Eschatological Women of the Assemblies of God: Elizabeth Sisson

In my studies of AG eschatology I was delighted to uncover a couple women who were influential with their eschatological writings.  One such woman was Elizabeth Sisson who had the unique opportunity to transition with from the late nineteenth century healing holiness movement, to the Pentecostal movement and finally into the AG.

Sisson had a long and varied career as an evangelist, missionary to India, editor and was close friends of Carrie Judd Montgomery and Maria Woodworth-Etter. In 1871, prior to leaving for India as a missionary, Sisson attended a holiness convention led by William Boardman in which she testifies, ‘God met me again, baptizing me with His Spirit, and taking me into closest relation with Himself’.[1] In the early 1880s, Sisson left India in order to recover from an illness and she settled into a healing house in Bethshan, London. In 1885, she attended the Keswick convention and spoke during many sessions.[2] In 1887, equipped with her health and an experience with the Spirit, she returned to the US to minister with Carrie Jude Montgomery. She even for a short time she co-edited Triumphs of Faith. [3] She also regularly spoke at meetings in England at the Sunderland Pentecostal conventions of A.A. Boddy.[4] Prior to the organizing of the AG, she spent time ministering along side of F.F. Bosworth and S.A. Jamieson in Pentecostal Meetings in Texas.[5] Sisson was well known in early Pentecostal circles and was a regular guest at the Stone Church in Chicago.[6]

As a high profile evangelist and voice in Pentecostal literature, Sisson was invited to be the first woman to be a keynote speaker at a General Council when she gave the keynote address at the 1917 Council in St. Louis.[7] Later that year, she officially joined the AG at the age of seventy-four, despite her insistence that she did not need ordination ‘from man’.[8] Since the AG did not accept women as Presbyters, Sisson held no official office but she holds the distinction of the only woman to speak at General Council early years of the AG.[9]

She was a frequent contributor on eschatological topics to the many Pentecostal periodicals including the Confidence in England, Carrie Judd Montgomery’s Triumphs Of Faith, the Pentecostal Evangel and Latter Rain Evangel. The Evangel Publishing House published her book Foregleams of Glory in 1912, which contained a collection of her writings including a collection of ‘Resurrection Papers’.[10]  Sisson also became the first AG woman to have a doctrinal book published when GPH published her Faith Reminiscences as a part of the first series of books called The Pulpit and Pew Full Gospel Series that were offered in 1925.[11]

Sisson regularly wrote articles on the latter rain outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the return of Jesus, and her favorite eschatological topic was the resurrection.  She believed that not only was the Pentecostal movement a sign of the nearness of Jesus, but that Pentecostal people themselves were signs.  She says, ‘Pentecost with all its demonstrations of the Spirit is a sign. A mighty sign. And the Pentecostallers when yielded to the Holy Spirit are a sign people’.[12]

One important aspect of Sisson’s eschatology was the relationship that resurrection had to creation and Romans 8:19-20. She recognizes that the world is ‘groaningly anticipating a release form bondage into the liberty of the glory of God’s children’ and that ‘with resurrection is somehow involved the liberation of all creation’.[13] The creation, which was subject to sin and frustration, shares the fate of the human beings God created. The resurrection of believers therefore ‘ends creation’s wait, and begins creation’s deliverance from the bondage of sin into the liberty of the resurrection.[14]

Another significant eschatological concept in Sisson’s writing is the Tribulation. Reading Revelation in a literal sense, she believes the Tribulation will be an awful period in the future, but will not be empty of purpose. The tribulation period will be a time of purging for the Church, Israel and the nations. The coming judgment in the tribulation is not an act of vengeance, it is an act of his grace and love. Jesus came in love to the world as ‘remedy’ for sin, however, many did not receive this gift of his love. As part of God’s plan, the tribulation serves as a gift to the world. She says, ‘A new expression of his love! Judgment is His second remedy when His first has proved ineffectual’.[15]

More of Sisson’s eschatology will be featured in my dissertation. Sisson represents several firsts for the AG. Sisson as the first AG woman to publish a book on eschatology in her Foregleams of Glory in 1912.  She was the first woman to have spoken at General Council in 1917.  She was the first woman to have a doctrinal book published by the Gospel Publishing House in 1925.  Although women were not permitted to be pastors in the early years of the AG, Sisson was an influential woman that was highly respected.  A.G. Ward called Sisson ‘a rare Christian character, a woman deeply taught of God, and of wide Christian experience. Her articles are worthy of a place in the writings of the church’. I agree.

Darrin Rogers and the The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center has featured Sisson in several articles.

Sisson’s 1905 vision of a World Wide Revival

This Week in AG History

[1] Elizabeth Sisson, Foregleams of Glory (Chicago, IL: Evangel Publishing House, 1912), p. 126; Cecil M. Robeck Jr, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’ IDPCM, pp. 788-89; LRE (May, 1909), p. 6-10.

[2] Record of the International Conference on Divine Healing and True Holines, (London, UK: 1885), p. 74-75, 161-62.Sisson attended the 1885 Keswick Convention where she was exposed to Boardman and teaching on the latter rain teaching on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

[3] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 195-98.

[4] Confidence, (June, 1908), pp. 6-7.

[5] Confidence, (June, 1914), p. 110. See also Robeck, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’, pp. 788-789.

[6] The Latter Rain Evangel published over 70 of her sermons and articles, many of which she delivered at the Stone Church Pentecostal conventions.

