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 […]
I 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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
In 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.
I 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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 – 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
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!
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
“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.
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.
Originally posted on W.onderful W.orld of W.adholms:
It is with a heavy heart I announce that the Swiss Pentecostal scholar Walter Hollenweger passed away August 10, 2016. His contributions to Pentecostalism are profound. One finds him footnoted…
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 Charles 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:
- Bible centered – they emphasized the primacy of scriptural authority
- Christ centered – They emphasized the saving work of Jesus Christ
- Conversion Centered – they emphasized the born again experience of faith
- 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.
Concurrent 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 and 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.
In 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.’