The Origin, Development, and Future of Assemblies of God Eschatology: A PhD Thesis

Last May I completed a my journey through my PhD program.  For 10 years I have immersed myself in the world of Assemblies of God history and doctrine in order to produce the first comprehensive study of AG eschatology that looks at 100 years of official, popular and scholarly expressions of the AG’s position on the second coming of Jesus.  It was a joyful journey with may twists and turns. But in the end, I feel proud of the work I did and the contribution I made to the field of Pentecostal History and Theology.

Today, that thesis is available to the public for the first time.  My school, Bangor University (Wales), publishes all of their dissertations freely online through their open-source digital repository. Unlike Proquest, or other dissertation services, that are only available by subscription to academic libraries, Bangor believes in the value of information justice and sharing research with the world. Anyone can download it free of charge here:

https://research.bangor.ac.uk/portal/en/theses/the-origin-development-and-future-of-assemblies-of-god-eschatology(9d6fbc67-9a5e-47d5-8226-c7c62e24f609).html (warning, it takes a while to download)

A published print version of this thesis is in the works with ORU Press, which will hopefully be available later this year.

As I say in the dedication: ” I pray this study honors the past, encourages the present, and shapes the future.”

 

The Future of AG Eschatology

On May 16th I successfully defended my dissertation and was awarded the degree of PhD in Pentecostal Theology from Bangor University (Wales, UK). I was examined by Dr. Robert Pope of Westminster College (Cambridge, UK) and Dr. Andrew Davies of University of Birmingham (UK).

 

The Viva (so called in the UK) took about an hour and it was a wonderful conversation about my research and my conclusions. After about five minutes of deliberation they announced that I passed with only minor corrections to be made in the days ahead. I never imagined that defending a thesis would be so enjoyable. Ten years of work and research came together in that one hour meeting.  I look forward to the corrected version being available to the public in the months ahead so people can read my work.

An Overview of My Research

Now that it is complete, I feel I can share more about my research. This this study sought to retrieve and interpret how the AG has understood eschatology over the past century. In order to understand how the AG expressed itself, I explored the various voices that have expressed AG beliefs over the past century.

First, the review of scholarly literature contains the most comprehensive survey of studies of AG eschatology and eschatological research by AG scholars. It revealed that AG scholars universally recognize the central role that eschatology has played in the fellowship but are uncomfortable with the fundamentalist dispensationalism expressions that have served as the primary orientation of its doctrine. Because of this, many Pentecostal and AG scholars have sought to argue for alternative models, which are thought to be pneumatologically compatible with the distinctive characteristics found in Pentecostal theology.

In order to test these conclusions, Chapters 3 and 4 sought to engage in a survey of the primary resources of the fellowship. Chapter 3 offered the first survey of official eschatological doctrine of the General Council expressed through the SFT. This chapter revealed multiple revisions have occurred with have led a gradual shift in emphasis during each period from a general expression of eschatological images toward a more specific linear chronology, subtle changes to the millennial position centered around the changing dynamics concerning the nation of Israel, and a noticeable reluctance to articulate a precise tribulational position in the SFT that denominational leaders made explicit in the position papers and supplemental statements.

In Chapter 4, over a century of articles throughout the 5,000 issues in Pentecostal Evangel were surveyed to produce the most comprehensive theological analysis of AG eschatological beliefs. The number and diversity of voices provided a richer and more nuanced narrative of the types of eschatological understandings that have been held in the AG.

In Chapter 5, I summarized the essential elements that make for an AG eschatology. And in Chapter 6, I attempted to construct a pneumatological eschatology based on those essential elements.

A Summary of Conclusions

This study reveals despite this strong pneumatological orientation when the AG began, over the last century AG eschatology has vacillated back and forth between distinctly Pentecostal expressions and those indistinguishable from fundamentalist dispensationalism. I assert that there were two parallel trajectories in the AG’s pneumatological orientation. When emphasis was placed on interpreting world events as the signs of Christ’s coming, the AG was more dispensational, pessimistic, and speculative. When the AG focused on the Holy Spirit as the sign, the AG was more hopeful, pneumatic, and focused on the four eschatological images rather than the chronology, which encouraged speculation.

Here are a number of interesting findings are worth mentioning:

