History of the CRC

4.1 - Uniqueness of the CRC

Before examining in more detail the Pentecostal denomination now called CRC Churches International (to be referred to as the CRC from here on), it is worthwhile acknowledging the birth of Pentecostalism very briefly. Whilst ‘Pentecostalism’ is only a relatively new phenomenon in the context of two thousand years of Christian history, it has generally been accepted that it publicly emerged in Azusa Street in 1901. By 1965 there were already fifty million Pentecostals world wide. This number more than quadrupled within the next thirty two years to two hundred and seventeen million believers by 1997- in almost half the time the number of Pentecostals had increased over four times. To this number could be added a further two hundred and forty six million Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics who combined to tally an amazing four hundred and sixty three million ‘Spirit-filled’ believers globally. 1 It is in this environment of numerical explosion that the CRC began.

It is important to observe that whilst Pentecostalism per se is a relatively new movement compared to the history of the Christian church, the gifts of the Spirit have been both active and evidenced throughout the church’s two thousand year history.2 Cane-Ridge camp in Kentucky in 1800 was probably the earliest most famous outbreak of enthusiastic Pentecostal-like religion in American history.3 The Holy Spirit’s cosmic purposes remain the same today as they have throughout history – to be a witness for and of God, to empower God’s purposes and to equip and enable the building of God’s people contextual with their culture and history. God’s cosmic purposes for His people on earth are generally focused in two directions, to save sinners and to sanctify saints in anticipation and preparation for the eschatological fulfilment of all things. To try and accomplish God’s will without God’s gifts is fraught with danger and will lead to burnout and failure.

In the opening sentence of his foreword to Dudley Cooper's Flames of Revival (1995), the then National Chairman, Pastor Mike Cronin states that the book ‘…is the exciting story of the oldest purely indigenous Pentecostal movement in Australia - the Christian Revival Crusade.’ Whilst other Pentecostal denominations pre-existed outside Australia, the CRC’s distinctiveness is that it is uniquely birthed in Australia. Then known as the National Revival Crusade, the accepted official commencement date and place for the CRC is November 4th 1945 in Adelaide. 4

4.2 - History and Background

Leo Harris, the founder of this movement, was brought up in the Pentecostal Church of Australia, the Apostolic Church, and was credentialed in the Assemblies of God and believed and preached the futurist view of Bible prophecy (Cooper 1995, p19ff).5 On the first of December 1941, Leo, together with his brother Allan, met with Thomas Foster in Ballarat, Victoria, who persuaded them of the appropriateness of the historicist view rather than the futurist one and also introduced them to the British Israel understanding which was immediately embraced at that time.6 Chant (1984, p.185) records that the Assemblies of God in Australia refuted British-Israelism in their November 1944 issue of the Australian Evangel, and said that it was ‘… unspiritual, unscriptural, unequal, unessential, unfathomable, ungodly and unthinkable.’7 Harris subsequently responded in a letter of similar substance except that he removed all of the ‘uns’. By the 1980s however, the ‘Israel message’ had faded from significance and was rarely preached or taught. 8

Both the CRC and the AOG later fully reconciled, with Leo Harris and Barry Chant meeting with the AOG executive in New South Wales in 1975 and also ministering in their college. The goodwill was reciprocated in 1976 when two AOG executives Fred Buse and George Forbes met with the CRC Council. The pastors of both movements in South Australia spent the day together in discussion, worship, prayer and sharing. 9

Leo Harris resisted the temptation to institutionalise a standard form of service governmentally and this freedom still exists today. The emphasis on local church liberty was going to prove both a strength, in that it opened up opportunities for initiative and spontaneity, but also a weakness in that it encouraged pig-headedness at times.10 Leo too recognised this dilemma and chose to err on the side of grace rather than law. 11 It is important to acknowledge here that Leo Harris was a man of integrity and in all things he only sought to accurately reflect the God of the Bible, in the environment and culture he grew up in.

In the late 1940s, there was a developing experience of movement in the Holy Spirit and in 1952 there were 400 believers who were baptised in the Holy Spirit.12 In the CRC and Pentecostalism generally, being baptised in the Holy Spirit was and is generally considered to be an act of submissiveness and obedience together with an empowerment to be able to live as God would like us to and to outwork that which He asks of us (Acts 1:5, 11:16). It is an act which consciously acknowledges that our own understanding of spiritual things is inadequate whilst simultaneously giving us access to the Holy Spirit’s gifts (as He determines) to be able to minister to others in a Godly manner. Whilst prophecy was still prevalent, there was an increasing awareness of the activity and power of the Holy Spirit, particularly in deliverance and healing. The year 1958 proved to be a vital year as the assembly’s first major evangelistic campaign was conducted. The following results are a testimony to the success of this campaign: 13

  • In eleven days 455 people responded to altar calls including 312 first-time decisions for Christ,
  • seventy people were baptised by immersion on the second to last day,
  • sixty people took up membership in the Adelaide assembly, and
  • over thirteen hundred people attended the final rally where many miracles of healing were recorded to have happened.

