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General Council of the Assemblies of God USA
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Classification Protestant
Orientation Pentecostal
Polity mixed Presbyterian and Congregational polity[1][2]
Associations World Assemblies of God Fellowship, Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America, National Association of Evangelicals
Geographical areas United States
Origin 1914
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Separated from Church of God in Christ
Congregations 12,311[3]
Members 2,899,702[4]
Official Website ag.org
Statistics for 2006

The General Council of the Assemblies of God in the United States of America or Assemblies of God USA (AG) is a Pentecostal Christian denomination in the United States. Founded in 1914 during a meeting of Pentecostal ministers at Hot Springs, Arkansas, it was the ninth largest denomination in the United States in 2010 with a membership of 2.9 million.[4] The AG is affiliated with the world's largest Pentecostal body, the World Assemblies of God Fellowship.

The Assemblies of God holds to a conservative evangelical and Arminian theology as expressed in the Statement of Fundamental Truths and its position papers, which emphasize such core Pentecostal doctrines as the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and divine, supernatural healing.[5][6]

The fellowship's governmental structure is a hybrid of presbyterian and congregational models.[2][1] This tension between local and national boundaries is seen in the AG's historical reluctance to refer to itself as a denomination, preferring the terms fellowship and movement. National headquarters are in Springfield, Missouri, where the administration building, Gospel Publishing House, and International Distribution Center are located. The Assemblies of God publishes an official weekly magazine, Today's Pentecostal Evangel.

Contents

History

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Early history

The Assemblies of God has roots in the Pentecostal revival in the early 20th century. The Pentecostal aspects of the revival were not generally welcomed by the established churches, and participants in the movement soon found themselves outside existing religious bodies.[7] They were forced to seek their own places of worship, and soon there were hundreds of distinctly Pentecostal congregations.

E.N. Bell, first General Superintendent of the AG.

The early founders of the Assemblies of God were licensed Caucasian ministers of the Church of God in Christ, the largest African-American Pentecostal body founded by Charles Harrison Mason in 1897.[8] By 1910, leaders such as E. N. Bell, Howard A. Goss, D. C. Opperman, and Arch P. Collins were distancing themselves from Charles Fox Parham's Apostolic Faith Movement, and many white ministers began receiving credentials from the Church of God in Christ. However, these ministers continued their work along segregated lines and the affiliation was short-lived due to the racial climate of the Jim Crow Era.

Bell, Goss, and Opperman issued the call for a general council to "Churches of God in Christ, and to all Pentecostal or Apostolic Faith Assemblies". A "cooperative fellowship" was needed for formal recognition of ministers and financial accountability as well as approval and support of missionaries.[7] To meet these needs the AG was founded in 1914 at Hot Springs, Arkansas, by predominantly white representatives from 20 states and a few foreign countries. A fellowship emerged that was incorporated as the General Council of the Assemblies of God. E. N. (Eudorus Neander) Bell was elected the first chairman.

In 1913, a major ideological split, the "Jesus Only" crisis, saw Oneness Pentecostalism rejected and the Assemblies of God positioned as firmly Trinitarian.[9] The rejection of Oneness teachings led to the disaffiliation of one-third of the young fellowship's ministers.[10] The founders of the fellowship did not intend to create a denomination and, at the time, had no creed or doctrinal statement. After the split with the Oneness Pentecostals, however, the AG felt the need for agreement on central doctrines and to reassure evangelical Christians of its adherence to orthodox teaching.[9] As a result in 1916, the Statement of Fundamental Truths was adopted. Among the Fundamental Truths was a statement regarding speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence of Spirit baptism. This doctrine was challenged by F.F. Bosworth, an executive presbyter, who argued that while for many speaking in tongues was an evidence of baptism, it was not the only evidence. The issue was decided at the General Council of September 1918 where Bosworth, who two months earlier had resigned so as not to damage the fellowship, was present and invited to address the council. Following debate two resolutions were passed which reasserted the official position.[11]

Central Bible College was started in the basement of the Central Assembly of God church in Springfield, Missouri, in 1922.[12] In 1929, the fellowship claimed 91,981 members in 1,612 churches.[13]

