A History of
William Sowders' Ministry
From Its Pentecostal Foundations
To The Gospel of the Kingdom
Almost a score of years ago, as the result of a most unusual experience with the Lord, my thoughts were turned toward the kingdom of heaven. Some how -- I didn't then understand why -- it seemed important that I investigate the life and work of William Sowders. Realizing that the memory of this man was scattered among a number of people and sources, and that many of these people were already falling asleep, I determined that I should interview these people and write a full and complete account of this man's history and ministry that it might be preserved for the people of God. This project has become known in several churches deriving from his ministry; and many people have been helpful in providing materials so as to make this project possible. These, and others who have heard about this project, have been eagerly waiting for me to show some results. I have not finished this project, and I certainly hesitate to write much when I have not completed collecting and studying all the available information. Still, there are certain areas of William Sowders' ministry about which, now, I can write with some degree of confidence. In the recent ministers meeting at Belle Fourche, South Dakota I was prompted by the Spirit to write some of the history for this September's Camp Meeting. If I do write something which does not perfectly reflect the actual history of his ministry, I will correct this if someone brings me better information.
Some may wonder, "What is the purpose of all this history, all this attention to Brother Sowders?" They may agree with Henry Ford, "History is bunk." It ain't salvation. You don't need to know all that. Well, maybe. But, it might be that you will need to know this story in order to be saved. This, after all, is the story of the gospel of the Kingdom, which will be preached to all the world. Biblical religion is distinguished from all other religions in that it is much concerned with history -- the creation of the world, its corruption by sin, the incarnation of Christ, and the restoration of the world through Christ. These are things which actually happened, which someone had to tell, which you need to know. Real history is about people. The Bible itself focuses on individuals, not only Jesus, but Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. Since the time of Paul individuals have continued to be important to the preservation of the faith, and to the restoration of the truth: John Wycliff, Martin Luther, George Fox, John Wesley. Understand, my purposes for doing this history is not to compose a sentimental history of the man for old timers, or for those who live only in the past. Neither is it to develop a sanitized organizational history of one of the several movements connected with his faith and works, making everything in the past sound glorious, trying to connect the present leadership to the glorious past. Rather, I was hungry to know the reality of those wondrous works of God surrounding this man, and to know something of the roots of my own faith.
Someone had a dream about this fellowship connected with the faith and work of William Sowders. After Sowders death, the people came to a fork in the road. The vast majority of the people took the wrong turn at that fork. They went some ways down the wrong road until they came to a bridge. The bridge itself was broken down, and there was a great wreck at the bridge. After the wreck people began to turn back in the direction in which they came. Eventually they got back to the fork, and then they took the right road. The interpretation of this dream should be rather plain to everyone who knows about the history of this group of people in the past forty years. This explains why for the past few years it seems that the body of Christ has been going back to its roots. This does not mean that it is going to go back to the forks and not move ahead. It is going back to Sowders simply to get on the right road.
One of the teachings of Brother Sowders concerned the importance of walking in the "present truth" or the "present light". What this means is that God works in accordance with the particular situation and a particular time, and therefore one must continue to seek God for new situations and conditions. This revelation is in contrast with traditional Christianity's idea that the church is the blessed possessor of eternal truth. The notion of development and progress is completely absence from the official churches. Why, after all, is there any need for these blessed possessors to seek truth since they already have it? If there is any place for a spiritual journey, it belongs solely to individuals. There is no idea of all the people being led by God from situation to situation, and from dispensation to dispensation. Those blessed possessors couldn't possibly be the Israel of God.
If the truth is all in hand there is no goal at the end of the journey for the people as a whole. By contrast with this dead and static concept of the church, Brother Sowders had what can be described as an historical understanding of the church. In recent years, certain scholars have noted that the concept of history itself derives from the Bible. God is a God who acts in history. He makes history. He created the world; destroyed the first civilization by a great flood; chose Abraham by whose descendents he would bless all the peoples of the world; delivered his people from Egypt through mighty acts by which they were to remember from generation to generation. Finally, he sent his Son into the world -- into history -- for the means of salvation of all men. That salvation does not come through an eternal truth separate from himself which Jesus proclaimed, but that salvation can only be obtained through trust in the historical Jesus, who is the living Lord. Nor is he merely -- I say merely because I do not deny that he is in part a mystical Christ separated from history or manifesting himself in various appearances, though only as himself -- but the salvation of every individual depends on this one thing that happened about two thousand years ago: the obedience of Jesus to death on the cross.