The Latter Rain Movement and James 5.71
In chapter five, verse seven of his epistle, James gives an illustration of what our patience should be like. He compares it to the farmer who, after planting his seed, waits patiently for “the early and the late rains” and the fruit of the harvest that it will bring. Continue reading . . .
In chapter five, verse seven of his epistle, James gives an illustration of what our patience should be like. He compares it to the farmer who, after planting his seed, waits patiently for “the early and the late rains” and the fruit of the harvest that it will bring.
Many Christians have argued that the “early” rain is a prophetic reference to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in the first century and that the “late” or “latter” rain refers prophetically to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at the end of this present church age.
In ancient Palestine there were two customary periods of rain on which the success of crops depended. The “early” rain was expected in the Fall, around the end of October, and the “late” rain usually fell in the Spring, in late April or early May (see Deut. 11:14). We read of this, for example, in Joel 2. The prophet reminds the people how God has blessed them agriculturally:
“Be glad, O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given the early rain for your vindication; he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before” (Joel 2:23).
Now, note carefully. The coming of the “late” or “latter” rain is not connected with the ministry of the Holy Spirit but with the second coming of Jesus. James’s point is that just as the farmer is motivated to be patient by the sure coming of rain so also we are stirred to patience by the certainty of Christ’s return.
Unfortunately, this illegitimate appeal to the “early” and “latter” rain and its alleged connection to the Holy Spirit has led many into fanaticism and error. One example is the so-called “Latter Rain Movement” that first emerged in November, 1947, at Sharon Orphanage and Schools in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada.
About 70 students had gathered to fast, pray, and study the Word of God. Key figures were brothers George and Ern Hawtin, P. G. Hunt, Herrick Holt, and Milford Kirkpatrick. What brought attention to the movement was the fact that for years following the Azusa Street revival (1906-09) there had been little power and minimal evidence of the gifts of the Spirit among Pentecostals. Now suddenly people were "falling under the power" of God, kneeling in adoration and worship, together with the impartation of spiritual gifts through the laying on of hands. Thousands from both Canada and the U.S. attended the Sharon Camp Meeting in North Battleford on July 7-18, 1948, where reports of healings and the power of God were plentiful. Opposition soon arose in response to what were perceived to be doctrinal errors and extremes in the movement. Richard Riss explains:
"After this time, many people were dropped from or pressured to resign from various denominations for their involvement in the Latter Rain. This was particularly true with regard to the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, the Assemblies of God in the U.S., and the Pentecostal Holiness Church, all of which officially disapproved of the beliefs and practices of the 'New Order of the Latter Rain,' as it was called by these denominations. The Latter Rain movement quickly became anathema among most major Pentecostal denominational bodies, and every effort was made by people within them to remain as far removed from any association with the movement as possible" (A Survey of 20th Century Revival Movements, 121).
Some of the more controversial doctrines that were associated with the Latter Rain movement include:
(1) Restorationism - They argued that God had been progressively "restoring" to the church NT truths that had been lost for centuries and that complete restoration of the NT ideal would be consummated in their movement.
(2) Five-Fold Ministry - An essential element in this restoration of the NT ideal was the emergence of the 5-fold ministry of Ephesians 4:11, in particular the offices of apostle and prophet.
(3) Laying on of Hands - The laying on of hands for the purpose of imparting spiritual gifts was an important part of their practice.
(4) Prophecy - The prophetic gift was strongly emphasized, but often abused when employed to give directional (controlling) guidance to people.
(5) Recovery of True Worship - The restoration of David's Tabernacle as a model for true worship was stressed.
[There was nothing inherently heretical in the first five of these distinctive beliefs. But things are different with the next three.]
(6) Immortalization of the Saints - Some in the movement taught that those who fully embraced the restoration would be blessed with immortality before the second coming of Christ. Although only a small minority taught this view, the entire movement soon became identified with it in the minds of its critics.
(7) Unity of the Church - The church will attain an unprecedented unity in the faith before the return of Christ.
(8) The Manifested Sons of God - Some associated with the movement embraced the idea that the Church on earth is the ongoing incarnation of Jesus himself. The Church is becoming one in nature and essence with Jesus. As it takes shape it will eventually "manifest" the Son of God to such a high degree that there will be no need for a literal, personal second coming of Christ. The Church will have become (will be "manifested" as) the Son of God on earth.
Not everything in the Latter Rain movement was unbiblical. In fact, I applaud their zeal for more power from the Holy Spirit. Their commitment to prayer and fasting and the operation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit is admirable. We should learn from it. But several of the other doctrines they devised are clearly unbiblical, and whatever it was that they experienced of the Holy Spirit during this season of revival is not what the Bible is talking about when it refers to the “late” or “latter” rain.
In the final analysis, this is yet another example to us of how we need to be extraordinarily cautious and wise in both how we interpret the text of Scripture and then make application of it to our own day.