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Examining the Wellsprings of the Pentecostal Movement

1974_08 Womack_David

This Week in AG History —August 25, 1968

By Glenn W. Gohr
Originally published on AG News, 23 August 2018

Fifty years ago this week the Assemblies of God launched a book called The Wellsprings of the Pentecostal Movement. The author, David Womack, compared the Pentecostal movement to a tree, carefully examining the deep roots of Pentecostalism.

Womack saw the tree today threatened by two grave dangers — people with a limited knowledge of Church history and people who have been overinfluenced by non-Pentecostal concepts. To remedy this, he gave a prescription for having a truly Pentecostal church.

Instead of expounding on the practices of the Pentecostal movement and the Assemblies of God, he focused on New Testament church patterns, the meaning of these patterns, and the need for a resurgence of these patterns in the church today. He outlined some important factors to consider in building a healthy church. He described how world events and current trends in society can influence the church and its mission (sometimes in a negative way). He also mentioned the continuing trend of society to become more urbanized. He declared “The most dangerous problems facing the Pentecostal Movement are not those of external forces … but the slow decay from within.” He stressed that if Jesus and His apostles intended for the New Testament patterns to be the standard for the Church in all ages, then the Pentecostal movement should make every effort to uphold the biblical patterns.

According to Womack, the Day of Pentecost established a number of important precedents, including that “the infilling of the Holy Spirit … was to be for the whole Church, not only for its leaders.” Womack also makes this conclusion: “It also showed that anointed preaching was to be a major method of evangelism, that the Church was to reach large numbers of people with its message, that spiritual experiences may not always be understood by those outside the Church, and that three of the main religious experiences of the normal Christian life would be repentance, water baptism, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

David Womack, a foreign missions editor for the Assemblies of God, had collaborated with the 15-member Committee on Advance to evaluate the life and role of the church. The book was an outgrowth of this study committee.

The study committee also launched a monumental gathering called the Council on Evangelism, held in St. Louis in August 1968. This meeting became a significant turning point for the Assemblies of God as members prayed together, worshiped together, and redefined the goals of the denomination for the last part of the 20th century. At this gathering, The General Council reaffirmed its mission as an agency for the evangelization of the world, a corporate body in which humanity may worship God, and a means for the discipleship of Christians. The Assemblies of God has a long history of compassion ministries, and in more recent years, the fourth reason for being — compassion —was added.

Womack’s book that was launched at the Council on Evangelism and the principles he outlined have continued to shape the mission of the church.


Read more about The Wellsprings of the Pentecostal Movement on pages 10, 11, and 21 of the Aug. 25, 1968, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “Full Redemption is Ours!” by John P. Kolenda

• “The Meaning of Discipleship,” by Melvin L. Hodges

• “This is Our Mission,” by James E. Hamill

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: http://www.iFPHC.org

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The Story Behind the Foot Washing at the 1994 “Memphis Miracle”

Click here to listen to Donald Evans tell the story behind the foot washing at the Memphis Miracle

Certain segments within early Pentecostalism – most prominently the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909) in Los Angeles, California – promoted a vision of “brotherly love” across the racial divides. However, this interracial vision was quickly eclipsed as Pentecostals set out to organize churches and did so largely along cultural and racial lines. When the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America – an umbrella organization for Pentecostal denominations – was formed in 1948, its founding members were all mostly-white denominations.

Recognizing the need to heal the racial divisions within Pentecostalism, church leaders came together in Memphis on October 18, 1994 and dissolved the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America. The next day the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA) was formed by both white and black denominations. The meetings surrounding this monumental act of racial reconciliation came to a climax when, on October 18, a white Assemblies of God pastor, Donald Evans, approached the platform. He tearfully explained that he felt God’s leading to wash the feet of Church of God in Christ Bishop Ithiel Clemmons, while begging forgiveness for the sins of the whites against their black brothers and sisters. A wave of weeping swept over the auditorium. Participants sensed that this was the final seal of the Holy Spirit’s approval from the heart of God over the proceedings. This event, which became known as the “Memphis Miracle,” is a significant milestone in the annals of Pentecostal history. Continue reading

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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: The Essential J. Philip Hogan

The Essential J. Philip Hogan

The Essential J. Philip Hogan, edited by Byron D. Klaus and Douglas P. Petersen. Springfield, MO: Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, 2006.

Few missions leaders during the latter half of the twentieth century made a greater impact on the worldwide spread of Pentecostalism than did J. Philip Hogan. Indeed, European Pentecostal leader Peter Kuzmic has deemed Hogan to be “a Churchill in the arena of the post-World War II history of missions” (Wilson, Strategy of the Spirit, p. x). The extent of Hogan’s contributions to Pentecostalism — and by extension, to the broader Christian movement — is only now beginning to be recognized by the scholarly community. Under his leadership as Director of the Division of Foreign Missions (1960-1989), the Assemblies of God grew to be one of the world’s largest associations of national indigenous churches. It is precisely this success that now causes scholars and church leaders to take another look at J. Philip Hogan and to ask how it all happened. Continue reading

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