Category Archives: Education

Seize the Moment

How will the current economic troubles affect the Assemblies of God? According to common wisdom, economic downturns bring spiritual upturns. As the theory goes, when people discover they cannot be self-sufficient, they look for spiritual solutions to their problems.

But is this really the case? History reveals that the Assemblies of God grew significantly during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but its growth was a deviation from the norm. Most churches suffered great setbacks. What really happened during the Great Depression? What lessons can this history provide for the Assemblies of God of the twenty-first century?

Mainline Decline
The Great Depression of the 1930s devastated many segments of American Christianity. Historian Mark Noll noted that mainline Protestants not only faced economic uncertainties, but also theological uncertainties as liberal theology had begun to replace historic Christian beliefs. Many mainline congregations, schools, and ministries had to close or drastically cut back. Their institutions, funded by endowments that disappeared with the Wall Street crash, were running off the fumes of the past.

However, there was a noticeable exception to the decline of religious institutions in the 1930s: evangelical and Pentecostal churches made significant gains. According to Noll, these “sectarian” churches “knew better how to redeem the times.”

Pentecostal Growth
In September 1929, the AG reported 1,612 churches with 91,981 members in the US. By 1944, this tally increased to 5,055 churches with 227,349 members. During that 15-year period, the number of AG churches tripled and membership almost tripled.

This growth didn’t happen by accident. Our forefathers and foremothers during the Great Depression laid a foundation for the expansion of the Assemblies of God, often at a tremendous cost. Of today’s seven largest AG colleges and universities, four were started during the Great Depression: North Central University (1930); Northwest University (1934); Southeastern University (1935); and Valley Forge Christian College (1939).

Myer Pearlman was a prolific writer during the Great Depression.

It was during these hard times that AG scholarship blossomed. Myer Pearlman (1898-1943), P. C. Nelson (1868-1942), and E. S. Williams (1885-1981) wrote many of their influential theological books in the midst of the Great Depression. Pearlman and Nelson literally worked themselves to death, their health breaking under the strain of constant writing, teaching, and preaching.

The AG’s foreign missions enterprise was centralized and strengthened during the Depression. This change encouraged coordination of efforts and accountability. The AG published its first Missionary Manual in 1931 and in 1933 the AG began providing funding for a missions staff at Headquarters. While the Great Depression made finances tight, in 1933 the Foreign Missions Department trumpeted that it did not have to recall any missionaries because of shortage of funds. Indeed, from 1930 to 1939, AG world missions giving increased by 47 percent, the number of world missionaries increased by 25 percent, and the constituency outside the US increased by 132 percent. When other denominations were retreating, the AG was making significant advances in missions.

While Pentecostals decried the Social Gospel movement, which they viewed as caring for physical needs while neglecting spiritual needs, many churches strove to evangelize in both word and deed. One of the best-known churches engaged in social outreach during the Depression was Pentecostal — Angelus Temple, the Los Angeles congregation founded by Aimee Semple McPherson. The congregation operated numerous soup kitchens and free clinics in the 1930s. Countless smaller storefront rescue missions dotted the Pentecostal landscape of that era.

Large-scale population migrations forced by the economic upheaval of the 1930s resulted in the unplanned evangelization of new regions. Pentecostals who left the Midwest during the Dustbowl established numerous Assemblies of God, Pentecostal Holiness, and Pentecostal Church of God congregations in the western states. African-American Pentecostals from the rural South migrated to northern cities and started Church of God in Christ congregations in almost every major city. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in the U.S. returned to Mexico, including many new Pentecostal believers who, in effect, became indigenous missionaries to their homeland. In the providence of God, the painful social dislocation of the 1930s helped bring about the rapid spread of Pentecostalism. Like pollen scattered by a strong wind, Pentecostal refugees planted churches wherever they happened to land.

In raw economic terms, an economic downturn offers a great opportunity for churches to expand their base. Finances will be tight in the meantime, but once the economy turns around, the churches will be much better off than they had been previously, with a larger and more committed membership.

Despair or Desperation?
Some Pentecostals actually seemed to celebrate the challenges of the Depression. The monthly magazine of The Stone Church (an AG congregation in Chicago) published this editorial note: “Our chief difficulty is that we have been bitten by the luxury bug. Nations can stand almost any adversity better than that of the debilitating, enervating, calamity of prosperity. The Word of God declares that, ‘In prosperity the destroyer shall come’” (Job 15:21). One can almost hear the writer saying, “Bring it on, financial struggles will only make us stronger.”

