The Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ was organized in September of 1957 by Smallwood Edmond Williams, who at the time was the General Secretary of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith (COOLJC). Under Williams' leadership, about 70 churches withdrew from that organization to form the new organization, citing the sole-governorship of COOLJC leader, Bishop Robert C. Lawson, as grounds. Williams became the first presiding bishop of the church.
Beliefs of the Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ include the inspiration of the Bible as the word of God; salvation made possible only through Jesus; the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in tongues; water baptism by immersion; the premillennial second coming of Jesus; the final judgment of the dead; and the establishment of new heavens and a new earth.
In 1995 the church had about 300,000 members in 350 congregations world wide. The chief officer in the church is the Presiding Bishop, which office was held in 2006 by Chief Apostle Huie L. Rogers for the church headquartered in Brooklyn, NY and Chief Apostle Cornelius Showell for the church headquartered in Baltimore, MD. Both bodies conduct a general conference annually in July and operates a publishing house in Washington, D.C..
Smallwood E. Williams himself had been a part of the Apostolic Pentecostal, or Oneness Pentecostal, movement from the second decade of the 20th century. Though groomed as a son in the gospel by Bishop Lawson, much as Lawson and others were groomed and trained by Bishop G.T. Haywood, Williams was almost a contemporary of these in that he was preaching as a lad, according to an interviewee in W.L. Bonner's biographical collection of Lawson, My Father in the Gospel.
Though not fully accepted in his youth as a minister, Williams grew into his ministry until he became one of the most powerful men in the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ during the post-World War II years, which proved to be a golden age of growth and social influence for the organization. After Lawson sent him to Washington, D.C., to confirm and increase a tiny congregation there, Williams preached up a congregation that began to rival the mother church, "Beloved" Refuge Temple in Harlem. As General Secretary, Williams was an important participant in the distribution of credentials and of ecclesiastical funds, which made him very influential. The publishing of the church minute book, which contained the names of all clergy and church workers in every church of the COOLJC, was done under his authority.
Lawson and Williams were leading figures in an influential Pentecostal organization at a time when Pentecostal churches were rare, which amounted to much at the time within Pentecostal circles. Other contemporary African-American Pentecostal organizations included the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW) and the Church of God in Christ, as well as smaller "storefront fellowships". Nevertheless, COOLJC leader Lawson worked hard to keep his church at the forefront. Lawson's dynamic preaching style, outstanding teaching ability, and lively Pentecostal hymnody set the pace for the organization and made his name and the organization well known throughout the United States.
Nevertheless, Lawson was found by many to be a hard taskmaster. He would assign full-time ministers to particular areas to plant missions or pastor churches sometimes against their will. Though he was liberal for his time, as far as allowing or encouraging his members to wear ties, play instruments, and sing together in organized choirs, Lawson was also known for his exacting scrutiny when catechizing new ministers (formerly a public affair) and for his uncompromising demand of faithfulness to the apostolic doctrine and to the life of practical holiness it required. For these reasons, Lawson unwittingly put himself at odds with members who would prefer a more congregational and less episcopal form of church governance.
Moreover, for a time, Lawson refused the title of "bishop" to many qualified persons, choosing instead to name "overseers", which, though synonymous with the prohibited title, did not afford high-ranking clergy the social prestige they would have otherwise received. By reserving to himself the title "bishop", Lawson appeared to some to have set himself up as 'the' leading Apostolic Pentecostal clegyman.
It was just this situation that Smallwood Williams used to his advantage. He and a group of his COOLJC colleagues confronted Bishop Lawson about refusing them the deserved title of "bishop". Disappointed when Lawson still refused them the honor, Williams, Overseer John Beane of Richmond, Virginia (who'd been demoted to elder by Lawson on some scandalous hearsay), and others decided to pull out of the organization. Williams used his church's newsletter, the Bible Way Voice, to circulate criticism of Lawson's autocratic approach to governing. Then he sent letters to churches, clergy, and workers throughout the organization, asking them to join his new movement out of the COOLJC. It is both written and said that Williams promised money and titles to garner support for his cause. The conflict between the Williams revolutionaries and the Lawson faithfuls was bitter, and in the end nearly half of the 177 churches in the organization left and followed Williams. He and four other leading COOLJC ministers were soon formally ordained as bishops in a ceremony performed by a Bishop John Holly of the PAW.
