More Than Evangelical The Evolving Theological Identity Of The Assemblies Of God

More Than Evangelical  The Evolving Theological Identity Of The Assemblies Of God

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“More Than Evangelical”:

The Challenge of the Evolving Theological Identity

of the Assemblies of God*

Gary B. McGee

In the cauldron of doctrinal controversy at the sixth national gathering of the General Council of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Missouri in 1918, the delegates announced as their “distinctive testimony” that speaking in tongues represents the uniform “initial physical sign” of the post-conversion experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit. In so doing, they voiced the sentiments of the large majority of Pentecostals who had in- sisted since the inception of the Pentecostal Movement at the turn of the twentieth century that glossolalic utterance marked the inauguration of the Spirit-filled Christian life. Eventually this became known as the doctrine of “initial physical evidence” or simply “initial evidence.” This essay briefly reflects on selected features of the doctrinal self-understanding of the Assemblies of God and recent concerns about its theological identity.

Commission of End-times Evangelism

Pentecostals saw themselves as an end-times movement raised up by God to evangelize the world before the imminent return of Jesus Christ.

* This essay was originally part of a Hartford Seminary Foundation study. We are grate- ful to David A. Roozen for his approval and assistance in obtaining it for publication. We are also grateful to the William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for permission to publish this essay in advance of its appearance next year in a volume that currently has the working title: Denominational Identities in Unsettled Times: Theology, Structure and Change, edited by David A. Roozen and James Nieman (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004).

© 2003 Brill Academic Publishers, Inc., Boston pp. 289–300


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Forming new denominations, like the ones they had left or been forced out of, was the last thing on their minds. Cold ritual, the “Social Gospel,” and arid discussions on theological issues had no place on their agenda. A common goal to proclaim the Good News in the power of the Spirit knit them together. But despite the idealized sense of unity that prevailed, quarrels over correct doctrine quickly divided them, revealing how seriously they considered scriptural teaching and authority. As early as 1906, they parted ways over the absolute requirement of tongues for Spirit baptism. Four years later in 1910, the house again divided over the nature of sanc- tification. Then in 1913 another major dispute arose over the biblical understanding of the Godhead. An excessive use of biblical literalism, mixed with the Jesus-centered piety of the Holiness movement, prompted a march of events that climaxed in a division between trinitarian and “Jesus Name” or “Oneness” Pentecostals. Hardest hit by the controversy was the Assemblies of God.1

In order to affix the stamp of historic Christian belief (especially that in the Trinity) on the public perception of its name, the “General Council” approved the “Statement of Fundamental Truths” in 1916, just two years after its incorporation. The “Statement” pledges allegiance to orthodox teachings to preserve the doctrinal integrity of the organization and avoid the charge of heresy from the wider Christian community. It maps out common ground shared with other conservative Christians, while the teachings on Spirit baptism, the availability of the charismatic gifts in the contemporary life and mission of the church (1 Cor. 12:7-11), and divine healing (usually referred to by outsider observers as “faith healing”) explain the distance between them.2 Even though the Council adopted the creedal declaration with reluctance, the times demanded a forthright expo- sition of doctrine.3 It was their hope that the trinitarian statement would


See E. N. Bell, “The Sad New Issue,” Weekly Evangel, June 5, 1915, 1, 3. Interest- ingly, Bell noted that “[b]aptism was often administered only in the name of Christ in the older part of this [Apostolic Faith] movement in Kansas and Texas, but there never was any issue in the movement, before now, raised over it” (3).


Largely drafted by Daniel W. Kerr, a former pastor with the Christian and Missionary Alliance who joined the Assemblies of God, it reveals an almost wholesale borrowing of Alliance teachings and reflects the influence of the latter on first-generation Assemblies of God leaders. Charles W. Nienkirchen analyzes this legacy in A. B. Simpson and the Pentecostal Movement (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992). See also Russell P. Spittler, “Are Pentecostals and Charismatics Fundamentalists? A Review of American Uses of These Categories,” in Charismatic Christianity as a Global Culture, ed. Karla Poewe (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1994), 103-16.3

The disclaimer in the original preface to the Statement of Fundamental Truths contra-



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also limit the further antagonizing of Evangelical Christians whose mis- givings about Pentecostals had been stridently negative.4

