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.

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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.

The Eschatology Books of the Assemblies of God

introduction-to-prophecy windows-into-the-future studies-in-daniel

In my dissertation, I am documenting the history of the Assemblies of God and their eschatological positions.  One of the joys of that pursuit has been to build a timeline of all the books on eschatology that have been published by the Gospel Publishing House. To my knowledge, no one has done so.  I also have been trying to collect as many of the books for my own personal collection.  Many of these books are quite rare today, yet I only lack a few volumes.

The AG has always been interested in the return of Christ. From the founding of the fellowship, the soon coming of Christ was at the forefront of the Pentecostal message.  The minutes of the First General record ’For a number of years, God has been leading men to seek for a full apostolic gospel standard of experience and doctrine…Almost every city and community in civilization has heard of the Latter Rain outpouring of the Holy Ghost, with many signs following…Almost every country on the globe has heard the message and also the prophecy which has been predominant in this great outpouring, which is “Jesus is coming soon” to this old world in the same manner as he left it to set up His millennial kingdom and to reign over the earth in righteousness and peace for a thousand years’. GC Minutes (Apr 2-12, 1914), p. 1.

When the  AG wrote their Stament of Fundamental Truths in 1916, the second coming occupied four of the original seventeen statements.  Consequently, many of the earliest books published by GPH were books on the second coming.  Second only to the doctrine of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Eschatology has been one of the most consistent doctrinal themes that the AG has published books on.   For the past one hundred years the premillennial, pre-tribulational position of the AG has been articulated in these books.

A couple interesting facts about these books are worth noting:

  • Two of the earliest eschatology books were written by women: Elizabeth Sisson and Alice Luce
  • Of the 37 books, the majority of books were written primarily by 5 writers, all of which were key leaders in the fellowship :
    • 7 books by Stanley M. Horton
    • 5 books by Frank M. Boyd
    • 4 books by Ralph M. Riggs
    • 3 books by J. Narver Gorner
    • 2 books by Myer Pearlman
    • 2 books by Stanley H. Frodsham
  • Every decade had at least 3 books on bible prophecy published
  • The last book by GPH on eschatology was 2005
  • Since 1990, only four books on eschatology have been published, three of which were by Stanley Horton.

AG Eschatology Timeline:

All of these books were published by GPH unless the have an (*), which were by AG authors but were published before GPH was printing books.

1912 – Forgleams of Glory (Resurrection Papers) –  Elizabeth Sisson *collins

1919 – Sign of the Son of Man –  A. P. Collins *

1925 – The Budding Fig Tree – Frank Boyd

1927 – The Little Flock in the Last Days – Alice Luce

1928 – Things Which Must Shortly Come To Pass – Stanley Frodsham

1928?– Jesus Coming at Hand (collection of articles)are-saints-scheduled

1930 – Are the Saints Scheduled to go Through the Tribulation – J. Narver Gortner

1934 – Coming Crisis and Coming Christ – Stanley Frodsham

1937 – The Path of Prophecy – Ralph M. Riggs

1938 – What Will Happen Next? : Heart-To-Heart Talks About Things Shortly to what-will-happen-nextCome to Pass – Harry J. Steil

1941 – Windows Into the Future – Myer Pearlman

1943 – Daniel Speaks Today – Myer Pearlman

1948 – Introduction to Prophecy – Frank Boyd

194? – Studies in Daniel ­ J. Narver Gortner

1948 – Studies in Revelation – J. Narver Gortnerstudies-in-revelation

1950s – Signs of the Times – Frank Boyd

1950 – Even So Come – Hart R. Armstrong

1950 – Those Who Are Left – Hart R. Armstrong*

1951 – War Against God – Hart A. Armstrong

1955 – Ages and Dispensations – Frank Boydages-and-dispensations

1959 – Waiting… C.M. Ward

1962 – God’s Calendar of Coming Events – Ralph Riggs

1963 – Bible Prophecy – Stanley Horton (teachers manual)*

1963 – Dispensational Studies – Ralph Riggs

1967 – Promise of His Coming – Stanley Hortonpath-of-prophecy

1967 – Studies in the Revelation of Jesus Christ – Frank Boyd (Berean)

