Progress Update: The End is Near

This past week marked 6 months since I left the church in order to work full time on writing my dissertation. Many of you have asked how its going. I am grateful for your concern.  First, I want to say how good God has been to us.  He has provided for us in various ways that have enabled me to stay at this task.  He has allowed me to do side jobs, to be a guest speaker, and other opportunities that have allowed me to stay at this much longer than I had anticipated.  I honestly thought I would be done by now. But I am getting there. The End is Near.

I am super excited about what I have accomplished in these past six months.

  • Chapter 1 – Introduction and Methodology – What I am doing and why I am doing it.
  • Chapter 2 – Literature Review – What everyone has already said and where my study will expand the conversation
  • Chapter 3 – The Official Eschatology found in the Statement of Fundamental Truths and other statements
  • Chapter 4 – The Eschatology in the Doctrinal Books
  • Chapter 5 – The Eschatology in 100 years of articles in the Pentecostal Evangel
  • Chapter 6 – The Future of AG Eschatology (Writing now)

This final chapter  requires a different set of skills than I have been using in the previous chapters.  For most of these chapters I have been a historian.  In this chapter I return to my task as theologian to suggest what I think AG eschatology needs in order to continue to be relevant into the future.  I am really enjoying writing it.  In this chapter I am proposing a pneumatological (spirit-centered) way of imagining eschatological doctrine.  Basically, what I am proposing is that AG doctrine is best when it is Spirit-oriented doctrine.  Therefore, imagining the future with the aid of the Holy Spirit should be the goal (what I am calling the eschatological imagination).

So while there is work to be done, the end is near. Praise God for his faithfulness. I am excited to be bringing this journey to a close.  I anticipate that I could wrap the first draft of this chapter up this month.  Then I can hopefully revisit the other chapters in a final revision before my supervisors and I talk about submission.

As I come toward the end, I have two prayer requests.  First, pray that I can finish strong and that despite my fatigue I can write a meaningful final chapter that makes this study worth the effort.  In the end, if I don’t contribute to renewing a passion in AG ministers for the doctrine of the second coming, all this was in vain.  Second, I need God to reveal what I am to do when I am done.  God has helped me go this far.  But we are still waiting for an open door for me.  I am now officially an adjunct (part time) professor at ORU, but I am still awaiting an opportunity to have a full time job, whether at ORU or in Ministry. I know God has plans for me, I just don’t know what yet. Your prayers have helped me so far.  I know they will sustain me to the end.

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Are These Signs of the Times?

I am sure I am not alone in feeling like there seems to be a uptick in the number of natural phenomenon in recent days.  This weekend Hurricane Irma is supposed to make landfall. Two weeks ago Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. Yesterday there was an 8.0 earthquake in Mexico.  Recently typhoons in Asia have caused massive flooding. And a month ago we got to witness a total solar eclipse in America.

With all of these events in such close proximity, it is very natural to ask, “What do these things mean? Are they signs of the times?”  Are these what Jesus talked about would take place before the end?   I think it is human nature for Christians to want to question in what way these things might be interpreted as signs. Is is judgment? Is it God telling us he is coming soon? Is it prophecy coming to pass? 

As a student of history and of eschatology I have had to come to terms with how to understand the “signs of the times”.  As I have read through 100 years of Pentecostal literature it is clear that they thought WWI, WWII, and other calamities of the twentieth century were signs of the end. They believed Jesus was coming soon.  Yet the end did not come. Were they wrong?

Let me suggest that there is an alternative way of understanding the significance of the ‘signs of the times’ that sees natural disasters in an eschatological sense without falling into the pitfalls of speculation and prediction that previous generations have suffered through.

We first must point out that ‘signs’ are by nature to be understood as symbols that point to something else. They are visual reminders of a truth or reality. In the case of Jesus’ prediction, the signs of wars, famines, and natural phenomenon point to the the fact that the end is near (Matt 24). However, though he said these signs would point to the end, it should be noted that he did not say these signs would ONLY take place at the end. Everything Jesus mentioned has been a regular part of the history of human experience.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning…” (Rom 8:22)

So in what way are they a sign? Are they a sign of God’s anger or judgement? Or that prophetic time is running out?  Paul tells us something different. He reminds us that Hurricane Irma is a symptom of a creation that has been “subjected to frustration”.  The effects of sin in the world has caused a “groaning” within creation. (Romans 8:19-22).  Many of these natural phenomenon we are seeing today are the result of the environmental conditions of the present day. There are natural reasons for what is happening. All of creation is groaning and suffering as a reminder that there will be an day when humanity AND creation will be redeemed. So these signs are reminders that creation is still in need of eschatological redemption.  

