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The Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ World-Wide was an African-American Oneness Pentecostal denomination started in 1957 in Washington, DC. In 1997, a division over who was the rightful successor to Presiding Bishop and founder Smallwood Edmond Williams occurred. This dispute ultimately led to the splitting of the church into two separate organizations: a church of the same name led by Huie L. Rogers and the International Bible Way Church Of Jesus Christ led by Cornelius Showell.
Before the division in 1995, the church had about 300,000 members in 350 congregations worldwide. The church's chief officer was the Presiding Bishop. Both successor bodies conduct a general conference annually in July and operate a publishing house in Washington, DC.
Beliefs of the Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ and its successors include the inspiration of the Bible as the word of God; salvation made possible only through Jesus Christ; the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues; water baptism by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; the premillennial second coming of Jesus Christ; the final judgment of the dead; and the establishment of new heavens and a new earth.
The church was led by a Presiding Bishop and a General Assembly. The General Assembly was composed of bishops, overseers, district elders, pastors, elders, ministers, deacons, missionaries, and laity.
The Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ was organized in September 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 Bible Way Church, citing the autocratic leadership of COOLJC leader and founder, Bishop Robert C. Lawson. 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 Bishop John Holly of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Williams became the first Presiding Bishop of the church.
A division developed over church governance. After the death of Williams in 1991, the church considered Rogers and Campbell each as a potential leader and visionary for the church. The Order of Succession and Constitution, ratified after the death of Williams, stated that both Lawrence 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 voted to retain Rogers and his administration for a "Sabbath" year. The reasoning being that the people voted for Rogers, but the majority of Bishops wanted Campbell. According to Bible Way's rules and regulations, the Board of Bishops can only nominate a person, but the people must vote on it, thus making Rogers the elected Presiding Bishop. The "Sabbath Resolution" was rejected by a majority of the bishops and pastors due to it not being a part of Bible Way policy, effectively killing the measure. This caused a rift in the Executive and General Boards.
There are now two separate and distinct organizations: Bible Way Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ World Wide, Inc. headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, and The International Bible Way Church Of Jesus Christ, Inc., headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland.
Most of the bishops, pastors, and churches stayed with Campbell, and this branch remains the largest entity of the two with approximately 1000 or more churches worldwide as of 2012. In 2006, Bishop Cornelius Showell, pastor of First Apostolic Faith Church in Baltimore was named Presiding Bishop and Chief Apostle of the International Bible Way Church Of Jesus Christ.
Women in International Bible Way Church Of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Campbell began the practice of ordaining women to the office of elder. In July 2006, Showell, appointed Pastor Bonnie Hunter as the first woman District Elder.
In July 2011, Pastor Marcia Fountain (Bridgeport, CT), was appointed as the third woman District Elder.
As of July 2012, Pastor Deborah Barnette-Street, a female pastor from Roxboro North Carolina, is the Diocesan Liaison (of the Central Carolina Diocese) under Apostle Cornelius Showell who serves as the diocese's current Diocesan. She also serves in the office of District Elder in International BibleWay. In addition to being a Diocesan Liaison and District Elder, she is also the Chair of the District Elders for International Bibleway.
Though the organizations are similar in structure and doctrine, the major differences reside in the questions of which of the two leaders is the rightful head of the church, which according to this branch is Showell, being that he is son of a founding father and one of the first five bishops, Bishop Winfield A. Showell.