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.

Advertisements

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.

 

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.

P1799

AG Superintendant E.S. Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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.

P1799

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.

A Timeline of Assemblies of God Doctrinal Books

The primary emphasis of my research this Summer has been to find and develop a chronological timeline of all of the Assemblies of God books that discuss AG doctrine.  Gospel Publishing House has produced works for Pentecostal minsters and lay people nearly from the beginning of the AG.  Soon after the AG began, GPH published tracts on various topics that were advertised in the PE and available to purchase.  A decade later, various books were beginning to emerge from the press.  They have continued to produce materials for the Assemblies of God.

My research has been focused on collecting the rescources that attempt to articulate  Assemblies of God doctrine.   These books, I believe, will tell the story of the development of our doctrine as our leaders attempted to flesh out the truths included in the Statement of Fundamental Truths that was adopted in 1916.  It is this pivotal relationship between the bible doctrine and the fundamental truths that I hope to investigate.

In doing so I have a running timeline of resources produced by the Gospel Publishing House on the topics of Bible Doctrine & Fundamentals and a list of resources on Eschatology.  For those interested in this topic, I thought I would share my list.  Perhaps it will benefit your research as well.  If you know of any others, please comment so I can add them to my list.

A couple observations from developing this timeline:

  • The first full bible doctrine book was produced 20 years after the AG wrote its Statement of Fundamental truths.  The first systematic theology was written nearly 40 years after the AG started.  Although there were many article about various doctrinal or bible truths in the Pentecostal Evangel, very little was produced as a comprehensive understanding of the theology of the AG.  Consequently, not much has been done in the second half of the century either. P.C. Nelson’s Bible Doctrines, first written in 1936, is still used as a text for new AG minister today.  Only two new works on doctrine have been produced in the past 30 years despite the explosion of Assemblies of God ministers & educators holding post-graduate degrees.
  • Works on eschatology were some of the first books produced by GPH.  Frank Boyd was by far the most influential eschatological writer in the period of 1925-1960.  Horton carried the eschatological tradition forward from 1960 to the present. Since 1975, despite the popularity of books on the End Times, there have only been five books on eschatology published by GPH and four of them were by Stanley Horton.

It’s unclear what all this means at this point. This is the task of this dissertation. I am attempting to construct a narrative of the development of Assemblies of God doctrine with particular emphasis on its eschatology.  This is the fun part of this PhD journey.  I hope I am enjoying it just as much 4 years from now.

Bible Doctrines Timeline

1926 – Pillars of Truth – S. A. Jamieson

1927 – Fundamentals of the Faith – D. W. Kerr

1936 – Bible Doctrines – P. C. Nelson (SWBC edition)

1937 – Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible – Myer Pearlman

1948 – Pentecostal Truth – Pearlman and Boyd

1948 – Bible Doctrines – P. C. Nelson (GPH edition)

1953 – Systematic Theology E. S. Williams

1954 – We Believe…A Comprehensive Statement of Christian Faith Riggs – GPH

1954 – What My Church Believes: Assemblies of God Cornerstone series book two Ralph Riggs GPH

1955 – Into All Truth – Stanley M. Horton GPH

1963 – Our Faith and Fellowship – Ralph W. Harris – Teacher’s Manual

1963 – Fundamentals of the Faith Donald Johns – Teachers Manual

1973 – We Hold these Truths – Zenas J. Bicket – GPH

1977 – Our Faith and Our Fellowship – G. Raymond Carlson GPH

1980 – Understanding Our Doctrine – William Menzies

1993 – Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective – Menzies & Horton Logion

1994 – Systematic Theology – Ed. Stanley M. Horton

Eschatology Book Timeline

1925 – The Budding Fig Tree – Frank Boyd

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

1928? – Jesus coming at hand (collection of articles) GPH

1937 – The Path of Prophecy – Ralph M. Riggs*

1948 – Introduction to Prophecy – Frank Boyd

1948 – Studies in Revelation – J. Narver Gortner* intro by Frank Boyd

1950s – Signs of the Times – Frank Boyd

1955 – Ages and Dispensations – Frank Boyd

1959 – Waiting… C.M. Ward (evidential)

1962 – God’s Calendar of Coming Events – Riggs

1963 – Bible Prophecy – Stanley Horton (teachers manual)

1963 – Dispensational Studies – Ralph Riggs*

1967 – Promise of His Coming – Stanley Horton

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

1968 – Prophetic Light – Frank Boyd

1968 – The Story of the Future – Ralph Riggs

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

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

1977 – God’s Plan for this Planet – Ian Macpherson (GPH)

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

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

1991 – The Ultimate Victory – Stanley Horton

1995 – Bible Prophecy: Understanding Future Events – Stanley Horton*

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

(Image is an advertisement for GPH’s first Prophecy book in the Pentecostal Evangel in 1927)

Boyd Budding fig Tree Advertisement PE 1926_01_02