Like the larger Pentecostal movement, the Assemblies of God finds its heritage in the family photo album of Evangelical revivalism and the nineteenth-century Holiness movement. The frames include the Trinity, the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible, the lostness of human- kind, redemption through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, the resurrection of Christ, Spirit baptism as an event in the believer’s life subsequent to conversion, and the premillennial ver- sion of the “Blessed Hope.” With other Pentecostals, Assemblies of God believers summed up their unique beliefs with the term “full gospel” (Jesus Christ as Savior, Healer, Baptizer [in the Holy Spirit], and Coming King), which highlighted salvation by grace, divine healing, Spirit baptism (with tongues), and the soon return of Jesus Christ.5

This christocentric orientation had characterized teachings in various wings of the Holiness and healing movements. Well before the close of the nineteenth century, the popularity of Wesleyan Holiness and the Reformed revivalist “Higher Life” teachings had generated interest in the baptism and gifts of the Spirit. Wesleyan Holiness preachers told their hearers that a crisis experience of sanctification, the “second blessing,” would instan- taneously eradicate their sinful dispositions and elevate them to a new plateau of Christian living. Higher Life advocates, sharing the notion of a second work of grace, but avoiding the “sinless perfection” of the Wesleyans, preferred to look at it as “full consecration” that empowered them for evangelism.6 By the end of the century, both camps chose to use

dicts its actual creedal function and immediate application at the time for the credentialing of ministers: “This . . . is not intended as a creed for the Church, nor as a basis of fellowship among Christians, but only as a basis of unity for the ministry alone (i.e., that we all speak the same thing 1 Cor. 1:10; Acts 2:42). 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”; Combined Minutes of the General Council of the Assemblies of God, 1914-1917, 12.4

See Grant A. Wacker, “Travail of a Broken Family: Radical Evangelical Responses to the Emergence of Pentecostalism in America, 1906-1916,” in Pentecostal Currents in American Protestantism, ed. Edith L. Blumhofer et al. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 23-49.5

For the historical and theological background of the term full gospel, see Donald W. Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987), 19-23.6

Ibid., 87-113.



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Pentecostal imagery from the New Testament to describe the event. Thus, the experience of “sinless perfection” and “full consecration” constituted the baptism in the Holy Spirit, believed to be identical to that received by the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). In this way, Holiness and Higher Life believers—“radical evangelicals”—regarded themselves as “Pentecostal” in spirituality.7

Another formative influence came in the latter part of the century as radical Evangelicals in the Protestant missions movement, whose world- view resounded with actions of the Spirit, longed for the restoration of apostolic power in “signs and wonders” (Acts 5:12) to expedite gospel proclamation. Given the slow pace of conversions overseas and the near- ness of Christ’s return, they wondered how the Great Commission could be achieved in such a short time. Desirous of preaching upon arrival at their respective mission fields, they became frustrated when they required several years of language study before they could attain sufficient fluency. Beginning at least by the 1880s, some speculated that with mustering enough faith, God might enable them to “speak with new tongues” (Mark 16:17 [AV]) in order to avoid the nuisance of language school.8

Building on his Wesleyan Holiness theology, eschatological specula- tion, and passion for world evangelization, Charles F. Parham conceived the doctrine of initial evidence in the fall of 1900 and deserves credit for making it the chief distinctive of classical Pentecostal faith.9 To Parham, his sometime student William J. Seymour, and other pioneers, glossolalia signaled the predicted “outpouring” of the Spirit at the close of human his- tory (Joel 2:28-29), verified the reception of Spirit baptism, and provided linguistic expertise for God’s elite band of end-times missionaries. Such supernatural enablement would make formal language study an anachro- nism. As a writer in the Apostolic Faith (Los Angeles), put it, “God is solv- ing the missionary problem, sending out new-tongued missionaries on the apostolic faith line.”10


“Radical Evangelicals” refers to Wesleyan Holiness and “Higher Life” (Reformed revivalist) believers; for a discussion of the term, see Wacker, “Travail of a Broken Family,” 25-26.8

Gary B. McGee, “Short-cut to Language Preparation? Radical Evangelicals, Missions, and the Gift of Tongues,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 25 (July 2001): 118-20, 122-23.9

James R. Goff, Jr., Fields White Unto Harvest: Charles F. Parham and the Mission- ary Origins of Pentecostalism (Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1988), 74-75.10

Untitled note, Apostolic Faith (Los Angeles), November 1906, p. 2, col. 4.



