Making Progress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The AG and Black Heritage

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

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Leaders of the Azusa Street Revival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Eschatology Books of the Assemblies of God

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

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

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

A couple interesting facts about these books are worth noting:

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

AG Eschatology Timeline:

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

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

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

1925 – The Budding Fig Tree – Frank Boyd

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

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

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

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

1934 – Coming Crisis and Coming Christ – Stanley Frodsham

1937 – The Path of Prophecy – Ralph M. Riggs

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

1941 – Windows Into the Future – Myer Pearlman

1943 – Daniel Speaks Today – Myer Pearlman

1948 – Introduction to Prophecy – Frank Boyd

194? – Studies in Daniel ­ J. Narver Gortner

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

1950s – Signs of the Times – Frank Boyd

1950 – Even So Come – Hart R. Armstrong

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

1951 – War Against God – Hart A. Armstrong

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

1959 – Waiting… C.M. Ward

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

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

1963 – Dispensational Studies – Ralph Riggs

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

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

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

1968 – The Story of the Future – Ralph Riggs

1975 – What You Should Know About Prophecy – Horton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1991 – The Ultimate Victory – Stanley Horton

1995 – Bible Prophecy: Understanding Future Events – Stanley Horton

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

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

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

Statement of Fundamental Truths Turns 100

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

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Click for Article by AG General Superintendent George O. Wood

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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AG Superintendant E.S. Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.