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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. ...

Celebration and Challenge

By John W. Kennedy
Oct. 12, 2014

Thousands of people from 120 nations descended on Springfield, Mo., in August to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Assemblies of God.

U.S. Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood commented that the Aug. 7-10 gathering achieved its purposes of serving as a celebration, a revival, and a great missions convention.

“Everything we prayed for happened,” said Wood, who also serves as chairman of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship.

A two-day global church-planting summit as well as the triennial WAGF meeting preceded the four-day centennial celebration.

A total of 2,750 AG superintendents, pastors, missionaries and other visitors came from abroad.

Many of the overseas delegates trekked to Middle America to see what they consider the birthplace of their spiritual roots. Foreign visitors who had never been to the U.S. made the pilgrimage to pay homage to missionaries who evangelized their countries.

Soon after its 1914 founding in Hot Springs, Ark., the AG migrated to Springfield for the long haul. Leaders settled on the city as headquarters for the Fellowship 96 years ago following temporary stops in Findlay, Ohio, and St. Louis.

In a highly energized choreographed introduction on the opening night of the celebration, the six members of the U.S. Assemblies of God executive leadership team walked to a square stage in the center of Missouri State University’s JQH Arena and succinctly described glories of the Fellowship’s past and hopes for the future.

During a 16-minute video before his opening night keynote address, Wood traced the history of the AG to its early days in Springfield, citing the importance of intercessors Rachel Sizelove and Amanda Benedict even before the Fellowship formed. In storytelling video segments, Wood — who lived in Springfield as a boy — visited local sites of foundational prayer and revival meetings, headquarters buildings, and graves of denominational pioneers.

“God works through the intercession, the prayers, and the fasting of His people,” Wood said. “We must not relegate that to something that happened in the past.”

Wood commended inaugural General Superintendent E.N. Bell for faithfully and prayerfully trusting God’s provision for the fledgling Movement.

“We need to assess what we’re doing in the kingdom of God not by how much money we have or don’t have in the bank, but by how much trust and faith in God that we have and whether we are willing to believe in Him anew for provision,” Wood said.

Throughout the event, multiple speakers, both international and domestic, congratulated the AG for mushrooming to more than 67.5 million adherents and 366,105 churches in a century. The vast majority of the growth has occurred during the past 50 years. In 1964, the AG worldwide had nearly 2.2 million adherents attending 25,467 churches.

Various leaders expressed gratitude to God for allowing the AG to thrive in their cities or nations. The roster of speakers came from every corner of the globe, including Yong Mok Cho of South Korea, Juan Carlos Escobar and José María Romo of Spain, Barnabas Mtokambali of Tanzania, David Mohan and Ivan Satyavrata of India, Dominic Yeo of Singapore, Max Schläpfer of Switzerland, Dishan Wickramaratne of Sri Lanka, Rey Calusay of the Philippines, and José Wellington of Brazil. 

Most of the evening speakers came from the U.S., including Wilfredo De Jesús, pastor of the largest AG congregation in the nation, New Life Covenant in Chicago. De Jesús sounded a common theme among speakers, calling for the AG to step up to do more to meet the needs of a hurting world. He reviewed problems plaguing humanity, including hunger, suicide, poverty, war and lack of clean water.

It is the Church’s responsibility to be where hurting people are, De Jesús said. Jesus moved to those unlike Him, talking with them, sharing a meal with them, he noted.

Church leaders must facilitate equipping and sending out congregants, De Jesús said.

“Our strength in the Fellowship is in laypeople,” De Jesús said. “We must empower our people to fill in the gaps.”

De Jesús noted it took Nehemiah 52 days to rally other laypeople to build the walls of Jerusalem, a task in which religious leaders had languished for 23 years.

God is looking for men, women and young people willing to risk their lives and plug breaches today, De Jesús said.

New Life Covenant has 130-plus ministries reaching the most disenfranchised, including the homeless, drug addicts, and gang members. In the past 12 years, the church has rescued more than 500 women from prostitution and sex trafficking.

Over 6,800 people attended a powerful closing service at the celebration. Rebecca Grant Shults, founder of Rescue Arts, a ministry of healing for survivors of exploitation and trauma, urged attendees to depend on the Holy Spirit rather than self-reliance.

She noted that Christians must recognize the world is changing, and although younger people may be spiritual seekers, many are following wrong choices beyond Jesus ranging from psychics to yoga.

“We must again attempt things that only God can do,” said Shults, who lives in India. “The gospel of comfort and security will not bring hope to an aching world. We will follow Jesus with reserve — or abandon.”

The service wrapped up on a somber and challenging note from Dick Brogden, who has served the past two decades planting churches among the unreached.

Brogden passionately and boldly preached a discomforting and sometimes scathing message that evoked repeated applause as well as collective moans. Much of the sermon chastised Western Christians for complacency.

“There is hope for the Assemblies of God only if we again unite in taking the gospel — at immense cost — to the people and places where the gospel has not yet gone,” Brogden warned. “We won’t change the world because we are strong. We won’t reach the nations because we are many. We won’t evangelize the lost because we are rich.”

Pentecostal power isn’t found in signs and wonders or ecstatic utterances, but rather in the abiding presence of Jesus, according to Brogden, the son of U.S. Pentecostal missionaries to Africa.

Brogden also declared the dominant point of the global church has shifted from the U.S., which is laden with the weight of wealth. Opulent buildings, performance-minded musicians, or arrogant posturing shouldn’t define Pentecostalism, he said.

“Do not think we can be fully obedient by resourcing the martyrdom of our friends from the comfort of our ivory palaces,” Brogden asserted.

Brogden called for a unified effort to evangelize those who have not heard the gospel.

“We must witness and suffer and live and die in the most unstable of locations, that Christ might eternally win the hearts of unreached peoples,” said Brogden, who has been jailed for his faith. Finishing the missionary task isn’t confined to  supporting existing national churches or staffing indigenous institutions, he said.

“The culmination of mission for us is not Christians traveling land and sea to minister in one another’s churches,” Brogden stated. “Missions cannot biblically or logically be Christians blessing other Christians.”

A lack of missionary efforts into unsafe areas results from laziness, fear or disobedience to God, Brogden charged. Americans shouldn’t be willing to send their children as soldiers into war zones while unwilling to send them to the same places as missionaries, he said.

Brogden also excoriated pastors and churches for failing to give munificently to support missions.

“You cannot in truth be part of this Fellowship if your budget does not prioritize the mission of God in the uttermost places of earth,” Brogden proclaimed. “If you are a Christian pastor, missionary or leader, and you personally do not sacrificially give and pray and fast that unreached peoples might be reached with the gospel, you may carry an Assemblies of God credential in your wallet, but that card is closer to your stomach than it is the heart of God.”

The AG is at a crossroads of committing to church planting among unreached peoples or being relegated to the dustbin of church history, Brogden predicted.

He expressed doubts that massive growth will continue in the AG’s immediate future. Citing in rapid-fire succession New Testament examples of Christians facing prison, beatings, and martyrdom for their faith, Brogden suggested suffering for Jesus’ sake should be normal reality. Likewise, the church’s customary cyclical pattern should be growth followed by persecution, he said.

“We must have our cross before we gain our resurrection,” Brogden said. “Where do we get the audacity to think that any church experiences unbroken success or peace until the return of our Lord?” 

Brogden forecast the AG’s imminent future as one of suffering, which will entail losing titles, tax exemption, wealth, comforts, cultural respect, and earthly influence.

“If the price of world evangelization is our own decline and demise, shall we not willingly, joyfully pay it?” Brogden asked.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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