Woohoo! Our website is up and running and that is exciting! It will undertake several evolutions before we launch, but its great just to have it up there. So, I would love for you to visit the site and tell me what you think.
As I have stated in previous posts General Council is starting next week with its nearly 25,000 attendees. Never before will Orlando, FL have been filled with such loving people and such bad tippers! I love General Council, and am extremely fortunate to be attending for the third time in my relatively short ministry career. Some ministers spend their entire lifetimes as members of our fellowship and are never able to attend our biannual meetings. So I have been thinking the last two days, why I love General Council so much, and I think it’s the same reasons why I love the Assemblies of God.
First of all, I am proud to be a part of a classical Pentecostal fellowship. The last 100 years have seen the greatest revival and evangelism of souls in the history of the world, save maybe the first century. Prior to 1900 there may have been and extremely small smattering of Pentecostals worldwide, but now there are over 600 million, one tenth of the world’s population. The vast majority of these people are those that have been brought out of sin and death and seen the light of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but the power of the Holy Spirit has accompanied so many as healings and deliverances have acted as a sign to unbelievers, ministered to believers, and set the captives free.
The presence of Spirit empowered prophetic witness is the catalyst for the next thing I love about the Assemblies of God, our missions emphasis. Assemblies of God world and home missions is the envy of every denomination. We have the best missions programs, promote missions better, and put more missionaries on the field than anyone. Ministries like Chi Alpha, Latin America Child Care, Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge, Speed the Light, Royal Rangers International, and the list goes on and on, provide ministry at home and abroad that is completely unparalleled anywhere else in the church world. We don’t have to limit the number of missionaries we can send out, put them on a waiting list, or send them ill equipped. Our missionaries are provided for through our amazing church people and the auxiliary ministries we support.
The next thing I love about the Assemblies of God can probably be found in other fellowships as well, but is still a selling point for me, and that is friendships. The greatest friendships of my life, with the exception of a small handful, have all developed with people I have become acquainted as a member of the Assemblies of God. Whether it was in youth group, Royal Rangers, AG universities, or other district events, I can honestly say for the most part, “I am AG and so are my friends.” (though I definitely LOVE my non-AG friends!) And as someone who has been in over 20 weddings, that’s a lot of shotgun style churches!
Finally, I love the Assemblies of God because of our representative governance. Some have said its not biblical, that we should cast lots to decide who are leaders are, but I trust the Holy Spirit enough in our people to make Godly decisions. It’s amazingly freeing to have a say as a credentialed minister in the constitution, bylaws, and doctrines on which our fellowship was founded and now operates. I enjoy going to district and general council and attending the business sessions. I am someone who learns best through interaction, and so when people have the chance to talk and debate it definitely sparks great interest for me and generates quite a bit of brain wattage going on. By having a representative governance it also means we can disagree with each other and still be in fellowship together, and while I wish there were more room for this on certain issues, I am grateful for what we have.
We have a great fellowship that ministers to a lot of people. Are there things I wish we did differently? Absolutely! But there is so much that we do right I can have nothing but love for the church of which I am a fourth generation member.
What about you? What do you love about being in the Assemblies of God? If you are not AG, what do you love most about your fellowship?
Distinct (def.): distinguished as not being the same; not identical; separate
Lately I have been doing a lot of thinking about our Pentecostal Distinctive. Assemblies of God General Council starts next week, and one of the resolutions to be voted on is a reaffirmation of tongues as the initial physical evidence, as well as a mandate that it be preached, taught, lived. Even though I believe tongues is the initial evidence I find this resolution ridiculous, but also realize it is of little to no ultimate consequence.
As a result of my processing this through, I have come to believe that the term Pentecostal Distinctive is an oxymoron. To start, lets get everyone on the same page. When I use the term Pentecostal Distinctive, I am referring to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial physical evidence of speaking in tongues. It is a long-standing definition that has its roots in the early years of 20th century Pentecostalism. In those days Pentecostals stood a part from the rest of the church because of the Spirit empowered expression, and were often treated as second-class members of the church universal. There are countless stories of early Pentecostals being mistreated by other Christians, thus form a Pentecostal identity or distinctive. It may be however, this ill-suited term plays a huge part in the variety of beliefs among ours and other classical Pentecostal fellowships which exists today.
For so many their problem with initial evidence is not the Biblical evidence (though there is much conversation on the subject), but the disjointedness between the Biblical purpose and the modern expression. Last week I was speaking with a friend of mine about this topic. His comment to me was, “The power and purpose of Pentecost has very little to do with Acts 2:4, and everything to do with Acts 1:8.” The purpose of Spirit baptism is for prophetic witness to the nations. The fact that Christ chose the sign of Spirit baptism to be tongues further confirms its validity, that as Spirit baptized believers we speak the languages of all nations as a sign the gospel is for all nations. It’s our Pentecostal inclusiveness!
But look what we have done. We have cloistered ourselves off from the rest of the Christian world. True there has been a Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue over the last several years, but until the early part of this very decade the Assemblies of God’s official position concerning the World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches were that they are the “whore of Babylon” spoken of in the book of Revelation. I do not mean to pick on the Assemblies of God, my fellowship and my empoyer, because all Pentecostals have taken this stance. We have created the PCCNA (Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of North America) of which none of the member churches are also members of the NCC. Also I am not contending that we should join the NCC and overlook all of the things they participate in we may have a problem with. However, being one of the very few Assemblies of God to have participated in NCC events over the past 50 years, I would say a dialogue needs to be opened.