  1. Despite the dispensational influences that often emphasize pessimistic views of the future, the AG managed to maintain a hopeful orientation toward their view of the return of Christ. It was called a “blessed hope” and the Spirit was the spirit of hope that fueled their expectation of Christ’s coming.
  2. The AG was highly committed to premillennialism because it was the only view that affirmed the OT prophecies about the coming messianic kingdom, which prepares the earth for the renewed earth.
  3. The commitment to the “salvation of national Israel” was eschatological, not political. Any theology of Israel they held was contingent upon the return of Christ. In this way they made a distinction between present/political/geographical Israel and the coming messianic restoration of Israel in the millennium that kept them from whole-heartedly affirming the present state of Israel.
  4. The AG was committed to dispensationalism, but managed the tensions by emphasizing the “latter rain” orientation in which they expected the Spirit to be the primary sign of the return of Christ. Therefore, the type of dispensationalism the AG affirmed was not that of J.N. Darby, C.I. Scofield or other fundamentalists; it was a uniquely pentecostal form of progressive dispensationalism fueled by the latter rain metanarrative.
  5. The official eschatological statements do not affirm any tribulational position.  It is assumed that the AG is pretribulational.  That is not true. I show  that several times AG officials had the opportunity to change the language to be pre-tribulational and declined. It is, in fact, permissible in the AG to hold pre, mid, post or even “a-tribulational” positions as licensed minister of the AG. Several denominational leaders, even those who created the official statements, held mid-tribulational or multi-rapture views.
  6. This study casts doubt on assumptions that the AG was not particularly engaged in social or ecological concerns. AG writers consistently wrestled with various social and geo-political realities such as poverty, social changes, and ecological issues. Furthermore, this study found no indication that AG eschatology advocated a reckless attitude toward the environment; rather they consistently supported the continuity between the first creation and the new creation.

This thesis makes several significant contributions to the study of the field of Pentecostal history and theology.

  1. First, this is the first analysis of periodical literature for the entire life span of a particular denominational periodical within the Pentecostal movement. The nuances that were brought out concerning AG eschatology were only possible by expanding the breadth of sources to include the entire lifespan of the community.
  2. A second contribution is by expanding the scope of the study to a full century, I was able to cast doubt on the assertion that the dispensational orientation was detrimental to the AG’s pneumatological orientation. Those who study Pentecostal eschatology now have a more nuanced account of the role dispensationalism has played in how Pentecostals have expressed their eschatology. For the AG, it is more accurate to characterize their eschatology as progressive dispensationalism, or even perhaps Pentecostal dispensationalism, rather than fundamentalist dispensationalism.
  3. A final contribution of this thesis is that it is the first attempt at constructing a comprehensive AG eschatology oriented in the concept of the pneumatological imagination. While other studies have offered alternative visions for Pentecostal eschatology, this study offers suggestions for actual revisions to present doctrinal formulations. Not only were specific recommendations made toward revising the SFT, a methodology of how to implement these changes was also suggested.

I look forward to sharing my work with the world in the months ahead.

 

Ten Opportunities for Future Assemblies of God Research

A question was asked today in an Assemblies of God scholars group I am a part of concerning what areas in the AG needed more scholarship. While doing my own research on the AG, I would often come across information or topics that I recognized were still gaps in AG research.  Here is a list of topics that I thought of that future researchers and young scholars could explore at the masters or doctoral level.

1). Institutional History: The last denominational history was written in 1989 by Edith Blumhofer. The republished version of People of the Spirit by Gary B. McGee has added to that story. But, I still believe that a full history with updated information on the history and doctrinal development of the movement is needed. Likewise, I believe there is a need for a doctoral level study of the history of AG Bible school and universities. There is some work on P.C. Nelson and SAGU, as well as a few studies in Heritage on them as a whole. These institutions have been such a large part of the ethos of the denomination that the history and philosophy of these universities would be a fantastic study.

2). We need an updated systematic theology. Sometime back, I wrote a post on the history of Bible Doctrine books. The first full bible doctrines book was P.C. Nelson’s in 1936 (republished by GPH in 1948).  Myer Pearlman wrote Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible in 1937 and E.S. Williams followed that in 1953 with his Systematic Theology.  But it wasn’t until William Menzies wrote Understanding our Doctrine, which became the basis for Stanley Horton’s republished work Bible Doctrines (1993), that the AG had a modern theological exploration of AG doctrine by a PhD level scholar. The later  Systematic Theology (1994), edited by Stanley Horton, was a suitable systematic text, yet it is now nearly 25 years old.  It is time for a more mature and updated theological text based on the AG’s theological orientation and reflecting contemporary understandings of key AG doctrinal issues.  I hope my work on AG eschatology is a seed toward this goal.

3). There have only been a couple major studies of individual doctrinal beliefs of the Assemblies of God: Various ones on Initial evidence, Sanctification by Bruce Rosdahl and mine on Eschatology. More studies based on the doctrinal history of our other doctrines is needed. Also, while most studies of the AG include a history of the Statement of Fundamental Truths (including a whole chapter in my dissertation), no single study has yet to fully research the history of this document and its doctrines.

4). The genre of Pentecostal biographies has grown in the past few decades, but there is still much work to do, especially on important AG figures. We still need biographies leaders like E.N. Bell, S.A. Jamieson, Stanley Frodsham, E.S. Williams, and many others. The most recent was David Ringer’s short bio of J.R. Flower. Before that was the biography of Stanley Horton by Lois Olena. Many more like it could be produced.

5) In the topic of biographical study, I could see the potential of a volume on the women of the Assemblies of God.  The topic of women in ministry was covered brilliantly by Joy Qualls and there has been some short studies by the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. However, there is certainly a need for more biographies some of the AG’s significant female ministers. The stories of women like  Alice Flower, Elizabeth Sisson, Alice Luce, and others have yet to be told. I particularly think someone should study the phenomenon of the female child evangelists like Louise Nankeville and Edna Jean Horn, could be explored.

