The gift and calling on his life were unquestionable, but with William Branham came controversy.
Some men are ‘a beacon to be avoided and not an example to be followed’, according to well-respected 19th-century churchman Bishop JC Ryle. The Old Testament heroes, Samson and Jepthah, were two such men. We cannot approve of all they did, and certainly we should not try to imitate them. Yet the Lord – in his sovereignty and wisdom – undoubtedly used them and we have to recognise his power and anointing upon their ministries.
The American prophet and evangelist William Branham was, to all intents and purposes, another such man. Initiator of the post-war healing revival, Branham was born into poverty in a dirt-floor log cabin in the hills of Kentucky in 1909. The first of ten children of Charles and Ella Branham, he was raised near Jeffersonville, Indiana.
William Branham’s family was nominally Roman Catholic but he had minimal contact with organised religion during his childhood. His father was a logger and an alcoholic, and William Branham often talked about how his upbringing was difficult and impoverished. A mystic from his youth, Branham reported divine visitations at ages three and seven.
Having left home at 19, William Branham worked on a ranch in Arizona. He claimed to have also had a short career as a boxer, winning 15 fights for a ‘Golden Gloves, Bantam Weights’ class. At the age of 22, however, he had a conversion experience that changed the direction of his life. Later he was ordained as an assistant pastor at a Missionary Baptist Church in Jeffersonville.
In 1933, Branham experienced a personal healing, and felt called to preach as an independent Baptist. The same year he preached to 3,000 people in a tent campaign in similarly named Jefferson, another town in Indiana, and later built Branham Tabernacle there. When his wife and baby died in 1937, Branham attributed their death to his failure to heed the call to conduct campaigns in Oneness (‘Jesus Only’) churches.
Branham claimed that throughout his later life he was guided by an angel who first appeared to him in a secret cave in 1946. Preaching to congregations of thousands (sometimes 20,000 would attend his meetings), his ministry was characterised by amazing manifestations of healing and the word of knowledge. Church historian David Harrell says of him: “The power of a Branham service... remains a legend unparalleled in the history of the charismatic movement.”
This article was taken from Issue #15 of Heroes of the Faith.