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ebook: Holiness and missions

Chapter 5: Demonstrated by the Early Church

by Susan N. Fitkin

In 1915 Susan Fitkin emerged as the first president of Nazarene Missions International. This 1940 booklet sounds one of Fitkin's major themes. Minor editing has been done to increase readability.

In his Acts of the Apostles, Luke, "the beloved physician," continues the account of Christianity which he had begun in the Gospel bearing his name. Dr. Luke and the Apostle Paul have been credited as the writers of fifteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books. Luke is called the historian of New Testament times and Paul the interpreter. The particular book by Luke (Acts) has sometimes been called the Acts of the Holy Ghost, and the Gospel of the Holy Ghost Power. In any case, it is certainly evident that the Holy Spirit fills the scene.

In the introduction to Acts, the universality of the gospel is suggested: This book was written by a Greek to a Roman about a Jew. Prayer is especially prominent, being mentioned 27 times in the 28 chapters.

The first chapter records the last words of Jesus before returning to the Father's house. His last message, recorded in Acts 1:8-9, was to His people. The subject was holiness and missions: "'But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.' After [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight."

Two angels then appeared and encouraged the disciples' hearts with the promise that Jesus would return in the same manner as they had seen Him go. The little company then returned to Jerusalem and tarried, continuing in prayer with others until the Holy Ghost came, and they were all filled with the blessed Holy Spirit. The prophecy of Joel was fulfilled (Acts 2:16-18). The promise in the Jesus' last message was verified, and, at the first public service held, the universal significance of what happened on Pentecost day was demonstrated.

Here's what happened: A cosmopolitan crowd had gathered with people from more than fifteen nations present, representing practically all the then-known world. A miracle was wrought, for as Peter preached and the other apostles and disciples gave witness, each person gathered in Jerusalem heard the gospel in his or her own language. Three thousand people were converted that day.

On that Day of Pentecost, the church's foreign missionary enterprise was launched. The Holy Spirit had come to lead the Spirit-filled ones on victoriously. Soon we read of five thousand converted in a single service. Although the believers suffered persecution, the account declares: "With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all," (Acts 4:33) and "those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went." (Acts 8:4) Oh, for more Pentecostal seasons in our time! The skies are full of potential Pentecost days. Will we not pray them down?

Whenever I think of Pentecost, I remember the little girl in the Welsh Revival who had been to the altar and had been beautifully saved. A few days later, hearing a sermon on holiness which emphasized that Christians might have the Holy Spirit who would purify the heart and fill it to overflowing with God's love so that rivers of love would flow out to others, this young lady came again to the altar. The little girl was heard to pray this simple prayer: "O God, I thank you for saving me. I am so happy, but I also want the Holy Spirit to come and fill my heart. You know, Lord, I am only a little girl, and I can't hold much, but I could overflow an awful lot." The hearts of these early Christians were overflowing, and because of that we next read about a revival in Samaria.

The revival in Samaria

"Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed Christ there" (Acts 8:5). The people heeded the message, believed the Word, accepted the Savior, and were baptized both men and women, "and there was great joy in that city." (Acts 8:8)

When news of this revival reached the church in Jerusalem, they sent Peter and John to Samaria :

"When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." (Acts 8:15-17)

They were faithfully carrying out God's plan of holiness and missions.

The Holy Spirit given to Gentiles

Acts 10 introduces a Gentile named Cornelius. From the way scripture describes Cornelius, it sounds like he was an outstanding believer: "He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly." He not only prayed, but he was "fasting and praying" at his regular prayer hour. He was evidently seeking for light and was hungry for holiness -- something that is natural for one anyone who spends time fasting and praying to God. The Lord was so pleased with Cornelius' prayer that He sent an angel to instruct Cornelius to send for a certain holiness preacher named Peter. The angel assured Cornelius that Peter would tell Cornelius what he ought to do. Cornelius obeyed the directions and sent messengers to find Peter in Joppa.

While these messengers were on their journey, God was preparing Peter to co-operate with His plan. Peter was a bigoted Jew who needed a world vision. Peter did not yet seem fully convinced that the provision made at the cross had indeed been for all the world. So, one day while he was praying, Peter had a vision that made it plain that "God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." (Acts 10:34-35) How wondrously God works if His people fast and pray!