6). Someone needs to do a study on the two genres that GPH published in many books: Poetry and Junior Fiction Novels. I was surprised to find out how many poems were published in the Pentecostal Evangel and how many christian poetry books by AG ministers were published by GPH. I was equally surprised to see the number of junior fiction novels the GPH published. Someone needs to do a literary analysis of these interesting genres in AG history.

7). Someone needs to do a study of first generation AG PhD’s such as Stanley Horton, William Menzies, Klaud Kendrick, John Wycoff, etc. and how that impacted the way the AG did theology.

8). Nearly 30 years ago, Margaret Poloma declared that the AG was at a “crossroads” in the charismatic ethos of our local churches.  Where have we gone since then?  I think we need an updated sociological study similar to Poloma’s in 1989, with statistical data charting the prevalence of charismata in the AG. (editing note, Peter Althouse reminded me that Poloma and Green produced a 2010 updated study of the AG).

9). Someone needs study the rise of neo-reformed theology among AG ministers. In 1993, Blumhofer suggested that the growing educational level of our ministers is leading to outside theologies working among our ministers. This may be much more the case now. Many younger pastors are drawn to the neo-reformed movement for theological stability. But what consequences does that have on Pentecostal orientation of our ministers? A good empirical study on this is needed.

10). Someone needs to look further into the issue of race and the AG. There are a few studies , and some discussion in books but a comprehensive investigation that includes dialoging with the CoGiC historians needs to be written.

How Eschatology Shaped AG Social Ethics

This week I attended the annual meeting for the Society for Pentecostal Studies. It was a wonderful meeting.  The theme this year was “Pentecostals and the Poor”.  This theme appealed to me because one of the questions my thesis attempts to answer is how Assemblies of God eschatology translated to how they engaged in social issues.  Did their belief in the soon coming of Christ mean that they ignored issues such as poverty?  I submitted this paper and I was grateful it was accepted.

My paper was given on Friday afternoon in the History interest group. I was excited about sharing my paper, but I was also excited because there were three other excellent papers that were also scheduled during my session: a history of Church Mothers by Jane Coulton, a history of the Church of God by historian David Roebuck and a paper about the origin of Oral Robert’s doctrine of healing by the renown Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan. Needless to say, it was a great crowd and I felt so honored to be in the same session as these excellent scholars. My paper was well received and people seemed very interested in my research.

Isgrigg – Interpreting the Signs of the Times SPS

Abstract:

This paper will seek to explore how the AG’s premillennial beliefs affected the way they interpreted three primary social issues: political attitudes, economic issues, and responses to social and moral issues.  I had to limit the time frame and issues covered because of length, but my thesis looks at these attitudes all the way up to the present. This paper give just a taste of what I found. To aid in this task, commentary on social issues through the lens of eschatology in the Pentecostal Evangel will be analyzed through the first two periods of AG history: Formative Period (1914-1926), Scholastic Period (1927-1948).

Eschatological Women of the Assemblies of God: Alice E. Luce

Alice Eveline Luce was a missionary to India and church planting pioneer who entered the Pentecostal movement in 1910. She was born in England in 1873 and at age 22 she became a missionary with the Anglican Church Missionary Society.[1] While in India, word of the Pentecostal movement had reached her in 1910 and she sought out the baptism in the Spirit for herself. Not long after, she became ill and returned to England in 1912 to recover. In 1915 she moved to Texas to become a missionary to Mexico and was ordained in the AG by M.M. Pinson. In 1926, she helped to found the Spanish speaking Berean Bible School (now Latin America Bible Institute) in San Diego with veteran missionary to Mexico H.C. Ball. Alice Luce was known in the AG as a missionary strategist, Bible school educator and Hispanic missionary. She wrote three books that were published by the GPH: The Messenger and His Message (1925), The Little Flock and the Last Days (1927), and Pictures of Pentecost.

Luce’s Little Flock and the Last Days is a significant work because it is the first GPH book specifically on eschatology by a woman. While she did not intend the book to be a ‘exposition on prophecy, nor yet a study of social or international conditions in the twentieth century’, she wanted to bring light to the topic of Christ’s return and encourage believers to be prepared for his coming. [2]

One unique element of Luce’s premillennial eschatology is understanding of ‘signs of the times’. She recognized that the signs of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes mentioned by Jesus were intended to be  ‘characteristic of the whole of this church age, the dispensation of grace.’ [3] For Luce the true signs that she was living in the last days were 1) the budding of the fig tree (rise of the Jewish nation), 2) the sign of summer in all the trees (awakening of the nations), and 3) the Latter Rain outpouring of the Spirit.[4] She devotes a chapter to each of these significant signs of the soon coming of Christ.

