Growing up as a 4th generation Pentecostal I thought that there wasn’t anything I didn’t know about the foundations of the Pentecostal movement. From camp meetings, to youth conventions, and even just listening to the adults in my family, the history of the movement was pounded into me head. When I started studying theology in college I began to grow distant from my Pentecostal roots. I  became uncomfortable with some of the ideologies that I thought were universally Pentecostal. This disenchantment almost led me to convert to another branch of Christianity altogether.

In one sense though I eventually came full circle. Today I am happy to count myself as a Pentecostal. This is partly due to some scholarly research that caused me to discover whole other sides of Pentecostalism that I never knew existed. Lately I have been doing more and more research on forgotten aspects of early Pentecostalism, like the pacifist roots of Pentecostalism. Much of the information about this and other political positions held by Pentecostals has been lost or destroyed.

This blog post is dedicated to one man whose prolific work and unwavering commitment to the Prince of Peace has left us a rich wellspring of resource regarding Pentecostal pacifism, Frank Bartleman.

Frank Bartleman

            Probably the most outspoken proponent of pacifism in the Pentecostal movement, Frank Bartleman, was a powerhouse of meaningful rhetoric. He was one of the original revivalists at at the Azusa St. revival, and therefore carried a lot of clout among Pentecostals. When examining Bartleman’s pacifism, it becomes clear that more than any other Pentecostal, he is concerned with the social implications of pacifism and how the Christian should react to a capitalist system. Bartleman circulated a short but powerful tract labeled “Christian Citizenship.” Bartleman’s tract juxtaposes two systems that the Christian is confronted with. The terms that he sets up for the juxtaposition are Socialism versus what he calls the apostate church, or the “autocratic, ruling, capitalist classes.” 

According to Bartleman, too many Christians choose the apostate church, meaning that they have become a part of the nationalistic system. Concerning Christian nationalism and the apostate church, Bartleman says: “The Christian is a man without a country…He renounces his earthly citizenship…when converted as surely as one renounces their citizenship in the U.S. should he swear allegiance to a foreign country.”[1] He argued that the war had served to make Christians even more caught up in this apostasy and that it was “robbing the church of her sacred calling and pilgrim role…” He felt deeply that this nationalism was keeping the church from its missional vocation and instead was “…[plunging] her into a vortex of world politics and patriotism…with all its cruelties, hates, and murders.”[2]

Bartleman saw the gospel as an international message spread by the pilgrim church whose home was not of this earth, and saw nationalism and patriotism as threatening because they made Christians feel too much at home among the fallen nations of the world. This would lead him to be firm in his position that “The Church has no place to flaunt flags of national preference,” because  “the flags represent fallen nations, with fallen nationalistic, sectional prides, ambitions…that breed strife, enmity, jealousy, and war, for they are without Christ. We do not belong to them.”[3] Bartleman saw this threat at its most menacing when Christians were compelled to participate in the warring of these fallen nations. During a time of war especially, he considered governments to be standing in complete opposition to God. Christians had been given two choices, “…whether they will obey God or Man.”[4]

In reference to the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917 and 1918, which made it illegal to even talk about peace or preach against military conscription, Bartleman makes it clear that the “…Gospel forbids to the Christian the exercise of war…” and that when the government makes it illegal to preach this gospel that there is only one thing the Christian can do, “…he must obey God.”[5] Bartleman was unwavering in his stand against the violence and injustices inherent within nationalism. He served for two years as a missionary in Europe before the war, but during the time that the war rhetoric was building up in that area. While in London, most of his messages were against what he called “the war spirit.”[6]

Peace church protestors

A cartoon showing the sedition bill as a giant snake about to devour “Free Press,” “Free Speech,” and “Honest opinion” represented as three small children.

He was vocal in his disapproval of the social injustices being committed by the ruling, capitalist powers on both sides and saw the oppression of the lower classes as a part of the whole war narrative. He suggested “the whole thing is a game of chess, with the nations as the players. The Kings and leaders, capitalists, are the chessmen. They play their nations as the stake. Rulers for their private purse, bankers and financiers of the world of gain, munition manufacturers and provision merchants, all work together in this game.“[7] These scathing rebukes did not earn him the admiration of secular powers, but his consistent witness and message of peace and siding with the poor and oppressed put him firmly at the center of the Pentecostal movement. He maintained this prominence until social pressures, mostly from the Espionage and Sedition Acts, caused Pentecostal organizations to withdraw support from Bartleman.

During these war times, Bartleman felt that the church was under persecution and in a tract entitled “War and the Christian” said “one could not preach ‘love your enemies,’ or even pray for them honestly…To be a Christian meant to be denominated ‘pro-German.’ Spies haunted every little Pentecostal meeting.”[8] However, he still held the church responsible and said regarding those Pentecostals who had diminished their stance on pacifism, “the Pentecostal people failed to stand by the Lord.” This was one of Bartleman’s last efforts to call the Church back to their pilgrim role as bondservants to the Prince of Peace and to re-affirm their stance against war.

[1] Frank Bartleman, “Christian Citizenship” (Los Angeles: Author, 1922), 2 pages. Quoted in Beaman, 46.

 [2] Ibid.

 [3] Ibid.

 [4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

 [6] Frank Bartleman “Two Years Mission Work in Europe Just Before the World War 1912-14.” (Los Angeles: F. Bartleman, 1900), 55 <;.

[7] Frank Bartleman, “What Will the Harvest Be?” The Weekly Evangel (St. Louis. Mo), August 7, 1915.

[8] Frank Bartleman “War and the Christian” (n.p., n.d.), 4 pages, quoted in Beaman, 51.