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.

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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.

 

The Christian & Politics: Thoughts From A Past AG Superintendant

The political season is in full swing.  Our nation is going to the polls over the next few weeks.  I don’t engage much in politics so I have nothing to say about the current political season other than I don’t really enjoy it.  It seems to bring out the worst in people, especially the candidates.  But more so I feel like more and more I am realizing that I am part of a different kingdom.  My only thought is that whoever is elected, I have a duty to pray for them.

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E. S. Williams, General Superintendant 1929-1949

It is interesting  to me that every generation deals with the topic of Christians and politics.  In my research this week I came across an article in the Pentecostal Evangel by the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God in 1939, Ernest S. Williams.  Williams served as the GS for 20 years and many years before that in other leadership roles. He was a member of the first generation of Pentecostals and an early member of the AG. He was saved in the holiness church and later filled with the Spirit at Azusa.  His steady leadership proved to be just with the AG needed as second generation pentecostal believers and churches began to grow and thrive in our society. He was the first to author a text on Systematic Theology for the AG in 1953. He championed the growth of the educational system and finished his career as a professor at Central Bible Institute.

In 1939, while WW-II was beginning to take shape in Europe, America was deciding  whether or not to elect F.D. Roosevelt for a third term. I can imagine people were saying that the outcome of the election was extremely important.  Williams reminds Christians as that a citizen of the US, we have a duty to do our best to exercise our right to vote. Yet, Williams took to the Evangel to offer its readers some advice:

“The question arises, how far shall we go seeking to guide our Government on an even keel? Shall we forsake a positive Christian ministry for lobbies, and efforts for social betterment? Shall the Church leave its place in the Kingdom of God to dabble in the affairs of men? To do so would prove it to be a feeble failure.”

Williams reminds us that Jesus did not get pulled into the political arguments of his day.  Williams comments, “He had come neither to represent the Roman government nor the decadent commonwealth of Israel, but the Kingdom of God.” As we as Christians look at our political climate, may we remember the same admonition.  We are not representatives of political parties, we represent the Kingdom. Our influence on our world is not national or political, it is spiritual. That is our realm of expertise.  As Williams concludes;

“May we continue to exalt the principles of His glorious Kingdom by presenting Christ as the only answer to individual need and to the world’s present national, and international, problems. If we believe in the separation of church and state then let the Church abide in its own and useful sphere of getting men to God and showing forth the excellencies of God’s Kingdom.”

Seventy years later, another election is at hand and people once again will choose sides.  Hopefully we will all keep in mind, that for believers in Jesus Christ, our side should always be the Kingdom of God.

If you would like to read E. S. William’s article in full you can by clinking the link below. (Thanks to the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center for preserving these documents)

“The Christian and Politics” Pentecostal Evangel 1939 page 2.

I don’t need a PhD

LifeAfterPhDA lot of people ask me why I a getting a PhD.  Am I doing it so I can teach? So I can write?  I have thought about that lot over this journey.

Nearly 20 years ago, God first put it in my heart to get a PhD.  I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in my first year at ORU doing an undergraduate degree in theology. I had no idea I would go to post graduate work.  In fact, I didn’t even know how to get to that level of education.  My parents had both finished a masters in education in college. But neither of them stayed in education.  And I don’t remember going to college being stressed all that often growing up.  But that day in my first year at ORU, I heard God speak and ever since I have been on that journey.

In 2000, I graduated with my Bachelors.  I also started working full time in ministry so I wasn’t concerned about doing my masters right away. But it soon became clear, I couldn’t get away from it. So in 2002 I started a masters and finished 5 years later.  At that point I knew i was ready to start post-graduate work.  My professors insprired me with a love for theology and encouraged my gifts. In 2008 I started applying.  I loved ORU so much I wanted to come back to be a teacher there.  But you can’t teach theology without a terminal degree. If you were to ask me at that point, why I was doing it I would have said, “so I can teach at ORU.”  At that time, in my mind, I needed degree to get where I am going. I needed a PhD.

In 2010, God called me to pastor at New Life Center and I put that dream on hold. Something happened during that 5 year break. God has slowly been teaching me that  my whole life is a calling.  Pastoring has a way of purging your own desires for the sake of God’s dreams for your life.  Everything God asks me to do in my life is a calling. Who I marry, how I parent, where I pastor and what degrees I pursue. He told me to be a pastor.  It was not my choice.  There is no end game. I am not serving in order to become something else. Pastoring is not a stepping stone. It is a calling. I do it for Him and for as long as he needs me to do it.

