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Remembering the Assemblies of God’s Black Heritage

By Darrin J. Rodgers

It is well-known that the interracial Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909), a focal point of the emerging Pentecostal movement, was led by an African-American pastor, William J. Seymour. However, the African-American heritage of the Assemblies of God has often been overlooked.

Most of the approximately 300 ministers who organized the Assemblies of God in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in April 1914 were white. (At least two were Native American.) However, African-Americans played important roles in the early decades of the Assemblies of God – at the first few general council meetings and as pastors, evangelists, and missionaries. They overcame racism (including from fellow believers), they led consecrated lives, and they helped to lay the foundation for the Fellowship. Their stories are our stories. The following vignettes offer a glimpse into the lives and ministries of these sometimes unsung heroes.

  1. William J. Seymour (1870-1922)

seymour-p5606William J. Seymour, a mild-mannered African-American Holiness preacher, is remembered as one of the most important figures in twentieth century American religious history. Just 111 years ago, he founded the Apostolic Faith Mission on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, which became home to the famed Azusa Street Revival. Hundreds of millions of Pentecostals around the world, including those in the Assemblies of God, view Seymour as a spiritual father. He would probably be surprised by the attention, as during his lifetime he was often marginalized, even within Pentecostal circles. But his persistent encouragements toward holiness, humility, racial reconciliation, and evangelism continue to shine as founding ideals of the Pentecostal movement.

  1. Charles H. Mason (1864-1961)

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Few early Pentecostals were as widely respected and admired as Charles H. Mason, founder of the Church of God in Christ. While the Church of God in Christ was a largely African-American Pentecostal denomination, Mason also credentialed numerous white ministers, some of whom ended up joining the Assemblies of God. Mason spoke at and blessed the founding general council of the Assemblies of God, and he also brought his black gospel choir from Lexington, Mississippi. E. N. Bell, the founding chairman of the Assemblies of God, called Mason “a real prophet of God.”

  1. Garfield T. Haywood (1880-1931)

Christian OutlookG.T. Haywood was the African-American pastor of the largest Pentecostal congregation in Indianapolis in the early decades of the twentieth century. He was also a noted theologian, author, songwriter, cartoonist, and inventor. His influence stretched far, and his congregation was racially mixed. The first issue of the Christian Evangel (later Pentecostal Evangel) included three articles by or about Haywood. He was invited to speak on the 1915 general council floor to represent the Oneness position, even though he never held Assemblies of God credentials. Haywood went on to serve as presiding bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, a racially mixed Oneness Pentecostal denomination.

  1. Ellsworth S. Thomas (1866-1936)

Ellsworth S. Thomas holds the distinction of being the first African-American to hold Assemblies of God ministerial credentials. His name was just a footnote in the history books until recently, when new information came to light. His parents, a Civil War veteran and a laundress, were part of a free black community in Binghamton, New York, that pre-existed the Civil War. By 1900, Ellsworth had become an itinerant evangelist, he was ordained in 1913 by a Pentecostal church in Buffalo, New York, and he transferred his ordination to the Assemblies of God in 1915. He remained a faithful Assemblies of God minister until his death at age 70.

  1. Isaac S. Neeley (1865-1923) and Martha (Mattie) A. Board Neeley (1866-1940s?)

neeleyp5664Isaac and Martha Neeley were married late in life (in 1905) and became the first African-Americans to serve as Assemblies of God missionaries. They went to Liberia in 1913 under the auspices of Howard A. Goss’s largely-white Pentecostal fellowship, the Church of God in Christ (which was distinct from Charles H. Mason’s group by the same name). They transferred their credentials to the Assemblies of God in 1920 when they were home on furlough and received missionary appointment to Liberia in 1923. Isaac died just before they were set to leave, and Martha proceeded alone to Cape Palmas, where she was in charge of Bethel Home.

  1. Cornelia Jones Robertson (1891-1967)

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Cornelia Jones Robertson, an African American participant at the Azusa Street Revival, was ordained in 1909 and became a popular evangelist and preached at churches across the nation. She transferred her credentials to the Assemblies of God in 1923 and settled in San Francisco, where she became a church planter and evangelist. She ran the Barbary Coast Mission for 14 years and is credited for helping 100,000 people in need. She was one of few African Americans listed in the predecessor to the San Francisco Social Register.