1968 – Prophetic Light – Frank Boyd (revised 1988 Berean)

1968 – The Story of the Future – Ralph Riggs

1975 – What You Should Know About Prophecy – Horton

1975 – What You Should Know About Prophecy – C M. Ward (adapted from Horton)*

1975 – Its Getting Late – Commentary on first Thessalonians – Horton

1975 – Preparing for the Storm – Kenneth Barneyintroduction-to-prophecy

1977 – God’s Plan for this Planet – Ian Macpherson

1979 – Countdown: A Newsman’s look at the Rapture – Dan Betzer

1981 – What’s Ahead?: A Study of End-Times Events  -Charles Harris

1982 – What’s Ahead?  – Carol A. Ball (Teacher Guide)

1991 – The Ultimate Victory – Stanley Horton

1995 – Bible Prophecy: Understanding Future Events – Stanley Horton

1996 – Our Destiny: Biblical Teachings on Last Things – Stanley Horton

2005 – Letters to the Seven Churches – James K. Bridges

I hope this is helpful to others who may be studying the Assemblies of God.  Know of any others not on the list. I’d love to hear from you!

Statement of Fundamental Truths Turns 100

100 years ago this week the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths was adopted by the 1916 General Council in St. Louis. Although AG Leaders were reluctant to adopt a statement of faith during those early years, a doctrinal statement was needed to stave off division over debates about trinitarian vs. oneness baptism.  A resolution committee was tasked with crafting the document and it was adopted despite much debate.

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Click for Article by AG General Superintendent George O. Wood

Since 2009, I have spent countless hours studying this document as part of my PhD dissertation. Four of the Sixteen statements deal with the return of Jesus (which is the subject of my dissertation). I love this document. I have wrestled with its stregnths and weaknesses, its changes and the ways it has stayed the same. I feel as if i have come to know the writers as personal friends. My dissertation will make a significant contribution to the understanding of the theology of this document. It is not only one of the most important documents in the AG, it is also an important key to understanding Pentecostal doctrine.

In honor of the centennial of this important document, I thought I might share 5 facts about the Statement of Fundamental Truths that you may not know.

  1.  The AG was the first of the Pentecostal groups to produce such a document. Some shorter statements were present in different groups, but the AG was the first to put together a comprehensive list of doctrinal statements. Other groups, such as the Church of God (Cleveland) didn’t produced full statements until nearly 40 years later.
  2. The statement was written by five men who served on the resolutions committee.
    • E.N. Bell – Baptist Pastor and graduate of Rochester Theological Seminary who joined the Apostolic Faith movement and became the first Chairman of the Assemblies of God.
    • T.K. Leonard – Pastor from Findlay, Ohio who operated one of the early Pentecostal Bible Schools (The Gospel School).
    • S.A Jamieson – Highly educated and successful Presbyterian Pastor and Presbyter who gave up all of his positions to join the Pentecostal movement in 1908.
    • Stanley Frodsham – British born writer and editor who became the editor of the Pentecostal Evangel for over 20 years.
    • Daniel W. Kerr – Former Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and who joined the AG in 1916 and founded several AG Bible Schools, including Central Bible College in 1922.
  3. Adoption of the statement caused a rift in the new fellowship by narrowing their doctrinal positions.  As a result, the AG lost 156 people and several key early leaders such as D.C.O Opperman, Howard Goss and R.E. McAlister.
  4. The original statement adopted in 1916 contained 17 fundamentals. Several fundamentals were combined and the list was narrowed to 16 in 1920. The statement was substantially revised at the request of Chairman J. W. Welch  during the 1925 General Council.  The statement was reordered, headings were changed and significant wording was also changed.  Subsequent changes also were made in 1961 and minor revisions several times recently. Although many historians claim the SFT is has been unchanged for a century, the reality is that the statement has been revised frequently.
  5. The statement was meant to be inclusive, exhaustive nor infallible. It has a sense of inclusiveness and openness in order to avoid sectarianism and dogmatism.  It declares:

‘The Statement of Fundamental Truths is not intended as a creed for the Church, nor a basis of fellowship among Christians, but only as a basis of unity for the ministry alone…The human phraseology employed in such statement is not inspired nor contended for, but the truth set forth in such phraseology is held to be essential to a full Gospel ministry. No claim is made that it contains all truth in the Bible, only that it covers our present needs as to these fundamental matters’.