The pendulum swings incessantly and whilst there were great blessings in 1958, it also proved to be a tumultuous period for the then Commonwealth Revival Crusade. Two influential pastors in Victoria, Longfield and Hollins, chose to withdraw and establish Revival Centres in Melbourne and Geelong, because they believed that baptism in water and the Spirit were necessary for salvation.14

The year 1959 showed another highlight. The Crusade Bible School commenced on the 6th of May and offered a full course for Ministry training and was complemented by the worker’s course for those simply wishing to become more effective in their local church:15

Subjects Included Pastoral Theology, Homiletics, Expository Preaching, Evangelistic Campaigning, Public Speaking, Bible Doctrine, Missionary Principles, Personal Evangelism, Bible Study, Modern Cults, Sunday School Organisation and Bible Synthesis.

As the CRC grew in influence and numbers, ‘Revival’ became its theme and provided a practical focus for the leadership and for others. By October 1962, through the ‘Operation Outreach’ programme, eighteen Crusade Centres had been established in South Australia. About this time New Guinea became a focal point and as at 1995 there were average Sunday attendances of about 34,000 people in over 300 churches throughout the country with Bethel Centre in Port Moresby drawing about 2,000 people.16

The Holy Spirit’s activity was becoming increasingly evident. The Charismatic awakening and influence between 1975 and 1977 added significant credibility to the Pentecostal movement amongst the mainline churches. Cooper (1995, p.235) observes that many of these ‘…charismatics were not eager to make organizational commitments to the Pentecostal churches.’ The charismatics here would have been experiencing the best of both worlds as they had the safety of hundreds of years of theology and tradition now combined with the liberty of the Spirit.

The year 1977 however, was an unsettling period as the CRC was caught unprepared by the unexpected death of Leo Harris. Even without an effective succession plan in place, the CRC weathered some difficulties, but by God’s grace continued to grow. By 1984 there were 84 assemblies, and about 8000 adherents nationally, with the National Church Life Survey recording that in 1991 there were 10,200 adherents in 102 churches.17 By the time of Leo’s death, there were 65 CRC churches in Australia, 8 in New Zealand and one in Papua New Guinea. Twenty years later there were over 130 churches in Australia, more than 350 in Papua New Guinea, and others in South East Asia and the Pacific. 18

Training was always a conscious focus of the CRC with the first part-time Bible School held in Frankston, Victoria in 1947.19 In October 1974, the Crusade Bible College had held its 15th graduation service at the Adelaide Town Hall.20 Through a series of divine appointments which began in June 1978, Barry Chant, one of the key figures in the CRC by now, awoke one morning with the words ‘Tabor Bible College’ clearly impressed on him. Thus the concept of a Christian Education Centre was birthed which was to operate on an ‘inter-church basis under a Board of Management with an Advisory Board of Ministers and Christian leaders from around Adelaide.’ 21

With the continued growth came the pressing need to continually develop and train people called to the Ministry. Cooper (1995, p.295) notes that the early eighties were a significant time in the development of training programs throughout the movement. New South Wales conducted seminars for pastors, wives, workers and leaders. The State Council of Victoria introduced 2½ day live-in Ministerial Training Seminars and a Video Bible School was developed to run in local churches. In 1984, South Australia started Training Seminars and endorsed Tabor College as its Bible College. In conjunction with a move to a competency based training focus, it then aligned itself with Australian College Of Ministries as its VET (Vocational Educational Training) sector accredited training organisation in 2005.

Emerging out of a National Executive meeting in 1985, the mid eighties saw a particular focus for each year being presented to the movement. Its unified focus was ‘… to prepare for the final harvest of souls as the Holy Spirit is poured out in revival across the nations.’22 The following issues were highlighted for address by the CRC:

  • 1986 focused on a ‘Call to Prayer’
  • 1987 emphasised a ‘Call to Evangelism’
  • 1988 saw the theme a ‘Call to Harvest Growth 88’
  • 1989 saw the National Chairman, Mike Cronin, release a brochure called ‘Into the 90s’, which provided a five year vision for the CRC. Drawing from the official CRC Charter explaining why the Crusade exists, the theme of ‘Touching God; Building People; Growing Churches’ was presented for ‘action.’ 23 ‘Action’ was also an acronym for:
    • Activated for God,
    • Church Planting and Growth,
    • Training Ministry,
    • Increasing Esteem of the Movement,
    • Opportunities for Youth, and
    • Nations for Christ.