This leads us to the second thing to keep in mind.  Events like this make us ask, “Is the end near?”  But the Scriptures clearly tell us that we are living in the last days. This is true even if there were no natural disasters.  On the day of Pentecost, Peter declared, “In the last days I will pour out My Spirit” says the Lord (Acts 2:17).  So technically, the “last days” began 2000 years ago.  We have always been in the last days!  When previous generations looked at the signs and determined the end was near, they were right.  When we look at the signs, we get the sense that the end is near as well. Because it is! Jesus is still coming and redemption is still near.

I think it is natural for us to want to assign a significance of natural disasters.  But we need to be cautious. God is not picking on Florida or Houston. He is not sending a message to America. When Christians say these calamities are about judgment, we minimize the suffering of those to whom it happens. Instead, we should see natural disasters as a reminder to us that creation has been effected by sin.  We still live in a world where people suffer, where nature is dangerous, and where there is loss and pain.  But Jesus promised he will come again and he will reverse the curse upon his creation.  Every ‘groan’ is a reminder of that promise. As I watch anxiously this weekend the destruction of Hurricane Irma, my soul joins with all creation in ‘groaning’ for a day when creation will finally be at peace. 

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22)

 

The Theological Legacy of “I’ll Fly Away”

If you were to ask for song requests in any AG church in America, I can almost guarantee someone will request “I’ll Fly Away”.  For whatever reason, this song has become an American and Pentecostal favorite of previous generations. There are several reasons its popular. For one, this song has an Oklahoma connection, being written in 1932 by Alfred E. Brumley from Spiro, OK. (Check out this great article in the Tulsa World about Brumley and Spiro).   Second, its is a fun song with a catchy tune.  Its one of those songs you can’t help but clap and shout to.  Perhaps its most notable appeal is the eschatological concept.  “I’ll fly away” expresses the hope for many christians that we will one day ‘fly away’ to heaven to be with Jesus.

As a person who didn’t grow up singing this song, it doesn’t have the same sentimentality for me that it does for many Pentecostals. As a student of eschatology I have discovered that the song actually represents a very important tension in Pentecostal eschatology.  Let me explain.

Pentecostals have always cherished the doctrine of the soon coming of Christ.  The most important aspect in the doctrine of the rapture is that believers will be caught up to be with the Lord when he comes (1 Thess. 5:17).  So when the song says, “I’ll fly away”, we immediately are filled with hope and joy that Jesus is coming.

When you look at the song there are some conflicting messages about heaven, the return of Christ and death. Let me demonstrate.

  • “Some glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away” – What is this phrase referring to? “When this life is over” makes me think it is about death. But death is not the rapture, although in some sense we do ‘fly away’ to heaven.  But rapture is best understood as alive people being caught up and transformed as we are welcomed into heaven.
  • “To a home on God’s celestial shore” – This phrase and imagery is very popular in hymnody.  But notice the designation of Home.  When Jesus comes, we are going home to heaven.
  • “When I die, Hallelujah bye and bye, I’ll fly away.” – Again, the intention is unclear.  Is this death or the rapture?

The AG believes that Jesus will return to rapture/resurrect the bride of Christ and bring her to the Marriage supper of the Lamb in Heaven. However, this will only be a temporary journey, because after a short time (most say it will be 7 years but not all) Jesus will return with his saints to set up the millennial kingdom on earth.  Pentecostals understood that Heaven was Not Their Home. 