C. M. Ward and his wife, Dorothy, were married just after the stock market crashed in 1929.

C. M. Ward, the voice of the Revivaltime radio broadcast from 1953 to 1978, echoed this sentiment. He and his fiancée, Dorothy, set their wedding date for Christmas Day, 1929. Of course, one month before their wedding, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. Ward couldn’t afford to buy a wedding ring, much less presents, for their first Christmas. He later learned that times of deprivation like this birthed one of two things: either despair or desperation. Despair caused people to simply give up, but desperation spurred people to work hard and be creative.

Need for Vision
Churches, however, are not guaranteed to grow during bad times. Indeed, AG evangelist Christine Kerr Peirce observed in 1935, “Instead of the depression driving people to God, there has developed an apathy and indifference which has not characterized previous periods of distress, when men have turned to God for help.”

Peirce’s lament for the church in 1935 could easily describe the condition of the American church in 2009: “Our modern methods are fast wearing out. That which a few years ago attracted the great crowds, attracts them no more. We have worn out every spectacular appeal we could make and while a few are reached here and there, yet the truth stares us plainly in the face that nowhere are we doing more than just scratching the surface, in comparison with the great number of unchurched and unsaved that should be reached.”

Why was the church in such a state of spiritual stupor? According to Peirce, “The backslidden, apathetic, lethargic condition of the pew today is due largely to the fact that this work [evangelism] has been left in the hands of the pulpit.” Instead, she averred, every Christian is called to be a witness.

How can the church remedy this problem? Peirce dismissed the idea that the church needs methods that are even “more spectacular.” Instead, she propounded, “The need of the present moment is Men and Women of Vision!” Christians first “must see God Himself,” and then must have a “vision of others.” She elaborated, “A true vision of the lost world will prostrate us on our face with a burden of intercession.”

According to Peirce, then, the visionary church must be worshipful and missional. While Peirce’s critique was aimed at the American church in general, she recognized that Assemblies of God members could very easily lose their vision and replace their passion for God and for souls with a reliance on modern methods. However, visionary Assemblies of God leaders viewed the economic crisis as an opportunity, leading the Fellowship to engage in ardent prayer and great personal sacrifice to advance a cause that was much bigger than any one person.

Seize the Moment
The history of the Assemblies of God illustrates the Fellowship’s compelling vision of world evangelization through voluntary cooperation to accomplish what individual Pentecostal believers or churches could not do alone. Hopefully, these testimonies will encourage readers to likewise see the current economic turmoil as an opportunity to reassess priorities, to love those who are hurting, and to lay a broader foundation for the future of the Assemblies of God. Even as we look back at the heroes of the faith who grabbed hold of big ideas and sacrificed greatly to bring them to fruition, I pray that we, the inheritors of this legacy, will seize this moment and invest in the future of our faith.

To learn more about the history of the Assemblies of God, visit the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center’s Web site.

Written by Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center Director Darrin J. Rodgers, this editorial was published in the 2009 Assemblies of God Heritage magazine.

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Review: Assemblies of God Missionaries in the Philippines

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Led by the Spirit: The History of the American Assemblies of God Missionaries in the Philippines, by Dave Johnson. Pasig City, Philippines: ICI Ministries, 2009.

Dave Johnson, an Assemblies of God missionary to the Philippines, has written an impressive account of the development of Assemblies of God missions work in the Philippines from 1926 to the present. Johnson’s 676-page book, Led by the Spirit, is arranged chronologically into five sections: 1) 1926-1946, detailing the arrival of the first missionaries through the internment of missionaries by the Japanese during World War II; 2) 1946-1959, describing the regrouping of the missions efforts following the war; 3) 1960-1979, including the development of educational institutions and media ministries; 4) 1980-2000, documenting the further development of national programs and educational institutions; and 5) 2001-2008, showing the maturation of the institutions within the Assemblies of God of the Phillipines and the relationship of American missionaries with the national church. Each section provides extensive documentation of the lives and work of the American Assemblies of God missionaries active in the Philippines. This is an important addition to the literature on Pentecostal missiology and should be in the library of every seminary and university.

Paperback, 676 pages, illustrated. Available from the author for $22.95 postpaid to U.S. addresses. For more information or to order the book, see: http://www.daveanddebbiejohnson.com

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Stanley M. Horton: Shaper of Pentecostal Theology

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Stanley M. Horton: Shaper of Pentecostal Theology, by Lois E. Olena with Raymond L. Gannon. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2009.

