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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Why the Assemblies of God Exists

By George O. Wood
Apr. 13, 2014

We rejoice as the Assemblies of God celebrates its centennial year! We have so many reasons to be grateful to the Lord for His blessing upon our Fellowship.

It was my privilege to serve as the drafting author for the 1993 General Council Spiritual Life Committee report. I have taken the liberty to draw principally from that report for the following observations. I cannot think of a better way to state what we are all about as we journey through this very special year.

One hundred years have gone by since the Holy Spirit launched this Movement in Hot Springs, Ark. This centennial year provides us with a season to remember, reflect, and renew the course laid out for us in the original call that formed our Fellowship. Why, in the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit’s direction, were we brought into being?

Perhaps the floods that sometimes occur in the spring months provide a helpful analogy. A downpour of revival, like natural rain, may produce flood-tide conditions. If the water escapes the boundaries appointed for it, destruction runs rampant. With the early rain of Azusa Street and all its companions, it became evident that if the revival was to have long-lasting productive consequences it needed some scriptural order lest it jump the banks of biblical teaching and organization, ruining the very harvest for which the water had been sent.

The Assemblies of God was not begun in a drought. The early pioneers did not say, “Let’s dig channels of organization in this dry land in order to contain the rain if God ever sends it.” Oh no! God had sent the rain — and our Movement was formed because so much water had come down! We knew the rain would only be useful if it stayed within the confines of doctrine and principle from Scriptures.

The Azusa Street Revival continued for but three years, 1906-09. The revival we call the Assemblies of God is now 100 years old. The difference in the duration of the two revivals may be attributed both to the sovereignty of God and the practical wisdom that guided our founders’ insistence that organization, by itself, is not an enemy of revival.

So, let’s take a moment and review the five reasons for calling the first General Council. Those reasons appeared in the Dec. 20, 1913, issue of the Word and Witness, one of the predecessor publications to our current Pentecostal Evangel. This call established the exact trajectory upon which this Movement was appointed to follow by the Holy Spirit. Here they are, with the original words in italics, and my comments to follow.

1. Unity

First — We come together that we may get a better understanding of what God would have us teach, that we may do away with so many divisions, both in doctrines and in the various names under which our Pentecostal people are working and incorporating. Let us come together as in Acts 14, to study the Word, and pray with and for each other — unity our chief aim.

Something that has tried and continues to try to undermine the vitality of Pentecostal revival is doctrinal instability. Persons arise who twist Scripture, or place personal revelation above God’s written Word. This Pentecostal revival has been riven with heretical wave after heretical wave. Against all of these, the Assemblies of God has stood like a doctrinal Rock of Gibraltar, anchored to the eternal Word.

We believe that God’s Spirit never goes where His Word does not. We believe that the main things in the Bible are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. We believe Jesus is Savior, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, Healer and Soon-Coming King.

We have been lambasted by others for being non-Spirit led when we have not eaten at the table of supposed revivals, loaded as they are with the meringue of personality and spiritual excess rather than the plain meat of God’s Word. So be it! If criticism is the price we must pay for asking the question “What does the Lord say in His written Word?” then let us wear that criticism as a sign of fidelity to Christ.

The Assemblies of God never set out to be a tent large enough for heresy. Our unity was never based on experience alone — but our commitment to God’s unchanging and alive Word!

In that first General Council, we committed ourselves irrevocably to the understanding that God gave the holy inspired Scriptures “as the all-sufficient rule for faith and practice ... and we therefore shall not add to nor take from it.” 

At the same time, we must avoid the error of a doctrinal scholasticism, which practices rigid orthodoxy, but lacks Pentecostal results in people being won to Christ. The focus of Acts 1:8 is that we are empowered to witness. The experience of Acts 2:4 gives us that power. Let’s never disconnect Acts 1:8 from Acts 2:4!

2. Conservation

Second — Again we come together that we may know how to conserve the work, that we may all build up and not tear down, both in home and foreign lands.

Those who called for the first General Council to meet bore the brunt of heavy criticism. There were some who felt any organization tolled the death of Pentecostal revival. As one brother put it, “I feel before God that we are on the wrong track. God has brought us out of Popery, and for Jesus’ sake, let’s not go back in.”

