The Rapture Debate at the Niagara Bible Conference -- By: Larry D. Pettegrew

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 157:627 (Jul 2000)
Article: The Rapture Debate at the Niagara Bible Conference
Author: Larry D. Pettegrew


The Rapture Debate at the Niagara Bible Conference

Larry D. Pettegrewa

One hundred years ago this summer the Niagara Bible Conference1 held its last meeting. The roots of the conference go back to 1868 through 1871 when George C. Needham (1840–1902), James Inglis (1813–1872), and a few others met together privately for Bible study. After Inglis died, Needham, James H. Brookes (1830–97), and a few other Christian workers came together again in 1875 for a private meeting near Chicago. But the first official “Believers’ Meeting for Bible Study,” as it was originally called, was held in Swampscott, Massachusetts, in 1876, and for the first time the meeting was opened to the public.

In 1877 the brethren met at Watkins Glen, New York, and then for three years at Clifton Springs, New York. In 1881 the meeting was held at Old Orchard, Maine, and in 1882 at Mackinac Island, Michigan. By this time over five hundred people were attending the gatherings annually. Then from 1883 through 1897 the conference met at Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario, Canada, and became known officially as the Niagara Bible Conference.2 In 1898 and 1899 the conference met at Point Chautauqua, New York, and the last meeting was held at Asbury Park, New Jersey, in 1900. The next year some of the pretribulational participants at Niagara continued the tradition with a summer Bible conference at Sea Cliff, New York. The Sea Cliff Bible Conference, led by A. C. Gaebelein, met annually until 1911.

From 1895 through 1900 the Niagara Bible Conference was in decline for at least four reasons.3 First, some of the longtime key leaders of the conference died. The greatest blow to the conference was no doubt the death in 1897 of James H. Brookes, the president. Second, the number of other Bible conferences had increased, and so attendance at Niagara was not the unique experience it had been years earlier.4 Third, the decision to change the location of the conference was a mistake.5 Fourth, there was internal dissension over pretribulationism and posttribulationism. A. C. Gaebelein, citing C. I. Scofield’s testimony, said this conflict was “the chief reason” the Niagara Conference broke up.6 The purpose of this article, therefore, is to examine historically and theologically this debate about the rapture among the Niagara teachers, both at Niagara and at Sea Cliff, v...

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