  1. Thoro Harris (1874-1955)

Early Pentecostals loved gospel music, and Thoro Harris was one of their favorite song writers. He published countless songbooks and composed over 500 songs, including “Jesus Loves the Little Children” (1921), “All That Thrills My Soul is Jesus” (1931), and “He’s Coming Soon” (1944). Harris, an African-American, moved seamlessly in both white and black circles, as well as in both Holiness and Pentecostal churches. He made a substantial impact on Assemblies of God hymnody in its early decades.

  1. Lillian Kraeger (1884-1964)

kraegerLillian Kraeger, a young single white woman, felt called to Africa as a missionary. She never made it to Africa, but instead became an unlikely Assemblies of God missionary to African-Americans in Harlem. Lillian was heartbroken when her Assemblies of God church in New York City rejected the membership applications of two young African American girls on account of their skin color. She did not want the girls to fall away from the Lord, so in 1916 she began traveling to Harlem to hold Bible studies. The studied blossomed and grew into Bethel Gospel Assembly, which is now the largest congregation in the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, the African-American denomination which formed a cooperative alliance with the Assemblies of God in 2014.

  1. Eddie Washington (1916-2008)

Eddie Washington and his twin brother, Billie, were raised in a cruel orphanage in Rhode Island. They hoped for a reprieve when they went to a foster home at age 14. But when they accepted Christ at a Pentecostal church, their occultist foster mother beat them until their heads bled and forbade them to attend church again. They disobeyed, went back to church, and were filled with the Holy Spirit. Their foster mother, now afraid of them because she could tell that they had spiritual power, left them alone. The twins prepared for the ministry at Zion Bible Institute and entered the evangelistic ministry. Eddie and his wife, Ruth, joined the Assemblies of God and became well known African-American evangelists and missionaries.

  1. Bob Harrison (1928-2012)

TWOct22_728When Bob Harrison felt a call to the ministry, he naturally turned to the Assemblies of God. His godmother, Cornelia Jones Robertson, was a pioneer African-American Assemblies of God minister. He graduated from an Assemblies of God Bible college in 1951, but he was denied credentials on account of his race, ironically, by the same district that ordained his godmother. Harrison quickly rose in prominence in evangelical circles. He joined the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1960 and traveled the world as an evangelist. In 1962, he became the catalyst for overturning a policy, instituted in 1939, that forbade the ordination of African-Americans at the national level. Harrison, in his new role as an ordained Assemblies of God minister, became a visible proponent of working across the racial divides.

These and countless other African-American Pentecostals have made a significant impact on the Assemblies of God. In 2015, almost ten percent of Assemblies of God USA members – 308,520 people – were black. As a whole, ethnic minorities accounted for 43 percent of Assemblies of God adherents in the United States. The Assemblies of God, an heir of the Azusa Street Revival, consists of people from varied racial backgrounds who have come together in the power of the Holy Spirit to glorify Christ and to further His Kingdom.

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Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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From the Cabaret to Musical Evangelist: Meyer Tan-Ditter, Jewish Assemblies of God Pioneer

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This Week in AG History — September 30, 1962

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 29 September 2016

Meyer Tan-Ditter (1896-1962) was an unlikely candidate to become an Assemblies of God evangelist and missionary. Born into an Orthodox Jewish home in London, England, Tan-Ditter abandoned his family’s strict religious standards when he reached adulthood. A gifted musician, he spent seven years playing in cabarets. He spent considerable time at race tracks, where he exercised horses. For nearly five years, he traveled the world in the British Naval Service and the American Merchant Marine. Tan-Ditter later described himself as living “the life of a sailor.” He spread his wings and imbibed deeply in the ways of the world.

A friendship with a Christian woman – known to history only as “Sister Wicks” – changed the trajectory of Tan-Ditter’s life. Wicks, knowing that the young man came from an observant Jewish background, began asking him about his childhood faith. At first, he resented her questions. He was not interested in discussing religion. Furthermore, his family had taught him to distrust Christians.

Wicks continued to show esteem for both Tan-Ditter and for Jewish traditions. Over time, he opened up to her. She asked about his thoughts regarding the identity of the Messiah, but she carefully refrained from mentioning the name of Jesus. Her inquiries sparked questions in Tan-Ditter’s mind. He was already very familiar with the Talmud and the Torah, and he began to suspect that it could be possible that the Messiah had already come.