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Pentecostals lamented that tongues had virtually disappeared after the Apostolic Age, including the doctrine of initial evidence. Not until the turn of the twentieth century did believers rediscover and reinstate the doctrine. From their perspective, this paralleled Martin Luther’s recovery of justification by faith, John Wesley’s teaching on Christian perfection, and the divine provision for physical healing as taught by such nineteenth- century faith healers as Charles C. Cullis, John Alexander Dowie, A. J. Gordon, and A. B. Simpson.11

Nevertheless, as early as 1906, some began to have reservations about the function of tongues for missions. Reports from missionaries proved to be disappointing in this respect.12 A period of theological reflection then began in which Pentecostals sought for a better biblical understanding of the role of tongues. Most came to recognize that speaking in tongues, while still considered recognizable languages and intrinsic to Spirit bap- tism, represented worship and prayerful intercession in the Spirit (Rom. 8:26; 1 Cor. 14:2). For the most part, they seemed to accept the transition in the meaning of tongues from preaching to prayer, since on either read- ing—glossolalia for functioning effectively in a foreign language, or for spiritual worship—the notion of receiving languages denoted zeal and empowerment for evangelism.13 Hence, Pentecostalism cannot be accu- rately interpreted apart from its mission ethos.

Accordingly, tongues-speech, now comprehended principally as a mys- tical prayer in the Holy Spirit, would reveal and exalt Christ in the heart of the seeker, and inspire a deeper Christ-centered life and witness. It would also make the believer receptive to the exercise of the charismatic gifts in worship and evangelism.14 According to Simon Chan, it serves as “an


D. W. Kerr, “The Basis of Our Distinctive Testimony,” Pentecostal Evangel, September 2, 1922, 4; cf. Charles Nienkirchen, “Conflicting Visions of the Past: The Prophetic Use of History in the Early American Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements,” in Poewe, ed., Charismatic Christianity as a Global Culture, 120-25.12

See A. B. Simpson, Eleventh Annual Report of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1908, 11-12. A. G. Garr reported to A. A. Boddy from Hong Kong in 1908, “So far I have not seen any one who is able to preach to the natives in their own tongue with the languages given with the Holy Ghost.” See “A letter from Bro. Garr,” Special Supplement to “Confidence,” May 1908, 2.13

See Gary B. McGee, “The Calcutta Revival of 1907 and the Reformulation of Charles F. Parham’s ‘Bible Evidence’ Doctrine,” Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 6 (January 2003): 123-43.14

For contemporary expositions on baptism in the Holy Spirit by Assemblies of God scholars, see William W. Menzies and Robert P. Menzies, Spirit and Power: Foundations of



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essential part of a coherent schema of spiritual development in which one experiences growing intimacy with God and holiness of life.”15 Some con- sidered the possibility that tongues might not follow in every instance of Spirit baptism and allowed for the possibility of exceptions.16 However, all attested to its importance for the Spirit filled life.

More than anything else, therefore, the uniqueness of Pentecostal iden- tity among radical Evangelicals rested primarily on tongues.17 When the issue of the indispensability of tongues resurfaced in the Assemblies of God in 1918, the Council had to clarify yet another doctrinal stance. But to whom was the resolution about “our distinctive testimony” largely aimed? The membership of the General Council was the first audience. The resolution also spoke implicitly to other Pentecostals who questioned or hesitated about the connection of tongues with Spirit baptism. If the Statement of Fundamental Truths had certified general theological integrity to outsiders, the “distinctive testimony,” though carrying less weight in the hierarchy of truths than the pronouncement on the Trinity, protected the foundation of Pentecostal spirituality for insiders.

Challenges to Pentecostal Identity

Through the years, the Assemblies of God has postured itself between the poles of Evangelical respectability and its restorationist Pentecostal heritage.18 The current General Superintendent, Thomas E. Trask, has

Pentecostal Experience (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000); Frank D. Macchia, “Tongues as a Sign: Towards a Sacramental Understanding of Pentecostal Experience,” Pentecostal Theology 15 (Spring 1993): 61-76; idem, “The Struggle for Global Witness: Shifting Paradigms in Pentecostal Theology,” in The Globalization of Pentecostalism: A Religion Made to Travel, ed. Murray W. Dempster, Byron D. Klaus, Douglas Petersen (Irvine, CA: Regnum Books International, 1999), 8-29. For a recent study by a Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada scholar whose books have been highly influential in the American Assemblies of God, see Roger Stronstad, The Prophethood of All Believers: A Study in Luke’s Charismatic Theology (Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999).15

