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William Marion Branham
William Marion Branham
A drunken driver killed William Marion Branham in 1965. Most people assumed that the fame of this itinerant preacher would fade into obscurity. But it was not to be. His followers consider him to be the prophet for the Laodicean Age, the voice of Revelation's seventh messenger, which Branham claimed to be. They believe he was a prophet invested with the power and spirit of Elijah, raised up by God to minister to the church in modern times. Some of his followers awaited his resurrection, while others built a pyramid-shaped shrine in his honor at his grave in Jeffersonville.
The Encyclopedia of Cults recites the following: Branham was born in 1909 in the hills of Kentucky, the son of a bootlegger. Neither of his parents attended any Christian churches. However, when William was born, his parents and the midwife reported that they saw a halo resting above the baby's head. They were frightened and did not know how to interpret this phenomenon. Followers believe that this was a sign that God had his hand on young William's life right from his birth. The halo allegedly appeared again in Houston, Texas, in 1950, when Branham was on a preaching tour. George Lacy, an examiner of questioned documents, was shown a picture of the phenomenon. He issued the following statement: “Rev. Branham, you will die like all other mortals but as long as there is a Christian civilization, your picture will live on.” The famous, copyrighted photo can be seen in various publications, such as the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements published in 1988 by Zondervan (p. 96).
At seven years of age, he experienced the first of several visions that were destined to guide his life. While carrying water for his father's moonshine, he paused to rest under a tree. In the wind rustling through the leaves, a voice spoke, saying’ “Never drink, smoke, or defile your body in any way, for I have a work for you to do when you get older.” Branham’s father would often call his son a sissy because he refused to drink. In a weak moment, young William decided to prove to his father that he could consume alcohol like all the other Branhams (his four brothers all drank with their father). Raising thc bottle to his lips, he suddenly heard the voice in the wind and began to cry, to which his father promptly responded, “See’ I told you he was a sissy.” The voice repeated this message on several occasions in Branham’s life prior to his conversion.
Branham’s conversion to Christianity came through the preaching of a Baptist minister. Shortly thereafter. he felt called to preach, and plans were made to conduct his first church service. In 1933, under a tent in Jeffersonville, Indiana, Branham preached to approximately three thousand people.
The death of his wife, Hope Brumback, and his baby daughter, both in 1937, was interpreted by Branham to be God’s judgment for not heeding a call to minister to Oneness Pentecostals, with whom he had become acquainted during a revival near the Mishawaka River in Indiana.
On May 7, 1946, he spent a night in a cave where an angel supposedly appeared to him and explained his past and future. The angel also revealed how God would enable him to heal people. Many of his contemporaries were concerned about the spiritualistic overtones exhibited by Branham’s gift of healing. The presence of a disease would set off vibrations, causing his hand to swell. Sometimes he would see a fiery ball dance about the room and then hover over those upon whom he would pronounce healing. (A man present during a 1965 Branham meeting when the ball of fire supposedly appeared testified that no visible phenomenon was evident to the audience, but many of those present accepted Branham's explanation without question.) But despite persistent warnings from fellow ministers that his visions might be demonic, Branham was undeterred. The healing services and revivals conducted by the mystic preacher were attended by thousands in auditoriums and stadiums throughout the world. From October to December, 1951, Branham traveled to South Africa and conducted what has been called the “greatest religious meetings ever.” All manner of miracles and healings were reported to have taken place at these meetings, which were attended by hundreds of thousands. Services were held in Cape town, Johannesburg, and Durban. Julius Stadsklev documents the various healings in his book, William Branham a Prophet Visits South Africa (1952). Walter Hollenwegger, who interpreted for Branham in Zurich, Switzerland, on one occasion, writes that he “is not aware of any case in which Branham was mistaken in the often detailed statements he made.”
Branham traveled widely overseas and achieved a wide measure of acceptance among some mainline Pentecostal groups. But his small congregation in Jeffersonville, Indiana, provided the primary channel for his teachings.
During the forties, Branham held large healing campaigns during which thousands experienced miraculous cures. Those who knew Branham intimately claimed he was a humble, self-effacing, withdrawn man who, in spite of an unlearned background. had a remarkable sense of spiritual understanding.
Dr. J. Wilson summarized reasons for Branham's immense popularity and success: In contrast to the caricature of the image-minded evangelist, he lived modestly, dressed moderately, and boasted of his youthful poverty. This endeared him to the throngs who idealized him. He was self-conscious about his lack of education, but the simplicity of his messages had worldwide appeal. By emphasizing healing and prosperity and neglecting his Oneness theology, Branham was able to minister in Trinitarian Pentecostal circles as well.
Was he a person who started out sincerely but later succumbed to doctrinal error because he lacked adequate theological training? Were his visions and angelic visitations of godly origin, or was he cleverly deceived by Satan?
Retrospective analysis cannot conclusively answer these questions. But it is possible to decipher Branham's theology and weigh its inconsistencies against orthodox Christian doctrine. Even Branham’s most devout followers would have to admit that his unscriptural views generate some measure of skepticism regarding his claim to be a prophet for the end times.