One night while staying at his parents’ home, something jostled Tan-Ditter awake. He was startled to see a glow with a bright lighting shining in his eyes. The longer he stared at the light, the clearer it became. He soon realized that it was the face of Jesus Christ in the light! He jumped out of bed and ran into the kitchen, nervous and shocked.

His mother came into the kitchen and asked what was wrong. He was not sure what to say. His vision seemed to confirm what he already suspected – that Jesus could be the Messiah. He knew that his family would disown him if he confessed this belief. Finally, he told her that he had just seen Jesus in a vision.

Tan-Ditter’s mother began weeping, thinking that her son must be either crazy or apostate. Rumors circulated about his vision. A little while later his father asked, “What is this I hear? I hear you are becoming a Christian.” Tan-Ditter answered, “I am not becoming one, I have been one for three weeks.” His father immediately kicked his son out of the house and asked him to never return. The local Jewish community ostracized him, and people would come up to him on the streets and mockingly ask him to describe what Jesus looked like. Following Jesus would be costly.

Sister Wicks provided a room for the 25-year-old homeless convert and encouraged him to seek God in prayer. For 10 days, Tan-Ditter spent extended times of prayer on his knees. He asked God to show him whether Isaiah chapter 53 does indeed refer to Jesus. His vision of Jesus as Messiah held fast. His father brought him to two rabbis, who cross-examined the young man. But he held his vision of Jesus close to his heart, and the rabbis could not shake his faith.

Tan-Ditter received another vision. This time he saw an angel carrying a large book come into his room. The angel told him to eat the book, which he did. The next morning he awoke with a great hunger to share the message of Jesus Christ with the Jewish people. This vision propelled Tan-Ditter toward a life of ministry to the Jewish people.

To prepare for this calling, Tan-Ditter attended two Assemblies of God schools. He initially enrolled at Beulah Heights Bible Institute in North Bergen, New Jersey (now University of Valley Forge). After one year, he transferred to Bethel Bible Training School in Newark, New Jersey (now Evangel University). He graduated in 1922, was ordained as an Assemblies of God evangelist in 1924, and married Alice Laura French in 1926. Together, they served in pastoral ministry and became well-known musical evangelists and missionaries.

The Tan-Ditters served as missionaries to the Jewish people in the United States until Meyer’s death in 1962. Alice passed away in 1975. They couple did not have children.

Meyer Tan-Ditter’s testimony illustrates several themes in Pentecostal history. Many early Pentecostal converts testified that signs and wonders drew them to faith. Likewise, Tan-Ditter’s vision confirmed, in his mind, that Jesus was the Messiah. Early Pentecostals also often found that serving Jesus was costly. And Tan-Ditter was not the only early Pentecostal whose Jewish background and knowledge of Hebrew scripture proved to be a strong foundation for Pentecostal faith. Myer Pearlman, the noted Assemblies of God systematic theologian from the 1920s through the 1940s, had a similar testimony. The Assemblies of God, mirroring the Book of Acts, proved fertile ground for both Jews and Gentiles.

Read Meyer Tan-Ditter’s obituary on page 23 of the Sept. 30, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Open Doors in the Congo,” by Gail Winters

• “Dedicated to Sacrifice,” by Anthony Sorbo

• “Pioneering among the Deaf and among the Hearing,” by Maxine Strobridge

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Click here to read Meyer Tan-Ditter’s testimony, “How God Got Hold of a Jew,” published on page 8 of the January 22, 1927, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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Minnie Abrams: Lessons from the Pentecostal Revival in India

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Minnie Abrams (right), sitting next to Jivubai, an Indian woman

This Week in AG History — May 19, 1945

By Darrin Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 19 May 2016

Minnie Abrams (1859-1912), in many ways, was a typical woman in the American Midwest in the late nineteenth century. However, everything changed when she heeded God’s call to the mission field. Abrams was reared on a farm in rural Minnesota and, in her early twenties, became a schoolteacher. After a few years in the classroom, however, she sensed that God was leading her in a new direction. She attended a Methodist missionary training school in Chicago and, in 1887, set sail for Bombay, India.