Five years later, now that I am back pursuit of a PhD, I do it for different reasons.  I don’t need a PhD. I am not doing it gain the necessary credentials to be a professor. I am not doing it achieve a level in church ministry.  I don’t even care about the title.  At this point, I don’t even care if I ever end up at ORU like I had dreamed years ago.   I am doing my PhD because I am called to do so.  God has an assignment for me, whether I ever “use” this degree or not.

This is the beauty of my journey right now.  I believe the work I am doing in my research on the Assemblies of God is valuable in and of itself. It will ultimately be a gift to the body of Christ that God has called me to give.  This degree is a calling.  I don’t need it, but do need to do it.  God has called me.  So I write. And to quote Eric Liddell, “When I write, I feel His pleasure.”

Questions about the Development of AG Doctrine

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The past few months haven’t been as productive as I have needed them to be. The holiday season interrupted the usual rhythm of my weekly schedule. It has been harder to carve out the time to write.  So I have been using this opportunity to do some reading in the area of the development of doctrine.  Since my study is an account of how Assemblies of God doctrine began and was developed, this subject is very important.  Some of the questions I have been asking in my research are:

  1. When the AG wrote its statement of faith, what theological influences were they drawing from that would constitute what AG doctrine would become?
  2. After AG doctrine was articulated, how would those who wrote books or commented on the doctrine understand it?
  3. How has AG doctrine grown or developed over the past 100 years?

Inherent in these questions is a question of AG methodology.  The statement of fundamental truths of the Assemblies of God is written as list of “bible truths.”  In as far as the founders understood it, what they articulated is what the ‘Bible teaches.”   If you account for doctrine in that way, doctrine becomes simple statements that are either true or false.  The are simply propositional statements of perceived truth by the community that declared them.

Theology, though, does not work that way.  As knowledge continues to grow and research is done, the field of understanding what the Church believes is growing.  In that sense, it is totally possible that we may know more about a theological subject or concept than in the day it was written. We also have the ecumenical problem of how different theological concepts lead to different and new theological communities.  The Pentecostal movement is one such community.  Born from a mix of Weslyan -holiness and reformed-baptistic influences, Pentecostal movement adopted ideas from these other communities and brought it into their own community, adding to it their own distinctive doctrine of Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  The Pentecostal faith itself is a development of doctrine, not just a set of beliefs drawn from the Bible.

Early AG leaders adopted the evangelical view of doctrine as simply propositional statements of truth.  In thier minds, statements of truth are plain in the scripture and are always true in every context.  This is a reflection of Princetonian/proto-fundamentalist understanding of truth.  It sees the bible as a simple book of facts about God.  But where is the Holy Spirit in this view?  Does the Spirit continue revelation or only reveal that which is already revealed?

More modern approaches to doctrine recognize that at some level, doctrine is located in time and space. There is a historical and cultural situation in which doctrine arises. And these understandings are important for exegeting doctrine.  So the community in which doctrine is developed and the circumstances in which it is developed are important as well. How do we understand doctrine and how can we provide space for doctrine to develop without violating the sence in which doctrine is true?  I have enjoyed reading on this topic and here is a few ideas I think are helpful in this conversation:

  • George Lindbeck argues that doctrine should be understood as the language of the community. His cultural linguistic theory understands doctrine with these hermeneutical understandings.  If a doctrine has a cultural history, then such doctrines are allowed to develop as the community develops.
  • Jaroslav Pelikan also understands doctrine as truth located in the community. He defines doctrine as that which is “believed, taught and confessed.” (Pelikan, The Emergance of the Catholic Tradition, p. 4). Doctrine begins with the experience of faith, that faith is then taught from the scriptures and in turn that understanding of faith that is taught is adopted by the community as a confession.
  • Richard Heyduck also believes that development of doctrine is important if any community wants to preserve its doctrine.  He argues that doctrine has focused on the validity of doctrinal positions. But a contextual approach (which he calls canonical linguistic) understands doctrine in its genesis.  When it was originated, it was a  declaration of by the church of what the church believed.  Therefore, doctrine to Heyduck is simply a ‘speech act of the church, spoken to the church, and heard by the church.’ (Heyduck, The Recovery of Doctrine, p 77. )
  • Clark Pinnok (Flame of Love) suggests an important understanding of doctrine in terms of the Holy Spirit.  He argues that truth is a revelatory work of the Spirit.  The Spirit not only declared truth in the scripture, but He is presently active in revealing truth today.  No community has all the truth completely understood. The Spirit emphasizes certain aspects of God’s truth in different times and in different contexts. The development of the doctrine of the trinity or the nature of Christ is an example of this reality.  Rather than a once for all understanding of the truth of scripture, the Holy Spirit reveals the truth in every historical setting and in every community.  Therefore, each setting could have an understanding of the same truth of scripture, but revealed in the community in a different way.  Therefore, Doctrine cannot be individually understood, we must learn from the whole church over all time.
  • Alister McGrath offers a different approach. (McGrath, Genesis of Doctrine)  His four theses of doctrinal development take into account more than just propositional or cultural linguistics.  McGrath’s “four theses” of doctrinal criticism look at the way doctrine functions as social demarcation, narrative theology, articulation of experience and truth claim.  Doctrine has all of these elements. It is a truth claim from scripture. But different communities use the same passages and have different understandings of doctrine. Doctrine is also an explanation of the person’s place in the narrative of God’s story.  An example is the view of Sprit baptism as an end time phenomenon.  It is developed as a way of expressing a persons experience as well. For Pentecostals, Baptism in the Spirit and tongues were not just believed, they were expreienced. That experiential hermeneutic is vital to their doctrine. But it also has a cultural and theological history. There were aspects in which the doctrine defined them social as a separate distinct theology.  So for McGrath, there is more than one way to describe doctrine. It has to be understood in all these ways in order for doctrine to develop into new contexts.  McGrath argues that “Doctrinal criticism obliges us to ask what specific theological insights lie behind a specific doctrinal formulation, and what historical contingencies influenced both those insights and the manner in which they were thus being articulated, with a view to restating (if necessary) that formulation.” McGrath, Genesis of Doctrine, pg 7-8.
All of these approaches to doctrinal development are attempting to answer the same question. Is doctrine permanent? Is truth, as understood by particular Christian community, subject to change and development?  This is the question I am asking in the Assemblies of God and our understanding of doctrine.  Can the AG doctrine develop without losing our distinctive Pentecostal understanding of theology?
Statement of Fundamental Truths
 No doubt the Statement of Fundamental truths had a cultural linguistic function.  It defined the doctrinal issues that were present at the time of its formation.  The preamble says:
“ No claim is made that it contains all truth in the Bible, only that it covers our present needs as to these fundamental matters.” (GC Minutes, 1916)

The way forward for the Assemblies of God is not the abandon our distinctive doctrines.  It is to allow our doctrines to continue to develop.  We need to become more Pentecostal in all our expression of all our beliefs. In order to do that, we have hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church today.  That requires a more nuanced understanding of the genesis and development of doctrine. That is what I hope for my dissertation to accomplish.

ORU’s 50th Anniversary: Don’t Overlook Howard Ervin

20151028_192759This past week Oral Roberts University celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was a wonderful celebration full of chapels, banquets, reunions and launching of new initiatives for the University. One celebration I thought was particularly meaningful was the “Lifetime Global Achievement Awards” given out to individuals who had made a significant impact on the history of ORU and have lived out the University’s mission of taking the healing gospel into every person’s world. The individuals honored had shown “outstanding excellence or deep impact” in the areas of intellectual advancement, spiritual vibrancy, physical discipline, social adeptness, professional excellence, global focus, and university support and healing initiative.

The list of honorees listed in Commemorative Edition of Excellence Magazine included University legends such as the Cardone Family, Ralph Fagan, Carl Hamilton and even “Miss Pansey” Wallace who served in the dining hall for 40 years.  Ministers  and pastors such as Terry Law, Myles Monroe, Larry Stockstill and Billy Joe & Sharon Daughtery received awards.  Athletic legends such as Bernis Duke, Madeline Manning Mims, Andretti Bain, and Ken Tricky were also recognized. Doctors, singers, entertainers, authors, politicians and business men were also honored.  Some of the honorees where recognized posthhumously. I was particularly happy to see that several of my friends I admire such as Missionary to Kenya, Dr. Bill Kuert and Author Clifton Taulbert were honored as well.

Dr. Bill Kuert, Lifetime Global Achievement Award Recipient.

Dr. Bill Kuert, Lifetime Global Achievement Award Recipient.

In total, 50 outstanding recipients of this Global Achievement Award were chosen.  I can’t imagine how difficult it was to select these 50 individuals out of the thousands of alumni and faculty that they could have chosen for this honor.  I have no complaints with anyone on this list.  It is a fine list that represents Oral Roberts University well.  I would just like to offer an addendum to this list.  A 51st candidate for the Global Achievement Award:  Dr. Howard M. Ervin.

