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Sermons of
Rev. Orland Wolfram (1912-1987)
Pillar of Fire Church
Missionary to Guatemala

Living by Faith

Orland Wolfram


Reviewing the problems of donations, solicitations, and selling, or "Take no purse nor two coats...freely ye have received, freely give."

This is no small problem. It confronts every religious organization AND individual engaged in evangelistic work.

I have been involved in it, perhaps more than most, and this short review will show the answer lies in not going to an extreme in either direction, but keep flexible, avoid centralized rigid rules which allow some individual to "live by faith" in a very primitive church style, while others are involved in modern, varied, and even commercial methods, allowing with limiting parameters, God to direct His disciples according to His will and gifts.

In the early years, the Pillar of Fire was only in Denver, and mostly, just in the Champa St. building. For a time they had no paper to sell nor was there regular solicitation. When they had needs of any kind, when the food larder was literally empty, Alma White would call a fast and prayer siege which would last indefinitely until some miraculous event came about supplying the need, usually someone, from somewhere who had been helped spiritually. They would come in with a hundred or a thousand dollars, or, someone on the inside among the family of preachers and workers, or one of the Bible School students came forward to confess that though they had acted as if they had conformed to the rule that all personal assets were turned over to the church treasury, they did have a couple of dollars tucked away for emergency.

In the midst of one of these fasting and extended prayer sieges, they turned "unto blood". C.W. Bridwell went out, presently returning with a hundred pound bag of beans, to announce, "I have discovered a whole new source of food and supplies--soliciting the wholesalers and market places."

Bishop Alma thundered out with reverse commands, "It is a temptation from the devil. That is not living by faith."

I do not know that she said, "Take it back." Maybe those starving people already had the beans on the stove before she had a chance. But in any case, the sermons on really living by faith soon were tempered and "they" were soon visiting the market wholesalers and others again.

I am not criticizing here very strongly. She was new on the job with an infant organization. She had to learn step by step. It was good to review the various aspects of the problem, and then temper and adjust. She never did learn to let anyone else receive diverse light. The organization could have little breadth or individual light. Rules were made, enforced, and all conform. In church, in business or in history, centralized power makes for fast solid powerful strength, but on the longer haul it weakens or collapses, overtaken by church organization with wider base which may allow the Spirit to lead pastors or workers and talented individuals according to His, the Spirit's will.

I went out at an early age participating in all the various types of "missionary work" soliciting. In LA all soliciting organizations were inspected, and Jacob Barkman was questioned, "What are you doing?" "My missionary work." "And what is your missionary work?" "Going out with papers and soliciting." Barkman knew they were not supposed to solicit for a particular church without having expressly explained in the license, and the Christian school also had to be shown to have a tuition fee for students, not as an orphanage. Barkman did not want those explanations to weaken his solicitation pitch. I remember one official looking to another and saying, "His missionary work is soliciting for his soliciting."

But while that kind of work seems far distant than Christ's plan for His disciples, Barkman and the scores of similars did meet thousands, witnessed, left books, papers and preached. Inside, the organization pointed out a different more Biblical way of witnessing, we were accused of attacking the very foundations of the Pillar of Fire. What might have been just a broadening to allow multi-speared plan, got tightened down, polarized with officials taking the side of the Temple hucksters which Jesus wanted cleaned out.

But time has tempered all sides.

In Mexico for a time I had some experiences working with the Mexican Home Bible Library, which solicited funds in the U.S. to distribute Bibles free, one to each home in Mexico. We ran into serious problems. I wanted to hold open air meetings, the Bible friends would give me Bibles to distribute there to any who got saved, and it would also help draw crowds. All it did was start riots, repeatedly over and over, and gave the police their excuse to keep us in jail until we would go on the the next town. A Bible valued at several dollars cannot be offered free without starting riots, when one is dealing, not with Americans, but the poor masses of the world. I suggested to the home Bible people that we sell them, but at very subsidized prices, price flexible as we learned. They forbade. Their soliciting campaigns in the U.S. had said or implied FREE and they could not flex. I changed to portions, valued two or three cents each, but with an attractive little cover. The result was still bad. We could get hundreds, suddenly repentant, falling on their knees, claiming to accept Christ, get the Holy Spirit, or be sanctified, their hands outstretched not toward the heavens but for a free prize. The two or three sincere and really repentant were lost in the mess. Solutions: we have our open air people take along Bibles, portions and such, but they are left in sight but on one side. When someone asks, they are told a price, which is perhaps half of the retail price commercially. The crowds learn. A convert must make a sacrifice to get his Bible, not expecting it free, and be conditioned to continue to give when he comes to meetings, and for a limited time in emergencies.