When the men sent by Cornelius arrived at Simon's house, they made an unusual request: "We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say." The men were invited in for the night and on the morrow Peter and other brethren returned with them to Caesarea.

In the meantime Cornelius had been busy organizing a holiness convention, so that when Peter and the six brethren arrived they found many that were come together.

Peter was invited to give them God's message and in the midst of the sermon, "The Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. . . . They asked Peter to stay with them for a few days." (Acts 10:44-45, 48) When Peter next visited the mother church in Jerusalem, he was reproved for having gone to the Gentiles. He protested that he had done so under God's direct leading and was thus vindicated. The church broadened its vision and was blessed.

Then followed more prayer victories. While the church prayed earnestly, Peter was miraculously delivered from prison on the very eve before his decreed execution and appeared before the astonished company.

In chapter 13, while the entire church fasted and prayed, the Holy Spirit called Barnabas and Saul, the church's two best evangelists, to go forth to definite foreign missionary service. This splendid Antioch church did not murmur nor object, but they had another season of fasting and prayer. Then, they laid their hands on the two men and sent them out. "The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus." (Acts 13:4)

This was the beginning of the foreign missionary journeys of Paul, that great apostle to the Gentiles. On his first missionary journey, he constantly met opposition from Satan. At Derbe, after a man was healed, the Christian missionaries were acclaimed as gods. Because of that, they could scarcely restrain the people from offering sacrifices to them. At Lystra, Paul was stoned and left for dead. "But after the disciples gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city." (Acts 14:20) They then returned to the cities visited, appointed elders, prayed and fasted, and returned to Antioch to give their report.

On Paul's second missionary journey he was clearly directed by the Holy Spirit to carry the gospel into Europe. Arriving at Philippi, the chief city of that part of Macedonia, he attended a prayer meeting by the riverside. A woman named Lydia was his first convert. Then quickly followed the conversion of the jailer and his family after the missionaries Paul and Silas had been miraculously delivered from the inner prison where their feet had been held fast in the stocks.

Paul the missionary, then being urged to depart, journeyed on to other European cities: Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus. At each place more or less severe persecution awaited them. But the proclamation of God's Word bore fruit, multitudes believed, and missionary churches were established.

When Paul arrived at Ephesus, he found certain disciples whom he questioned relative to their experience of holiness: "'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?' They answered, No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.'" (Acts 19:2)

These were no doubt converts of the eloquent Apollos, who had been "instructed in the way of the Lord, and . . . taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John." (Acts 18:25) The converts in Ephesus, when questioned about baptism, replied that they had been baptized unto John's baptism.

This baptism, according to the account given in Luke 1:77, meant they had received a "knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins." So these converts were eligible for the blessing of holiness. "When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them." (Acts 19:6)

These formed the nucleus for the splendid church. Paul remained there for more than two years. "So that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul . . . The word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power." (Acts 19:10-11, 20)

Progress in Cape Verde and British West Indies islands

The Holy Spirit is still being manifested and working wondrously in our island mission fields. During the past generation, many in the Cape Verde Islands heard the gospel message through the faithful preaching of a native evangelist, Rev. John Diaz. A church was organized and a chapel built on the island of Brava. A mission opened in St. Vincent.

Many were praying for the work in these Roman-Catholic-dominated islands where 200,000 Portuguese-speaking people were without a Protestant missionary. God answered prayer, and Rev. and Mrs. Everette Howard were called and sent out to this needy field. When they arrived at the St. Vincent port, they were accorded an unexpected reception. A few Christians had gathered on the wharf to welcome them. They soon saw a great procession of several hundred coming down the main street. At first the Howards thought the Catholics were taking out some of their saints for an airing. Then, they were assured by the Christians that it was the people of the city coming to welcome them, which proved true.

When they reached Brava, an even larger crowd, many coming from surrounding villages, were there to welcome them. Later they visited the entire group of ten islands. On several, they found some who had heard the gospel message and were glad they had come.

While on this trip, they met the governor of the islands. They thought he might be one of the merchants. So, they told him a little about their mission and gave him literature, as he seemed to be interested. Later, while visiting homes on the island, they called at his house, not knowing he was the governor. They were kindly received and he assured them he would do all he could to help them.

