A Historical Puzzle: Branham, the Apostles, and Vision Forum

A Historical Puzzle: Branham, the Apostles, and Vision Forum September 16, 2011

Message of the Hour believers claim that William Branham was the last of seven prophets to “restore” the Bride of Christ to life as it was in the days of the apostles. For most believers, this means restoring miracles and divine healing, so Message believers insist that they have been given power to cast out the spirits that cause sickness. The “third pull” for which they are waiting (last I heard, anyway) is generally interpreted as the power to create through speech, just as God created the world by saying “let there be” in Genesis.

There is a particular kind of history being sold here. Message believers are dispensationalist. This means that they believe God has steadily revealed one new truth (via messengers like Luther, Wesley, etc.) to each age over the course of history: Seven Church Ages, to be precise. By the last age, the whole Truth was to be revealed… by Branham.

(By the way, isn’t it funny how none of the church fathers Branham referenced saw themselves as part of this chain of events or anticipated his arrival?)

Branham used the analogy of a wheat or corn seed reproducing to illustrate this dispensationalist history. According to him, the first Christian martyrs were the seeds that literally “went into the ground” (were killed) to give life to the plant that is Christianity. Then came the first shoots, stalk, leaves, husk and finally the corn (or wheat). The very last stage is thus to be identical to the original. Message believers think that they are being restored to life as it was for the apostles.

There’s a hitch in this neat little story. Branham died in 1965, before there even was a “Message of the Hour” network of churches. He died long before the Message adopted many of its new tenets. For example, I don’t know of many Message believers who date rather than court. Most have taken on Josh Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye as part of their unspoken creed. (Saying you don’t have a creed is different from not actually having one.)

I know of very few Message believers who don’t homeschool or use materials from Vision Forum, Nancy Campbell, and Michael and Debi Pearl. Acceptance of these materials is also part of the unspoken Message creed. As “mainstream” fundamentalist culture grows more and more extreme (no sex before marriage! –> no kissing! –> no touching! –> no talking alone! –> no emotional connections! –> give your heart to your father for safekeeping!), Message believers move with it.

So, if William Branham brought the final message and restored the days of the apostles already by 1965… what’s all this other stuff? There was no courtship movement, there were no purity balls, there were no To Train Up a Child or Created to be His Helpmeet in 1965. There was no Homeschool Legal Defense Association. But just you try taking those things away from Message believers, and see how “lost” and “worldly” they feel. Their kids would never go on a date!

Either Branham didn’t bring all the truth, or all this stuff is inconsequential fluff that could be thrown out without incurring any damage. Which is it?

There’s another possibility: that Branham was just one mid-twentieth century fundamentalist preacher among many, and that Vision Forum and its ilk are part of a cultural movement that is more about family structure and the supremacy of middle class conservative values than about faith.

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