The second half of the twentieth century has seen Pentecostal scholarship emerge and thrive. Out of that emergence, few names are more recognizable than Stanley Horton. Called to teach Bible while a chemistry student at UC Berkeley, Horton did the unthinkable and went to Harvard to prepare for ministry as a Pentecostal scholar. The long shadow of Horton’s influence among Pentecostals began humbly and now stretches around the world and into the first decade of the twenty-first century. You may have read his books, but Stanley Horton: Shaper of Pentecostal Theology will tell you “the rest of the story.” As you read, be encouraged and see what a long obedience in the same direction can yield.

–Dr. Byron Klaus, President, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary

I am very happy to see in print this tribute to Stanley Horton, one of my esteemed professors, a model of godliness, sacrifice, and scholarship. I am also delighted to learn more about his life, and through it the history of the Pentecostal movement in North America. All who have been touched by this rich heritage will appreciate this work.

–Dr. Craig Keener, Professor of New Testament, Palmer Theological Seminary

Who has been a greater luminary in the twentieth-century Pentecostal galaxy than Dr. Stanley M. Horton? Many make their mark on but one island of ministry, but heroes impact many. This book shows how this scholar-saint set the standard for Pentecostal scholarship as a model professor, left a unique Gospel witness across the globe, and kept on “getting it right.” In a nation of conflicted social policies and in a church of confusing racial standards, he showed how one man’s life could clearly reveal Christ’s Church. May this volume inform others as much as my teacher Dr. Horton reformed me. Paul said in 1 Timothy 5:17 to give double honor to the elders who rule well; this read is just a portion of such honor.

–Bishop Lemuel Thuston, Kansas East Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, Church of God in Christ

Paperback, 318 pages, illustrated. $19.95 retail. Order from: Gospel Publishing House

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Dr. Stanley Horton Endowment announced


horton_stanleyTo honor Dr. Stanley M. Horton’s remarkable service to AGTS, to the Assemblies of God, and to the greater Pentecostal community over the past seven decades, the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary has initiated the Dr. Stanley M. Horton Scholarly Resources Endowment Fund, in conjunction with the Pillars of the Faith initiative.

You are invited to help AGTS reach its goal of $25,000 for this endowment. For those who contribute $125 or more, AGTS will send a complimentary copy of Dr. Horton’s forthcoming biography, Stanley M. Horton: Shaper of Pentecostal Theology, by Lois E. Olena with Raymond L. Gannon.

Interest from this endowment will be used to purchase scholarly resources for the Cordas C. Burnett Library at AGTS — specifically biblical-theological and biblical language resources, as these areas have been so important to Dr. Horton over the years.

Please go to this link at the AGTS website for more information, to contribute to the endowment, and to reserve your copy of Dr. Stanley Horton’s biography. (The book releases in April and will be shipped in May to those who contribute $125 or more to the Dr. Stanley M. Horton Scholarly Resources Endowment.) For a $250 gift, AGTS will send you a copy signed by Dr. Horton. Contributions can also be made by mailing or calling the AGTS Development Office, 1435 N. Glenstone Ave., Springfield, MO 65802; ph. 1-800-467-2487×1012.

In conjunction with the release of Dr. Horton’s biography, the 2009 issue of Assemblies of God Heritage will include an article by Lois E. Olena called “Stanley M. Horton: A Pentecostal Journey,” which outlines his rich Pentecostal heritage and the unfolding of his life to become Pentecostalism’s “premier theologian.” A related article slated for the 2009 issue is “The Social Conscience of Stanley Horton” by Martin William Mittelstadt and Matthew Paugh.

Posted by Glenn Gohr

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Gary McGee is Rejoicing with the Angels


mcgeeDr. Gary B. McGee, longtime Assemblies of God educator, slipped from this life into the arms of his loving Savior shortly before noon today, December 10, 2008. McGee was hospitalized on November 13 with complications due to a bacterial infection and a weakened immune system from a long fight with cancer. McGee was released from the hospital yesterday and passed away at home with his family present.

Few Assemblies of God educators have attained the breadth of influence achieved by McGee. His extensive college and seminary teaching experience spanned five decades (1967-2008). He was a prolific author, and he helped to build bridges through his leadership in numerous professional and interchurch organizations. He was Distinguished Professor of Church History and Pentecostal Studies at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, where he taught since 1984. He previously taught at Central Bible College (1970-1984) and Open Bible College (1967-1970).