Another unique element in Luce’s eschatology was that she argued that the Millennium was important for the purpose of reversing the curse upon the created order.  She believed Jesus must come to restore nature. Based on Romans 8:20-22, Luce understood that restoration of creation was part of the millennial agenda. Since the second coming will bring the resurrection of believers, it will also signal the resurrection of creation.  Jesus will institute peace, reverse natural disasters, extend the ability of the earth to produce and sustain people and reverse the curse on animals and nature. She says,

The suffering and groaning of nature in this time of the dominion of sin, is not a hopeless mourning over something irrevocably lost. On the contrary, it is a suffering in hope, a death which is only the gateway of entrance into new life … the whole creation, though it suffered with him in this fall, will ultimately be redeemed and restored to greater beauty and fertility than ever.[5]

Luce is another example of the type of pneumatological orientation of AG eschatology and the role that women played in the theological shaping of AG doctrine.  Luce was highly respected missionary and teacher within the AG.  Her books showed a great theological maturity and wisdom.  Together, Alice Luce and Elizabeth Sisson represent some of the earliest eschatological testimony in print for of the AG.

[1] Alice Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1927), p. v.

[2] Gary B. McGee ‘Luce, Alice Eveline’ DPCM, pp. 543-544.

[3] Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, pp. 32-37.

[4] Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, pp. 32-33.

[5] Luce, Little Flock and the Last Days, pp. 47-48.

 

Eschatological Women of the Assemblies of God: Elizabeth Sisson

In my studies of AG eschatology I was delighted to uncover a couple women who were influential with their eschatological writings.  One such woman was Elizabeth Sisson who had the unique opportunity to transition with from the late nineteenth century healing holiness movement, to the Pentecostal movement and finally into the AG.

Sisson had a long and varied career as an evangelist, missionary to India, editor and was close friends of Carrie Judd Montgomery and Maria Woodworth-Etter. In 1871, prior to leaving for India as a missionary, Sisson attended a holiness convention led by William Boardman in which she testifies, ‘God met me again, baptizing me with His Spirit, and taking me into closest relation with Himself’.[1] In the early 1880s, Sisson left India in order to recover from an illness and she settled into a healing house in Bethshan, London. In 1885, she attended the Keswick convention and spoke during many sessions.[2] In 1887, equipped with her health and an experience with the Spirit, she returned to the US to minister with Carrie Jude Montgomery. She even for a short time she co-edited Triumphs of Faith. [3] She also regularly spoke at meetings in England at the Sunderland Pentecostal conventions of A.A. Boddy.[4] Prior to the organizing of the AG, she spent time ministering along side of F.F. Bosworth and S.A. Jamieson in Pentecostal Meetings in Texas.[5] Sisson was well known in early Pentecostal circles and was a regular guest at the Stone Church in Chicago.[6]

As a high profile evangelist and voice in Pentecostal literature, Sisson was invited to be the first woman to be a keynote speaker at a General Council when she gave the keynote address at the 1917 Council in St. Louis.[7] Later that year, she officially joined the AG at the age of seventy-four, despite her insistence that she did not need ordination ‘from man’.[8] Since the AG did not accept women as Presbyters, Sisson held no official office but she holds the distinction of the only woman to speak at General Council early years of the AG.[9]

She was a frequent contributor on eschatological topics to the many Pentecostal periodicals including the Confidence in England, Carrie Judd Montgomery’s Triumphs Of Faith, the Pentecostal Evangel and Latter Rain Evangel. The Evangel Publishing House published her book Foregleams of Glory in 1912, which contained a collection of her writings including a collection of ‘Resurrection Papers’.[10]  Sisson also became the first AG woman to have a doctrinal book published when GPH published her Faith Reminiscences as a part of the first series of books called The Pulpit and Pew Full Gospel Series that were offered in 1925.[11]

Sisson regularly wrote articles on the latter rain outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the return of Jesus, and her favorite eschatological topic was the resurrection.  She believed that not only was the Pentecostal movement a sign of the nearness of Jesus, but that Pentecostal people themselves were signs.  She says, ‘Pentecost with all its demonstrations of the Spirit is a sign. A mighty sign. And the Pentecostallers when yielded to the Holy Spirit are a sign people’.[12]

One important aspect of Sisson’s eschatology was the relationship that resurrection had to creation and Romans 8:19-20. She recognizes that the world is ‘groaningly anticipating a release form bondage into the liberty of the glory of God’s children’ and that ‘with resurrection is somehow involved the liberation of all creation’.[13] The creation, which was subject to sin and frustration, shares the fate of the human beings God created. The resurrection of believers therefore ‘ends creation’s wait, and begins creation’s deliverance from the bondage of sin into the liberty of the resurrection.[14]

Another significant eschatological concept in Sisson’s writing is the Tribulation. Reading Revelation in a literal sense, she believes the Tribulation will be an awful period in the future, but will not be empty of purpose. The tribulation period will be a time of purging for the Church, Israel and the nations. The coming judgment in the tribulation is not an act of vengeance, it is an act of his grace and love. Jesus came in love to the world as ‘remedy’ for sin, however, many did not receive this gift of his love. As part of God’s plan, the tribulation serves as a gift to the world. She says, ‘A new expression of his love! Judgment is His second remedy when His first has proved ineffectual’.[15]