Branham told his parishioners that God spoke to him out of a pillar of fire and revealed the mysteries of Revelation 5-8. This led him to predict future events, including:
Branham's Unscriptural Views
Branham was nontrinitarian, claiming that Jesus was created and not the eternal Son of God. Essentially, Branham's theology is oneness in character, denying the Trinity of traditional Christian theology. He states, “At the Nicean Council, the apostles' teachings were traded for a much newer and more accepted doctrine called the Trinity.” His general theology may be summarized as follows: God Oneness theology teaches that God is one person or one essence. The ancient church encountered this idea in modalistic monarchianism, or Sabellianism, name for one of its prominent advocates, Sabellius. Sabellius taught that God manifested himself in different “modes” at different times. At creation, God was the eternal Father. When Jesus was born, it was God himself (formerly the Father) who took on human form as the redeeming Son. After Jesus' ascension, God then manifested himself as Holy Spirit, wherein he now moves in and through the church. Modalism was originally the well-meant attempt to preserve the unity of the Godhead. But in so doing, the independent subsistence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, of which the Bible refers to on ample occasions was lost. Modalism was challenged by leading theologians in the early church, such as Dionysius of Alexandria. The Trinitarian theology that emerged out of the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) was a testimony to the fact that the church recognized the distinctive subsistence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being clearly attested to in the apostolic writings of the New Testament.
Branham reasoned that because God is one, the doctrine of the Trinity “is of the Devil.” Therefore, anyone who has been baptized in the name of the triune God must be re-baptized “in the name of Jesus only.” Branham understood the baptismal formula given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 as being a summary of the Modalistic idea discussed above.
“Why don't you examine your baptism of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and that false trinity' it's so-called, which is nothing in the world but three offices of one God, titles. No name of Father. There's no such thing as name, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost . . .”
Branham taught a doctrine that he called “serpent's seed” in which he believed that Eve had sexual relations with the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, according to Branham, some human beings are predestined to hell. On the other hand, there are those born of the “seed of God,” not corrupted by Eve's faithless union, who will be heirs of eternal life. Branham believed that those who follow his teachings are of the righteous seed.
At least one branch of Christian theology, Calvinism, teaches a doctrine of double predestination. But nowhere did Calvin ever maintain, nor did any other movement within orthodox Christendom, that Eve had sexual relations with the devil and that the resultant offspring were the souls predestined for damnation. This is an idea embraced by some occult and Satanist groups. Augustine believed that “original sin” is inherited by the human race through sexual lust or “concupiscence,” but again, it was Adam who sinned, who had intercourse with sinful Eve. Together they produced an offspring that inherited corruption. Branham's serpent's seed doctrine is clearly outside the boundaries of orthodoxy.
Hell, according to Branham, is not a place of eternal torment, as traditional Christianity maintains. Hell will be done away with by God.
According to Branham, all denominations within Christendom are apostate and of the Devil. People from different denominational churches may be saved, but they must undergo suffering in a future period of time known as the Great Tribulation. True Christians are re-baptized “in the name of Jesus only” and follow the doctrines taught by God's apostle to the seventh and final age of church history William Branham. To be part of a denominational church is to have the mark of the Beast (Rev. 13:6-18).
For traditional orthodoxy, denominations are an unfortunate testimony to the fact that sinful human beings who are Christians simply cannot agree on all doctrines. There were divisions in the church almost from the beginning. Paul and Barnabas had a sharp division between them over the decision to take or leave behind John Mark on Paul's second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41). Paul encountered problems with division in the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10-12 and elsewhere), yet the plurality and diversity within Christendom is compensated for in the unity that all Christians experience in the love and forgiveness extended through Jesus Christ (John 3:16). All who believe in Christ comprise the “new catholic and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed, Appendix 1). The Apostles' Creed speaks of all true believers who have received the “forgiveness of sins” as being members of the “communion of saints.” Narrow sectarianism has always been denounced within the church and will continue to be denounced (Matt. 10:40; Luke 9:49-50).
Some of Branham's followers believed that he (Branham) was virgin-born. Christianity regards this notion as being rank heresy. None other than the Founder of Christendom may claim such a unique entrance into the world.
Branham believed himself to be the promised Elijah of Malachi 4:5, sent as a herald to usher in the end. Traditional Christian exegesis of Malachi 4:5 has rendered John the Baptist as being the herald spoken of (John 1:6-9). Even though John denied it (1:21), he perfectly fulfilled the role of the herald of Isaiah 40:3. Interestingly enough, it is Orthodox Judaism that maintains that the coming of Elijah is yet future. For this reason, it is customary at a Jewish Passover seder to leave one seat empty at the table, symbolic of the anticipation of Elijah's appearance. No Orthodox Jew ever urged Branham to come and sit in the empty chair, however.
Although Branham died in 1965, he continues to have followers who are avid believers in the truth of his cause. Extremists believe he will be resurrected by God to vindicate his mission. Still others believe he was God himself in human form. Most of his admirers, however, simply believed and followed one whom they considered to be a prophet for the modern world. Branham joins the ranks with many who preceded him and many who will follow who believed themselves the chosen of God, singled out by a perceived voice or a vision.