Simon Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition (Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 64.16

For example, F. F. Bosworth, Do All Speak with Tongues? (New York: Christian Alliance Publishing Co., n.d.).17

A theme stated clearly on the cover page of the first issue of the Apostolic Faith (Los Angeles), “Pentecost Has Come,” September 1906, p. 1, col. 1; also, R. E. Massey, “Tongues, the Bible Evidence; The Great Issue,” Cloud of Witnesses to Pentecost in India, August 1909, 5-6.18

On the restorationist impulse in Assemblies of God history, see Edith L. Blumhofer,



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accurately expressed the longstanding tension: “The Assemblies of God was raised up to be a Pentecostal voice. I have great respect and love for evangelical churches, but we are more than evangelical; we are Pentecostal!”19 It is this ideal of being “more than evangelical” that pre- sents the greatest challenge to the denomination as it enters the twenty- first century.

Within three decades after its founding in 1914, the Assemblies of God began to align itself with conservative Evangelicals by joining the National Association of Evangelicals and its affiliate agencies, leading to what Russell P. Spittler has called “the evangelicalization of the Assemblies of God.”20 “More than evangelical” also suggests that the process has in part diminished the “testimony” and other restorationist teachings, particularly through the widespread attraction of Reformed Evangelical scholarship with its objections to distinctive Pentecostal beliefs. Nowhere has the impact been greater than on the doctrine of ini- tial evidence.21 While earlier Pentecostals could appeal to the hermeneuti- cal underpinning of Wesleyan Holiness and Higher Life teachings that upheld Spirit baptism as an experience of grace subsequent to conver- sion, the popularity of this school of thought gradually declined. Most Evangelical theologians today, revealing the influence of classical Reformed theology, hold that the gift of salvation and Spirit baptism are one and the same, and do not require glossolalic utterance.

In another crucial development in the last half-century, the tenet of divine healing, the second most distinguishing belief of early Pentecos- talism and the Assemblies of God in particular, underwent a transforma- tion. With unprecedented advances in medical science, church members

Restoring the Faith: The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993); Lewis Wilson explores the limitations of this hypothesis in his review of Restoring the Faith, in Pentecostal Theology 17 (Spring 1995): 119-22.19

Thomas E. Trask and David A. Womack, Back to the Altar: A Call to Spiritual Awakening (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1994), 25.20

Russell P. Spittler, “A Celebration of Sovereignty,” 5 Agora (Summer 1981): 13-14; see also his “Maintaining Distinctives: The Future of Pentecostalism,” in Pentecostals from the Inside Out, ed. Harold B. Smith (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990), 121-34.21

William W. Menzies and Robert P. Menzies, Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 33-34. Del Tarr speaks of the “curse of Reformed theology” in “Transcendence, Immanence, and the Emerging Pentecostal Academy,” in Pentecostalism in Context: Essays in Honor of William W. Menzies, ed. Wonsuk Ma and Robert P. Menzies (Sheffield, U.K.: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 209-17.



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began to consult doctors and take medicines for their ailments. As a result, the original anti-medical tone of the doctrine gave way to a holistic view of healing in many quarters, one that balanced prayer for the sick with the care of physicians and seemed better to answer lingering theological questions.22 In an unprecedented move in 2001, delegates at the General Council meeting in Kansas City affirmed that the “medical arts and medi- cines have their origin in God’s creation, indicating an essential compati- bility between divine healing and modern medicine.” It then disapproved of any credentialed minister “counseling a believer to exclude medical advice and/or treatment when seeking prayer for physical healing. Assemblies of God ministers shall not represent medical advice and/or treatment as a lack of faith in God’s healing power.”23 Constituting a major new qualification to the understanding of divine healing as originally enshrined in the Statement of Fundamental Truths, the resolution reflected an approach to healing that many non-Pentecostal Evangelicals could also enthusiastically support.

A pivotal change also came when Pentecostals and Evangelicals alike experienced social and economic lift after World War II. Accompanied by the inculturation of middle-class values, it led to steady erosion of escha- tological expectancy.24 The denomination’s “Decade of Harvest” program for the 1990s has now given way to the “Vision of Transformation.” Approved at the 2003 Council meeting in Washington, D.C., this agenda has been designed “to make adjustments that will enable [the Assemblies of God] to more effectively fulfill her mission and articulate her doctrine in a rapidly changing culture” in the twenty-first century.25 It is hoped that the resultant loosening of certain church structures to reward individual and congregational initiatives will result in more effective evangelism and church planting across the country.