More of Sisson’s eschatology will be featured in my dissertation. Sisson represents several firsts for the AG. Sisson as the first AG woman to publish a book on eschatology in her Foregleams of Glory in 1912.  She was the first woman to have spoken at General Council in 1917.  She was the first woman to have a doctrinal book published by the Gospel Publishing House in 1925.  Although women were not permitted to be pastors in the early years of the AG, Sisson was an influential woman that was highly respected.  A.G. Ward called Sisson ‘a rare Christian character, a woman deeply taught of God, and of wide Christian experience. Her articles are worthy of a place in the writings of the church’. I agree.

Darrin Rogers and the The Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center has featured Sisson in several articles.

Sisson’s 1905 vision of a World Wide Revival

This Week in AG History

[1] Elizabeth Sisson, Foregleams of Glory (Chicago, IL: Evangel Publishing House, 1912), p. 126; Cecil M. Robeck Jr, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’ IDPCM, pp. 788-89; LRE (May, 1909), p. 6-10.

[2] Record of the International Conference on Divine Healing and True Holines, (London, UK: 1885), p. 74-75, 161-62.Sisson attended the 1885 Keswick Convention where she was exposed to Boardman and teaching on the latter rain teaching on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

[3] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 195-98.

[4] Confidence, (June, 1908), pp. 6-7.

[5] Confidence, (June, 1914), p. 110. See also Robeck, ‘Sisson, Elizabeth’, pp. 788-789.

[6] The Latter Rain Evangel published over 70 of her sermons and articles, many of which she delivered at the Stone Church Pentecostal conventions.

[7] GC Minutes (Sept 9, 1917), p. 5. Sisson also spoke in response to a sermon by A.P. Collins on the Second Coming of the Lord where she remarked that she ‘left a letter at home directing what to do in case she should be caught up whilst away on her present trip’. p. 20.

[8] In Sisson’s application for ordination, when asked whom she is ordained by, she replies, ‘By the Lord’. ‘Application for Ordination’, (Dec 18, 1917), held at IFPHC, Springfield, MO.

[9] For more on the role of women in the early AG see Joy E. Qualls, ‘‘God Forgive Us for Being Women’: The Rhetorical Negotiations and Renegotiations of the Role of Women in the Assemblies of God’ Unpublished (PhD Thesis; Regent University, 2010) pp. 25, 161.

[10] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 9-88. Foregleams was a collection of sermons and articles published in the LRE from 1909-1912. Although an AG publishing house did not publish this work, I have included it with the criteria that the Latter Rain Evangel was so closely associated with the AG and because it predates the formation of the AG.

[11] Elizabeth Sisson, Faith Reminiscences and Heart to Heart Talks (Springfield MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1927). For a full list of this series see the ad in PE (Dec 17, 1927), p. 16.

[12] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘These Wars! Why?’ LRE (July, 1916), p. 16.

[13] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, p. 9.

[14] Sisson, Foregleams of Glory, pp. 50-51.

[15] Elizabeth Sisson, ‘A Sign People’ PE (Jan 11, 1919).

The Theological Legacy of “I’ll Fly Away”

If you were to ask for song requests in any AG church in America, I can almost guarantee someone will request “I’ll Fly Away”.  For whatever reason, this song has become an American and Pentecostal favorite of previous generations. There are several reasons its popular. For one, this song has an Oklahoma connection, being written in 1932 by Alfred E. Brumley from Spiro, OK. (Check out this great article in the Tulsa World about Brumley and Spiro).   Second, its is a fun song with a catchy tune.  Its one of those songs you can’t help but clap and shout to.  Perhaps its most notable appeal is the eschatological concept.  “I’ll fly away” expresses the hope for many christians that we will one day ‘fly away’ to heaven to be with Jesus.

As a person who didn’t grow up singing this song, it doesn’t have the same sentimentality for me that it does for many Pentecostals. As a student of eschatology I have discovered that the song actually represents a very important tension in Pentecostal eschatology.  Let me explain.

Pentecostals have always cherished the doctrine of the soon coming of Christ.  The most important aspect in the doctrine of the rapture is that believers will be caught up to be with the Lord when he comes (1 Thess. 5:17).  So when the song says, “I’ll fly away”, we immediately are filled with hope and joy that Jesus is coming.

When you look at the song there are some conflicting messages about heaven, the return of Christ and death. Let me demonstrate.

  • “Some glad morning, when this life is over, I’ll fly away” – What is this phrase referring to? “When this life is over” makes me think it is about death. But death is not the rapture, although in some sense we do ‘fly away’ to heaven.  But rapture is best understood as alive people being caught up and transformed as we are welcomed into heaven.
  • “To a home on God’s celestial shore” – This phrase and imagery is very popular in hymnody.  But notice the designation of Home.  When Jesus comes, we are going home to heaven.
  • “When I die, Hallelujah bye and bye, I’ll fly away.” – Again, the intention is unclear.  Is this death or the rapture?