Branham's appeal seems to be to those who feel the organized church world is apostate and in need of divine revelation by a prophet from God.
The following lyrics are inscribed on the pyramid-shaped tombstone of the Rev. William Marion Branham in Jeffersonville, Indiana:
The Prophet WM. BRANHAM
ONE DAY I HEARD OF A PROPHET, WHOSE MESSAGE WENT STRAIGHT TO THE WORD BACK TO THE BIBLE HE TOOK US: WITH HIS, “THUS SA1TH THE LORD!”
I THOUGHT THAT THOSE DAYS WERE OVER, AND ALL OF GOD’S PROPHETS WERE DEAD; BUT GOD GAVE HIS VINDICATION, A PILLAR OF FIRE OVER HIS HEAD!
HE PREACHED PREDESTINATION, AND BAPTISM IN JESUS’ NAME, DIVINE HEALING, THE SEED OF THE SERPENT, AND THAT GOD IS FOREVER THE SAME!
THE SICK, THE BLIND, AND THE CRIPPLED, THE POSSESSED, THE DEAF, AND THE LOST, CAME BY THE THOUSANDS TO SEE HIM, WHILE HE PREACHED THE WORD AT ANY COST!
MALACHI 4 TOLD US HE WAS COMING, AND GOD’S WORD WILL NEVER FAIL; AS HE LEFT US HE GAVE US A PROMISE, “ONCE MORE I WILL RIDE THIS TRAIL!”
WE DON’T KNOW WHAT'S FIXING TO HAPPEN, FOR GOD’S WAYS WE CAN'T UNDERSTAND; BUT WE’LL STAND ON HIS WORD TIL HE CALLS US, WITH THE BRIDE TO THAT HEAVENLY LAND!
A TENT AND COMPLETE TRANSFORMATION, IN A VISION OUR PROPHET DID SEE; THOUGH HE’S GONE IT WILL BE COMPLETED, IT'S A PROMISE AND SO SHALL IT BE!
Just a few more facts on Branham.
Sandy Simpson is a missionary in Guam who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His web site can be found at http://www.netpci.com/~ssimpson/resources.html. Sandy offered the following after reading the preceding article:
Some info on Branham that the author missed is in some of Kurt Koch’s books. Branham said he could not heal except when his “angel” was present. If committed Christians were in attendance praying that if what he was doing was false that he would be hindered, he could not do any “miracles”. This is documented on a couple of occasions in Germany. He also, later in life, took a man from India under his wing, later calling him the reincarnation of the “son of God”. Branham was a false prophet and taught false doctrine. Yet the Third Wave holds him up as Elijah, prompted by Paul Cain who has promoted him and Latter Rain/Manifest Sons of God doctrines. Branham was a spiritist, influenced heavily by Harry Edwards, an avowed spiritualist.
And From Stephen F. Cannon’s “A Prophet Sent From God?”, published by Personal Freedom Outreach:
Evidence exists that Branham was doctrinally abberrant from the inception of his popular healing campaigns. Charismatic evangelist Ern Baxter was with Branham at the height of his popularity from 1947 to 1954. In an article in the December, 1978 New Wine Magazine, Baxter wrote: “When he would speak, especially in those early days, he would say some things that were terribly provocative. To me, [they were] unnecessarily so. So when we talked together, we agreed thyat apart from his giving testimonies and relating his life story, I would do all the speaking and he would do all the ministry to the sick. That was the way it was when we were together.” (p. 56). As time progressed, Branham’s doctrine deviated further and further from the standard.
Branham taught an unscriptural view of God that would put him under the “strange god” clause of Deuteronomy 13:1-3. Branham wrote:
“What is God? God is a great Eternal. At the beginning, way back before there was a beginning, he wasn’t even God. Did you know that? A god is an object of worship, and there wasn’t nothing to worship him; He lived alone. And in him was attributes. What is an attribute? A thought.” (The Spoken Word, Vol. III, p. 79.
Sources for the Information Recited Above
Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult by George A. Mather and Larry A. Nichols published by Zondervan 1993, pages 42-44; Larson's (New) Books of Cults by Bob Larson published by Tyndale, 1982, pages 156-158; Western Tract Mission, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada; “William Branham” (pamphlet), Cal Beisner, Christian Research Institute; “God's Word Came to the Prophet William Marion Branham,” tract by Spoken Word Publications; William Branham, A Man Sent from God, Gordon Lindsay, published and copyrighted 1950 by William Branham; An Exposition on the Seven Church Ages, by William Branham; Julius Stadsklev, William Branham a Prophet Visits South Africa (Minneapolis; Julius Stadsklev, 1952), 35; Walter J. Hollenwegger, The Pentecostals (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972), 354; D. J. Wilson, “William Marrion Branham,” in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 95; William Branham, Thus Saith the Lord 2 no. 5, 4-7 as quoted in “William Branham,” Christian Research Institute Fact Sheet, ed. Cal Beisner (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.: Christian Research Institute, 1979), 2.