The movement known as the Hebrew Pentecostals started in 1914 by Bishop R.A.R. Johnson, a former Methodist minister, in Beaufort South Carolina. Bishop Johnson, dissatisfied with the Methodist church and its lack of positive support for the Pentecostal experience which included tongues, the indwelling of the holy spirit, and the observance of the original seventh day Sabbath, left the Methodist church to form what was called the “ Commandment Keepers”. Through Bishop Johnson’s travelling ministry both nationally and internationally the church experienced rapid growth and quickly developed congregations on three continents. The group has been in existence and growing ever since then. Bishop Johnson was succeeded by Bishop Aaron Smith, first Chief Apostle, who led the church from 1941 to 1049, followed by Bishop S.P. Rawlings, second Chief Apostle, who headed the church from 1950 to 1990.
Under Bishop S.P. Rawlings the church saw significant changes including the adoption of the Jewish festival days, and the acceptance of an identity as “Hebrew Pentecostal”. Hebrew Pentecostals do not consider themselves a Christian group or a Jewish group; they associate themselves with both early Christianity and the faith of the early Hebrews. Bishop Rawlings felt that the churches observance of the Jewish law and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Messiah separated the organization from traditional Christian and Jewish theological positions. The term “Hebrew Pentecostal” provides a unique identifier which embodies the marriage of Judaism and Christianity. Bishop S.P. Rawlings was succeeded by Bishop F.C. Scott, third Chief Apostle, who led the church from 1991 to 2005. Bishop Scott dedicated the current national Temple and oversaw paying it off. International presence increased greatly under his leadership and technological advancements were made in the church.
Powers of the executive boards were refined and polices were updated. The honorable Bishop James E. Embry is the current Chief Apostle of the church and has been in office since 2005. Hebrew Pentecostalism is a religious philosophy derived from the inclusion of all divine concepts expressed in both the old and new Testaments of the Bible. The writings of the Old and New Testaments form the basis for both Judaism and Christianity, they also sharply delineate respective perceptions regarding the manner in which man is required to recognize and worship God. For example, Judaism rejects the validity and applicability of the New Testament writings while Christianity does the same for much of the Old Testament. It appears therefore that a merging of these two desperate positions would be tantamount to mixing water and oil however, that is exactly what Hebrew Pentecostalism does.
The word “Hebrew” was used in Bible history by foreign peoples as a name for the Israelites; today it is applied only to the Hebrew language. Since the basic tents of the Hebrew Pentecostalism extracts its legitimacy from the original concepts of the Bible, it follows that the original reference to Gods chosen people is retained in the denominational identification. Membership is claimed, in the Hebrew family, by linkage provided by the Apostle Paul in Gal 3:29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Pentecostalism has its basic roots in familiar religious concepts. Its beginning can be traced to Acts 2:1-6, where the promise of the Holy Ghost was fulfilled in the upper room. The recognition of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit survived through centuries, but grew in the United States when speaking in tongues was evidenced in the southern Appalachians(1896).
However, Bishop S.P. Rawlings of the House of God fathered the concept of “Hebrew Pentecostalism” at the 58th Convocation in 1977, after recognizing the The House of God was the only known church that embraced the total Bible as current day truth. They follow certain commandments in the Old Testament, such as dietary laws, the three pilgrimage festivals and the Sabbath. Their devotional services follow the Hebrew tradition rather than the Christian. They observe the Sabbath, it being an element in Creation since God himself rested on the seventh day and Adam rested with Him. They believe the Sabbath was made for man, but the Jewish people are the carriers of it. By observing the Sabbath, they are following the practices made for man. They have a systematic way of dealing with issues that come up within their organization and there is a definite hierarchy. They have a spiritual leader over the entire movement, called the Chief Apostle.
Currently, the Chief Apostle is Bishop James E. Embry Jr. Under him, there is a board of Apostles, Elders, Pastors, and Evangelists. If there is a decision concerning matters of the Scripture, it comes down from the board of Apostles to the Pastors and to the local congregation. There are the male-only offices: Bishops, Vicar Bishops, Elders, and Deacons. Then the male-female offices: Pastors, Evangelists and Ministers. Then the female-only offices: Elect Lady, Mothers, Missionaries. The role of women is very open in the Hebrew Pentecostal church. There are women Pastors, women who carry out the Sacraments, such as marriage, burying the dead, and rites of Passover. They have no problems with the feminist movement as a whole, but there are some individual disagreements. Basically, as long as the feminist movement does not contradict the word of God, then they accept it. Since the feminist movement advocates abortion it cannot be supported by the church in that area.
Their Sacraments are not similar to the Christian Sacraments. They have incorporated the rites of Passover into them. Passover is not a Sacrament in the Christian tradition. This reflects how they incorporate the Hebrew tradition into the Christian idea. The titles of many aspects of their religion have Christian names and some Hebrew themes although they do not exactly call themselves Christians. One common theme in their beliefs is the desire to go back to the root of the religion, rather than follow what history has made it to be. Hebrew Pentecostals are similar to Messianic Jews. However, Hebrew Pentecostals differ from Messianic Judaism in the respect that they started from different places.
Messianic Judaism came from a Jewish background to accept the concept of Jesus as the son of God, whereas the Hebrew Pentecostal group came from a Christian background to embrace the Old Testament traditions. They are on the same understanding of the scriptures and identify with them closely. The primary doctrine of Hebrew Pentecostals is contained in twenty four principles developed by Bishop R.A.R. Johnson. Although there are other doctrinal issues that fall outside of these principles, “The Twenty Four Principles” represents the foundation of the church doctrine. They are as follows:
It is important to look at how they approach change since much of their tradition is based on keeping things as they were originally. It is very interesting that if Hebrew Pentecostals find there is something the word of God teaches that they have not been aware of they are open to change. The way they approach change is through question that come up in the national meeting. Anyone can write to the board of apostles with questions and their answers are discussed. A doctoral change may or may not come out of it.
Ideas for change can come from the congregation members themselves. The actual mandate of the change is given by the board of Apostles. It seems that the majority of the movement is based on going back to the basics and keeping things the way they were in the beginning and the acceptance of change seems to go against that framework. In the past 40 years Hebrew Pentecostals have increased 1000%. They grow through the merging of churches and through proselytizing. They do not actively proselytize, but when people hear of them, they explain what they are about and people join.