I have grown to love and appreciate the history of our doctrine and the way it has shaped our movement. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to study the history of my fellowship.  The Statement of Fundamental Truths has helped guide this fellowship for 100 years.  It is an important document to AG ministers, AG churches and to our history and heritage.

 

What a Pastor Cannot Do: familiar thoughts on pastoring from 1930

Sometimes people forget that a Pastor is human.” E.S. Williams, 1930.

Being a pastor in this day and age is a huge challenge.  Yet at the same time, it is comforting to discover that the demands on pastors haven’t changed much in 100 years.

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AG Superintendant E.S. Williams

In my studies this week I came across an article by E. S. Williams called “What A Pastor Cannot Do.”  Williams served as general superintendent for the Assemblies of God for two decades (1929-1949).  Before coming to the General Council, Williams was a successful pastor.  The article he wrote in 1930 addressed the unrealistic expectations that the people of the church often place on them. Even back in Williams days, pastors were expected to do and be everything for the church.  He says,

Too many in our churches require that the pastor have all the faith. Some expect him to trust for his salary whether they contribute to his support or not; expect him to pray them well, even when sick; to accomplish every other requirement of faith: and if he fails, (or if they think he fails) they do not blame themselves but put the blame on him, seeming to think he can do the impossible. No my brethren, there is a limit to the pastor’s faith as well as to yours.

I also was very relieved to read that the stress of building and growing the church was felt by pastors a century ago as well.  As Williams points out, the pastor today is often expected to be the promoter, evangelizer and church growth strategy expert.  He says;

The pastor cannot do our personal work for us. We go to church and hope for a crowd…that is, we go if the weather is fair. And if the crowd is not there we think our need is a pastor whose pulpit ability will draw them in. How much have we done toward trying to interest the people? Many during the entire week have not invited one soul.  What the church needs is live, wide-awake, believing, praying men and women who will become personal workers, going out into the highways and the hedges, giving forth the gospel, inviting people in.

How true is his observations even today?  Even his comment about the weather is so true!  How much have we relied upon the pulpit to be the sole mechanism of building the church?  How much do we still lay the responsibility for evangelizing and inviting people at the feet of the pastor?

When I read this article I just had to smile.  I find it comforting to know that church matters haven’t changed all that much.  The same issues we deal with today they dealt with in 1930. Williams couldn’t be more right.  It takes more than a good pastor for a church fulfill its calling.  A pastor cannot do it alone.  But we can do it together!

If you would like to read E.S. Williams entire article in the March 8, 1930 Pentecostal Evangel, you can read it here on page 6-7.

What is an Evangelical, anyway?

Evangelical

There is a lot of discussion during the political season about what “evangelicals” will do as a voting block.   How do you know if you are an evangelical?  The reality is that the term ‘evangelical’ is a very difficult term to define.  It has historical, theological, political and social meanings.  My study of Pentecostalism has required me to try to understand the meaning behind the word.   I thought I share a somewhat simplistic guide to understanding some of the history of the term.

Prior to Protestant Reformation, there was basically only one church; The Roman Catholic Church.  The Protestant Reformation of Luther and Calvin was able to point believers back to the Bible as the source of faith and back to grace as the means of salvation.  The greek word for gospel is “evangellion.” In this sense, the Protestant Reformation was an evangelical reformation. Personal salvation and the Word of God were primary emphases.