Between the World Wars, the movement kept a relative isolation from other Pentecostal and evangelical groups, but after World War II, the AG started an approximation with Pentecostal groups overseas. Like the Federation of Pentecostal Churches in Germany, at that time many national denominations came to affiliate with the US fellowship. These partnerships would later develop into the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. As well as establishing fellowships in other nations, the AG also began to communicate with other US churches through the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America, now the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America, and the National Association of Evangelicals. By 1944, there were 5,055 Assemblies of God churches with 227,349 members in the US.[13]

Response to the Latter Rain movement and pacifism

The AG was influenced by the Latter Rain Movement in the 1950s. The "New Order" as it was known taught that the gifts of the Spirit are channeled through church elders and are given to others by the laying on of hands. However, the Assemblies of God and other classical Pentecostal groups maintained that the charismata are not personally received or imparted but are manifested as the Holy Spirit wills.[14] In 1949 with a meeting of the General Council approaching, there were fears that the fellowship might split over the Latter Rain issue, but in the end, the General Council was united against what were seen as the excesses of the movement. A General Council resolution specified six errors, which included the overemphasis on and abuse of impartation by laying on of hands and the idea that the Church is built on modern-day apostles and prophets. The Latter Rain theology of no pre-tribulation rapture and the manifested sons of God teaching were condemned as heresy.[15]

Prior to 1967, the Assemblies of God, along with the majority of other Pentecostal denominations, officially opposed Christian participation in war and considered itself a peace church.[16] The official position of the church until 1967 encouraged Christian nonviolence: "We, as a body of Christians, while purposing to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizenship, are nevertheless constrained to declare we cannot conscientiously participate in war and armed resistance which involves the actual destruction of human life, since this is contrary to our view of the clear teachings of the inspired Word of God, which is the sole basis of our faith."[17] Most of the founders and first generation members of the denomination held to this view and it was presented as official teaching throughout World War I and World War II. In 1940, The Pacifist Handbook listed the Assemblies of God as the third largest peace church in America.

The official pacifist position remained unchanged until the 1967 General Council when the present position was written into the AG bylaws: "As a Movement we affirm our loyalty to the government of the United States in war or peace. We shall continue to insist, as we have historically, on the right of each member to choose whether to declare their position as a combatant, a noncombatant, or a conscientious objector."[18]

Recent history

The AG and the Church of God in Christ reconciled in 1994 when the member denominations of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to reconcile with black Pentecostals. This event was called the "Memphis Miracle". Both denominations currently operate the School of Urban Missions in Oakland, California, as a joint cooperative effort.

Membership trends

The AG experienced tremendous growth during the 20th century. In 1925, there were just 50,386 members in 909 churches.[3] By 1950, there were over 300,000 members, and in the early 1970s membership reached 1 million.[3] As of 2006, the AG had a constituency of over 2.8 million attending 12,311 churches.[3] Members are fairly well distributed across the United States. California has the largest number of members, followed by Texas and Florida.[19] However, the states with the highest membership rates are Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alaska, Montana, and Hawaii.[19]

The ethnic diversity of the American AG is increasing; however, its constituency is still largely white. From 1990 to 2000, there was a slight decline in white AG churches while ethnic churches, mainly Hispanic, were responsible for much of the denomination's numerical growth.[20] As of 2007, 1,804,519 adherents are white, a decrease of 1.1 percent or 20,447 people since 2006. The same year, there were 550,801 Hispanic and 249,905 African-American adherents, an increase of 10,370 and 23,517 people respectively.[21] Overall in 2007, the AG grew by 1.0 percent or 27,091 people.[21] In 2008, the AG grew by 1.3 percent or 36,437 people.[22]

Beliefs and practices

Fundamental doctrines

The Assemblies' doctrines are summarized in its Statement of Fundamental Truths.[5] Numerous other Christian groups share some or all of these tenets—and some positions (like the Trinity) are considered more central to the faith than others (like divine healing). The following positions are considered non-negotiable:

  1. The inspiration of Scripture.
  2. The Trinity.
  3. The Deity of Christ.
  4. Original sin.
  5. Fellowship with God can be restored by accepting Christ’s offer of forgiveness for sin.
  6. Two ordinances: Baptism, by immersion after receiving Christ, and the Lord's Supper, as a symbolic remembrance of Christ's suffering and death.
  7. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate and subsequent experience following conversion. The AG does not view Spirit baptism as necessary for salvation, but it does view it as empowerment to live an overcoming Christian life and to be an effective Christian witness. It is not a requirement for membership in an Assembly of God church, but it is a requirement for ministerial licensing and ordination.
  8. Speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The practical implication of this doctrine is that candidates for ministry who have not spoken in tongues or do not believe speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of Spirit baptism are not eligible for formal ministry. Given the congregational elements of AG polity, the culture of each Assembly of God church varies. In some churches' worship services, the practice is common while in others it rarely occurs.
  9. Sanctification is a declaration and progressive lifelong process. For more perspective on the AG's position on sanctification, see the Higher Life movement and the Finished Work doctrine.
  10. The Church's mission is to seek and save all who are lost in sin; the Church is the Body of Christ and consists of all people who accept Christ, regardless of Christian denomination.
  11. Divinely called and Scripturally-ordained ministers serve the Church.
  12. Divine healing of the sick is provided for in the atonement. The AG sees no conflict in trusting God for healing and receiving medical care.
  13. The Blessed Hope: a rapture preceding the bodily return of Christ to Earth.
  14. Premillennial eschatology.
  15. Final Judgment and eternal damnation of the lost.
  16. A future new heaven and new earth, in which Christ will dwell with his people forever.

The AG considers Fundamental Truth 8, the doctrine of initial evidence, its doctrinal distinctive. However, an increasing minority of pastors has expressed concern that there is a lack of biblical support for the claim that Spirit baptism must always be accompanied with speaking in tongues.[23] This concern corresponds with a decrease in the number of Assembly of God adherents reporting baptism in the Holy Spirit; according to the AG's Office of Statistics as of 2003 less than 50% of adherents had this experience.[24] In 2009, the 53rd General Council passed a resolution reaffirming this doctrinal distinctive.[25]

Position statements

The Assemblies of God has released statements on various issues not addressed in the Statement of Fundamental Truths.[6] These position papers are usually written by the Doctrinal Purity Commission, a standing committee of the General Council, which reviews and responds to issues referred to it by the Executive Presbytery. Most position papers are not official positions of the Assemblies of God unless recommended by the Executive Presbytery and approved by the General Council. Only one, "Divorce and Remarriage",[26] out of 22 has become an official AG statement.[27]

Worship

Because of the congregational nature of the Assemblies of God, it is difficult to define a typical local church. Church identity is influenced by members' social class, ethnicity, and musical or worship style preferences. However, shared beliefs and values are reflected in local churches. The Assemblies of God is "experience-oriented", and the local church is where experience of the activity of the Holy Spirit will primarily occur.[28]

Regular services are usually held on Sunday mornings and Sunday and Wednesday evenings. There is no formal liturgy or order of service; though, many churches have a familiar routine: opening prayer, congregational and special singing, an offering, a time of intercessory prayer, a sermon, and an altar call. This routine is subject to change spontaneously within a service—possibly being interrupted by an interpretation of a message in tongues, a prophecy, or a word of wisdom or word of knowledge—and this change is believed to be directed by the Holy Spirit.[29] In addition, evening services may incorporate a time of prayer for those who are seeking something from God either around the altar or in an adjacent prayer room.