In Bombay, Abrams helped to establish a boarding school for the children of church members. Not content to stay within the walls of missionary compound, she learned the Marathi language so that she could engage in personal evangelism. Ultimately, she became a fulltime evangelist and began working with Pandita Ramabai, a leading Christian female social reformer and educator. Abrams worked with Ramabai at her Mukti Mission, a school and home for famine victims and widows.

After hearing news of revival in Australia (1903) and Wales (1904-1905), Abrams, Ramabai, and others began seeking a restoration of the spiritual power they read about in the New Testament. They formed a prayer group, and about 70 girls volunteered to meet daily, study the Bible, and pray for revival. Beginning in 1905, several waves of revival hit the Mukti Mission. The prayer group grew to 500, and many of the girls reported spiritual experiences that seemed to repeat what they found in the Book of Acts. Some prophesied, others received visions, and yet others spoke in tongues. Abrams wrote about the revival, which became the foundation for the Pentecostal movement in India, in the July 1909 issue of the Latter Rain Evangel. Her account was republished in the May 19, 1945, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

According to Abrams, the revival came to India because of deep prayer, consecration, and repentance. During the daily prayer meetings, the girls memorized Scripture, became deeply aware of their own sinfulness, and hungered for righteousness and an outpouring of God’s Spirit.

Abrams recalled, “I cannot tell you how I felt in those days of repentance at Mukti when the Holy Spirit was revealing sin, and God was causing the people to cry out and weep before Him.” The girls who had been touched by revival did not stay put; they fanned out into surrounding villages and brought the gospel to anyone who would listen.

Abrams recounted that revival at the Mukti Mission included not just remorse over sin, but also incredible joy that followed repentance. She wrote that “ripples of laughter flowed” in prayer meetings, that some of the girls began dancing in the back of the room, and that they were filled with a “deeper joy.”

According to Abrams, the early Indian revival provided valuable lessons for Christians everywhere. She also gave a warning to readers that is just as applicable today as it was in 1909: “the people of God are growing cold and there is a worldliness and an unwillingness to hear the truth and to obey it.”

How can we have revival today? Abrams offered the following admonition: “If you want revival you have to pour your life out. That is the only way. That is the way Jesus did. He emptied Himself; He poured out His life; and He Poured out His life’s blood.” Minnie Abrams wrote convincingly and convictingly from experience. She and countless other Pentecostal pioneers followed Christ’s example and poured their lives into serving others and building God’s kingdom.

Read the entire article by Minnie Abrams, “How Pentecost Came to India,” on pages 1 and 5-7 of the May 19, 1945, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:
* “Speaking in Tongues,” by Howard Carter
* “The Tarrying Meeting,” by Stanley H. Frodsham
* “An Anniversary Testimony,” by A. H. Argue
And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

“Pentecostal Evangel” archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

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2015/2016 Assemblies of God Heritage – Now Available Online and in Hard Copy!

WoodHeritage 2016The 2015/2016 edition of Assemblies of God Heritage magazine is hot-off-the-press and is in the mail to all Assemblies of God USA ministers and subscribers! Selected articles are also accessible for free on the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center website.

This edition uncovers the stories of Assemblies of God pastors, evangelists, and missionaries who hailed from a variety of religious and social backgrounds. Despite their differences, they shared a worldview that, at its heart, was a transformative experience with God.

Some, like Dr. Lilian Yeomans, were well-known. A Canadian medical doctor who became addicted to her own drugs, Yeomans nearly died before experiencing a transforming encounter with God. She went on to become a noted faith healer and author. Her gripping story of addiction and deliverance speaks directly to one of the great social problems in America today.

Others, such as “Aunt” Fanny Lack, engaged in local ministry. A member of the Hoopa Indian Tribe, Lack converted to Christ at a Pentecostal revival in 1920—at age 100. She was delivered from a tobacco addiction and was also healed of physical infirmities (she was blind and lame). She became a stalwart member of the Hoopa Assembly of God and was a remarkably active lay minister until about age 109. Newspapers across the nation picked up Lack’s fascinating story, but she had been largely omitted from scholarly histories. That is, until now.

This edition also includes the inspiring stories of missionaries Anna Sanders, Barney Moore, and Emile Chastagner, as well as pastors Samuel Jamieson, Joseph Wannenmacher, and Elmer Muir. What did these early Pentecostals share in common? Each faced deep personal struggles, but when they placed their trust and faith in God, they discovered renewed meaning and opportunities in life.