McGee authored seven books, edited and contributed to three books, and he wrote chapters in fifteen books, 41 journal articles (since 1993), and 129 articles in twelve dictionaries. He was a frequent contributor to denominational publications, including Today’s Pentecostal Evangel, Assemblies of God Heritage, Advance, Enrichment, and Paraclete. He is probably best known for his two-volume history of Assemblies of God World Missions, This Gospel Shall Be Preached (GPH, 1986, 1989), for his biographical approach to Assemblies of God history, People of the Spirit (GPH, 2004), and for coediting the award-winning Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Zondervan, 1988). He completed his last book, Miracles, Missions, and American Pentecostalism (Orbis Books, forthcoming 2010), just weeks before his death.

McGee traveled extensively and also taught at Asia Centre for Evangelism and Missions, Singapore; Continental Theological Seminary, Brussels, Belgium; Evangelical Theological Seminary, Osijek, Croatia; Kiev Bible Institute, Kiev, Ukraine; Romanian Bible Institute, Bucharest, Romania; and Southern Asia Bible College, Bangalore, India.

McGee emerged as one of the most highly-respected and loved educators in the Assemblies of God, as well as one of the most articulate voices concerning the history of Pentecostal missions. In the academic community, McGee was best known for his publications on the history of early Pentecostalism and missiology. His family and friends knew him as a man of sterling character, good humor, humility, spiritual sensitivity, and personal warmth. According to fellow historian Grant Wacker, McGee “was always ready for a joke as well as a prayer.”

Gary McGee’s family came into the Pentecostal movement after his maternal grandmother accepted Christ in an Aimee Semple McPherson evangelistic campaign in Canton, Ohio, in 1921. The family became faithful members of Bethel Temple Assembly of God in Canton. McGee was born on April 22, 1945, the second oldest of five children.

Upon his graduation from Central Bible College in 1967, he began teaching at Open Bible College (Des Moines, Iowa). He received his ordination from the Iowa District Council in 1969. He returned to Springfield, Missouri, in 1970, where he would become a fixture for the rest of his life. He began teaching at his alma mater, Central Bible College, and in 1971 completed the Master of Religious Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri). McGee completed his M.A. in Religious Studies at Missouri State University (Springfield, Missouri) in 1976, and his Ph.D. in Church History at St. Louis University in 1984. Upon completion of his doctorate, McGee began teaching at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He was named Distinguished Professor of Church History and Pentecostal Studies in 2006. In March 2008, the Society for Pentecostal Studies conferred on him the Lifetime Achievement Award.

McGee demonstrated how a holy man – a man of God – can die well. During the last ten years of his life he suffered from cancer and arthritis, but McGee did not complain. Instead, he joyfully focused on other peoples’ needs and labored to complete the tasks he believed the Lord had given to him. Former student Jennifer Strickland Hall wrote, “Watching the grace and beauty you have displayed in the midst of your suffering over the years has taught me more than any book on the subject.” And McGee did, by the way, write a book on the subject: How Sweet the Sound: God’s Grace for Suffering Christians (GPH, 1994). Just before his final hospitalization, he finished the manuscript for his last book. In the past two weeks, McGee tied up loose ends, said goodbyes, and did not show despair, but faith in his great God. This has been a difficult, but beautiful, time.

McGee leaves behind a wife, Alice; two daughters, Angela Brim and Catherine McGee; and two grandchildren, Bailey and Marshall Brim, all of Springfield, Missouri. Other survivors include his mother, Velma L. Davis; two brothers; two sisters; and a host of other relatives.

Visit the AGTS website for more information about McGee’s funeral. Readers are encouraged to send messages to the McGee family, either by posting them on the AGTS website or by mail: Alice McGee, 1920 E. Sayer Circle, Springfield, MO 65803

By Darrin J. Rodgers

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Review: American Indian College history

American Indian College: A Witness to the Tribes, edited by Joseph J. Saggio and Jim Dempsey. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2008.

American Indian College, the first regionally accredited Bible College for Native Americans in the United States, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2007. Since its founding as All Tribes Bible School by Assemblies of God missionary Alta Washburn, the school has played an important role in the training of Native American pastors and the development of indigenous Pentecostal churches.