No one exemplifies the characteristics of “intellectual advancement, spiritual vibrancy, professional excellence” or has “significantly impacted the history of Oral Roberts University and the world” more than Dr. Howard M. Ervin.

Ervin Oct 1966 -4Howard Ervin, ThD served on the faculty of ORU as professor of Old Testament and Pneumatology from 1966-2006. He was first introduced to ORU in 1964 when he was invited by Oral Roberts to speak at Oral Roberts Partner Seminars on the Holy Spirit.  Oral was impressed with Ervin’s academic credentials (being a ThD from Princeton) and his testimony of being filled with the Spirit as a Baptist Pastor.  In 1966, Dr. R. O. Corvin asked Ervin to join the founding faculty of the school of theology. Over the next several decades, Ervin led thousands of people into the baptism in the Holy Spirit through Oral Robert’s Partners Seminars and Full Gospel Businessman meetings.  At these seminars, Oral would get them saved and Ervin would bring them into the baptism in the Spirit.  Oral Roberts looked to Howard Ervin to provide him with the biblical theological underpinning he needed for his message of healing and Spirit empowerment.

Howard Ervin Speaking at Oral Roberts Partners Seminar in 1965.

Howard Ervin Speaking at Oral Roberts Partner’s Seminar in 1965.

ervin emeritas

Ervin receiving the honor of Professor Emeritus at the age of 92.

After R. O. Corvin left ORU, Howard Ervin stepped in and served as the chair and help build the department of Theology from 1969-1978. He also served with Dr. James Buskirk (also a Global Achievement recipient) in founding the graduate school of theology in 1976. He taught his course on Pnuematology (the theology of the Holy Spirit) every year of his 40 years at ORU.  He was the anchor of the theology department.  He recieved numerous outstanding faculty awards and was awared professor emeritus of the School of Theology in 2007.

these are not drunken front coverHoward Ervin was a leading scholar of the Pentecostal theology of Holy Spirit in the academic world.  In 1968, Ervin wrote the first academic, exegetical and theological defense of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with his work These Are Not Druken As Ye Suppose.  In 1984, Ervin wrote a highly popular scholarly rebuttal to Evangelical scholar James Dunn’s polemic against Pentecostalism called Conversion, Initiation, and Baptism in the Holy Spirit. This work became a popular apologetic for Pentecostal scholars for the next two decades.  In 1987, Ervin revised and republished his previous work on the Holy Spirit with the new title Spirt-Baptism: A Biblical Investigation.  In 2002, Ervin published his final book called Healing: Sign of the Kingdom.  With six books published on Pneumatology over a span of 34 years, Ervin is the most published member in the history of ORU’s theological faculty.

Howard Ervin had a significant impact on the Charismatic Renewal in 1960’s-1970’s. Ervin regularly spoke in Charismatic Catholic conferences on the Holy Spirit.  He was instrumental in many people from mainline churches coming into the Charismatic Renewal.  From 1979-1987, Ervin was a participant in the Roman Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogues.  Ervin had the ability to cross demoninational and liturgical lines to bring people into the fullness of the Spirit. Ervin was convinced that “The Spirit’s number one agenda is the healing of the Church.”  Ervin believed that the Charismatic Renewal was the vehicle God wanted to use to bring unity to the Church.

Ervin Oct 1966 -3

Dr. Howard M. Ervin joins the faculty of ORU in 1966.

As I look at the many wonderful people who occupy list of Lifetime Global Achievement recipients, I believe Howard M. Ervin is certainly worthy to be counted with this company.  He had a significat impact on Oral Roberts.  He had a significant impact on Oral Roberts University. He had a significant impact on Pentecostal and Charismatic scholarship. He had a significant impact bringing the message of healing and Spirit-empowerment to many denominations.  And as far as I know, he is the only person who has had a biography published about his life and impact on Oral Roberts University and the Pentecostal and Charismatic community.

In the past 50 years, many students, alumni and faculty have made a significant impact on ORU’s history. Howard Ervin exemplifies everything that ORU has stood for these past 50 years.  He was an outstanding academic, he trained countless ministers to go to “every man’s world,” he had a global impact on the body of Christ, and he advanced the message of Spirit-empowered life to thousands.   Though his name didn’t make the list, I believe that Howard M. Ervin is certainly worthy of an ORU 50th Anniversary Lifetime Global Achievement Award.

Read more on the Life and Legacy of Howard M. Ervin

Daniel D. Isgrigg is a graduate of Oral Roberts Unviersity (B.A. 00, M.A. 07) and the author of the theological tribute to Howard M. Ervin called Pilgrimage Into Pentecost (2008).