The AG believes that Jesus will return to rapture/resurrect the bride of Christ and bring her to the Marriage supper of the Lamb in Heaven. However, this will only be a temporary journey, because after a short time (most say it will be 7 years but not all) Jesus will return with his saints to set up the millennial kingdom on earth.  Pentecostals understood that Heaven was Not Their Home. 

Contrary to descriptions made by some scholars, Pentecostals were not “otherworldly”, at least not in an eschatological sense. They were very focused on the future of earth.  Prior to about 1950, AG periodicals talked about heaven, but they did so ambiguously and rarely did they see it as our eternal home. But classical evangelical theology and hymnody such as “I’ll Fly Away” slowly began to change that orientation.  In the late 1940s and 1950s, at the height of the convention song era of hymnody, songs about heaven dominated the minds of AG churches.  Soon, everyone was singing, “Ill fly Away”.

As I point out in my book, and as I have discovered in my study of the first 50 years of AG eschatology,  the Pentecostal hope is not going to heaven, it is that Jesus is coming to make everything new again.  Heaven is not our home, the earth is our home.  One day, Jesus will return to set up his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”  Our hope is that through the reign of Christ, the world will be transformed and all of the promises of no more curse, sin, and pain will be realized.  Earth will be Heaven once more as it was in the Garden of Eden.

One AG writer put it this way in 1917,

“God has been a stranger and an outcast to His own garden because of the usurper, but the Son of the Father undertook to deal with the usurper and will not leave off till He has completed the work given to Him by His Father, so that God once more can visit His garden”. WE 216 (Nov 24, 1917), p. 4.

Similarly, S.A. Jamieson comments in 1922,

“The planet on which we live is by no means to be annihilated … As sinful man has been delivered by redemption of Jesus Christ, so this sin-cursed earth is also to share in that redemption. It is to be transformed, renew, glorified and made a fit place for the habitation of God’s redeemed people.” S.A. Jamieson, ‘A New Heavens and A New Earth’, PE 464/465 (Sep 30, 1922), p. 6.

We are Premillennial believers. We believe there will be a literal kingdom on earth and we will be in it.  If we believe that, how can Heaven be our home? We will ‘fly away’, but we will also ‘fly back’ to earth.

Now you may be saying, “So what. Its just a song”.  I understand. For those of you that love the song, I don’t want to diminish that love. Sing away!  Its a part of our heritage. But from a eschatological perspective, as we sing these songs about heaven, just keep this in mind.  Our songs shape our theology in much of the same way that this song has shaped our eschatology and the role of heaven. As believers, we are not trying to escape this world. That is not our hope. Our hope is that one day Jesus is going to fix this world.   The AG has been committed to that hope for over 100 years. He created the Earth for us. The Earth also longs for our redemption (Romans 8:19-25). Eden was lost, but it will be restored when Jesus comes again. That is our hope. Not that we will live with God in heaven, but that one day God will live with us again on earth.

“Then I hears a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. He will wipe very tear from their eyes.'” (Revelation 21:2-3).

The Eschatology Books of the Assemblies of God

introduction-to-prophecy windows-into-the-future studies-in-daniel

In my dissertation, I am documenting the history of the Assemblies of God and their eschatological positions.  One of the joys of that pursuit has been to build a timeline of all the books on eschatology that have been published by the Gospel Publishing House. To my knowledge, no one has done so.  I also have been trying to collect as many of the books for my own personal collection.  Many of these books are quite rare today, yet I only lack a few volumes.

The AG has always been interested in the return of Christ. From the founding of the fellowship, the soon coming of Christ was at the forefront of the Pentecostal message.  The minutes of the First General record ’For a number of years, God has been leading men to seek for a full apostolic gospel standard of experience and doctrine…Almost every city and community in civilization has heard of the Latter Rain outpouring of the Holy Ghost, with many signs following…Almost every country on the globe has heard the message and also the prophecy which has been predominant in this great outpouring, which is “Jesus is coming soon” to this old world in the same manner as he left it to set up His millennial kingdom and to reign over the earth in righteousness and peace for a thousand years’. GC Minutes (Apr 2-12, 1914), p. 1.

When the  AG wrote their Stament of Fundamental Truths in 1916, the second coming occupied four of the original seventeen statements.  Consequently, many of the earliest books published by GPH were books on the second coming.  Second only to the doctrine of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Eschatology has been one of the most consistent doctrinal themes that the AG has published books on.   For the past one hundred years the premillennial, pre-tribulational position of the AG has been articulated in these books.