[7] GC Minutes (Sept 9, 1917), p. 5. Sisson also spoke in response to a sermon by A.P. Collins on the Second Coming of the Lord where she remarked that she ‘left a letter at home directing what to do in case she should be caught up whilst away on her present trip’. p. 20.

[8] In Sisson’s application for ordination, when asked whom she is ordained by, she replies, ‘By the Lord’. ‘Application for Ordination’, (Dec 18, 1917), held at IFPHC, Springfield, MO.

[9] For more on the role of women in the early AG see Joy E. Qualls, ‘‘God Forgive Us for Being Women’: The Rhetorical Negotiations and Renegotiations of the Role of Women in the Assemblies of God’ Unpublished (PhD Thesis; Regent University, 2010) pp. 25, 161.

[10] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 9-88. Foregleams was a collection of sermons and articles published in the LRE from 1909-1912. Although an AG publishing house did not publish this work, I have included it with the criteria that the Latter Rain Evangel was so closely associated with the AG and because it predates the formation of the AG.

[11] Elizabeth Sisson, Faith Reminiscences and Heart to Heart Talks (Springfield MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1927). For a full list of this series see the ad in PE (Dec 17, 1927), p. 16.

[12] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘These Wars! Why?’ LRE (July, 1916), p. 16.

[13] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, p. 9.

[14] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 50-51.

[15] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘A Sign People’ PE (Jan 11, 1919).

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An Introduction to Pentecostal Theology by William K. Kay

I wanted to share this brief video featuring my Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. William K. Kay.  Kay is a renown professor of theology who holds multiple posts in several universities in the UK. He has written numerous books and a vast number of articles on Pentecostalism,  religious education, and practical theology. Kay was the founding director for the Centre for Pentecostal Theology at Bangor University, a program that has continued to produce a new generation of Pentecostal scholarship. In addition to his  achievements as a scholar, Professor Kay is also a wonderfully gracious man. I count myself so blessed to have been able to have been able to study under him.

Are These Signs of the Times?

I am sure I am not alone in feeling like there seems to be a uptick in the number of natural phenomenon in recent days.  This weekend Hurricane Irma is supposed to make landfall. Two weeks ago Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. Yesterday there was an 8.0 earthquake in Mexico.  Recently typhoons in Asia have caused massive flooding. And a month ago we got to witness a total solar eclipse in America.

With all of these events in such close proximity, it is very natural to ask, “What do these things mean? Are they signs of the times?”  Are these what Jesus talked about would take place before the end?   I think it is human nature for Christians to want to question in what way these things might be interpreted as signs. Is is judgment? Is it God telling us he is coming soon? Is it prophecy coming to pass? 

As a student of history and of eschatology I have had to come to terms with how to understand the “signs of the times”.  As I have read through 100 years of Pentecostal literature it is clear that they thought WWI, WWII, and other calamities of the twentieth century were signs of the end. They believed Jesus was coming soon.  Yet the end did not come. Were they wrong?

Let me suggest that there is an alternative way of understanding the significance of the ‘signs of the times’ that sees natural disasters in an eschatological sense without falling into the pitfalls of speculation and prediction that previous generations have suffered through.

We first must point out that ‘signs’ are by nature to be understood as symbols that point to something else. They are visual reminders of a truth or reality. In the case of Jesus’ prediction, the signs of wars, famines, and natural phenomenon point to the the fact that the end is near (Matt 24). However, though he said these signs would point to the end, it should be noted that he did not say these signs would ONLY take place at the end. Everything Jesus mentioned has been a regular part of the history of human experience.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning…” (Rom 8:22)

So in what way are they a sign? Are they a sign of God’s anger or judgement? Or that prophetic time is running out?  Paul tells us something different. He reminds us that Hurricane Irma is a symptom of a creation that has been “subjected to frustration”.  The effects of sin in the world has caused a “groaning” within creation. (Romans 8:19-22).  Many of these natural phenomenon we are seeing today are the result of the environmental conditions of the present day. There are natural reasons for what is happening. All of creation is groaning and suffering as a reminder that there will be an day when humanity AND creation will be redeemed. So these signs are reminders that creation is still in need of eschatological redemption.  

This leads us to the second thing to keep in mind.  Events like this make us ask, “Is the end near?”  But the Scriptures clearly tell us that we are living in the last days. This is true even if there were no natural disasters.  On the day of Pentecost, Peter declared, “In the last days I will pour out My Spirit” says the Lord (Acts 2:17).  So technically, the “last days” began 2000 years ago.  We have always been in the last days!  When previous generations looked at the signs and determined the end was near, they were right.  When we look at the signs, we get the sense that the end is near as well. Because it is! Jesus is still coming and redemption is still near.

I think it is natural for us to want to assign a significance of natural disasters.  But we need to be cautious. God is not picking on Florida or Houston. He is not sending a message to America. When Christians say these calamities are about judgment, we minimize the suffering of those to whom it happens. Instead, we should see natural disasters as a reminder to us that creation has been effected by sin.  We still live in a world where people suffer, where nature is dangerous, and where there is loss and pain.  But Jesus promised he will come again and he will reverse the curse upon his creation.  Every ‘groan’ is a reminder of that promise. As I watch anxiously this weekend the destruction of Hurricane Irma, my soul joins with all creation in ‘groaning’ for a day when creation will finally be at peace. 

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22)

 

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 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.

color line

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.

bishop-c-1-h-mason-709x1024

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.