A few months ago I was in Cleveland TN for my first PhD meeting. That time with other PhD students was incredibly helpful for me to get me moving in the right direction. For the past month I have been moving issue by issue through the early Pentecostal periodical called Word & Witness. W&W was published by AG founding father, E. N. Bell. When the AG organized in 1914, it became the official organ for the fellowship. Most of the issues I have read have been 1912-1914. Here are a few brief note worthy observations from my research so far.
Larry R. McQueen argues in his book Toward a Pentecostal Eschatology that the AG adopted a “finished work” theology of salvation that was baptistic/reformed verses the Weslyian/Holiness stream of Pentecostals. That approach to theology was ready made for the AG to adopt a dispensational understanding of eschatology. It also did not allow for much variation in eschatological views. My research certainly is bearing that out. Most of what I have found follows the “dispensational script” that McQueen argues for. At this point, it cannot be argued that the AG has been anything except for dispensational in their eschatology, as some other scholars suggest (or perhaps have hoped for). That is freeing because I can just assume it and move on to seeing how it developed during the later years.
One observation to note about the Word and Witness is that prior to the organization of the Assemblies of God in April of 1914, the paper was primarily testimonial. Most of what was published were testimonies of how God was moving in various places. There were editorials and small articles that argued doctrine, but for the most part, most of the eschatological content was in the form of testimony. There were descriptions of visions of Jesus coming or the anti-christ. Some of the testimonies of other topic might end with a statement of eschatological nature, but few of articles were doctrinal thesis on the end times. Toward the end of 1913, more full articles on the “Signs of the Times” and other eschatological themes began to be published. This was true of other topics as well. Doctrine became more and more important as organization became more and more imminent. After 1914, there were numerous doctrinal clarifications on various subjects as an apologetic for the stances the AG assumed as a result of organization. The testimonies were vast and varied, but what they had in common was the experience of the Holy Spirit. There is no right experience. However, if your organization wants to decide a statement of beliefs to identify itself, the need for univocal articulation of doctrine increases and the space for diversity decreases.
One interesting side note was that the Assemblies of God General Council was first called in order to unify and organize various loosely affiliated Pentecostal ministers. However, this may have never happened had there not been two issues facing ministers with no official credentialing body. One was train fares. Ordained ministers received a special fare of half price on the railroad. Bell encouraged his readers to support the organizing of what would eventually be the AG so that they could receive the discount rate. Secondly, the need for governmental recognition of an incorporated body for the purpose of owning property. Bell says, “But on the business side of things, such as holding property, accepting rates on the railroads for preachers, holding property in foreign lands for missionary work, etc, etc, etc, it is necessary to obey the laws of the country.” (WW, 3/1914). Quite a pragmatic reason for creating a new denomination, is it not?
I will continue to work through these periodicals, but I am also working through some of the doctrinal books produced by the Assemblies of God, particularly Myer Pearlman, Frank Boyd, Ralph Riggs, E. S. Williams and Stanley Horton. All of these were influential men in the AG and the books addressed eschatology.
All in all, I am having a wonderful time researching my topic. I am growing in love for these early ministers and their contributions to our theology.