Following Christ did not make their lives perfect. Some (such as Joseph Wannenmacher) experienced physical healing; others (such as Emile Chastagner’s wife) did not. And, as Anna Sanders discovered, becoming a Christian does not necessarily take away the pain or consequences of a divorce. In spite of these difficulties, she went on to become a revered founder of the Assemblies of God in Mexico.

Many readers will be surprised to learn that Bethel Gospel Assembly, the historic African-American congregation in Harlem, was started by a young German woman, Lillian Kraeger, in 1916. Kraeger was heartbroken that her white Assemblies of God congregation rejected the membership applications of two black girls on account of their race, and she did not want them to fall away from the Lord.

The congregation grew to become the largest in the United Pentecostal Council Assemblies of God (UPCAG), the African American denomination which entered into an agreement of cooperative affiliation with the Assemblies of God in 2014. Bethel Gospel Assembly, which is now jointly affiliated with the UPCAG and the Assemblies of God, has long viewed its own history and mission as one of racial reconciliation. The congregation’s story is important, particularly in this age of racial discord.

Finally, an article about spiritual manifestations in early Pentecostalism may raise eyebrows. Some early Pentecostals, for instance, claimed to have extra-biblical spiritual gifts, including levitation and writing in tongues! Early Pentecostal church leaders learned valuable lessons regarding discernment of spiritual gifts, and these lessons continue to be helpful today.

Access these articles for free on the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center website. You can also order a hard copy of Assemblies of God Heritage for yourself or as a gift. The 2015/2016 edition is available for $8, and over 100 different back issues are available, as supplies last, for only $3 each. To order, click here or call toll free: (877) 840-5200.

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Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

 

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Assemblies of God 2014 Statistics Released, Reveals Ethnic Transformation

Advertisement for the 2012 annual meeting of the Southern Pacific District Council of the Assemblies of God.

Advertisement for the 2012 annual meeting of the Southern Pacific District Council, which serves Hispanic Assemblies of God churches in Southern California.

The Assemblies of God is one of the few major denominations in the United States to show continuing growth. But the real story is the ethnic transformation of the Assemblies of God. It is becoming less white and more reflective of the ethnic, linguistic and social diversity that exists in the global church.

When the Assemblies of God (AG) released its 2014 statistical reports last week, the press release noted that the denomination’s number of U.S. adherents had grown for 25 consecutive years. In 2014, the AG showed modest growth of 0.6% to 3,146,741 U.S. adherents. This was just below the growth rate of the U.S. population, which increased by 0.75%. The number of U.S. adherents has been increasing at a relatively steady pace — at an average of 1.6% per year since 1989, and 1.5% per year since 2008.

The number of U.S. churches also showed growth (from 12,792 to 12,849, up 0.4%), as did the numbers of conversions (up 1.5%), membership (up 0.4%), ministers (up 1.2%), and major worship service attendance (up 0.5%). However, the numbers for Spirit baptisms and water baptisms both decreased (by 3.3% and 2.2%, respectively). In 2014, both categories showed growth from the prior year. Attendance at Sunday evening services continued to decline (by 10.6% in 2014), as congregations experiment with alternative times for services and small groups.

The growth of the Assemblies of God is in marked contrast to most mainline Protestant denominations in the U.S., which have witnessed significant numerical declines in recent decades. From 1960 to 2014, the United Church of Christ lost 53% of adherents; The Episcopal Church lost 46%; the Presbyterian Church (USA) lost 40%; the United Methodist Church lost 32%; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lost 27%. Others showed increases, including the Southern Baptist Convention (62%) and the Roman Catholic Church (65%). During the same period, the Assemblies of God grew by 515%, from 508,602 members in 1960.

Much of the numerical growth in the Assemblies of God in recent decades has been among ethnic minorities. From 2004 to 2014, the number of AG adherents increased by 13.2%. During this period, the number of white adherents decreased by 1.9% and the number of non-white adherents increased by 43.2%. From 2013 to 2014, the percentage of white adherents dropped from 58.7% to 57.6%. It should be noted that the number of white adherents in the U.S. includes quickly-growing constituencies of immigrants from places such as the former Soviet Union. Without these new white immigrants, the white constituency in the Assemblies of God would be falling even more quickly.