A couple interesting facts about these books are worth noting:

  • Two of the earliest eschatology books were written by women: Elizabeth Sisson and Alice Luce
  • Of the 37 books, the majority of books were written primarily by 5 writers, all of which were key leaders in the fellowship :
    • 7 books by Stanley M. Horton
    • 5 books by Frank M. Boyd
    • 4 books by Ralph M. Riggs
    • 3 books by J. Narver Gorner
    • 2 books by Myer Pearlman
    • 2 books by Stanley H. Frodsham
  • Every decade had at least 3 books on bible prophecy published
  • The last book by GPH on eschatology was 2005
  • Since 1990, only four books on eschatology have been published, three of which were by Stanley Horton.

AG Eschatology Timeline:

All of these books were published by GPH unless the have an (*), which were by AG authors but were published before GPH was printing books.

1912 – Forgleams of Glory (Resurrection Papers) –  Elizabeth Sisson *collins

1919 – Sign of the Son of Man –  A. P. Collins *

1925 – The Budding Fig Tree – Frank Boyd

1927 – The Little Flock in the Last Days – Alice Luce

1928 – Things Which Must Shortly Come To Pass – Stanley Frodsham

1928?– Jesus Coming at Hand (collection of articles)are-saints-scheduled

1930 – Are the Saints Scheduled to go Through the Tribulation – J. Narver Gortner

1934 – Coming Crisis and Coming Christ – Stanley Frodsham

1937 – The Path of Prophecy – Ralph M. Riggs

1938 – What Will Happen Next? : Heart-To-Heart Talks About Things Shortly to what-will-happen-nextCome to Pass – Harry J. Steil

1941 – Windows Into the Future – Myer Pearlman

1943 – Daniel Speaks Today – Myer Pearlman

1948 – Introduction to Prophecy – Frank Boyd

194? – Studies in Daniel ­ J. Narver Gortner

1948 – Studies in Revelation – J. Narver Gortnerstudies-in-revelation

1950s – Signs of the Times – Frank Boyd

1950 – Even So Come – Hart R. Armstrong

1950 – Those Who Are Left – Hart R. Armstrong*

1951 – War Against God – Hart A. Armstrong

1955 – Ages and Dispensations – Frank Boydages-and-dispensations

1959 – Waiting… C.M. Ward

1962 – God’s Calendar of Coming Events – Ralph Riggs

1963 – Bible Prophecy – Stanley Horton (teachers manual)*

1963 – Dispensational Studies – Ralph Riggs

1967 – Promise of His Coming – Stanley Hortonpath-of-prophecy

1967 – Studies in the Revelation of Jesus Christ – Frank Boyd (Berean)

1968 – Prophetic Light – Frank Boyd (revised 1988 Berean)

1968 – The Story of the Future – Ralph Riggs

1975 – What You Should Know About Prophecy – Horton

1975 – What You Should Know About Prophecy – C M. Ward (adapted from Horton)*

1975 – Its Getting Late – Commentary on first Thessalonians – Horton

1975 – Preparing for the Storm – Kenneth Barneyintroduction-to-prophecy

1977 – God’s Plan for this Planet – Ian Macpherson

1979 – Countdown: A Newsman’s look at the Rapture – Dan Betzer

1981 – What’s Ahead?: A Study of End-Times Events  -Charles Harris

1982 – What’s Ahead?  – Carol A. Ball (Teacher Guide)

1991 – The Ultimate Victory – Stanley Horton

1995 – Bible Prophecy: Understanding Future Events – Stanley Horton

1996 – Our Destiny: Biblical Teachings on Last Things – Stanley Horton

2005 – Letters to the Seven Churches – James K. Bridges

I hope this is helpful to others who may be studying the Assemblies of God.  Know of any others not on the list. I’d love to hear from you!

Statement of Fundamental Truths Turns 100

100 years ago this week the Assemblies of God Statement of Fundamental Truths was adopted by the 1916 General Council in St. Louis. Although AG Leaders were reluctant to adopt a statement of faith during those early years, a doctrinal statement was needed to stave off division over debates about trinitarian vs. oneness baptism.  A resolution committee was tasked with crafting the document and it was adopted despite much debate.

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Click for Article by AG General Superintendent George O. Wood

Since 2009, I have spent countless hours studying this document as part of my PhD dissertation. Four of the Sixteen statements deal with the return of Jesus (which is the subject of my dissertation). I love this document. I have wrestled with its stregnths and weaknesses, its changes and the ways it has stayed the same. I feel as if i have come to know the writers as personal friends. My dissertation will make a significant contribution to the understanding of the theology of this document. It is not only one of the most important documents in the AG, it is also an important key to understanding Pentecostal doctrine.

In honor of the centennial of this important document, I thought I might share 5 facts about the Statement of Fundamental Truths that you may not know.