Today known in the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ as "the Bible Way Split," this schism caused emotional pain to the congregants involved and seemed to physically break Lawson, whose health began to decline. Interestingly, some churches returned to the parent organization for various reasons, most notably that the rewards promised to them for leaving were never realized.
In any event, the Bible Way organization eventually emerged as a strong, vibrant, and growing organization, reportedly surpassing its parent church in size. Churches were founded throughout the world, and Bishop Williams, a preacher's preacher, became one of the most popular preachers in the Washington, D.C., area. A very influential social figure, he sermonized extensively on racial and social injustice and used his pastoral clout to fight for integrity in the District's juvenile justice system. His sons in the gospel have inherited his preaching dynamo, and the name 'Bible Way' has become associated with contemporary Apostolic Pentecostalism with an old-time flair, much in the same way as could be said for the "whooping" preachers in the Church of God in Christ.
The apparent cause for the split was a disagreement about church governance. After the death of Bishop Smallwood Williams in 1991, the church considered Rogers and Campbell each as a potential leader and visionary for the church. The constitution, ratified after the death of Apostle Williams, stated that both Campbell and Rogers would each serve a three year trial term. Then the church body would vote to see who would be the official successor to Williams. It is generally agreed that, during the trial period, Campbell was selected to serve the first term and Rogers the second.
On July 4, 1997, during the 40th Convocation, the general assembly overwhelmingly voted to retain Apostle Rogers and his administration for a "Sabbath" year, effectively delaying the elections for one year. A measure and act that was not policy of the organization. This caused a rift in the Executive and General Boards and led to the expulsion of Apostle Rogers and a majority [sic] of the bishops on the grounds that they filed false documents at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) in Washington, D.C.
It has also been claimed that Rogers' group has sought legal means to obtain rights to the organization such as several filings with federal agencies. In any event, the false filings were revoked.
Throughout the ordeal, many saw Campbell as the heir apparent and favorite son of Bible Way, since he had been under the direct influence of Williams since the founding of the church. Most of the bishops, pastors and churches stayed with Campbell and it remains the largest entity of the two. Thus, for many, Apostle Lawrence Campbell was considered and Apostle Showell is now considered the presiding bishop and chief apostle of the church Williams started. However, Campbell has begun the practice of ordaining women to the office of elder. This practice, which was shunned by Williams, Campbell has embraced, making the difference between the two sides more marked.
Rogers' group, by virtue of his fame and location, however, may be more widely known to the world. Though the Bible Way organizations are similar in structure and doctrine, the major differences reside in the questions of which of the two leaders is the rightful head and heir of the church and of the ordaining women to the office of elder.
In 2006, Apostle Cornelius Showell, pastor of the 4000-member First Apostolic Faith Church in Baltimore, MD, was named presiding Bishop and Chief Apostle of the Bibleway World Wide branch spearheaded by Campbell. Though the two Bibleway factions remain separate, many churches within the two organizations have resumed fellowship. Showell's Bibleway has grown to approximately 500 churches worldwide, with the Bibleway organization headed by Apostle Roger's now claiming over 250 churches throughout the world.
A similar incident occurred in Bible Way's sister church, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, upon the death of founder Sherrod Johnson. (Both of those churches branched out of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ.)
For Your Information,
Assembilies of the Bibleway Church is active in Pakistan for the last 10 years. Its founder was Bishope Keneth Leslie Orr (Late). The mission is purely working for the development and education for minorities and other communities in the country. Now, Rev Peter Orr is runing the organization who is professor by profession and living in Lahore.The organization is active with the support of its member by any means providing money, books,stationary,etc. (To donate :Mr Peter Orr, H No E460/c,streer no 3.Nadirabad,Main badian Road,Lahore Pakistan). so far the church has no building of its own and meetings are held in houses,schools,villages etc.
Your support for finance and church building is welcomed.