Review: Assemblies of God in New Zealand

Pentecost at the Ends of the Earth: The History of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand (1927-2003), by Ian G. Clark. Blenheim, New Zealand: Christian Road Ministries, 2007.

The Assemblies of God in New Zealand, the largest Pentecostal organization in that country, traces its origins to the ministry of legendary healing evangelist Smith Wigglesworth. Despite its storied past and significant growth (claiming 30,000 adherents in over 200 churches in 2007), a history of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand had not been written. That is, until now.

Ian G. Clark, a seasoned Assemblies of God pastor and educator, has authored Pentecost at the Ends of the Earth: The History of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand (1927-2003). This well-written volume consists of 274 pages covering 76 years in 50 chronological chapters, documented with 483 footnotes. The author scoured a variety of sources – most significantly the New Zealand Evangel, denominational records, written memoirs, personal recollections, written histories, and his own memories – in the production of this admirably-researched history.

New Zealand’s relatively isolated island locale – described in the title – suggests the reason why it took until the 1920s for Pentecostalism to find firm reception. This breakthrough came when English plumber-turned-evangelist Smith Wigglesworth made a splash upon his arrival in Wellington, New Zealand in May 1922. His meetings, the first large-scale Pentecostal campaign in the country, led to the establishment of Pentecostalism in New Zealand. While Wigglesworth was preceded by other Pentecostal evangelists and isolated groups, up until that point their impact was limited. Wigglesworth returned to New Zealand and held one more extended campaign from late 1923 through early 1924.

The Wellington City Mission was formed in 1922 to conserve the fruit of Wigglesworth’s initial campaign. The organization changed its name to New Zealand Evangelical Mission in 1923. In 1924, independent American evangelist A. C. Valdez arrived in New Zealand and was perturbed by the controversy and schism he discovered in the Movement. Under his leadership, Pentecostals in the nation reorganized in December 1924 as The Pentecostal Church of New Zealand. Problems continued to plague the emerging Pentecostal movement, and by 1926 the organization was deeply divided over how it was to be structured.

Valdez concluded that New Zealand Pentecostals would benefit from association with a more mature fellowship of churches. He stated that, for ten years, he had made a special effort to study the various forms of church government. He recommended that New Zealanders align themselves with the Assemblies of God in the United States. Clark notes that Valdez’s recommendation was remarkable, given that Valdez did not hold credentials with that body in America. Clark also tempered this remark with the observation that Valdez, as a divorced and remarried man, was precluded from receiving Assemblies of God credentials.

Under Valdez’s guidance, and in cooperation with the American church, the Assemblies of God in New Zealand was formed on March 29, 1927. Within one month the new body had fashioned a constitution and a Statement of Fundamental Truths modeled after those adopted by the Americans. Many congregations, formerly with The Pentecostal Church of New Zealand, aligned themselves with the Assemblies of God. In the 1930s, the Apostolic Church entered the nation via Australia, and many disaffected Assemblies of God members and leaders left for the newer body. These losses cemented a generation of poor relations between the Apostolic Church and the Assemblies of God.

The Assemblies of God struggled during its first 20 years, probably never exceeding 400 members. The postwar years brought growth, as a significant number of British pastors moved to New Zealand in the late 1940s and brought integrity, passion, and fresh ideas. The church grew steadily and started a Bible school in 1951. Church growth picked up in the early 1960s as the Assemblies of God, then under the leadership of Frank Houston, identified with the emerging charismatic renewal. A significant portion of the growth in the Assemblies of God was due to an influx of non-caucasians. The first ethnically-Samoan church affiliated with the Assemblies of God in 1965. By 2003, more than 80 Samoan congregations were affiliated with the Assemblies of God in New Zealand, although some 25 of them have left since 2003 to establish their own group of churches.

Clark did not shy away from detailing controversies, which adds significantly to the value of this book. These scuffles – theological and otherwise – helped to shape the identity of the denomination. While many of the issues faced in New Zealand also arose in other nations, New Zealanders did not always arrive at the same conclusions in their context as did, for instance, Americans. Issues of note addressed in this book include the Latter Rain movement (which took on an indigenous form early on in New Zealand, resulting in the formation of New Life Churches of New Zealand), the charismatic movement, divorce and remarriage, church polity (e.g., churches voted annually to reaffirm the call of pastors until the 1970s), the development of a missions program, restructuring the denomination (beginning in 1975), and the acceptance of contemporary prophets (which is similar to the position of the Assemblies of God in Australia, but varies from the stance of the Assemblies of God in the United States). By 1999, the Assemblies of God in New Zealand claimed approximately 27,000 adherents – including 16,000 people in European-culture churches and 11,000 people in churches of other ethnicities.

The author, Ian G. Clark, is to be commended for this volume. He began his career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and served in two New Zealand embassies, then resigned in 1971 to become the first full-time General Secretary and Overseas Missions Director of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand. He served additional posts as a pastor, educator, and national church leader. Clark’s educational and ministry background prepared him well to complete the arduous task of compiling, interpreting, and presenting the history of the church. Clark had previously published Like a Burning Fire, a book about contemporary prophets and prophecy.

Clark’s history supplements two existing histories pertaining to Pentecostalism in New Zealand: A History of the Charismatic Movements in New Zealand by James E. Worsfold, and New Life : A History of the New Life Churches of New Zealand, 1942-1979 by Brett Knowles. Pentecost at the Ends of the Earth will long serve as the standard history of the Assemblies of God in New Zealand and should be in the library of every seminary and major university.

Reviewed by Darrin Rodgers.

Paperback, 274 pages, illustrated. NZ$34.95 (postpaid in NZ). For ordering information, contact the author by email (clarib@ihug.co.nz) or write to him at: 29 Leefield Street, Blenheim 7201, New Zealand.

Technorati Tags:
, , , ,

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s