 

A couple hundred years later, Protestantism had enjoyed periods of rise and decline.  In the mid-1700’s  a wave of revival came to Britain and America.  Revivalists such as WB-preaching-in-tentCharles Finney and John Wesley brought spirituality back to the declining church that had become too doctrinal and formal within protestant denominations.  This led to a revival  that once again emphasized conversion experiences and emphasis on biblical forms of Christianity.   During this time Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans and Congregationalists were all emphasizing personal salvation, holiness, Spirit empowerment and the expectation of the return of Jesus.  They also emphasized social action through the gospel. Many evangelical missions, orphanages, hospitals, inner city ministries, abolitionist, women’s voting rights and welfare programs were begun during this time.  Historian David Bebbinton characterized evangelicals during this period as:

  1. Bible centered – they emphasized the primacy of scriptural authority
  2. Christ centered – They emphasized the saving work of Jesus Christ
  3. Conversion Centered – they emphasized the born again experience of faith
  4. Action Centered – They emphasized the active work of the believer through holiness and social engagement.

By the end of the 19th century, nearly all the major denominations had an evangelical emphasis that included the sanctifying and empowering work of the Spirit, holiness and divine healing.  In the late 1800’s, Evangelical leaders like D. L. Moody, A. J. Gordon (Baptist), A. T. Pierson (Presbyterian), and A. B. Simpson (Presbyterian turned founder of Christian and Missionary Alliance) were all calling the Protestant church to embrace a ‘higher life’  evangelical spirituality.   Many of these leaders were writing books about being baptized in the Holy Spirit, Healing and Sanctification. They worked together across denominational lines, shared their various beliefs at Bible conferences, and engaged in social issues issues. Yet, they were still differentiating themselves from other Christians that they thought were less than committed to the Bible.

Now at this point, you would probably be comfortable with the label “evangelical.”  But wait, it gets more complicated moving forward.

At the start of the 20th Century, a great revival broke out among Wesleyan Holiness people that began to emphasis the Spirit, healing, miracles and speaking in tongues.  The Pentecostal movement was essentially an outgrowth of this Evangelical movement.  Though the theology differed between more Wesleyan holiness Pentecostals and more Reformed/Baptist Pentecostals, they all saw themselves in this stream of set apart evangelical believers who were called to bring people out of the formal churches and into a living faith with Jesus. Once this new Pentecostal movement began, many Evangelicals were forced to decide if they were going to accept these new tongue talking revivalists.  Many did.  But by 1910, some Evangelicals were already beginning to reject Pentecostalism’s claim that tongues were the evidence of the baptism in the Spirit.   Although Pentecostals thought of themselves as Evangelical, Evangelicals were not so favorable toward Pentecostals.  Rhetoric against Pentecostals grew in popularity as evangelicalism became less revivalistic and more cerebral.

Descent_of_the_Modernists,_E._J._Pace,_Christian_Cartoons,_1922Concurrent to the beginning of Pentecostal movement was the rise of Modernism within academia.  Evangelicals reacted to the Modernist method of denying of miracles of Jesus, the salvation experience and their adoption of evolution rather than believing the book of Genesis. To put in today’s language, modernists were what people today label as ‘liberals.’    In 1910, a group of evangelical scholars wanted to defend biblical christianity against the rise of modernism and liberalism by publishing a series of books called The Fundamentals that they sent free of charge to every church and minister they could reach.  This group of conservative evangelicals became known as “Fundamentalists” in the 1920’s.  However, the more this group emphasized correct doctrine, the more they pushed others away, including the ‘fanatical’ Pentecostals.  Whereas Evangelicalism had diverse opinions but tried to maintain unity, Fundamentalism became an ultra theologically conservative (primary Calvinistic), non-inclusive movement that retreated to isolationism from the growing secularism and modernism influencing the culture.  In the mid-1920’s, Fundmentalists officially rejected Pentecostals.  They were no longer welcome in the evangelical/fundamentalist family.  (For more on this check out this article). Whereas 19th century evangelicalism engaged culture and promoted the work of the Spirit, early 20th Century evangelicalism rejected the Spirit and isolated from the culture.  The list of heretical Christian groups began to grow and they rejected anyone who didn’t agree with them and labeled them with the liberal-modernist label.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s a resurgence of American identification with Christianity led a movement of many denominations with varying degrees of ties to fundamentalist sympathies began to join together to be more unifying and influential in American culture. The result was the National Association of Evangelicals.  Their goal was to agree on what was essential to Christian doctrine and principles. They also sought to recover America’s Christian identity. They affirmed basic Protestant doctrine but unlike Fundamentalism they allowed room for outliers such as the Pentecostals.  In fact, Pentecostals became a large part of the NAE.   They tried to distance themselves from the “fundamentalist” label because of the negative and combative connotations of the name.   Evangelical once again became a term that meant protestant Christian.  However, many of the mainline (more liberal) denominations did not join. So the divide between conservative and liberal remained.