Contrary to descriptions made by some scholars, Pentecostals were not “otherworldly”, at least not in an eschatological sense. They were very focused on the future of earth.  Prior to about 1950, AG periodicals talked about heaven, but they did so ambiguously and rarely did they see it as our eternal home. But classical evangelical theology and hymnody such as “I’ll Fly Away” slowly began to change that orientation.  In the late 1940s and 1950s, at the height of the convention song era of hymnody, songs about heaven dominated the minds of AG churches.  Soon, everyone was singing, “Ill fly Away”.

As I point out in my book, and as I have discovered in my study of the first 50 years of AG eschatology,  the Pentecostal hope is not going to heaven, it is that Jesus is coming to make everything new again.  Heaven is not our home, the earth is our home.  One day, Jesus will return to set up his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”  Our hope is that through the reign of Christ, the world will be transformed and all of the promises of no more curse, sin, and pain will be realized.  Earth will be Heaven once more as it was in the Garden of Eden.

One AG writer put it this way in 1917,

“God has been a stranger and an outcast to His own garden because of the usurper, but the Son of the Father undertook to deal with the usurper and will not leave off till He has completed the work given to Him by His Father, so that God once more can visit His garden”. WE 216 (Nov 24, 1917), p. 4.

Similarly, S.A. Jamieson comments in 1922,

“The planet on which we live is by no means to be annihilated … As sinful man has been delivered by redemption of Jesus Christ, so this sin-cursed earth is also to share in that redemption. It is to be transformed, renew, glorified and made a fit place for the habitation of God’s redeemed people.” S.A. Jamieson, ‘A New Heavens and A New Earth’, PE 464/465 (Sep 30, 1922), p. 6.

We are Premillennial believers. We believe there will be a literal kingdom on earth and we will be in it.  If we believe that, how can Heaven be our home? We will ‘fly away’, but we will also ‘fly back’ to earth.

Now you may be saying, “So what. Its just a song”.  I understand. For those of you that love the song, I don’t want to diminish that love. Sing away!  Its a part of our heritage. But from a eschatological perspective, as we sing these songs about heaven, just keep this in mind.  Our songs shape our theology in much of the same way that this song has shaped our eschatology and the role of heaven. As believers, we are not trying to escape this world. That is not our hope. Our hope is that one day Jesus is going to fix this world.   The AG has been committed to that hope for over 100 years. He created the Earth for us. The Earth also longs for our redemption (Romans 8:19-25). Eden was lost, but it will be restored when Jesus comes again. That is our hope. Not that we will live with God in heaven, but that one day God will live with us again on earth.

“Then I hears a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. He will wipe very tear from their eyes.'” (Revelation 21:2-3).

Want Less

I was in a parking lot yesterday and a bumper sticker caught my eye. It was two simple words: Want Less.  Immediately my spirit said, “Yes. That’s it.”  We live in a consumerism nightmare. We have filled our lives with stuff.  Most of us have so much stuff that we are buried in debt.  And yet we are all miserable.  King Solomon talked about this in the book of Ecclesiastes.  He says,

I undertook great projects…I made gardens and parks for myself…I amassed silver and gold for myself…I became greater than anyone…I denied myself nothing my eyes desired. I refused my heart no pleasure..Yet when I surveyed all I had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless. (Ecc 2:4-11)

Solomon’s words ring true.  We have everything, and have nothing. The problem is not that we have stuff, the problem is that we ‘WANT’ so much. We all need to Want Less. 

Nearly 6 months ago, my family left a great church that was not only a family of people we loved but also provided a living for our family.  It was a modest living, but we were blessed none the less.  Its almost 6 months now of being without income and people wonder how we have been able to survive.

Two words: Want Less.

I think many people in our society are afraid of poverty. But in reality, with all our stuff and drowning is debt, people are already poor. We use stuff to make us feel better. But it doesn’t. We get jobs so we can have better stuff. But we are still miserable.  I have been to the dump. I’ve seen all that stuff we think is so important. Its just a pile of junk in the end.  Our consumerism is not only destroying us, its destroying our planet. 

In 1985, my father moved our family to Bixby with a dream of building a YMCA.  There was nothing here but a board of directors.  Our family struggled, but my Dad had a dream. People in the Y business told him, “Get out of there, you’ll starve before you build that Y.”  But we stayed. My parents weren’t afraid of poverty.  We just learned how to Want Less.  In 1989, he and his team raised 2 Million dollars to build what is today the Daily Family Ymca. We were poor, but we did it.  The Y has been a pillar of the community for over 30 years. But it would have never been done if this one family had not decided to Want Less.