Next week’s resolution is just another reminder of how our Pentecostal Gospel of inclusion has become one of distinction, separating ourselves from each other and the Church Universal.
Do you remember when you were a little kid and you had not yet discovered the joy of sharing? Having been raised in a home full of babies, I can say with authority that one of the first words children learn is “mine.” The toy is mine, the food is mine, and mommy is mine. Whether it truly is theirs or not, in the minds of young children everything is mine! As adults we learn to share, gain joy through the victories of others, but still there remains this element of what is mine. As Americans this sense is heightened because of our culture of rugged individualism. It’s the attitude that won the west. My pride, my land, and my success. The same approach to life now exists in the church. It exists with stupid little things; my pew, my parking space, my style of worship. But it also flourishes in major things. My personal prayer language. My spiritual gift. My private time. My personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My calling. My burdens. My ministry.
I am afraid we have willingly, yet unknowingly, become Gnostic Pentecostals. Gnosticism, an ancient philosophy that has seen ebb and flow over the past 2000 years and most recently resurgence, is a belief system founded in the divinity of the individual. Among Gnostics, while God in some form and roll is present, we are the main characters of this play, not He. Life to the Gnostic is thus all about us. It is my unfortunate observation that Pentecostals have adopted this stance, evolving Christianity into a personal exercise rather than a community activity. We have assumed the roll of lead character, ironically replacing the Holy Spirit by whose presence we are named!
We have taken everything that was supposed to be “He” and “we” and have turned it into “me.” For instance, consider the ordinances of the church. Water baptism is no longer a public profession of faith. We invite a couple of friends over to someone’s backyard and make it a private affair. Now baptism is special to me. Do you see how this is problematic? Water baptism was created by God to be the first opportunity for a new believer to demonstrate to the world their newfound faith in Christ. It is the biblical altar call. What about the shameful approach we have adopted for the Lord’s Supper, the most communal thing the church is supposed to do? The bread and wine are left at the door of the auditorium for you to take at you leisure as you enter or exit the building. Early church members died because they dared to gather together and as a community be united by the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ. Even in the best of circumstances the Eucharist has become a once a month tradition in which we use 10 minutes of service time to ask forgiveness for our sins, not come together in our mutual faith and dedication to God the Father.
Look further at the most basic tenet of Pentecostalism, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, as it has been twisted into a selfish exercise. How many times have you heard or know of preachers who have taught that the purpose of the Holy Spirit is for empowerment to overcome sin in an individual’s life. This is a distorted reality. Holy Spirit empowerment comes to the individual for the gain of others, so that our lives may be a witness of Jesus Christ. To relegate Spirit Baptism to personal entitlement is to trivialize His work in the world.
Beyond Spirit Baptism, what about the gifts of the Spirit? My friend Matt Bell said it best in a recent blog when we commented,
I do not know when in church history the gifts of the Spirit became privatized but it has and will always bother me. Through seven years of theological education I have taken countless “personal” spiritual gifts inventories and been encouraged to practice my “personal” prayer language. While not necessarily an evil, the focus on the personal (at least the way we do it) seems to minimize the corporate. The only gift that seems to be private in Scripture is the prayer language, but, even that has public consequences.
Pentecostals are consistently guilty of privatization and absolutizing subjective spiritual experiences. There is nothing worse then talking with someone who has “heard from the Lord” but you know there is no way God would have said that. When you try to reason with them (yes I said reason) they recoil saying that you wouldn’t understand cause you were not there. Never-mind that Paul clearly states that any subjective experience is to be judged by the Scriptures and mature Elders. These folks know better because that is just your interpretation of what Paul said – Pharisee.
Privatization of the gifts of the Spirit and absolutizing subjective spiritual experiences is not only wrong but bordering the spirit of anti-christ. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” while throughout the book of Acts almost every time someone is “baptized in the Spirit” it is in a group setting. Look at 1 Corinthians, is not Paul correcting the use of the gifts in a corporate worship service? Paul explains, “now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” (vs. 27-28)
Can you see the constant attention on the “me” instead of the “He,” along with a definitive diminutivation of the “we?”
I guess we should not be surprised. For the most part, Pentecostals have what my friend Dan refers to as a “crisis of discipleship.” For the past 100 years our poor eschatology has fueled our evangelistic efforts. We have appropriately felt burdened to win the loss, but because of our dispensational understanding of end-time events and our faulty comprehension of Christ’s imminent return (Don’t misunderstand me, Christ’s return is absolutely imminent, but has been imminent for 2,000 years and may be imminent for 2,000 more) we took the approach of, “Get ‘em saved, get ‘em saved, get ‘em saved, don’t worry about discipleship, Christ will be here any second,” and are left with a biblically illiterate church.
Is it any wonder that even our pastors get lost in Gnostic Pentecostalism? Is it any wonder that older ministers don’t know when to pass the baton and younger ministers try to take off running the race before they are ready? WE ARE A SELFISH CHURCH! How dare we get angry that the morals of our society are crumbling when we were the ones who let it get this way. We are like the one in Christ’s parable about the talents who hid his talent because we were more concerned about protecting ourselves than doing the work of the master (Matthew 25:14-30).
We are Gnostic Pentecostals. The Holy Spirit’s power is for me, so that I can live my life, to make sure that I get myself into heaven.