When they returned to Brava, and revival services were announced, the chapel could not hold the crowds that came. Many were saved and some were sanctified wholly. Night after night, many stood outside and listened to the gospel.

A number of high school boys were reclaimed and sanctified. They pleaded for a Bible School, which was soon started two or three evenings a week in the missionary home. Revivals were held on other islands. Before the first year ended, a report from the Howards was received in the homeland which began, "The Spirit of the Lord is mightily moving in the Cape Verde Islands." This and other reports which followed reminded one of the history of the "Acts of the apostles" in the first century.

Nazarene General Superintendent Chapman visited the Howards a couple of years later. Upon his recommendation, the missionary headquarters was moved to Praia, the capital city which is on one of the largest islands and contains about half of the population of the entire group.

At Praia, before they even had opportunity to plan for revival services, the people gathered about their tiny cottage as they were having family devotions, peering in at the windows and door. As they continued to sing, someone asked, "Can't we come in so we can hear the words better?" When given permission, as many as possible crowded into their two little rooms. These told others about the Americans (did the advertising) and more came each night until they had a revival on their hands. A number were converted. Some were government officials who later became splendid national evangelists. Thus, needed helpers were supplied.

The reports from these islands give assurance that God is still manifesting His saving and sanctifying power as in the first century. And why not? God says, "I am the Lord God, I change not." (Malachi 3:6) Of course, the enemy is also the same. So, we were not surprised that the church has met with persecution along with the victories. Here is a letter recently received from Sister Howard:

"Some persecution, however, is beginning to settle in upon us. We must be very careful."

"Several weeks ago we went with a group of our young people from Praia, to an interior village of this island. While we were there the priest arrived on the scene, very drunk, and began to call the people together. He soon had a group of about 150 men and boys, all armed with stones, clubs, and some had knives and guns. Half of them were drunk, and the priest was really so drunk he could hardly stand. They began to call, 'Viva Roman Catholic Church' and 'Down with the Americans.' Soon a few stones began to fall. One big one fell right at my feet. I gave Elizabeth Ann a quick push or she would have been hit as she was by my side. We saw that we could not talk or reason with them, so we got our group together and came away.

"The other day there was a big religious festival, the day of Saint John, so we took a number of the Gospels of Saint John and went to several of the interior villages and gave them out to the people. Of course they took them all and wanted more. But the priest of the village of Pikes heard about it and sent out to gather up the Gospels and made a big fire of them there in the village and burned them all. He told them that they must never take a thing from the Americans, as they were priests of the devil, and were there to buy their souls. One of the young men became very much interested at that, and decided to have a closer look at the 'Priests of the Devil.' He walked the twenty some miles to the city of Praia, and came to our house, He was afraid to come into the yard, so he called the houseboy and asked for sure if this was the house.

"The houseboy called Everette. When he came out, the first boy looked surprised. I think he was expecting to see horns and a tail. Anyhow, he asked Everette if he really did know the devil and how much he would pay for a soul. With the help of the houseboy, Everette soon had him convinced that we were not as bad as we had been painted. That night we were having services, so we invited him to stay. He did enjoy the singing and message. The next morning when he returned to the village, he took with him some of those same Gospels of John and other tracts, and he said that the priest would not have a chance to burn these copies.

"Recently we had a nice visit with the governor and he was really lovely to us. In his conversation he said, 'I know your teachings, Mr. Howard, and that you demand a higher moral life than our church. If I were a Catholic priest, I would not fight you, but I can do nothing myself. You know that the religion of the Portuguese government is Catholicism. However, you have my permission to work as you please on any of the islands.'

"During the visit of the president of Portugal to Cape Verde we were invited to the reception given in his honor at the palace in Praia. It was really an honor to be invited, and we did not expect it, being Protestants. There were only a few invitations given out. None of the Cape Verdian priests were invited. The bishop of Cape Verde was there in his long robes and cap, and during the evening he seemed to be watching Everette. The governor was very friendly and introduced Everette to the minister of the colonies, who was there, along with the president. A few days afterward we heard that the priests were angry because they had not been invited. Later our boy in the government office saw a letter from the bishop to the governor asking leave to go to Lisbon to report on the religious condition of the islands. He said that it was in a very critical state, and if help was not received the islands would be lost to the Catholic Church! This was in the letter. Praise the Lord, He is all powerful!"