  1.  The AG was the first of the Pentecostal groups to produce such a document. Some shorter statements were present in different groups, but the AG was the first to put together a comprehensive list of doctrinal statements. Other groups, such as the Church of God (Cleveland) didn’t produced full statements until nearly 40 years later.
  2. The statement was written by five men who served on the resolutions committee.
    • E.N. Bell – Baptist Pastor and graduate of Rochester Theological Seminary who joined the Apostolic Faith movement and became the first Chairman of the Assemblies of God.
    • T.K. Leonard – Pastor from Findlay, Ohio who operated one of the early Pentecostal Bible Schools (The Gospel School).
    • S.A Jamieson – Highly educated and successful Presbyterian Pastor and Presbyter who gave up all of his positions to join the Pentecostal movement in 1908.
    • Stanley Frodsham – British born writer and editor who became the editor of the Pentecostal Evangel for over 20 years.
    • Daniel W. Kerr – Former Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and who joined the AG in 1916 and founded several AG Bible Schools, including Central Bible College in 1922.
  3. Adoption of the statement caused a rift in the new fellowship by narrowing their doctrinal positions.  As a result, the AG lost 156 people and several key early leaders such as D.C.O Opperman, Howard Goss and R.E. McAlister.
  4. The original statement adopted in 1916 contained 17 fundamentals. Several fundamentals were combined and the list was narrowed to 16 in 1920. The statement was substantially revised at the request of Chairman J. W. Welch  during the 1925 General Council.  The statement was reordered, headings were changed and significant wording was also changed.  Subsequent changes also were made in 1961 and minor revisions several times recently. Although many historians claim the SFT is has been unchanged for a century, the reality is that the statement has been revised frequently.
  5. The statement was meant to be inclusive, exhaustive nor infallible. It has a sense of inclusiveness and openness in order to avoid sectarianism and dogmatism.  It declares:

‘The Statement of Fundamental Truths is not intended as a creed for the Church, nor a basis of fellowship among Christians, but only as a basis of unity for the ministry alone…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’.

I have grown to love and appreciate the history of our doctrine and the way it has shaped our movement. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to study the history of my fellowship.  The Statement of Fundamental Truths has helped guide this fellowship for 100 years.  It is an important document to AG ministers, AG churches and to our history and heritage.

 

Do we still need to tarry?

One of the most amazing things about studying early Pentecostal literature is the testimonies.  I love to read the ways in which those believers experienced God and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  Testimonies of people traveling great distances to places where people were  being baptized in the Holy Spirit fill the pages of the periodicals.  Many of them testify to the old time practice of “tarrying”.  Early Pentecostals believed a person needed to wait upon the Lord at the altar for God to pour out his Spirit. Many of them waited days, weeks or even months to receive.

BellEN_1One of the founding members of the Assemblies of God gave his testimony in 1910 in The Pentecostal Testimony.  E. N. Bell was a Southern Baptist Pastor who heard about the Pentecostal movement.  He went to Chicago in 1907 to seek out the experience of Baptism in the Spirit from the ministry of William Durham.  Durham had received the Holy Spirit at Azusa Street through William Seymour.  Bell arrived in Chicago in August 1907.  For weeks he attended meetings and experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, but he never received the fulness and spoke in tongues. Many time the power of God was on him even to the point of being ‘drunk’ in the Spirit, yet still did not receive the fullness. But he even had times of feeling nothing.  At one point he even testifies as to going ‘cold as sinner’ yet God used that to bring Bell to a place of helplessness.  Yet he continued to believe that the promise was for him. He also believe that when God did fill him that he would speak in tongues.

Finally, nearly a year later in July 1908, he received the baptism in the Spirit. He says, “On July 18, 1908 God baptized me in His Spirit. Wave after wave fell on me from heaven, striking me in the forehead like electric currents and passing over my my being…He began to speak in though me in a tongue I had never heard before and continued for two hours.”  He had many experiences up to that point, but this one was different. He says, “That was when I received the Holy Spirit as a person, not merely His presence, not merely His blessing, not merely His gracious influence.”   It took nearly a year, but he finally received the promise of the Father.

E. N. Bell, the founder of one of the largest Pentecostal bodies in world, had to wait and seek  for nearly a year before he received the Spirit.  And his testimony is not uncommon. Durham sought for the Baptism for three weeks at Azusa Street before he received.  Countless others, despite being part of the greatest Pentecostal revivals in history, had to wait for days, weeks or months to receive the  baptism in the Spirit.

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Quote from E. N. Bell on Baptism in the Spirit.

As a minister today who seeks to lead people into Spirit-baptism, I am often discouraged when I pray for people to receive the baptism in the Spirit and they don’t receive right away.  I want people to receive instantaniously. Many times I question myself or my ministry because they don’t receive right away.  Reading these testimonies is an encouragement to me.   The early Pentecostal experience is no different than today.   Most of the people I know have had to seek for a period of time before they received the fullness of the Spirit. In fact, I also had to seek for over a year  before I received. Maybe I get discouraged because I forget that ‘tarrying’ is part of the process.  It aways has been.  As Jesus said, “Wait in Jerusalem until you have been given power from on high.”  The waiting is  part of God’s process of preparing us.  They had to wait in 1906.  We still have to wait today. But his promise is true. If we wait, he will pour out his Spirit.

To read E. N. Bell’s testimony, you can read it here.  See page 8 for article.

Thanks to the Pentecostal Archives for making these resources available for research. https://pentecostalarchives.org