The Theological Legacy of “I’ll Fly Away”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One AG writer put it this way in 1917,

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

Similarly, S.A. Jamieson comments in 1922,

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

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

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

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

Making Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The 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!

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.

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.