Tracts should be available at open air meetings, and given out free, of course.

Your Christian schools are essentially similar, subsidized. We have to adjust our pitch to be honest and open to public and friends and authorities. Mexican Bibles could not flex for a time, but was forced to later on, but since then have heard their U.S. soliciting campaigns have not been so adaptable and the outfit is having troubles.

Incidentally the large publishing houses like Baptist and Nazarene who publish books, started as pure evangelistic works, then became commercial, leaving a great crying need for good Bible literature, not free, not at regular commercial high prices, but SUBSIDIZED, and those pub houses are successful financially, but failed literally, spiritually.

I do not know whether people still go out to saloons with Pillar of Fire papers. Once ALL HAD to participate under awesome threats and pressures. Not so good, of course, but instead of cutting it all off, there are those who can do that sort of thing well, and perhaps not much of anything else. Young folks might be encouraged to go out with literature, TRYING all kinds of approaches, into homes, into small business, into factories, little open air stands open for an hour or so, puppets, music, selling or not selling, and witnessing.

The established church organizations were not flexible on such matters, but new little organizations have sprung up of every description with every new plan imaginable. They have come down here, mostly doing very good work, preaching simple Bible salvation, but with some somewhat new come-on, little puppet shows at a new corner every day, helping others in campaigns, Christian rock, some hard-rock, some pretty good, helping local churches build during the U.S. vacation,etc. praise the Lord!

What does the Lord have for us that may seem new light for us in the Pillar of Fire? We have Christian schools, radio stations, and printing and book publishing experience and plants. Bible students can both go into the printing plant and go out with the literature. Our weakness has been that we were forbidden to work with the great flood of Christian youths if they were still connected with other churches. They were the enemy. We were preaching against the Baptists and also the Free Methodist and Alliance, as well as against the modernist "God is Dead" crowd, and, of course, deadly afraid of anything Pentecostal.

Some of our former workers learned how to visit with pastors in places, help them with meetings, have fellowship and be helped, and keep it sotto voce, but it was forbidden. One time I.L. Wilson came in from a trip telling of his participating in a revival meeting with a minister, how he also preached a time or two and how the Lord had come down so marvelously. He would get tears in his eyes recalling it. Some called him on the carpet, had a little church trial and he was called backslidden and sent to a prayer siege to stay until repentant and reclaimed, saved again, with hints of being put out altogether if not complied with humbly.

Those were carnal and human weaknesses in leadership and God let the organization at ZA go down until all could see it.

Now, how to hold to the many very good foundation pillars of the Pillar and separate from the parts that did not show God's blessing? May the Lord give you ALL light and inspiration and divine wisdom.

One who most wisely was able to avoid the extremes of rules like the above and still keep his paper and book- selling going was Wilbur Konkel. It was just marvelous through the years how he could follow the Lord, carry on a great ministry his way, and not have a run- in with the bishops.

It is most difficult to try new steps and policies, led of the Spirit, and still not upset the older elements of an old organization , putting too much new wine in old bottles, which caused bust-ups, immense serious problems.

Blessings. Prayers.

In using the branches in travelling "in the old days" in the Pillar of Fire, there would be in some branches two ladies holding the fort. There was a room set apart for a family and a few head folks, kept closed but ready, used several times a year. I was to use this, but it was a continual source of criticism of other ordinary Pillar of Fire travellers and outsiders who knew of the practice. What was still more troublesome to my mind was the Lord did not seem to bless their meetings with any but minimal results. The missionaries did visit and bring comfort to a few others, but not more than a bare handful came to the meetings. Once some years later when I was half out and on trial or something, someone stopped in and was invited to speak at such a little meeting, and began to tell of some inspiring answers to prayer that resulted in some people getting saved in LA. After the little service, the younger missionary, there were two older ones, said, "If we ever had anything like that it would be worth sacrificing for. I have wanted to be a missionary and do the Lord's work, but this situation is just discouraging and killing."