American Indian College: A Witness to the Tribes is a valuable collection of historical accounts, interpretive essays, and personal narratives that will evoke memories for those who lived the history. It will also become an essential resource for students and scholars who wish to better understand the history and future of Native American higher education and Pentecostalism. The book was edited by former longtime AIC faculty member Joseph J. Saggio (and now a professor at Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington) and Jim Dempsey, longtime faculty member currently serving as AIC Campus Pastor.

The content of this volume falls into three major categories: 1) three previously-published histories of the school; 2) short essays or “reflections” by people associated with the school; and 3) an overview of the school’s history, mission and aims, written by the editors.

The three histories, reprinted with introductions in this volume, are: Trail to the Tribes, by Alta M. Washburn; A Trail of Beauty: A Short History of American Indian Bible College, by Pauline Dunn; and Indian Harvest: A History of American Indian Bible College, by Carolyn D. Baker.

The reflections were written by: board members (T. Ray Rachels, Rodger A. Cree, Sr., Curtis W. Ringness, and Marvin Begay); presidents (Don Ramsey, Simon Peter, Carl E. and Alice Collins, David J. Moore, Jim H. Lopez, and James V. Comer); faculty (Alma F. Thomas, Eugene Hunter, Betty J. Hanna, Belinda F. Lopez, Nancy J. Saggio, and Everett F. Peralta); staff (M. Nadine Waldrop, Sandra K. Ticeahkie, Sandra M. Gonzales, Donald P. Merino); and alumni (Lillie Ward Neal, Jimmy Yellowhair, Vince Roubideaux, James J. Bollinger, Marco J. Burnette, and Jameson D. Lopez).

George O. Wood authored the foreword. Appendices include a historical timeline, lists of members of the Board of Regents, administration and faculty, staff, and graduates. The book also includes invaluable name and photo indices.

American Indian College: A Witness to the Tribes deserves to be widely distributed, as it provides a rare treatment of the intersection of three important subjects, each of which merits attention in its own right: Native Americans, higher education, and Pentecostalism.

Reviewed by Darrin J. Rodgers

Softcover, xiv, 433 pages, illustrated. $18 plus $7 shipping and handling. Order from: American Indian College, Attn: Sylvia Rivera, 10020 N. 15th Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85021-2199. Checks should include the phrase “AIC Book” in the memo line. For more information or to order a book, contact Sylvia Rivera by phone (602-944-3335, ext. 221) or by email (srivera@aicag.edu).

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Documenting the Early Days of Pentecost in Alabama


An early tent meeting in Geneva County, Alabama, about 1913
An early tent meeting in Geneva County, Alabama, about 1913

Rachel Dobson of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has been researching the early history of the Assemblies of God movement in (mostly) southeast Alabama, for a series of independent study projects in the master’s program in library and information studies at the University of Alabama. She has been collecting documentation on tent revivals, camp meetings, brush arbor meetings (from newspapers, posters, oral histories like those at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center) that took place from about 1906 (when M. M. Pinson came to what is now El Bethel AG just north of New Brockton) until about 1918 or 1919, in a few counties of southeast Alabama, and possibly northwest Florida. She also has been resourcing information from county histories, church histories, Google Maps, and references such as The First Fifty Years: A Brief Review of the Assemblies of God in Alabama (1915-1965), by Robert H. Spence, 1965.

Her great grandfather, Lafayette Snellgrove, and her great-great uncle, Handy W. Bryant, and their families were born and raised in Coffee, Dale, and surrounding counties in Alabama. They attended many Pentecostal revivals and camp meetings around Wicksburg, New Brockton, Midland City, and as far away as Florala, in the first decades of the twentieth century. Lafayette and Handy were both ordained ministers, and her great-great aunt, Daisy S. Bryant, was licensed to preach. They attended the organizing meetings for the southeastern District in 1915, 1916, and 1917. She also located Handy Bryant’s name on some of the early rosters of the Churches of God in Christ. See links to these rosters at the blog entry for Church of God in Christ and in unity with the Apostolic Faith.

Rachel is especially interested in the early locations of camp meetings and the history of how churches were established because of these early meetings. Her research has taken her to reports of revival services in early publications such as the Word and Witness and the Christian Evangel (forerunner of the Pentecostal Evangel). Recently she posted some photographs of early camp meeting locations and historic churches in Alabama. These photos can be viewed on a photoset at Flickr.com called Early Pentecost in Alabama.

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