July - August 2018

Written by Stan Ingersol
From his column Past to Present

Religious movements always generate myths and folklore. We generally understand myths as false stories, though they are sometimes believed to be true. Folklore is more ambiguous. Some folklores are myth, and some are not. Still, these stories are passed around, sometimes from one generation to the next. The following are a few of our favorite folklores.

Dr. T. W. Willingham

T. W. Willingham and the Four-Legged Seeker

This story was told by evangelist Stuart McWhirter.

T. W. Willingham and Russell V. DeLong were speakers at a camp meeting in Michigan. This was back when camp meetings were held at actual campgrounds (not air-conditioned churches) and the outdoor tabernacle consisted of a roof with no sides, wooden benches, and a raised platform.

Preaching one morning, Willingham was deep into his sermon when a dog entered from the back of the tabernacle. Slowly, the mongrel made its way forward, sniffing the floor as he went along and taking one of those meandering paths that dogs often do. Slowly progressing, the animal entered into the range of vision of more and more people.

From the pulpit, Willingham saw that once people noticed the dog, they never took their eyes off of it, but he wasn’t worried. He figured the canine would get to the altar rail and then exit either left or right.

But the pooch didn’t do that. Instead, he got to the altar rail, stopped, sat back on his haunches, and gazed directly at the preacher in what appeared to be deep appreciation for the message.

Aware that everyone was watching, Willingham stopped his sermon mid-sentence, looked down at the creature, raised one hand in the air, and addressed him in a loud voice: “Come back tonight! DeLong is preaching, and he counts seekers!”

Henry and Mary Cagle

Mary Lee Cagle Gets Religion on Baptism

Mary Lee Cagle began organizing churches in West Texas soon after the death of her first husband, Robert Lee Harris. Harris founded the New Testament Church of Christ (NTCC) in Milan, Tennessee, and taught that pouring was the scriptural mode of baptism, since it foreshadows the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on believers.

Mary revered her late husband and was determined to uphold his teaching. In 1902, now married to Henry Cagle, she organized the Texas Council of the NTCC, in which baptism by pouring was required before joining one of its churches.

In 1904, though, C. B. Jernigan, one of the leaders of the Independent Holiness Church, sought to merge that group with two other Southern holiness bodies (the NTCC and the Holiness Baptist Churches of Arkansas). The Holiness Baptists insisted on immersion as the exclusive mode of baptism, so the two other denominations proceeded without them.

At the merger conference, Mary Cagle and B. F. Neely advocated pouring as the true scriptural mode of baptism. Eventually, though, they compromised with Jernigan. In the end, all agreed that the new Holiness Church of Christ would require baptism as a condition for local church membership, allowing the candidate to choose the mode.

It was one time they baptized every way under the sun—by every mode possible.

Mary Cagle came to embody the spirit of that compromise. A few years later, she and Henry conducted services in an unchurched town in New Mexico. There were local people who had been converted in revivals over the years but had never been baptized, so they conducted a baptism service open to all who desired the sacrament.

According to one account, “It was one time they baptized every way under the sun—by every mode possible. They dipped—they plunged—they poured—they sprinkled and they baptized babies. It was a time of rejoicing; and the shouts of the redeemed echoed and re-echoed through the hills.”

Uncle Bud Robinson

Uncle Buddy and the Biscuit

Rev. Geren Roberts was the last superintendent of the Rest Cottage maternity home at Pilot Point, Texas. He also grew up there, for his father was the superintendent before him. When interviewed by Dr. Paul Gray from Bethany, Roberts told about one of Bud Robinson’s frequent visits to the place.

Uncle Buddy, he said, often spent the night in the Roberts’s home when he came through Pilot Point. One morning, Geren’s mother laid out a large breakfast that included a big basketful of freshly-made biscuits. Uncle Buddy took one, held it up in his hand, showed it to each of the Roberts kids, and said: “Look, it’s a moon.” Then he took a big bite out of it, held it up again and said: “Now it’s a half-moon.” Seconds later, he put the remainder in his mouth and mumbled: “Now it’s a total eclipse!”

 

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Stan Ingersol is manager of archives for the Church of the Nazarene.