time_evangelicalsIn the 1980’s there was a resurgence of political activism among Evangelicals.  Once again, they were ready to engage in a cultural battle with “liberals” and attempt to bring America back to the Bible.  The 1980’s saw the rise of the Moral Majority, Right to Life,  Conservative Christian Colleges, mega churches and influential Christian leaders like Pat Roberson, Jerry Fallwell, James Dobson who were conservative theologically and emphasized political activism above social activism.  During this decade, so called evangelicals (born again christians) were mobilized to issue oriented voting which eventually culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan.  With Reagan, the Evangelical vote became the central block of the Republican party.   Prior to 1980, evangelicals could be found within both Republican and Democrat parties.   However, now Evangelical came to mean politically conservative Christian voter.  Candidates for office at local, state and national level had to assure the public they were ‘born again.’  That continues today as Republican candidate Donald Trump courts the Evangelical vote by assembling his team of evangelical leaders and the recent news that Trump has been “born again.”  No Republican candidate today can win without the so called ‘evangelical’ vote.  As you can see, today the label has become less theological and more political in orientation. It still means ‘born again’ protestant believer, but it means more than that.  Many theological traditions that made up 19th Century Evangelicalism are no longer welcome in that category because of political positions, even though they may still have evangelical theological positions.  Today that term has been reduced to simply a political categorization.  This is way many (primarily younger Christians) have rejected this label and are critical of evangelicalism.

As you can see, the name ‘evangelical’ has gone through many different shades of meaning.  Perhaps you might find yourself more or less comfortable with the label.  Of course the history is much more complex than I am able to describe here. Even so, I hope this description at least helps you understand the term better so you can decide for your self if you are in fact an ‘evangelical.’

SPS Paper 2017

I just submitted my proposal for a paper for the 2017 meeting of the Society of Pentecostal Studies.  My proposal last year did not make the program. I am really hoping this paper will be accepted.  SPS is a community of scholars that have the opportunity to read each other’s work and give feedback. The purpose is to advance the field of Pentecostal scholarship and is a great encouragement to those of us working in the area of Pentecostal studies.  I am hoping to add my voice to the conversation with this paper.  The research I have been doing on my dissertation has led me to uncover things in AG history that I don’t believe others have noted.

Here is my paper proposal:

The Pentecostals Evangelical Church: the theological self-identity of the Assemblies of God as evangelical “plus”.  