But, prior to Hot Springs, our first general superintendent, E.N. Bell, then editor of Word and Witness, gave patient and careful explanation for the call to an organizational meeting in the March 20, 1914, edition. He outlined the evils of uncontrolled independence within the Pentecostal Movement: doctrinal instability, cliques grouped around outstanding leaders, chaotic conditions in local assemblies, failure to conform to state laws regarding ownership of property, inequities in monetary support, and unscrupulous persons taking advantage of the simplicity and vulnerability of unorganized congregations.

He argued these abuses of fragmentation could be corrected through unified effort, and that positive good would come to the kingdom of God by pooling resources for establishing schools, publishing enterprises, and missionary work.

In his history of the Assemblies of God, the late William Menzies wrote: “The appeal for organization was based on what advocates called ‘Bible order.’ They argued that God, by His nature, was a God of order. First Corinthians 14:40, ‘Let all things be done decently and in order,’ an injunction nestled in the heart of a favorite Pentecostal passage, served as a key text in those crucial days. Advocates of organization pointed to the marshaling of Old Testament saints as they journeyed by cloud and fire through the Sinai wilderness. They argued that the arrangement of tribal units around the tabernacle, and in the line of march, was strong testimony to the inherent need for order in human affairs, even though there be divine direction. Through such methodological structure, the ragtag slaves of Egypt were transformed into a terrible army, triumphant as they marched in disciplined columns into the Promised Land.”1

This “com[ing] together that we may know how to conserve the work” has brought about the sense of cooperative fellowship. Even a singular Christian does not live his or her experience alone — but in fellowship with the local church; so also we believe that a local church does not function best on its own, but in a condition and spirit of interdependence and cooperation with other congregations of like belief and mission.

The early pioneers in our Movement clearly tilted away from the “Lone Ranger” philosophy of church life. They knew that God’s people are always weak and vulnerable when everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes.

So, “they came together.” One hundred years later, we ask the question: “Is their purpose being achieved? Has the work of God been conserved? Both at home and abroad, has the cause of Jesus Christ been built up?” The resounding answer is: “Yes, Yes, Yes!” We live today in an anti-organizational mentality no less virulent than the go-it-aloners of Pentecost in the early part of the 20th century.

Many religious and secular sources are heralding the end of denominations — that loyalties of congregants today attach to the local church rather than to such broad movements as our own. While there is much truth to this — we want members to be loyal to their own local church — the fact is we have proven we are better together.

Whenever people are gathered around a human personality, that church often fails when the personality exits. In our Movement, we have called no man “Father.” We are grouped around tested Bible principles, not human personality.

3. World Missions

Third — We come together for another reason, that we may get a better understanding of the needs of each foreign field, and may know how to place our money in such a way that one mission or missionary shall not suffer, while another not any more worthy, lives in luxuries. Also that we may discourage wasting money on those who are running here and there accomplishing nothing, and may concentrate our support on those who mean business for our King.

Missions is at the very heart and soul of our Movement. In the early hours of this Fellowship, our spiritual grandfathers and grandmothers pledged us to do the greatest work of evangelism the world has ever seen.

We associated the baptism in the Spirit not just with an illumined inner experience, but also with power to bear witness to the whole world. We understood that a local church, by itself, could not do the work of missions. Thus, early on, we established a Division of Foreign Missions, and later U.S. Missions. These are agencies through which our finances flow, and out of which has come a stream of missionaries to sow the seed of the gospel on the soils of the nations.

God has given us success beyond our wildest dreams: a constituency that now numbers over 360,000 churches and more than 66 million believers.

The enemy will do everything possible to destroy this fruitfulness — so let us beware of tactics he uses among us:

(1) De-emphasis on missions. Churches, pastors, and boards face many pressing local needs. An easy alternative in addressing these needs is to cut the missionary budget. While we must pay attention to our own Jerusalems and Judeas — the Lord has never lifted the call ordering us into Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world. In a day of unparalleled open doors and unreached peoples, we must resist the devil’s suggestion to lighten up on our obedience to the Great Commission.

(2) Complacency. Many of our churches contribute nothing or little to missions. How can a church identify itself as Pentecostal and be so neglectful? May the Holy Spirit quicken all our hearts to realize a primary reason for our existence is to reach the world for Christ both locally and globally!

(3) Waste. Many churches increasingly reallocate their missions dollars for lay ministry trips or benevolence projects. These are important; but the Church is not built unless we put boots on the ground, missionaries who learn the language and the culture. There is no substitute for the effectiveness of placing a missionary in his or her appointed field of service — whether it be world missions or U.S. missions. As in 1914, we need to continue to “discourage wasting money on those who are running here and there accomplishing nothing.”