In 2014, over 42% of U.S. Assemblies of God adherents were non-white. This is comparable to the ethnic diversity in the U.S. Catholic Church. According to a recent Pew study, 41% of U.S. Catholics are now racial and ethnic minorities (up from 35% in 2007). The study also revealed that 24% of evangelical Protestants (up from 19%) and 14% of mainline Protestants (up from 9%) are also racial and ethnic minorities.

The ethnic breakdown of the AG in 2014 showed significant diversity: Asian/Pacific Islander (4.7%); Black (9.9%); Hispanic (22.5%); Native American (1.6%); White (57.6%); and Other/Mixed (3.8%). These stats suggest that the AG closely mirrors the ethnic makeup of the U.S. population as a whole. The 2010 U.S. census revealed the following racial breakdown of the U.S. population: Asian/Pacific Islander (5%); Black (12.6%); Hispanic (16.3%); Native American (0.9%); White (63.7%); and Other /Mixed (6.2%).

The AG districts with the greatest percentage growth in the number of adherents from 2009 to 2014 are as follows: National Slavic (387%), German (102%), Midwest Latin American (67%), Minnesota (59%), North Dakota (57%), Korean (36%), Brazilian (33%), and Puerto Rico (31%). Due to the changing borders of the Hispanic districts, which doubled from seven to fourteen in the past five years, data for most of these districts was unavailable for purposes of comparison.

The AG’s growth in America is partly due to immigration. The Assemblies of God is a global church. The Assemblies of God reported over 67.5 million adherents worldwide in 2013. Worldwide stats for 2014 have not yet been released. About 1% of the world’s population is AG. Fewer than 5% of AG adherents worldwide live in the U.S. Pentecostals who move to America from other regions of the world often bring with them a faith, burnished by persecution and deprivation, that is an important part of their identity. Pentecostal refugees who move to America are like pollen scattered by a strong wind — they plant churches wherever they happen to land. Strong African, Slavic, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic AG churches are taking root in American soil, and their congregations sing, preach, and testify in the tongues of their native countries.

Interestingly, this demographic shift is also helping to usher in a global re-alignment of Christianity. Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist Christians in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are generally evangelical in belief, if not Pentecostal in worship, and often have much more in common with their brothers and sisters in the Assemblies of God than they do with liberal members of their own denominations in the West.

The Assemblies of God is growing in America, due largely to a transformative demographic shift that has been underway for decades. The founding fathers and mothers of the Assemblies of God laid the foundation for this ethnic shift when they committed the Assemblies of God in November 1914 to “the greatest evangelism that the world has ever seen.” In 1921 the Assemblies of God adopted the indigenous church principle as its official missions strategy, in order to better carry out world evangelism. The implementation of this strategy — which recognizes that each national church is autonomous and not controlled by Western interests — resulted in the development of strong national churches and leaders. And now, in a fitting turn of events, those churches are sending missionaries to America.

By Darrin J. Rodgers, M.A., J.D.
Director, Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

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Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org

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Elmer F. Muir: A Baptist Pastor Discovers the Power of the Holy Spirit

Elmer F. Muir

Elmer F. Muir

This Week in AG History–April 25, 1925

By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in PE News, 23 April 2015

A Pentecostal revival in the 1920s touched numerous Baptist ministers and churches, resulting in the cross-pollination of the two traditions. High-profile Baptists who became Pentecostal included Mae Eleanor Frey, an evangelist and author ordained by the National Baptist Convention in 1905, and William Keeney Towner, pastor of First Baptist Church in San Jose, California.

Many lesser-known Baptist ministers also embraced the Pentecostal movement, but their stories have been largely forgotten. Among these was Elmer F. Muir, a pastor who had experienced great discouragement in his ministry. He was spiritually refreshed by the winds of Pentecostal revival. He received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and testified that he experienced “the deep things of God.” Muir’s testimony was published in the April 25, 1925, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Elmer Ferguson Muir (1890-1947), the son of Scottish immigrants, was born in Dubuque, Iowa. He received a call to the ministry at age 21 while attending a revival campaign held by legendary evangelist Billy Sunday. Muir quickly discovered that the road to the ministry would be challenging. Muir had dropped out of high school, but his Presbyterian denomination required that ministers have a college degree. He enrolled at Coe College, a Presbyterian school in Iowa, where he recalled “burning the candle at both ends” both day and night for five years. He graduated from Coe College in 1917 and became a Baptist pastor.