What would you do if you could learn to want less? What step of faith, what dream, what life would you live if you would want less? What ‘Want’ have you traded for what you really want?

We left our church because we felt like it was time. We knew it would cost us comfort. But we did it in search of God’s plan for our life.  We were not afraid of being poor. And because we were already used to living our lives with less, we have made it so far. We are still in the process and the story is not over.  But this time has given us so many things that we didn’t have six months ago.

Simplicity has a price, but the rewards are incalculable.  Peace. Family. Life. Purpose. This is all any of us want. When you want less, you are easily satisfied with what you have.  We don’t have much. Probably less than we have ever had. But I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that we have more of what matters than we have ever had as a family.

 

Were Early AG Leaders Anti-Intellectual?

From the beginning, the Pentecostal movement had a careful relationship with theology and the pursuit of education. Even today, many of my educated AG pastor friends are often frustrated with the way in which people within our fellowship are suspicious of education.  Roger Olsen speaks of the these attitudes.  He says, ‘Endemic to Pentecostalism is a profoundly anti-intellectual ethos. It is manifested in a deep suspicion of scholars and educators and especially biblical scholars and theologians.’[1] Some early Pentecostals rejected the need for education because they believed the Holy Spirit and the power of God was a greater validation of ministry than human approval. Elizabeth Sisson, a veteran missionary and evangelist who joined the AG in 1917, rejected the notion that she needed any credentials, education, or degrees to validate her ministry. She remarked,

You might hold all the offices of the church, and append to your name all the letters of the alphabet bestowed by all the universities of Europe and America, but these things of the power and learning and intellect of man will not release the demon oppressed, will not heal the sick, etc. But praise God, through the simple believer, under the power of the Holy Ghost, these things are wrought.[3]

Sisson’s application for credentials with the AG reveal this sentiment. When asked ‘have you been ordained and by whom?’ on the application, Sisson responds, ‘By the Lord.’

The problem with education for many Pentecostals was not the pursuit of knowledge; it was education at the expense of simple faith in Jesus and the Scriptures. The main concern was the way in which seminaries were indoctrinating its clergy in Higher Criticism. Denominational seminaries were believed to be guilty anti-supernatural bias the sought to ‘tear the blessed Book of Life to pieces’.[8]   A.G. Jeffries, a British AG evangelist, describes the situation.

For fifty years the American people have been cursed with head, and starved for heart preaching. Many churches have demanded of their ministers a classical education before ordination, and have made little or no demands of them along spiritual lines. It has been all head and no heart, and this very thing has brought on a spiritual dearth that has been and is appalling indeed.[4]

The return to heart Christianity over head Christianity was part of the lure of the Pentecostal faith.  Because of this, many late 19th Century evangelicals turned to the Bible School model where they emphasized spiritual formation as well as knowledge. Many early Bible schools boasted of having ‘No book but the Bible’ and ‘No teacher but the Holy Spirit.’

The reaction to modernism and education did not necessarily mean that Pentecostals were anti-education.  This is certainly the case when one looks at  Assemblies of God leaders.  Some of the most prominent early leaders of the AG were themselves educated in colleges and seminaries. These were not lay-theologians who were articulating a populist Pentecostal theology. [5] E. N. Bell, a well-educated Southern Baptist Pastor, held a bachelors degree from Stetson University and a seminary degree from Theological Seminary in Louisville  as well as spent 3 years at University of Chicago. J.R. Flower was not trained in theology but spent two years preparing for law career in Indianapolis. S. A. Jamieson was a ‘scholarly’ Presbyterian minister who spent nine years in Wabash College and Lane Theological Seminary.[6] Arch P. Collins did his training at Baylor University. T. K. Leonard spent two years at Findlay College, a Church of God institution. P. C. Nelson was trained at Denison University and later Rochester Theological Seminary where he trained under Augustus H. Strong.[7]

The first AG Bible school where subjects were taught including OT and NT interpretation, Church History, and Homiletics.

The relatively high level of education in many of the early AG leaders was vital to the preservation of the fellowship through several theological debates that took place in the first decade. These leaders had to formulate a doctrinal statement, defend the orthodox views of the Trinity, and articulate their Pentecostal distinctive.  Their ability to articulate sound theological views was greatly helped by the education they brought with them into the fellowship.

While some  still have the attitude that education is detrimental to Pentecostal Spirituality, there is a legacy in the AG of educated ministers and a commitment to higher education. In a future post I will share a bit about AG education and the origin of AG Bible schools. Hopefully this post is a reminder that attitudes about Pentecostals should always be understood in context.  While it is true that anti-education sentiment was part of early Pentecostalism, it certainly was not the whole story.  The AG benefitted greatly from the education level of many of its founders and early leaders.  It is part of our history. It is a part that I am grateful for and hope will continue to be important for this generation.

 

[1] Roger E. Olsen, ‘Pentecostalism’s Dark Side’ Christian Century (Mar 7, 2006), p. 27. See also Paul Lewis, ‘Why have Scholars Left Classical Pentecostal Denominations?’ AJPS, 11:1 (2008), pp. 69-86; William W. Menzies, Anointed to Serve (GPH 1971)p. 141.

[2] Sisson’s application for credentials reveal this sentiment. When asked ‘have you been ordained and by whom?’ on the application, Sisson responds, ‘By the Lord.’

[3] Elizabeth Sission, ‘The Coming Glory’ PE, (Nov 26, 1927), p. 2.

[4] A.G. Jeffries, ‘The Limit of Divine Revelation’ PE (Mar 18, 1916), p. 6.

[5] Spittler argues that ‘The tradition survives, however, in classical Pentecostal circles of esteemed pastors and church leaders producing doctrinal expressions.’ Spittler, ‘Theological Style,’ pg 299.

[6] S. A. Jamieson, ‘How a Presbyterian Preacher Received the Baptism’ PE (Jan 31, 1931) p. 2, Brumback, Like A River, pg 136.

[7] Gary B. McGee, ‘Nelson, Peter Christopher’ in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements Ed. Stanley Burgess & Gary B. McGee (Grand Rapids, MI: 1988), 636-637.

[8] PE (Jan 20, 1920), p. 8.

[9] ‘Announcement of Bible School’ CE (Feb 24, 1917), p. 14.

[10] PE (Jan 10, 1920), p. 8; PE (Jul 10, 1920), p. 2; Brumback, Like A River, p. 87.

[11] ‘Pentecostal Bible Schools’ PE, (Mar 19, 1921), p. 9.

History of the PAOC Statement of Faith — Andrew K. Gabriel

The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) is in a process of reviewing and refreshing its Statement of Fundamental and Essential Truths (SOFET). You can find a copy of the most recent, 2014, statement here. The PAOC’s SOFET has seen many changes. Some of these changes reflect reaffirmations of previous beliefs, while some reflect changing beliefs […]

via History of the PAOC Statement of Faith — Andrew K. Gabriel

Making Progress

Making_Progress_ComputerI often get asked how things are going on writing my thesis.  I am so blessed that people are interested in what I am doing. So I thought it may be time for an update on my progress. Since I rejoined my PhD program in 2015, I have been writing in various chapters but none of them were complete enough to submit.  Last year I concentrated on completing chapter one and in November I submitted it.

In March, I stepped down from my position as Pastor because I felt like the Lord told us it was time.  However, I didn’t know exactly what I was supposed to do next.  All I knew to do was to write. So that’s what I have been doing.  The last two months have been a sovereign gift to my life.  I have made tremendous progress.    Since I left the church, I have been able to work full time on writing while we have been waiting on God for what he wants me to do next.  Turns out, for now, this is what he wants me to do. He wants me to make progress.  I have been able to spend most of my days and many of my nights writing.  It has been a wonderful gift. It hasn’t been easy and sometimes its quite lonely. But truly, I have enjoyed it all.  It feels like a true sabbatical.

I have to say, that without Amonda, none of this would be possible.  She has been amazing. She has been willing to sacrifice to allow me this time to work toward completion. She has steadied me when I get nervous and re-assured me of God’s plan and showed faith even when I have doubted. Most of all, she has supported me and the call on my life and for our family.  I am so grateful for her. I am so blessed. There is no greater gift in my life than she is. Since we are not pastoring we have been able to worship together as a family for the first time in our married life.  We also have been able to visit different churches of some of my pastor friends.  I even got to be a guest speaker a few weeks back.

The past two months have been a tremendous season of grace and progress.  Since March I have completed chapter 2 and chapter 3 and submitted them to my supervisor.  Now I am working on chapter 4, which is mostly written, and hope to submit it later this month.  Also, Chapter 5 is about half way written.  This leaves only my final chapter to be written.  So in total, I have about 4 1/2 of 6 chapters written, 3 of which have been submitted. My page total is somewhere around 230 of 250 pages. I can see the finish line!  Praise God!

Since I have made so much progress I wanted to share a brief synopsis of each chapter for those who want to know more about what I am researching.

Chapter 1:  This is the introduction chapter where I outline the scope of the study and the question I am trying to answer. My main research question is why did the Assemblies of God chose the particular positions on eschatology that they chose.  Four out of the sixteen doctrines in the Statement of Fundamental Truths has to do with eschatology. Why is that?  And is the eschatology they chose reflective of their Pentecostal Spirituality or was it just adopted from the primary evangelical positions of the day.

Chapter 2: This is my literature review. I look at all of the scholarchip pertaining the the AG and to the topic of Pentecostal eschatology. You might be surprised to know that Pentecostal eschatology is a popular topic among scolars today.  This chapter helps paint the picture of what they are saying.

Chapter 3: In this chapter I look at the rise of Pentecostalism and the influences that were present in 19th Century Evangelicalism that gave rise to the Pentecostal movement.  Here I trace back all the language of the Holy Spirit and the eschatological metaphors, such as the Bride of Christ and Latter rain, into the movement. I look at the eschatology of Darby, Scofield, Parham, Seymour, and Durham.  From there I build a narrative of what type of theology and eschatology contributed to the forming of the AG.  I conclude by discussing the role of the AG as part of the Finished Work Stream of Pentecostalism and how that influenced their theology.

Chapter 4: In this chapter I discuss the origin of the AG Statement of Fundamental Truths.  I go through each of the eschatological truths and trace the ways in which they have been revised and changed over the past 100 years. (There is whole lot of misunderstanding about what the AG actually believes!).  I also chart all of the doctrinal controversies the AG has responded to  over the years and how that effected the AG positions.

Chapter 5:  IN this chapter I go through 100 years of articles on eschatology in the Evangel.  I also outline the eschatological positions in the various doctrinal books published by the AG.  The goal is to chart the way in which the AG has expressed eschatology and the nuances of how they have seen it function as a part of their Pentecostal theology.

Chapter 6:  This is my concluding chapter where I will summarize my findings and make some suggestions for areas in which AG eschatology needs to develop. The final goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of AG eschatology.

Keep me in you prayers as I continue to make progress. If I keep my current pace, I feel like I could potentially complete my writing by the end of summer. Its an ambitious goal but one I am working hard to try to accomplish.  The rest I am leaving in God’s hands. He has a place for me.  Until then, we will continue to wait on the Lord.

 

 

The AG and Black Heritage

During the month of February, I have read several great articles on Pentecostalism’s black heritage. Vinson Synan wrote about William Seymours’ role as the father of Pentecostalism.  Darrin Rodgers highlights 10 African American ministers that were in important to the AG and the Pentecostal movement.  David Daniel’s highlights what happened to the racial diversity in the Pentecostal movement.

color line

Leaders of the Azusa Street Revival

When you read these articles you realize just how diverse the Pentecostal movement was and how it began as a multi-racial movement.  Blacks and whites worshiped, prayed and ministered together.Many of the earliest leaders were African Americans.    The Assemblies of God owes a great deal to the African American leaders of Pentecostalism. There would be no AG without C.H. Mason and the Churches of God in Christ.  After Charles Parham was disgraced, members of Parham’s Apostolic Faith network needed to reorganize around new leaders.  Around 1910, several of those leaders such as Howard Goss and E.N. Bell approached C.H. Mason about offering COGiC credentials to their ministers.  For the next 3 years, several hundred white ministers held COGiC credentials and became the nucleus of what would become the Assemblies of God (See Word and Witness Dec 20, 1913, p. 4). Bishop Mason even attended several early AG General Councils.

bishop-c-1-h-mason-709x1024

Bishop C.H. Mason, founder of the Churches of God in Christ

Despite all of this, the AG has been predominantly made up of white Pentecostal ministers.  Why didn’t the AG stay COGiC?  Why has the AG been predominantly white?   Was it racially motivated?  Some have suggested that the AG was made up of  people associated with Charles Parham and some of his racist ideology. However, most of those who came out from Parham were the same ones that sought out Mason for credentials.  Some suggest that the strong presence of black pentecostal groups like the COGiC church in the midwest made it hard for the AG to be diverse. Some believe the AG was a group subject to its time and the cultural conditions and the racial relations in the midwest.

I can’t say race hasn’t been an issue in the AG.  I am sure it has played a part. But my research into the AG has left me with a couple of other factors that I think people overlook that I believe also may have contributed to the AG becoming predominantly white:

  1. In all my research through over 100 years of AG periodicals, I have yet to read anything that would suggest that the separation between black and white was intentional.  If there were racial motivations for leaving the COGiC or intentionally being a white Pentecostal group, they didn’t admit it.  Of course, I haven’t found anything about advocating for racial diversity either. Perhaps they avoided that issue all together because of the social tensions of their day.
  2. Prior to the AG, many of the AG founders were followers of William Durham and his ‘finished work’ orientation of just salvation and baptism in the Spirit.  Holiness groups believed in three experiences (salvation, sanctification and baptism in the Spirit).  Durham started preaching against holiness teaching on 3 works of grace which caused a bitter controversy between the finished work (which became AG) and other holiness Pentecostals. Mason’s COGiC church was a holiness organization.  This controversy began AFTER these men began issuing credentials to members of the Apostolic faith network.  It is likely that as the divide between the finished work and non-finished work grew, they grew more and more uncomfortable with being under a holiness organization.
  3. Mason’s COGiC church had a different polity than the AG wanted to have.  The AG was founded as a cooperative fellowship that desired to have no ruling governance (which of course was not sustained).  Each AG church was to be sovereign and independent.  Mason’s church had a presbyterian government with ruling bishops like many other holiness Pentecostal groups.  It is likely their founding of their own organization was as concerned with polity as anything else.

In the last 100 years, the AG has taken steps to become more diverse.  There are more African American ministers and fellowships in the AG today.  Progress has been made and there is more to do.  I am proud of what our General Superintendent George Wood has done to partner with COGiC leaders to foster greater racial empathy and understanding.  He has a worked to help our fellowship understand how we are to share in the conversation on race and culture. 

As we look back this month, I am thankful there was a group of men who were not afraid to reach out across racial lines to a Black Pentecostal leader in C.H. Mason for help when they needed it.  I am also thankful that Mason was willing to help those men, though it appears he gained nothing in return.  Even though they eventually parted ways, this is part of the AG story. I am thankful the influence of Black Pentecostal leaders. I am proud to be part of a movement that has honored our differences but encouraged the multi-ethnic vision of the Spirit being poured out on all flesh. I pray we will continue to work towards this vision.

 

AG Doctrine: What Was, Is, and What Should Be

book-banner-61In my time studying AG doctrine I have had many conversations with people about how I feel about AG eschatology.  Usually people are asking about my work because they are uncomfortable with some particular point of AG doctrine that they would like to see changed.  The more one is exposed to education and differing point of views, the more that ministers want to see doctrinal positions develop or change to keep up with theological development.  For instance, there are some who would argue for the need for a different eschatological position than the AG’s historic premillennial and dispensational position.  As a student of theology, I understand that there other positions out there that would perhaps fit our theological orientation better. I understand the desire to see doctrine develop, but I also think it is important to better understand what WAS and IS before we can properly discuss what SHOULD BE.   Let me explain.

