Ambrose J. Tomlinson (1865-1943)
Whereas Simpson, Dowie, and Moody's ministries had a clear and documented
influence on Frank Sandford's movement, less clear are the influences, of
Charles Parham and A. J. Tomlinson on Sandford. Both of these men were students
who sojourned at Shiloh at least as far back as 1897 with regard to Tomlinson,
and Parham during the summer of 1900.
Tomlinson was an itinerant preacher from Quaker stock, and
following his conversion in 1892 he sought out locations where special
visitations of the Holy Spirit were occurring. He goal was to find the true
"Church of God" where the preaching of the word was being confirmed by miracles,
signs, and wonders, together with gifts of the Holy Spirit according to the
pattern of Acts. "A. B. Simpson and the Pentecostal Movement" by Charles W.
Tomlinson's diary reveals he was not only present in
October of 1901 when Sandford announced his doctrine of "restored baptism", but
was re-baptized for the third time in his life by Sandford. (His second
excursion into baptismal waters took place on Oct 30, 1897 in Lisbon Falls, Me.
with Ralph Gleason officiating) He also remarked in a journal entry of that
period that he had "received the Holy Ghost" on March 1896, and described a
Sandfordian experience on October 30, 1897, which would encourage the view that
one yet insisted on tongues-speech as the invariable expression of Spirit
baptism. Beniah at the Apostolic
Crossroads: Little Noticed Crosscurrents of Irwin,Parham,Sandford, and Tomlinson
by Harold Hunter, Phd. International Pentecostal Holiness Church
"...Among the students is an evangelist (referring to
Tomlinson, Ed.) from Indiana who has just arrived from work in Tennessee and No.
Carolina...." Tongues of Fire p172 11/1/1897
Both Tomlinson and Parham left Shiloh and formed their own
Pentecostal higher lines Christian ministries; Parham at Topeka in 1901, and
Tomlinson in Tennessee in 1903, where he led a congregation named the Holiness
Church at Camp Creek.
"In June of that year he claimed to have a vision that
the true church of Jesus Christ was restored in his Holiness Church. Tomlinson
believed the true church was lost in A.D. 325 and that it was restored in
layers, beginning with the 16th-century Protestant Reformation and culminating
with the founding of the Church of God in 1903. "To Tomlinson the group he was
associated with was the only true and valid Christian communion 'this side of
the Dark Ages'" (Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, p. 76)
from David Cloud's website,
Later on, Tomlinson became affiliated with holiness group
in Western North Carolina, which ultimately became the Church of God (Cleveland,
Tenn.); the group had originally formed in 1886 as the Christian Union. Like
many of the Holiness independents, the Christian Union's founder, Richard G.
Spurling, sought a restoration of primitive Christianity. Spurling, a licensed
minister of the Baptist Church, soon died after the Union's formation, but his
son, R. G. Spurling Jr., carried on the work for ten apparently unfruitful
years. " (from Logos website entitled
In 1922 Tomlinson wrote:
"Many of the Pentecostal people know the Bible School at
Mount Blessings. They are sanctified people. Many who now have the baptism
were once connected with Mount of Blessings. And about two months ago one of
the Church of God preachers stopped over to talk with the leader at that place
and that leader said to him, 'After all, I think we all ought to seek the
baptism like you have it' " Beniah at the Apostolic Crossroads: Little Noticed
Crosscurrents of Irwin,Parham,Sandford, and Tomlinson, by Harold Hunter, Phd.
International Pentecostal Holiness Church
We have been unable to produce evidence of Tomlinson at
Shiloh after the early years of this century. He evidently became affiliated
with B.H. Irwin, who initiated several "Fire-Baptized" organizations in
Tennessee, and recorded his schedule in The Way of Faith. We are aware of the
early Irwin/Parham connection, but are uncertain at this time of any Irwin/Sandford
"As a subscriber, Tomlinson would have kept current with
the ministries of both Dowie and Irwin. In 1906 Tomlinson describes his role
at the First Church of God Assembly as "ruling elder," the term formally used
by Irwin since 1898." Beniah at the Apostolic Crossroads: Little Noticed
Crosscurrents of Irwin,Parham,Sandford, and Tomlinson by Harold Hunter, Phd.
International Pentecostal Holiness Church.
A brief history of Tomlinson and his affiliation with the
Church of God at Camp Creek is reproduced here from the Cyberjournal for
Charismatic Pentecostal Research. It does not mention, however, his earliest
affiliation with Sandford at Tomlinson's second baptism at the hands of Ralph
Gleason in 1897.
"In 1896, four men influenced by Irwin’s movement began
a revival in the Shearer Schoolhouse near Camp Creek in Cherokee County, North
Carolina. William Martin, a Methodist, along with Baptists Joe M. Tipton,
Elias Milton McNabb and William Hamby, preached a ten day meeting that
attracted a great deal of attention in the area. According to Tomlinson,
“They preached a clean gospel, and urged the people to seek and obtain
sanctification subsequent to justification. They prayed, fasted and wept
before the Lord until a great revival was the result.”
William F. Bryant (1963-1949), a Baptist deacon, became
part of the Holiness movement and began holding Sunday school and prayer
meetings. Not all appreciated this new doctrine of living free from sin, and
soon the worshippers were barred from the schoolhouse and limited to meetings
in nearby homes. When they constructed a simple log church across the road
from the schoolhouse, the antagonism was so great the structure was dismantled
and burned. In succeeding years, persecutions continued and many, including
Bryant, were turned out of their churches for this new doctrine of holiness.