"God has really prospered us more than we ever thought possible in the islands. We have been able to open seven new places of worship, have given out 17,000 tracts, 400 New Testaments, 131 Bibles, 3,300 Gospels besides selling many good books."

Let us keep the work in the Cape Verde Islands on our prayer list.

The British West Indies

The British West Indies field has been fruitful since its beginning days twelve years ago when Rev. and Mrs. J. I. Hill were sent out to superintend a few little groups of African natives. Nazarene churches now dot the island of Barbados. We also have a few on the island of Trinidad and a native evangelist is working on St. Lucia. On my first visit to this field I was astonished at the crowds gathered in and around the small chapels. Often many more stood around on the outside than the little company that managed to crowd into the small meeting places. So eager were they for the good news of salvation that they sometimes stood in the tropical showers from one to two hours,. After each service, altars were filled with seeking souls.

Two years ago I again had the privilege of visiting this mission field. I was surprised and delighted with the wonderful progress made. Several of the small buildings on Barbados had added a second, and some a third chapel to their buildings. Still, they were crowded and surrounded with people as before, with people peering in at the openings which served as windows and at the door. Several new churches had also been organized, one of which I had the privilege of visiting.

The missionary, Brother Hill, said one day, "Sister Fitkin, we are going out tonight to one of the darkest places on the island. There, we'll find witch doctors and people who live in constant feat of evil spirits."
Of course I was happy to go. As we reached the little old, abandoned church building -- which they rented for a meager sum -- I saw a small group about the door. Inside the Christians occupied the front part of the building, while a few heathen had slipped into the back seats.

As we took our places on the platform and the service began, I noticed small groups at the windows who remained there during the entire service. At the window on the left of the platform was a group of young men with earnest faces. They never moved; they just stood and listened with wonder and surprise as the meeting went on. On the right were some women.

One especially broke my heart all up. She was an elderly woman with a bright bandanna tied over her head and on top of that a man's ragged old straw hat. Her head rested against the window pane. Her big eyes were staring, and there was such a frightened and despairing look on her face. I could not bear it and motioned for her to come inside, but she only stared back, seemingly more frightened than before.

We had a gracious service with a few Christians at the altar seeking holiness. One or two in the back raised their hands for prayer. This church is cared for by dear Sister Pender who walks the fifteen miles back and forth every week-end. How these needy ones need our prayers!

I want also to give you a glimpse of our splendid Nazarenes in their quarterly meeting. It was held in the largest building they have -- a rough, unfinished tabernacle seating about 250. This was crowded with many more on the outside. Brother Hill said more would have come, but they knew they could not get near enough to hear. The meeting was on Sunday when the people were free to come. While there were three services, I will mention only the morning one.

At an 8 o'clock baptismal service on the beach, the Lord graciously blessed. Before ten the crowd had gathered in and about the tabernacle. The missionary had asked me to preach, but I felt that it was his service as he was to receive several new members, so I declined. It was evident that all was in divine order. I have never in all my life been in a more beautiful service. After Brother Hill had explained what it meant to be a Nazarene to those who were to be received into membership, he looked over that crowded room. There were no aisles and none could move out of their seats, and so he asked, "How can I give you the right hand of fellowship? I see no way except this." He then clasped his own hands and asked them to do the same while he said, "I give you the right hand of fellowship, and receive you as full members into the Church of the Nazarene."

He then preached on the "Two Baptisms," explaining in simple language, so that all could understand, what Christ's baptism would mean to Christians. I have never heard a more beautiful sermon. God's presence was manifested. At the close of the message he asked all who desired this baptism to lift their hands. Fully fifty hands were instantly raised. Then he stopped a moment. What could he do? A traditional altar service was impossible. They could not even kneel. He turned to me and with tears in his eyes said, "Sister Fitkin, what can I do?" I suggested they might rise and we could then all pray that God would sanctify them wholly. This was done and what a Pentecost we had! I told the missionary later that I would gladly have come all the way from New York for just that one service.

Truly, the combination of Pentecost and missions are in divine order today. . . . [ continue reading ]

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Holiness in the Epistles

Next chapterSusan Fitkin highlights how Paul and other New Testament letter writers weave together God's call to missions and to holy living. [ read more ]

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