Just as the last sixty years has seen the “evangelicalization” of the denomination, so a parallel “Pentecostalization” of Evangelicals has occurred, with many now praying for the sick, reporting the restoration of


“Divine Healing: An Integral Part of the Gospel,” in Where We Stand (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1990), 53.23

General Council Minutes, 2001, 55.24

Margaret M. Poloma, The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads: Charisma and Institutional Dilemmas (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), 140-55; also Blumhofer, Restoring the Faith, 242-60.25

“Executive Presbytery Sponsored Resolutions” (Springfield, MO: General Council of the Assemblies of God, 2003), 1.



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the “charismatic gifts” in their churches (1 Cor. 12:7-11), and adopting charismatic modes of worship.26 At the beginning of the twenty-first cen- tury, with the previous boundaries between Evangelicals and Pentecostals now blurred, innovative “Evangelical/Pentecostal” models of worship and mission have emerged in the United States and many parts of the world, ones that affirm the charismatic dimension of spirituality in various ways but do not require tongues.27 Notwithstanding, the insistence on glossolalia with baptism in the Holy Spirit remains the hallmark of Assemblies of God belief and practice, even though some pastors and congregations have moved in the direction of these new patterns. This trend—if not declared officially by the parties involved, then practiced in a de facto manner— deserves careful scrutiny in charting the present course of the denomi- nation.

The decline of speaking in tongues among constituents and lingering questions among ministers about the exegetical mooring of the doctrine of initial evidence has naturally alarmed denominational executives. At the initiative of the Executive Presbytery, two dialogues were held in 1997 and 1999 with a selected panel of Assemblies of God New Testament scholars, theologians, and historians to share concerns and look for ways to enhance expositions of the doctrine. In a related development, the General Presbytery approved a new position paper prepared by the Commission on Doctrinal Purity in 2000 entitled “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The Initial Experience and Continuing Evidences of the Spirit-filled Life.” In certain ways, it represents an advance over previous statements.28

A year later, apprehension arose that some scholars in the Assemblies of God academy had distorted the views of Spirit baptism held by such key figures as Donald Gee, J. Roswell Flower, and Daniel W. Kerr in their publications. Through such means they were promoting a theory of the


Tim Stafford, “Testing the Wine from John Wimber’s Vineyard,” Christianity Today, August 8, 1986, 17-22; Vinson Synan, The Century of the Holy Spirit: 100 Years of Pentecostal and Charismatic Renewal (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 349-80.27

Corwin E. Smid, et al., “The Spirit-Filled Movements in Contemporary America: A Survey Perspective,” in Blumhofer, Pentecostal Currents, 111-30; also, Helen Lee Turner, “Pentecostal Currents in the SBC: Divine Intervention, Prophetic Preachers, and Charismatic Worship,” in Blumhofer, Pentecostal Currents, 209-25.28

“The Baptism in the Holy Spirit: The Initial Experience and Continuing Evidences of the Spirit-Filled Life” (Springfield, MO: General Council of the Assemblies of God, 2000); for the response of a district officer and general presbyter, see R. Steven Warner, “Assistant Superintendent’s Report,” Annual, 2000, 5.



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“delayed evidence” of speaking in tongues, namely, that “the word ‘initial’ does not include the idea of ‘immediacy’ as well.” Thus, tongues might occur within days, weeks, months or years after one has been baptized in the Spirit. “While those who promote this doctrine have suggested that some of our founding fathers actually believed and taught delayed evidence, the truth is that our forebears never countenanced it.”29 This assessment counters those who wish to justify that believers may receive Spirit baptism without tongues-speech. Superintendent Trask again reaffirmed tongues as the biblical evidence in his keynote address to the recent 2003 Council meeting in Washington, D.C.

