Were Early AG Leaders Anti-Intellectual?

From the beginning, the Pentecostal movement had a careful relationship with theology and the pursuit of education. Even today, many of my educated AG pastor friends are often frustrated with the way in which people within our fellowship are suspicious of education.  Roger Olsen speaks of the these attitudes.  He says, ‘Endemic to Pentecostalism is a profoundly anti-intellectual ethos. It is manifested in a deep suspicion of scholars and educators and especially biblical scholars and theologians.’[1] Some early Pentecostals rejected the need for education because they believed the Holy Spirit and the power of God was a greater validation of ministry than human approval. Elizabeth Sisson, a veteran missionary and evangelist who joined the AG in 1917, rejected the notion that she needed any credentials, education, or degrees to validate her ministry. She remarked,

You might hold all the offices of the church, and append to your name all the letters of the alphabet bestowed by all the universities of Europe and America, but these things of the power and learning and intellect of man will not release the demon oppressed, will not heal the sick, etc. But praise God, through the simple believer, under the power of the Holy Ghost, these things are wrought.[3]

Sisson’s application for credentials with the AG reveal this sentiment. When asked ‘have you been ordained and by whom?’ on the application, Sisson responds, ‘By the Lord.’

The problem with education for many Pentecostals was not the pursuit of knowledge; it was education at the expense of simple faith in Jesus and the Scriptures. The main concern was the way in which seminaries were indoctrinating its clergy in Higher Criticism. Denominational seminaries were believed to be guilty anti-supernatural bias the sought to ‘tear the blessed Book of Life to pieces’.[8]   A.G. Jeffries, a British AG evangelist, describes the situation.

For fifty years the American people have been cursed with head, and starved for heart preaching. Many churches have demanded of their ministers a classical education before ordination, and have made little or no demands of them along spiritual lines. It has been all head and no heart, and this very thing has brought on a spiritual dearth that has been and is appalling indeed.[4]

The return to heart Christianity over head Christianity was part of the lure of the Pentecostal faith.  Because of this, many late 19th Century evangelicals turned to the Bible School model where they emphasized spiritual formation as well as knowledge. Many early Bible schools boasted of having ‘No book but the Bible’ and ‘No teacher but the Holy Spirit.’

The reaction to modernism and education did not necessarily mean that Pentecostals were anti-education.  This is certainly the case when one looks at  Assemblies of God leaders.  Some of the most prominent early leaders of the AG were themselves educated in colleges and seminaries. These were not lay-theologians who were articulating a populist Pentecostal theology. [5] E. N. Bell, a well-educated Southern Baptist Pastor, held a bachelors degree from Stetson University and a seminary degree from Theological Seminary in Louisville  as well as spent 3 years at University of Chicago. J.R. Flower was not trained in theology but spent two years preparing for law career in Indianapolis. S. A. Jamieson was a ‘scholarly’ Presbyterian minister who spent nine years in Wabash College and Lane Theological Seminary.[6] Arch P. Collins did his training at Baylor University. T. K. Leonard spent two years at Findlay College, a Church of God institution. P. C. Nelson was trained at Denison University and later Rochester Theological Seminary where he trained under Augustus H. Strong.[7]

The first AG Bible school where subjects were taught including OT and NT interpretation, Church History, and Homiletics.

The relatively high level of education in many of the early AG leaders was vital to the preservation of the fellowship through several theological debates that took place in the first decade. These leaders had to formulate a doctrinal statement, defend the orthodox views of the Trinity, and articulate their Pentecostal distinctive.  Their ability to articulate sound theological views was greatly helped by the education they brought with them into the fellowship.

While some  still have the attitude that education is detrimental to Pentecostal Spirituality, there is a legacy in the AG of educated ministers and a commitment to higher education. In a future post I will share a bit about AG education and the origin of AG Bible schools. Hopefully this post is a reminder that attitudes about Pentecostals should always be understood in context.  While it is true that anti-education sentiment was part of early Pentecostalism, it certainly was not the whole story.  The AG benefitted greatly from the education level of many of its founders and early leaders.  It is part of our history. It is a part that I am grateful for and hope will continue to be important for this generation.

 

[1] Roger E. Olsen, ‘Pentecostalism’s Dark Side’ Christian Century (Mar 7, 2006), p. 27. See also Paul Lewis, ‘Why have Scholars Left Classical Pentecostal Denominations?’ AJPS, 11:1 (2008), pp. 69-86; William W. Menzies, Anointed to Serve (GPH 1971)p. 141.

[2] Sisson’s application for credentials reveal this sentiment. When asked ‘have you been ordained and by whom?’ on the application, Sisson responds, ‘By the Lord.’

[3] Elizabeth Sission, ‘The Coming Glory’ PE, (Nov 26, 1927), p. 2.

[4] A.G. Jeffries, ‘The Limit of Divine Revelation’ PE (Mar 18, 1916), p. 6.

[5] Spittler argues that ‘The tradition survives, however, in classical Pentecostal circles of esteemed pastors and church leaders producing doctrinal expressions.’ Spittler, ‘Theological Style,’ pg 299.

[6] S. A. Jamieson, ‘How a Presbyterian Preacher Received the Baptism’ PE (Jan 31, 1931) p. 2, Brumback, Like A River, pg 136.

[7] Gary B. McGee, ‘Nelson, Peter Christopher’ in Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements Ed. Stanley Burgess & Gary B. McGee (Grand Rapids, MI: 1988), 636-637.

[8] PE (Jan 20, 1920), p. 8.

[9] ‘Announcement of Bible School’ CE (Feb 24, 1917), p. 14.

[10] PE (Jan 10, 1920), p. 8; PE (Jul 10, 1920), p. 2; Brumback, Like A River, p. 87.

[11] ‘Pentecostal Bible Schools’ PE, (Mar 19, 1921), p. 9.

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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.

 

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.

tarry

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