The quest for articulating a truly Pentecostal theology has been of primary concern to Pentecostal scholars. The heart of Pentecostal theology has been pneumatically oriented and is represented by five-fold gospel of Jesus as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, Spirit-baptizer and Coming King. This pneumatological orientation has led many to argue that Pentecostal theology is not simply evangelical theology plus a doctrine of the Spirit. Further, it is suggested that the adoption of evangelical/fundamentalist approaches to theological inquiry and hermeneutics are foreign to the ethos of early Pentecostalism. Despite these recent attempts to find an alternative identity for the Pentecostal movement as a whole, this paper will show that the Assemblies of God has always self-identified as evangelical ‘plus.’ A study of the periodical literature of the early years of the Assemblies of God reveals that an evangelical identity became an important self-identification from the very beginning. They saw themselves as evangelicals who also believed in the Pentecostal baptism with the Spirit and speaking in tongues. This evangelical identity was expressed in literature, bible school courses and even resulted in an attempt to officially change the name of the Assemblies of God to “The Pentecostal Evangelical Church” in 1925.   During the next decade, the evangelical identity was challenged when the fundamentalist community ‘disfellowshipped’ the Pentecostal community.  Today, the Pentecostal theological community is returning the favor by disfellowshiping evangelicalism as an acceptable Pentecostal identity. Pentecostal scholars have become embarrassed by the historic ties to evangelicalism and its preoccupation with fundamentalist dispensationalism, political religion and rigid modernistic impulses. The largest group of scholars who have recognized the theological tensions of accepting an evangelical identity are within the AG family. Yet, the move to distance Pentecostalism from evangelical theology is a denial of its historic character and theological antecedents. This paper will explore the historical  evangelical identity as an important expression of Pentecostal theology, rather than being foreign to early Pentecostalism. It will look at the ways in which turn of the Century evangelical theology gave birth to the Pentecostal movement. Virtually every theological impulse that characterizes Pentecostalism was already present in late 19th Century evangelicals. The dominant AG theological views of the ‘latter rain’, Spirit empowerment, healing, pre-millennial eschatology, and finished work sanctification were all inherited from late 19th century radical evangelical theology. This paper will also argue that The Assemblies of God represents a theological stream within Pentecostalism that is essentially pentecostalized evangelical theology. Finally this paper will look at the ways in which the evangelical theology was modified and the ways in which tensions were reconciled within the Assemblies of God understanding of Pentecostal theology.

Do we still need to tarry?

One of the most amazing things about studying early Pentecostal literature is the testimonies.  I love to read the ways in which those believers experienced God and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Testimonies of people traveling great distances to places where people were  being baptized in the Holy Spirit fill the pages of the periodicals.  Many of them testify to the old time practice of “tarrying”.  Early Pentecostals believed a person needed to wait upon the Lord at the altar for God to pour out his Spirit. Many of them waited days, weeks or even months to receive.

BellEN_1One of the founding members of the Assemblies of God gave his testimony in 1910 in The Pentecostal Testimony.  E. N. Bell was a Southern Baptist Pastor who heard about the Pentecostal movement.  He went to Chicago in 1907 to seek out the experience of Baptism in the Spirit from the ministry of William Durham.  Durham had received the Holy Spirit at Azusa Street through William Seymour.  Bell arrived in Chicago in August 1907.  For weeks he attended meetings and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, but he never received the fulness and spoke in tongues. Many time the power of God was on him even to the point of being ‘drunk’ in the Spirit, yet still did not receive the fullness. But he even had times of feeling nothing.  At one point he even testifies as to going ‘cold as sinner’ yet God used that to bring Bell to a place of helplessness.  Yet he continued to believe that the promise was for him. He also believe that when God did fill him that he would speak in tongues.

Finally, nearly a year later in July 1908, he received the baptism in the Spirit. He says, “On July 18, 1908 God baptized me in His Spirit. Wave after wave fell on me from heaven, striking me in the forehead like electric currents and passing over my my being…He began to speak in though me in a tongue I had never heard before and continued for two hours.”  He had many experiences up to that point, but this one was different. He says, “That was when I received the Holy Spirit as a person, not merely His presence, not merely His blessing, not merely His gracious influence.”   It took nearly a year, but he finally received the promise of the Father.

E. N. Bell, the founder of one of the largest Pentecostal bodies in world, had to wait and seek  for nearly a year before he received the Spirit.  And his testimony is not uncommon. Durham sought for the Baptism for three weeks at Azusa Street before he received.  Countless others, despite being part of the greatest Pentecostal revivals in history, had to wait for days, weeks or months to receive the  baptism in the Spirit.

tarry

Quote from E. N. Bell on Baptism in the Spirit.

As a minister today who seeks to lead people into Spirit-baptism, I am often discouraged when I pray for people to receive the baptism in the Spirit and they don’t receive right away.  I want people to receive instantaniously. Many times I question myself or my ministry because they don’t receive right away.  Reading these testimonies is an encouragement to me.   The early Pentecostal experience is no different than today.   Most of the people I know have had to seek for a period of time before they received the fullness of the Spirit. In fact, I also had to seek for over a year  before I received. Maybe I get discouraged because I forget that ‘tarrying’ is part of the process.  It aways has been.  As Jesus said, “Wait in Jerusalem until you have been given power from on high.”  The waiting is  part of God’s process of preparing us.  They had to wait in 1906.  We still have to wait today. But his promise is true. If we wait, he will pour out his Spirit.