During praise and worship, a believer’s attitude of worship is often expressed through the raising of hands. The type of music sung is generally popular worship choruses, such as those by Calvary Chapel and Hillsong, but can also include urban gospel in some of the inner-city or more progressive churches. Worship is often characterized as intense and enthusiastic.[30]

Prayer features prominently in services. Services may feature moments where special prayer is offered, often with laypersons leading the prayer and the rest of the congregation audibly participating. During these corporate prayers, some may pray in tongues. While not in every service, the pastor will pray for the sick. This prayer will include the pastor anointing the sick with olive oil and with the assistance of church elders along with pastoral associates laying hands on the one seeking healing.[30]

Structure

Map of districts of the Assemblies of God in the United States

The Assemblies of God has a representative form of government derived from presbyterian polity and organized in three levels of administration: congregations, district councils and the General Council.[31] The AG has, however, elements of congregational polity which are limited by the powers of the districts and General Council to license and discipline ordained ministers.[1]

Congregations and districts

At the congregational level, churches affiliated with the General Council are "sovereign" and self-governing, but in matters of doctrine local assemblies are subordinate to districts and the General Council.[32] Each church creates its own constitution and bylaws. The pastor is elected by the local congregation and conducts the day-to-day operations of the church.[31] A board of deacons is elected to assist the pastor. A church which is newly established or if its membership is unable to maintain it may be given the temporary status of "district affiliated assembly". District affiliated assemblies are under the direct supervision of district councils.

Churches are organized into sections and sections into districts. The 58 districts oversee "all ecclesial and sacerdotal activities" within their jurisdiction,[33] which includes recommending ministers for national credentialing and mediating disputes within local congregations.[31] There are two types of districts. Geographical districts serve areas corresponding to state boundaries, and ethnic districts are non-geographical and serve an ethnic group, such as African American or Hispanic communities.[31]

General Council

At the top of this organizational framework is the biennial General Council. All licensed ministers and one delegate per Assembly of God church are entitled to attend and participate at the General Council. The General Council credentials ministers, oversees the national and worldwide missions programs, and directs the church’s colleges and seminary.[31] In addition, the Council also elects the General Superintendent, the chief executive officer of the national organization.

The General Superintendent and 18 other elected executive officers are the Executive Presbytery which the constitution designates as the Assemblies of God's board of directors.[34] The Executive Presbytery, three representatives from each district, and other officers and representatives of Assemblies of God missions and institutions comprise the General Presbytery. The General Presbytery executes the policies established by the General Council and when it is not in session, the General Presbytery is the official policy-making body of the Assemblies of God.[34][35]

General Superintendents

The current General Superintendent of the General Council is Dr. George O. Wood. Wood's tenure began October 8, 2007, when the previous General Superintendent, Dr. Thomas E. Trask stepped down after 14 years of leadership. The following is a list of General Superintendents and their tenures:

Former AG General Superintendent Thomas Trask and wife.
  • Eudorus N. Bell 1914, 1920-23
  • John W. Welch 1914-1919, 1923
  • W.T Gaston 1924-1929
  • Ernest S. Williams 1929-1949
  • Wesley R. Steelberg 1949-1952
  • Ralph M Riggs 1953-1959
  • Thomas F. Zimmerman 1959-1985
  • G. Raymond Carlson 1986-1993
  • Thomas E. Trask 1993-2007
  • George O. Wood 2007-present

Ministries

The following are ministries and programs of the US Assemblies of God:

  • Boys and Girls Missionary Crusade Children's missions giving program
  • Chi Alpha Campus Ministries
  • Convoy of Hope official disaster relief partner
  • Character Connex School assembly program developed specifically to teach good character traits to students.
  • Dream Center
  • Girl's Ministry
  • HealthCare Ministries The international medical outreach
  • Marriage Encounter Building better marriages for life
  • Marriage Restored Program for couples who have experienced adultery, addiction, pornography, separation or other marriage-threatening
  • Royal Rangers
  • Rural Compassion Helping break and prevent cycles of poverty.
  • Single Adult/Young Adult Ministries
  • Speed The Light Teenager's missions giving program
  • Teen Challenge Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling drug and alcohol problems
  • Teen and Junior Bible Quiz circumstances.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Roozen, David A.; James R. Nieman, Editors (2005). Church, Identity, and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 100. ISBN 0-8028-2819-1. 
  2. ^ a b Assemblies of God USA. "Welcome to Our Community".
  3. ^ a b c d "2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches". The National Council of Churches. http://www.thearda.com/Denoms/D_1021.asp. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  4. ^ a b National Council of Churches (2010-02-12). [http://www.ncccusa.org/news/100204yearbook2010.html "Catholics, Mormons, Assemblies of God growing; Mainline churches report a continuing decline"]. http://www.ncccusa.org/news/100204yearbook2010.html. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  5. ^ a b "Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths". Assemblies of God. http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Statement_of_Fundamental_Truths/sft_short.cfm. 
  6. ^ a b "Assemblies of God Position Papers". Assemblies of God. 2006. http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Position_Papers/index.cfm. 
  7. ^ a b Roozen. pp. 104-105. 
  8. ^ Robeck Jr., Cecil M. (May 2005). "THE PAST: Historical Roots of Racial Unity and Division in American Pentecostalism". Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research. Pentecostal-Charismatic Theological Inquiry International. http://pctii.org/cyberj/cyberj14/robeck.html. Retrieved 2009-03-02. 
  9. ^ a b Roozen. pp. 35-36. 
  10. ^ Robeck, Cecil M. (2003), "An Emerging Magisterium? The Case of the Assemblies of God", Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 25 (2): 172 
  11. ^ Robeck, Cecil M. (2003), "An Emerging Magisterium? The Case of the Assemblies of God", Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 25 (2): 181-186 
  12. ^ History of Central Bible College
  13. ^ a b Seize the Moment
  14. ^ Holdcroft, L. Thomas (1980), "The New Order of the Latter Rain", Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 2 (2): 48 
  15. ^ Patterson, Eric; Rybarczyk, Edmund (editors) (2007). The Future of Pentecostalism in the United States. New York: Lexington Books. pp. 173. ISBN 978-0-7391-2102-3. 
  16. ^ Jay Beaman, Pentecostal Pacifism: The Origin, Development, and Rejection of Pacific Belief Among the Pentecostals (Hillsboro, KS: Mennonite Brethren Historical Society, 1989)
  17. ^ Paul Alexander, An Analysis of the Emergence and Decline of Pacifism in the History of the Assemblies of God, PhD dissertation, Baylor University, 2000. See also Paul Alexander, (2008), Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God. Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing/Herald Press.
  18. ^ Constitution and Bylaws of the General Council of the Assemblies of God, Article XVII, pg. 59
  19. ^ a b "2000 Religious Congregations and Membership Study". Glenmary Research Center. http://www.thearda.com/mapsReports/maps/map.asp?variable=63&state=101&variable2=. Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  20. ^ Roozen. pp. 82-83. 
  21. ^ a b 2007 Summary AG Statistical Report page 2
  22. ^ 2008 Summary AG Statistical Report
  23. ^ Roozen. p. 73. 
  24. ^ Robeck, Cecil M. (2003), "An Emerging Magisterium? The Case of the Assemblies of God", Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 25 (2): 213 
  25. ^ Resolution 21 Reaffirmation of Pentecostal Distinctive. 53rd General Council of the Assemblies of God. 2009.
  26. ^ "Divorce and Remarriage". A Position Statement of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. August 1973, revised August 2008.
  27. ^ Roozen. pp. 112-113. 
  28. ^ Roozen. p. 100, 103. 
  29. ^ Roozen. p. 100. 
  30. ^ a b Roozen. p. 101. 
  31. ^ a b c d e "Assemblies of God Structure". Assemblies of God. 2006. http://ag.org/top/About/structure.cfm. 
  32. ^ Constitution and Bylaws of the General Council of the Assemblies of God, Article XI, pg. 12.
  33. ^ Constitution and Bylaws of the General Council of the Assemblies of God, Article X Section 2 of Constitution, pg. 11.
  34. ^ a b Constitution and Bylaws of the General Council of the Assemblies of God, Article IX, pg. 10.
  35. ^ "Assemblies of God". The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Assembli.html. 

Further reading

  • Blumhofer, Edith L. Restoring the Faith: The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, c. 1993
  • Menzies, William . Anointed to Serve: The Story of the Assemblies of God

External links

  • Official site
  • Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (Assemblies of God archives), one of the largest collections of materials documenting the global Pentecostal movement; website contains free research tools, including over 200,000 digitized pages of periodicals and online catalog with over 50,000 entries.

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