Under Bryant’s leadership and in the midst of on-going
persecution, many people experienced changed lives and extraordinary spiritual
manifestations such as speaking in tongues and divine healings. The earliest
history suggests that over one hundred persons spoke in tongues during this
period of persecution and revival. Despite their Spirit baptism, they had no
clear understanding of the Holy Spirit and likely considered speaking in
tongues one of many manifestations that might accompany sanctification.
Empowered by the Spirit, they preached the message of holiness with conviction
and fervor. A lack of organization along with the fanatical elements of the
Fire-Baptized movement prevented much growth among those at Camp Creek,
R. G. Spurling often worshipped with the little flock
meeting in Bryant’s home and encouraged them to organize a local church, but
Bryant and others were slow to see the need. It was not until May 15, 1902,
under the leadership of Spurling, that a local church was organized among the
Camp Creek believers. Although previous churches Spurling organized had
called themselves Christian Union, this group was deeply shaped by the
Holiness movement. They identified themselves as the Holiness Church at Camp
Creek. About sixteen or seventeen members covenanted together as a local
church, and the fledgling group selected Spurling as pastor and ordained
Bryant as a minister of the Gospel. There was no growth among the
congregation, however, until the following June when A. J. Tomlinson
(1865-1943) and four others joined the small flock.
Tomlinson can be characterized as a missionary and a
seeker. Born into a Quaker farm family in Westfield, Indiana, he was
converted shortly after his marriage in 1889 and soon became convinced of the
doctrine of entire sanctification. Following his sanctification experience,
Tomlinson began to minister wherever he saw a need—first in his local
congregation as a Sunday school teacher and later as a preacher of the
Gospel. Seeing great needs among the “mission field” in the mountains of
western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and northern Georgia, Tomlinson
traveled to that region as a Bible salesman for the American Bible Society and
the American Tract Society in 1896.
His early ministry included travel with J. B. Mitchell,
a convert of Charles G. Finney. Along the way he met many leading ministers
such as D. L. Moody and A. B. Simpson, and he studied for a while at God’s
Bible School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Then in 1901, he visited Frank W.
Sandford’s Shiloh near Durham, Maine. There he studied at Sandford’s “Holy
Ghost and Us” Bible school, was baptized in water for the third time, and
joined Sandford’s organization, which saw itself as the restoration of God’s
church at the end of the Gentile age.
Tomlinson met W. F. Bryant after selling five-cent New
Testaments to Bryant’s young boys. The boys suggested that he meet their
“powerful religious” father, and Tomlinson became acquainted with the holiness
work at Camp Creek. During the next seven years Tomlinson developed deep
spiritual friendships with Bryant, Spurling and others in and around the Camp
Creek community, but he too resisted the idea of organization. As late as 1908
Tomlinson sent out a letter to supporters around the country identifying
himself as a “Missionary Evangelist” to the poor and unreached in the region.
In 1899 Tomlinson settled with his family in nearby
Culberson, North Carolina, to establish a ministry base. Soon he founded a
school for children, a Sunday school, a clothing distribution center and an
orphanage. As a means of appealing for financial support, Tomlinson
published a four-page periodical called Samson’s Foxes. He envisioned the
children to whom he ministered as potential firebrands of the gospel among the
Appalachian people. The periodical featured news from the Diving Healing and
Holiness movements as well as appeals for help for the “mountain missionary
After years of searching and seeking God, this man of
vision, passion and ability found a home among the Holiness Church at Camp
Creek—convinced that they were the Church of God of the Bible. He later wrote
about his early experiences, “I had already searched and investigated many
movements until my faith in them had completely exhausted. I seemed to be
like a ship at sea with no rudder by which it should be controlled.” In R.
G. Spurling, Tomlinson found a spiritual father and mentor. In W. F. Bryant,
he found a brother and companion in ministry, and in the people of the
Holiness Church at Camp Creek, he found a home and a congregation that deeply
wanted to please God and restore the New Testament church of God.
When Tomlinson covenanted with the Holiness Church at
Camp Creek, the small congregation already knew and loved Tomlinson. They
immediately selected him as their pastor, freeing Bryant and Spurling for
evangelistic ministry. According to the records, fourteen new members were
won during Tomlinson’s first year as pastor, including M. S. Lemons, a
minister and schoolteacher from Bradley County, Tennessee.
Tomlinson’s vision reached beyond Camp Creek, however,
and he sought to establish other congregations. In December 1904, he
purchased a home about fifty miles from Camp Creek in Cleveland, Tennessee,
because of its location on the railroad. Along with travel by foot and by
horseback, the railroad gave Tomlinson additional means to spread the gospel.
Soon he had established new congregations in Union Grove and Drygo, Tennessee
as well as Jones, Georgia.
Growth, of course, brought both new possibilities and
new challenges. According to Tomlinson, there was a need for a general
meeting “to consider questions of importance and to search the Bible for
additional light and knowledge.” This reflected Tomlinson’s characteristic of
continual seeking and the great desire of the people to restore New Testament
from the Cyberjournal for Charismatic Pentecostal Research