Imagine if God gave one of us the ability to travel back in time to the 1914 General Council and testify that those 300 charter members, 100 years later, are a worldwide Fellowship that is believing God, in our 2014 Centennial Celebration, to be at 500,000 churches and 100 million believers by 2020! They would be thrilled. (A few might even say, “You could have done better!”)

As we celebrate this Centennial, let’s have that attitude that the past is but a prelude to the “immeasurably more” the Lord wants to do through us until He comes!

4. Legal Basis

Many of the saints have felt the need of chartering the Churches of God in Christ, putting them on a legal basis, and thus obeying the laws of the land.

Incorporating the local churches seems to be the least spiritual and most mundane of the reasons which called the first General Council to assemble. But revival movements are called also to be practical and subservient to laws that do not infringe upon obedience to God.

The legal issues facing our founders were simple — the need for establishing themselves in accordance with state or local statutes. However, the legal concerns pressing upon churches today are far more complex. It is imperative that each of our churches recognizes the importance legal education plays in (1) reducing the risks of injury to others, and (2) eliminating the prospect of court judgments that could result in great spiritual and financial damage to the church.

We especially urge our churches to carefully screen those who work with children and youth. Sexual abusers have increasingly infiltrated church programs because often churches are less rigorous in scrutinizing the backgrounds of volunteers. A single case of child abuse by a church worker, whether paid or volunteer, brings great injury to not only the child — but also reproach to the cause of Christ.

We encourage officers and board members of our churches to understand their fiduciary duties of due care and loyalty incumbent upon them as local leaders in the work of God, to increase their awareness of their own legal responsibilities, and to fulfill with all diligence the obligations placed upon them by the government.

We note also that many of our churches, prior to Hot Springs, were identified as the Churches of God in Christ. We remain grateful to today’s Church of God in Christ for its early partnership with the Assemblies of God, with many of the first credentialed AG ministers transferring from COGIC. Founding Bishop Charles Mason traveled to Hot Springs to bless the formation of the Assemblies of God, and we are grateful that in these latter days our fellowship with one another is being renewed.

5. Education

We may have a proposition to lay before the body for a general Bible Training School with a literary department for our people.

The first General Council did not produce such a school — but it is clear from the beginning that our Movement recognized the need to prepare the next generation for Christian service, should Jesus tarry.

One-third of our 3.1 million adherents in the United States are under the age of 25. Will there be a successful hand off to the next Pentecostal generation, or will we fail to take seriously our responsibility?

From what reserve will we draw the next supply of pastors, preachers, missionaries, evangelists, staff pastors, and the entire range of credentialed ministers? How effectively will we equip our youth for service to Jesus in the marketplace? These are urgent questions.

I am especially concerned over the high school graduates who are ready to enter the work force or college and university. The Assemblies of God graduates about 60,000 high school seniors every year. Are we conserving them for the Lord and His Church?

Of special focus for me are the AG’s 17 endorsed colleges and universities and our Chi Alpha missionaries. These are the agencies preparing the next ministerial and lay leadership in the Assemblies of God. I am passionate about this.

I believe I could leave this world delighted if every Assemblies of God church were taking its top student or students and helping scholarship them to attend an Assemblies of God college or university — as well as generously supporting our schools — and if every Assemblies of God church were supporting with prayer and finances a Chi Alpha missionary.

There are 4,000 colleges and universities in America, but only a little over 300 Chi Alpha chapters. What if there was a Chi Alpha chapter on every one of those 4,000 campuses — what a difference it would make for America and the kingdom of God! And what a difference it would make if our churches wholeheartedly supported our schools so that our finest and best could attend without accumulating large debts.

There are no institutions on earth that better prepare young people for service to Christ and His Church than our AG schools and Chi Alpha chapters. Especially in our endorsed schools, students gain an integration of faith and learning that cannot be obtained elsewhere. We must continue to produce a generation whose lives are characterized by knowledge on fire with the Holy Spirit.

Our Pentecostal fathers and mothers understood the importance of preparing the next generation. There is no higher priority for our Movement than mobilizing our resources to prepare our young people for effective ministry in the 21st century.

1 William W. Menzies, Anointed to Serve: The Story of the Assemblies of God (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1971), 95, 96.

DR. GEORGE O. WOOD is the 12th general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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