Revival and Survival

For Council leaders, the resurgence of Pentecostal revival in the ranks, encouraged by promoting the “distinctive testimony” as the desirable norm for believers, holds the key to jump-starting church planting and evange- lism on a large scale. In turn, it is hoped that this will restore and surpass the level of momentum in growth that the Assemblies of God once enjoyed on the American scene.30 Not surprisingly, the expression “revival is our survival” has become a top priority.31 Indeed, as Margaret M. Poloma has noted, “The Assemblies of God cannot be understood apart from the stress it has placed on religious experience available through the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Spirit baptism, the tangible sign of which is a recipient’s ability to speak in tongues, brings with it a host of other paranormally accepted phenomena.” Such happenings (“miracles, divine healing, and


James K. Bridges, “The Full Consummation of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” Enrichment Journal: A Journal of Pentecostal Ministry, Fall 2000, 92. The scholars referred to and the publications in which they espouse “delayed evidence” are not mentioned by name in the article. The term delayed evidence appears in an article based on an interview with J. Roswell Flower; see Dorothy Skoog, “Soldier of Faith,” Live, June 2, 1957, 2 (avail- able at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in Springfield, Mo.). Frustrated by his inabil- ity to receive Spirit baptism, Flower took “by faith” that he had received the experience and waited to receive tongues. Accordingly, “the delayed evidence came months later, so natu- rally and unexpectedly as not to be recognized by himself at first, but clearly evident to oth- ers standing nearby.” Like seekers for divine healing, Flower laid claim to the promise by faith. Despite his unusual testimony about how he received Spirit baptism, there is no evi- dence to suggest that he doubted the doctrine of initial evidence.30

George O. Wood, “From the General Secretary,” in “Assemblies of God Minister” (Exclusive Release to Assemblies of God Ministers), July 1, 2000, 7-8.31

Trask, Back to the Altar, 102.



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prophetical abilities”) constitute “the best indicator of evangelistic activi- ties that would facilitate church growth.”32

The supernatural worldview that has undergirded Pentecostalism and differentiated it most from Evangelicalism now stands in jeopardy. While noting the determined efforts of leaders to encourage believers to seek for Spirit baptism and for ministers to reinforce its value from their pulpits, an inconsistency exists in the grassroots between what is verbally espoused and what is practiced. A variety of opinions over the validity of certain revival movements, both within and without the Assemblies of God, exposes reservations about phenomena that have historically characterized Pentecostal spirituality. Likewise, the declining frequency of glossolalic tongues and interpretations as well as of prophetic utterances in church services depicts a changing landscape. Hence, Pentecostal identity, far from just the glossolalic experiences of individual believers, includes dynamics in corporate worship, approaches to mission and evangelism, and cultural features as well.

In the past, officials, pastors, and missionaries have traditionally cen- tered their energies on “doing” rather than “theorizing.” This activism stems from a strong commitment to missions, inspired by an eschatology that views the imminent close of the age with a sense of great urgency. This combination has sown a strong pragmatism, at times even risking the peril of an unreflective activism.33 Along with the experiential nature of Pentecostal spirituality, these seeds have inadvertently yielded a lingering anti-intellectualism and occasional fears of the academic study of the denomination’s history and theology. Still, substantial funding for the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and other institutions of higher education, as well as the preservation of historical materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, both located in Springfield, Missouri, with the latter now the foremost repository for such resources in North America, exhibit important and enduring commitments to Pentecostal scholarship. Certainly at no time in its pilgrimage has the Assemblies of God had greater need of its theologians, historians, missiologists, and educational specialists to interpret its legacy to the next generation.


Poloma, Assemblies of God, 232.33

Grant Wacker analyzes the primitive and pragmatic impulses of Pentecostalism in Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 10-14.



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The legacy—both spiritual and cultural—requires interpretation for a new generation. In the estimation of Peter Hocken, “Pentecostalism repre- sents a protest for Spirit against a powerless and largely cerebral Protestantism, in which attachment to the Word was not evidently accom- panied by the vitality of the Spirit.”34 Consequently, observers propose that the last century witnessed a seismic shift toward recapturing the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life and mission of the churches, and much of the credit for this goes to the stimulus of the Pentecostal Movement.35 Given its conservative point of reference, it is clear that the Assemblies of God will not settle for being “less than evangelical.” The greatest hurdle in its path into the twenty-first century, therefore, stands in how successfully it recaptures what it means to be “more than evangelical.”


Peter Hocken, The Glory and the Shame: Reflections on the 20th-Century outpour- ing of the Holy Spirit (Guildford, Surrey, U.K.: Eagle, 1994), 156.35

See Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1995); Edward L. Cleary, “Introduction: Pentecostals, Prominence, and Politics,” in Power, Politics, and Pentecostals in Latin America, ed. Edward L. Cleary and Hannah W. Stewart- Gambino (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997), 1-24.



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