The Legacy of Howard M. Ervin
By Danielle Parker 07
He was a father and friend to those closest to him, a professor, scholar and mentor to his students and colleagues, and seen as a leader and advocate of the Charismatic movement. Yet above all, Howard Matthew Ervin was known as a man in pursuit of living his life in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Ervin was born in St. Nicholas, Pa., Sept. 21, 1915. Despite growing up surrounded by the Scriptures, Ervin was a self-proclaimed agnostic with very little interest in religion. However, at the age of 25, he had a life-changing encounter with Christ and gave his life to the Lord. Answering the Lord's calling to ministry, he immediately enrolled in seminary.
Prior to coming to ORU, he earned five degrees, including a doctorate of theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, and was a Baptist minister at two New Jersey churches.
Ervin joined the ORU faculty on Sept. 1, 1966 and retired on Dec. 5, 2006 at the age of 91. Over the forty years he spent in the classroom, Ervin was known for his large vocabulary and the high expectations he had of his students.
"He demanded academic quality," Dr. James Shelton 73, 77-MA, ORU undergraduate professor, said. "This was one thing ORU did and had to do, because ORU was the new kid on the block. Ervin was on the same page when Chancellor Oral Roberts said, 'Go first-class or don't go at all.' He expected excellence in academics."
He served as a professor of graduate theology and the assistant dean and dean of the original ORU seminary. In 1968, the seminary was closed, so Ervin and several other professors began creating what is now the undergraduate theology department.
"He designed the curriculum, the way it was structured and the degree plans. He was a major part of the instituting of that," said Daniel Isgrigg 00, 07-MA, author of Ervin's biography, Pilgrimage into Pentecost: The Pneumatological Legacy of Howard M. Ervin. "As a founding faculty member, he was the example of the type of faculty member that Oral Roberts was looking for -- the highest of academics and the full understanding of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives, belief in the Holy Spirit."
Along with being a professor, Ervin was also a part of Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship and the Oral Roberts Ministries. He often traveled with Oral Roberts, ministering in the Holy Spirit Room and praying over thousands of people to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
"He argued for a real experience with the Holy Spirit where your life is changed and you are empowered to reach the world," Isgrigg said. "And that was Oral's vision, to be filled with the Holy Spirit and then take that message into every person's world."
This beloved and respected educator's sphere of influence stretched far beyond the campus of ORU. He authored six books, including Conversion Initiation: The Baptism of the Holy Spirit and These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose, which is recognized as the first scholarly defense of the Pentecostal experience.
"There were not a lot people with terminal degrees that were as involved in the Pentecostal movement," Shelton said. "He was the best educated explanation and defense of the classical Pentecostal position that tongues is the initial evidence of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit and that one should expect a special empowerment of the Holy Spirit after one's conversion."
Ervin often quoted Roberts who said, "Avoid the spirit of denominationalism." His ecumenical influence made him known throughout many traditional denominations during the Charismatic movement, particularly the Catholic Church.
"He was invited by David du Plessis to be part of the Roman Catholic-Pentecostal dialogues, which were started by a group of Pentecostals that wanted to bridge the gap between Pentecostals and Catholics," Isgrigg said. "Dr. Ervin was very scholarly and deliberate in his speech, so he was invited to come and articulate the Pentecostal position correctly."
It was because of his ability to bridge the gap between Pentecostals and Catholics that he was referred to as the Father of the Catholic Charismatics by many in Tulsa.
"For a while, Catholic Charismatics were kind of orphaned, and here is this Baptist Pentecostal that helped them out," Shelton said. "Dr. Ervin pastored the Catholic Charismatics and he instructed them in the Charismatic movement. He also instructed them in the Catholic faith in many ways. Dr. Ervin would speak at their conventions and had them in his home."
Through his teachings, his ministry and his life, Ervin had a tremendous impact on so many.
"He had a phenomenal influence on my spiritual journey," Shelton said. "He demonstrated that you could be a top-rate scholar and be a spiritual person too. Dr. Ervin provided us a role model to be firmly Pentecostal, firmly scholarly and firmly ecumenical."
On Aug. 12, Ervin was promoted to sit in heavenly places with the Father, yet the seeds he planted in his lifetime will continue to bear fruit for generations to come.
"Bricks and mortar will pass away, but what is built in the human character will never fade," Shelton said. "That was Dr. Howard Ervin."
Background information courtesy of Pilgrimage into Pentecost: The Pneumatological Legacy of Howard M. Ervin by Daniel D. Isgrigg.