In March 1995 the CRC’s national and state leaders gathered together in Melbourne for two days. Cooper (1995, p. 353) states that with the emphasis on being ‘Holy Spirit Empowered’, the CRC’s ‘Vision and Purpose’ and ‘Goals and Strategies ‘ were developed for 1995 to 2000 and were stated to be:

  • To love God
  • To honour the church
  • To reach people
  • To plant churches
  • To release ministries
  • To grow congregations
  • To touch nations

In reflecting over the CRC history, Zimmerman (the then General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God in America) insightfully offers a reason for the relatively high ‘success’ of the Pentecostal movement.24 He stated that ‘Great revivals have often begun in times of spiritual and moral darkness.’25 He noted that history would acknowledge that conditions just before the present Pentecostal revival were deplorable. America was endemic with sectional hostility and financial turmoil in the post civil war period. The general population showed a tendency for increasing migration towards the cities. This however, rather than drawing the nation together, had the significant negative effect of drawing together the unwanted moral decay elements of crime, gambling, alcoholism and prostitution.

Observing these events in America and having them act as a foil for events here in Australia, we see that the 1940’s here were also a turbulent time during the Second World War and an uncertain time in the post-war environment.26 In this context the CRC makes the following statement in its Charter (2012):

Our movement (previously known as the National Revival Crusade 1945-1952; Commonwealth Revival Crusade 1952-1963; and Christian Revival Crusade 1963-1998) began during World War II, offering hope to our Nation whose very existence was being threatened. It was birthed with a passion to reach lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ and to crusade for a national Christian revival with a unique Australian approach to ministry.

Whilst the CRC had its divisions, it ‘… retained its vitality and capacity for growth’ which centred around a prophetic vision of a transformed nation (Breward, 1993, p.178). According to the Charter (2012) this passion and vision are still a vital part of the CRC ethos. This brief insight into the history of the CRC Churches International, acknowledges the diversity, expansion and influence intrastate, interstate and especially internationally.

 

Footnotes

1 Synan (1997, p.ix).

2Dr Dale Robbins (1995, VL-164) notes that:

Historical records indicate that the abundant exercise of the Charismatic gifts may have diminished somewhat after the post New Testament era - especially in the dark ages, due to the years of inaccessibility of scripture to the common people in their own language. But there is much history to substantiate that the supernatural gifts were never absent from the church. Scores of statements to this effect were recorded by church leaders such as Irenaeus, who wrote around A.D. 150 ‘...we hear many of the brethren in the church who have prophetic gifts, and who speak in tongues through the spirit, and who also bring to light the secret things of men for their benefit [word of knowledge]...’ Elsewhere he said, ‘When God saw it necessary, and the church prayed and fasted much, they did miraculous things, even of bringing back the spirit to a dead man.’ Near the close of the second century, Tertullian cited similar incidents, describing the operation of prophecies, healings and tongues, and in 210, Origen reported many healings and other Charismatic gifts, as did later writers such as Eusebius, Firmilian, Chrysostom and others through many centuries.

3 Synan (1971, p.23).

4 Chant (1984, p.186).

5 The Apostolic Church in Australia was established by the late 1920’s (ACA, 2008).

6About that period, author and historian Dr Barry Chant (1984, p.183) writes ‘From that time, a concept of national revival, for nation-wide repentance, and claiming both the warnings and promises of God for Israel as being pertinently relevant to Australia formed a central part of Harris’s ministry. During and soon after the war years, particularly, strong emphasis was placed on these themes.’

7 Hutchinson (2008) notes that the national minutes of the Third Biennial Conference of the Assemblies of God in 1941 attempted to address the British Israel issue and passed the following resolution:

BRITISH ISRAEL TEACHING. Bro. Harris moved and Bro. Reid seconded that ‘no minister of the Assemblies of God be allowed to minister on the British Israel platform or any brother or sister from the British Israel testimony be allowed to minister upon the Assemblies of God platform.’ The motion was accepted under protest by the Chairman. Bro. Wiggins moved an amendment to the motion seconded by Bro. Roberts that ‘this matter be fully and prayerfully gone into and it be left to the Executive to give a ruling at an early date. The amendment was carried and thus became the motion.

8 Chant (1984, p.185).

9 Cooper (1995, p.245).

10 Chant (1984, p.185).

11 ibid., p.28.

12 ibid., p.188.

13 ibid., p.95.

14 ibid., p.206.

15 Cooper (1995, p.99).

16 Ward and Humphreys (1995, p.189).

17 Cooper (1995, p.190).

18 Burgess (2003, p.691).

19 Cooper (1995, p.362).

20 ibid., p.227.

21 ibid., p.274f.

22 ibid., p.304ff.

23 Charter (2012).

24 Synan (1975, p.7ff).

25 He observed that gross darkness prevailed before Old Testament revivals under leaders such as Asa (2 Chr 15:1-15), Joash (2 Kgs11,12), Hezekiah (2 Chr 29-31), Josiah (2 Kgs 22,23), Zerubbabel (Ezra 5,6) and Nehemiah (Neh 8:9; 12:44-47).

26 Contributing to the uncertainty in the post-war period, events such as the need to establish the United Nations in 1945, the establishment of the ‘Iron Curtain’, America’s involvement with Japan, Korea divided into North (backed by the Soviet Union and China) and South (backed by the Western powers), civil wars in China and Greece, establishment of Palestine and Israel and the Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan established.