Muir served as pastor of the Baptist church in Arkansas City, Kansas, in the early 1920s. He sometimes found the work of the ministry overwhelming. He described a revival campaign at his church: “It was one that was worked up instead of prayed down.” The experience wore him out. He wrote, “I never want to go through one again, it was dental work from beginning to end.”

Muir received a fine theological education. However, he came to realize that he needed more than mere knowledge “to bring about this great, wonderful program of God.” What did he need? He was uncertain. He recalled, “But how [the program of God] was to be brought about I had no conception.”

To add to his problems, a lady in Muir’s congregation kept asking him if he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. He was not sure how to answer. At first, he responded that the experience was only for the early church. She kept pestering Muir for over two years until he relented. Finally, he agreed to preach one Wednesday night on the subject of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. He titled the sermon, “Has the Church Lost Its Power?” But as Muir studied the Word of God, he came to realize that the lady in his congregation had been right – the baptism in the Holy Spirit was for him, and it could empower him in ministry.

Muir and his wife both sought and received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. At first, Muir was hesitant to tell his congregation. What would people say? Ultimately, he shared his Pentecostal testimony and was forced to resign from the church. He transferred his ministerial credentials to the Assemblies of God in 1925 and started a small congregation (now known as First Assembly of God, Arkansas City, Kansas). In 1927 he moved to San Diego, California, where he pastored Full Gospel Tabernacle. He also edited a book of articles by Pentecostal missionary Cornelia Nuzum, The Life of Faith. The book, originally published by Gospel Published House in 1928, remains in print 87 years later.

Elmer F. Muir decided to transfer his credentials back to the Baptist church in 1929. He resigned from the Assemblies of God in good standing and spent the rest of his ministry in Baptist churches. Muir’s ministry in the Assemblies of God lasted only four years, but it demonstrates the porous borders between the Assemblies of God and other evangelical denominations. The Pentecostal movement has helped to refresh many ministers and laypersons from other denominations, some of whom ultimately returned to their former churches. This cross-pollination between the Assemblies of God and other churches helped to build bridges across the denominational divides, laying the foundation for future generations who would be more concerned with building the kingdom of God rather than a particular denomination.

Read Elmer F. Muir’s powerful testimony, “Why I Am No Longer a Baptist Preacher,” on pages 2 and 3 of the April 25, 1925, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Our Great Equipment,” by A. H. Argue

• “A Notable Miracle,” by Amelia De Franchi

• “Healed of Paralysis,” by G. E. Wolfe

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Click here to order a copy of Cornelia Nuzum’s classic book, The Life of Faith, which was edited by Elmer F. Muir.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

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Rev. George W. Southwick Collection Deposited at Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

George W. Southwick (1918-2006) was a well-known figure in Pentecostal churches in southern California. He held ordination, at various times, in four different bodies: International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; Assemblies of God; Whosoever Will; and Apostolic Holiness. A graduate of L.I.F.E. Bible College in Los Angeles, he went on to become a Bible teacher and collector of theological books and periodicals. In 1975, he and his wife, Leona, founded The Bible Educator Ministry, which sent his teaching tapes around the world. He is remembered, among other things, for his sweet spirit and for faithfully teaching the Pentecostal and Anglo-Israel messages.

George W. Southwick, sitting behind the desk in his library

George W. Southwick, sitting behind the desk in the library

Southwick developed a significant collection consisting of 4,000 books, as well as numerous periodicals, tracts, pamphlets, photographs, and other archival materials. After his death, his family gave the collection to Charles Jennings, a pastor in Owasso, Oklahoma. Jennings deposited the collection at the FPHC. Southwick held to Oneness, Anglo-Israel, Calvinist, and Latter Rain beliefs, and much of his collection represented those minor traditions within Pentecostalism. This important collection includes many publications that are not otherwise accessible to researchers. Numerous books not fitting the FPHC collection parameters have been placed in the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary library. An Anglo-Israel collection, designated as non-circulating, will be placed in the library’s Special Collections room, and other volumes have been integrated into the circulating collection.

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Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.
Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized