives. One young soldier, burning trash in a recent war zone, saw an Evangel just as the flames began to consume it. Remembering it from his youth, he rescued it and beat out the flames. This seared messenger was the means of bringing him back to God.
There is probably no better use of the Evangel than in prisons. Key Bearers, a combined ministry of the Evangel and Light for the Lost, has supplied more than 8.2 million magazines to prisons since its inception in 1996. There have been reports of magazines being read by as many as 100 inmates. Currently some 10,000 copies go into prisons every week.
Every week the Evangel staff gathers to pray for those who responded to the ABCs of Salvation the previous week and lay hands on the magazine for the upcoming week, praying that God will anoint it for His purposes. As I was finishing this article, a salvation response coupon was placed on my desk from Beijing, China. The date of the magazine was Feb. 6, 2005.
Today the message of the Evangel is multiplied by a popular Spanish-language edition (Evangelio Pentecostal), a Web site with issues dating back to 1999 (the Flower Center has archived earlier issues online), blogs, an e-mail daily devotional, recordings for the blind, and videos on AGTV. It has also had material reprinted in hundreds of publications, both print and online.
Through the years the magazine has changed when needed to more effectively communicate to a culturally changing readership. But in the midst of these changes it has always remained true to its mission, communicating the gospel, teaching the Word of God, sharing testimonies of those whose lives have been dramatically transformed, and prophetically speaking to the issues of the day.
Back in 1919, E.N. Bell said, “[The Evangel] belongs to God and the Assemblies of God.” And that’s where it stands today.
KEN HORN has been the editor of the Pentecostal Evangel since 2008.
1. Carl Brumback, Suddenly … From Heaven: A History of the Assemblies of God (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1961), p. 225
2. Ibid., p. 319
3. Ibid., pp. 349-50
4. Edith L. Blumhofer, The Assemblies of God: A Chapter in the Story of American Pentecostalism, Vol. 1 (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1989), p. 283
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