To read E. N. Bell’s testimony, you can read it here.  See page 8 for article.

Thanks to the Pentecostal Archives for making these resources available for research. https://pentecostalarchives.org

 

The Assemblies of God and Varieties of Pentecostal Theology

20160523_092405This past week was my latest doctoral seminar for my PhD at Centre for Pentecostal Theology in Cleveland, TN. Every time I go to these meetings I am so very encouraged not only as a scholar but also by the way in which the individuals take seriously the pursuit of articulating a truly Pentecostal theology.  Anyone who attends a Pentecostal or Charismatic church knows that Spirit-filled people just have a different perspective on spirituality and theology. The Spirit plays a large role in how we worship, how we read the scripture and how we do theology.  Those essential differences is what the CPT is trying to explore.

For my part, I am researching Assemblies of God eschatology and asking the question, “Is there anything uniquely “Pentecostal” about AG doctrine?  My chapter I submitted for this seminar was building the case that there are two approaches to Pentecostal theology that affect the way in which the AG does Pentecostal theology.

The first approach is the historical AG position.  It sees Pentecostalism as a stream of Evangelical theology that has experienced Spirit baptism.  This model was adopted very early.  As early as 1919, J. Roswell Flower commented that the AG was ‘just like all other Evangelicals’ but believed in the additional doctrine of Spirit baptism.  Later, a group of presbyters who were charged with re-writing the constitution proposed that the AG change its name to “Pentecostal Evangelical Church.”  The measure was not adopted.  Yet, this way of seeing ourselves as essentially the same as Evangelicals except we believe in the Pentecostal experience of the Spirit has been the way the AG has seen itself for the past 100 years.

The second approach is a recent move among Pentecostal scholars who appreciate the Protestant/Evangelical heritage, but argue that Pentecostalism has its own unique way of seeing theology.  The Spirit not only effects a Pentecostal view of Spirit baptism, but it also effects our view of Salvation, sanctification, healing, the Lord Supper, Baptism, ecclesiology and eschatology.  Not to mention the ways in which Pentecostals practice community, gifts, worship, and prayer are all effected by the role of the Spirit.  Evangelical theology is not sufficient to express Pentecostal Theology.  Pentecostal theology is more than just Baptist or Reformed theology plus an openness to the Holy Spirit.  It is a complete foundational orientation in both thought and practice.

Just to give you an idea of how this works out, my fellow PhD students are studying the following topics:

What is a Pentecostal understanding of water baptism?

What is a Pentecostal understanding of sanctification?

How does the the Spirit effect the reading of the Torah?

How does the Spirit effect the reading of Jeremiah’s lament passages?

How does the Spirit effect the reading of Ezekiel’s visions?

How does the Spirit effect the way in which Pentecostals worship?

How does the Spirit function as one reads the Spirit passages in Judges, Kings and Samuel?

How does the Spirit help with the memories of terror and the ways in which that effect society?

As you can see from this list, the role of the Spirit is vital as an orientation for the ways in which Pentecostals are reading, thinking, theologizing, expressing doctrine and relating to society.  This is Pentecostal theology.  It is a Spirit-oriented expression of every area of faith and practice.  It recognizes that we as Pentecostals do theology from our experience with the Spirit. Its more than just Protestant theology plus speaking in tongues.

This is what I love about this program. I am so blessed to be a part of it. I am excited about the future of theology for the AG as we join in the conversation and look at our own doctrine.  There is so much more than needs to be done to express AG theology in ways that capture that Spirit-orientation toward a unique perspective on theology.  Spirit baptism has been a hallmark of our theology. But we still need the Spirit to inform our whole theology so that we are Pentecostal from first to last, rather than just adding on a Pentecostal doctrine to someone else’s theology.  I am hoping my contribution to that conversation will spur on others to join in the conversation.