What WAS the AG position?  This is the question that historians like myself are trying to answer. This is what my dissertation is dealing with. I am attempting to understand where the doctrines came from, who influenced them and what has been the historic position.  But history makes no judgement on what was. It is simply is telling the story. In my opinion, very few people understand nuances of the actual historical position of the AG on eschatology. Many times people have criticized the position without really understanding how it came about.  First you must know what it was before you can begin to understand what it is.

What IS the AG position?  This is the role the denomination plays.  Every group has the right to define its doctrinal position. For the AG, Statement of Fundamental Truths has defined the beliefs of this fellowship.  There may be some who are not comfortable with where the AG stands on various issues (such as eschatology or initial evidence) and are interested in seeing these positions change. But how realistic is that expectation? Changing official doctrine of an established denomination is not an easy task.  The AG must have an official position that it upholds and they also must defend that position in order to maintain unity.  Even if George Wood personally felt like aspects of AG doctrine needed to change (and I am not saying he does), his personal convictions would not change the position.  No one person has the right to define the fellowship. General Superintendent E. S. Williams said in the Introduction of PC Nelson’s Bible Doctrines (1936), “It is not the prerogative of any one person infallibly to interpret for the entire General Council its doctrinal declaration… Neither can a lone individual, though elected to office in the General Council, (can) speak infallibly for the entire Council Fellowship in endorsing the work of one person who seeks to interpret the meaning of the Fundamental Truths adopted by the body.”

What SHOULD be the AG position? This is an altogether different question and it is answered differently by different people.  The historian does not necessarily have an answer; it is what it was. The denomination does have an answer; it is what it is. The theologian on the other hand can answer it differently. The theologian’s job is to reflect on what it could be.  They can explore the breadth of theological reflection and weigh out the positions in order to find out if there is a better way. For example, there are scholars who are saying that there are ways in which AG eschatology can be more ‘Pentecostal’ in its orientation.  This process of imagining what it could be and even what should be is what theologians do.

This is where many ministers get frustrated. The more educated ministers are the more they are interested in this reflective process. But they are expecting the denomination to act like a college of theologians.  The denomination is not built to do this kind of theological reflection. Denominations are built to proclaim and to preserve doctrine.  At the same time, denominations get frustrated with theologians. They expect theologians to fulfill a dogmatic role of  defending the positions of the church. But that is not what they are designed to do. The theologian’s task is to explore the possibilities and suggest changes that could be made or developed. (For a great example of this discussion see Richard Dresslehaus, ‘What Can The Academy Do For The Church’ AJPS 3.2 (2000), pp. 319-323).

 

Remembering that the way doctrine is discussed is different in each of these realms can help in aiding the conversation within a theological community without making enemies of the various parties.  It can also help ministers understand why things don’t change as easily as perhaps we think we should.  It can also help the denomination to avoid being suspicious of the academy.  We have to work together.  The more cooperation and understanding there is between these theological and ecclesiastical institutions the more possibility there is for development of AG doctrine.

Word Counts

wordcount.pngI remember writing papers early in my schooling. I was always looking for ways to pad my word count to reach the desired number of pages.  That is no longer the case for me.  These days I am learning how to abide by a word count.

This morning I submitted a paper for the Society for Pentecostal Studies meeting coming up in March.  I submitted a proposal of some research I was working on so I was confident I would have something to present.  However, when my proposal was accepted, the instructions said my presentation could only be 15 minutes long.  My first draft of my paper was 36 pages in length.  As I timed myself, I was only able to cover a third of the paper in 15 minutes.  That’s a problem.

For the past few months I have been paring down that 36 pages of research to 13 pages.  It has been a painful process.  It took me hours and hours of writing to produce those 36 pages. Now I was deleting whole paragraphs and excluding valuable research.  However as I slowly trimmed and reworded my paper, a much better version of my research emerged.  I was making my argument clearer by including only  the most important research.  I have learned that the impulse to add words that I had learned early in my career was hurting my ability to write. Had it not been for a word count, I would not have given my best research in the paper.

In my writing I am learning to say more in less words.  (and blogging. Only 300 words!). My next goal is to do the same for my preaching. In fact, I think it would be good if i limited my words in all kinds of areas like my opinions, my relationships and on social media.