We sacrifice for economic pressures, but have little joy, inspiration or victory. Whereas the outstanding characteristics of the earlier days of the Pillar of Fire were victorious hoe- downs, marching jumping, shouting, tears and laughing. Even tough prayer sieges ended that way.

But to be fair it can be said that those branches kept getting tens of thousands of Gospel papers with very good sermons in them. If those old ladies did not have any other gifts, they could still just keep those papers going out, as well as some money coming back to headquarters.

If there are still such, they need not be closed down, but from Headquarters, see what new steps the Lord would bless and give inspiration and set the whole on fire anew. If God blessed some branch pastor, fan it, use it, instead of suppressing as used to happen, lest they become too prominent.

Remember my former thing about Stewart and the expanding Garwood congregation? It's been some time so I'll repeat. Stewart went over from Zarephath to Garwood to have a little Sunday pastorate, but he took the thing seriously, did some calling, as the congregation grew, organized young people's meeting, women's prayer meeting and such. He had several revival campaigns, etc. Once they had a picture taken of the whole gang out on the front steps and flowing all over the front yard of the Garwood church, which had been near dead for years. One Sunday after 11 o'clock meeting at Zarephath old Sr...I guess I forgot her name came up to Bishop Alma and enthusiastically said while presenting the picture, "Have you seen how Garwood is doing these days? We all really like Brother Stewart as pastor." Stewart saw it and acted as if struck, and said to me, "Well, that may be the end. Old Mrs--- meant well but she has no idea of the facts of life here." I said, "I believe I see. She wants the Bishop to give you a commendation." "You watch," said Stewart, "how long it will be before my commendation means there will be a new pastor sent over there, and I'll be held closer here." A few minutes later I was going from the Assembly Hall in the call with my mother, and I repeated it all adding, "I wonder how much there is in Stewart's insights." My mother came back with vehemence, "I think it is just awful and disloyal. There is not a grain of truth in such fears or their possibilities."

i said, "Well, let's just hold our conclusions a few weeks and watch."

She didn't like that either. I saw that she too saw things that I had been blind to, but she was like a woman in my visitations once where I had gotten into a discussion with her husband and began to tell him about the practices of the Catholic Church in previous years, and that if he wanted a living experience with the Lord and salvation, he would have to find it elsewhere. The man was listening thoughtfully, when his wife burst into the room, "I have heard it all before. I tell you I am Catholic, am staying Catholic, and accept it just as it is no matter what. You can just get out of my house."

So, Mother not only wanted blind Catholic-like obedience but not even a voiced question or analysis.

It was not two weeks more, it was more like two days, and we all heard of some new pastor to be sent to Garwood. After which, it steadily declined into its usual former somnolent state. I wonder what has become of the church, which for short a time was a source of light and life.

This reminds oneself that it is easy to see warts on great noses, so we go and speak carefully, but it also in an absolute imperative we see, study and learn to follow the leading of the Lord and not men or movements.

One reason the branch situation was such a mental problem to some of us, was that we were fed from babyhood and had it repeated in every form at every grade all the way along, that the Pillar of Fire was THE True Church and the only true church. Other churches were either backslid, dead completely or at best, lukewarm, or in error on important points. Then to keep finding glaring anomalies was more than disillusioning. It was devastating. We wanted to see the branches, not necessarily great in size of congregation, but see the little flock alive, biblical, and with the joy and victory of life and light.

I later experiences, I found other small movements with similar problems not uncommon. The work had started with some individual with truly the fervor and power of God. As the work grew, people would come because of that outstanding quality, but also they naturally used it in preaching to others, until there was a steady change of center from Christ to Christ AND our Leader and our Organization. Some leaders pushed and promoted this. Some did not but allowed it in a circle of over-devoted Yes-sirs. In either case, the result was the beginning of death.

[Orland Wolfram Sermon and Letter Index] [Orland Wolfram Bio Page] [Alma Temple] [Belleview Christian College]
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This page last updated 5-23-1999;  ©1999, Pillar of Fire; All rights reserved