Tag Archives: Great Depression

The Great Depression and the Expansion of the Assemblies of God

Sunday school

Sunday school class of 315 people, Assembly of God at Kennett, Missouri; circa 1931

This Week in AG History —September 11, 1937

By Darrin J. Rodgers
Originally published on AG News, 11 September 2018

The Great Depression of the 1930s devastated many segments of American Christianity. Historian Mark Noll has 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.”

A statistical report on the Assemblies of God published in the Sept. 11, 1937, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel provided evidence of this numerical growth. For the biennium beginning in 1935 and ending in 1937, the number of Assemblies of God churches grew from 3,149 to 3,473 (an increase of 10 percent), and the number of ministers grew from 2,606 to 3,086 (an increase of 18 percent). A partial count of members of Assemblies of God churches indicated growth from 166,118 to 175,362 (an increase of 6 percent). If a complete census of the churches had been conducted, the report noted, the membership tally would have been higher.

The growth rates from 1935 to 1937 were not an anomaly. The Assemblies of God reported significant numerical increases throughout the Great Depression. In September 1929, the Assemblies of God reported 1,612 churches with 91,981 members in the United States. By 1944, this tally increased to 5,055 churches with 227,349 members. During that 15-year period, the number of Assemblies of God churches tripled and membership almost tripled.

This growth did not happen by accident. Assemblies of God pioneers during the Great Depression laid a foundation for the expansion of the Assemblies of God, often at a tremendous personal 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 the University of Valley Forge (1939).

It was during these hard times that Assemblies of God scholarship blossomed. Myer Pearlman (1898-1943), P. C. Nelson (1868-1942), and E. S. Williams (1885-1981) wrote many of the 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 the national office. While the Great Depression made finances tight, the Foreign Missions Department (now AG World Missions) trumpeted that it did not have to recall any missionaries because of shortage of funds. When other denominations were retreating, the AG was making significant advances in missions.

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 congregations in the western states. Pentecostals left the rural South and migrated to northern cities and started 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.

Faced with the social chaos and financial uncertainty of the Great Depression, it would have been understandable if Assemblies of God leaders had chosen to not invest in church planting, missions, and education. However, the difficult times reminded believers that Christ’s second coming could be imminent, and that the harvest fields were ripe. 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 the Kingdom of God.

Read the full report about the growth of the Assemblies of God from 1935 to 1937, “A Good Report Maketh the Bones Fat,” on pages 2 and 3 of the Sept. 11, 1937, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Prophetic, Priestly, and Kingly Anointings,” by Gayle F. Lewis

• “He Sent His Word and Healed,” by Arthur W. Frodsham

• “News from War-torn China,” by W. W. Simpson

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

2 Comments

Filed under History

Was the Dust Bowl a Sign of God’s Judgment on America? A Pentecostal Leader Responds to this Question.

Dust BowlThis Week in AG History — August 25, 1934

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on PE-News, 24 August 2017

In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus addressed the question, “Do tragic current events indicate God’s judgment for sin?” Jesus was referring to both a political crisis and the natural occurrence of a deteriorating tower that toppled and crushed 18 people.  In the Aug. 25, 1934, Pentecostal Evangel article, “Is It Superstition?” General Superintendent E. S. Williams addressed a similar question: “Is the Dust Bowl a sign that America is under God’s judgment?”

1934 was a difficult year for much of the United States. The Great Depression was still in full swing with an unemployment rate of 21.7 percent. The new president, Franklin Roosevelt, had begun a redistribution of wealth that some feared would lead the United States to a more Communistic form of government.  To top it off, 1934 saw the worst farming conditions in centuries with 71.6 percent of western North America in drought as the Dust Bowl reached its zenith.  This combination of political crisis in the Great Depression and natural crisis in the Dust Bowl caused many Americans to ask, “Are we under the judgment of God for our sins?”

One particular sin that seemed to be on the mind of some was the Department of Agriculture’s slaughter of 6,000,000 pigs in an attempt to control the price of pork in 1933.  Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, made the following statement, “My attention has been called to a statement by a minister out in the Corn Belt before the district conference of his faith. Concerning the actions of the New Deal he says: ‘… some of them are downright sinful as the destruction of foodstuffs in the face of present want.’ I have been used to statements of this sort by partisans, demagogues, politicians, and even newspaper columnists … But when a minister of the gospel makes a statement, we expect it to be the truth.”

In his opening paragraph, Williams addressed this directly: “… officials of the Department of Agriculture are a bit concerned over the spread of the superstition that the disastrous drought which had gripped our land was God’s way of punishing folks … (they) went on to say that this superstition started in the pulpits of Iowa.”

Williams took issue with the term “superstition” defining it as “a belief founded on irrational feelings, especially of fear.” He cautioned his readers that, indeed, they should “be careful … lest they reach rash and hurried conclusions” in their fear and concerns for the future of their livelihood and nation.

However, Williams also cautioned “At the same time it would be folly to blindly shut our eyes and refuse to inquire whether or not there may be back of present conditions a moral cause … Let us not be so foolish as to follow the worldly wise who know not God and for that reason may look upon wholesome fear and honest inquiry as but superstition.”

Williams believed that the root cause of the current troubles went much deeper than concern over agricultural direction: “Destruction of cattle and restriction of crops may have been a blunder; but we must look far deeper than to this alone if we would get to the bottom of our troubles. Our chiefest mischief as a nation is that we have departed from dependence upon and reverence for the living God.”

He bluntly asked the question of the drought, “Are these things mere accidents of an evolving nature or are they the voice of God?” Williams does not claim to know the answer to this question in its fullness on a national scale but he does counsel Evangel readers to use the current tragedy as occasion to examine their own need for repentance, encouraging them “if He shows you things which you ought to make right, make them right without delay, for, ‘except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’”

Read the full article “Is It Superstition?” on page 2 of the Aug. 25, 1934, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

“A Famous Entertainer Becomes a Faith Missionary,” by Esther B. Harvey

“Aeneas, Jesus Christ Cures You,” by Lilian Yeomans, M.D.

“Congo Women Touched By Gospel,” by Mary Walker

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

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Theology

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Church, Education, Missions, Theology

Review: Wayne and Evelyn Pitts

00091_pitts

Touching Lives the Jesus Way!: Sixty-nine Years of Ministry, Wayne and Evelyn Pitts, Stories of Lives Changed by the Gospel, by Wayne and Evelyn Pitts with Londa Duncan. Xulon Press, 2008.

From stories of their childhood in Texas in the 1920s and 1930s, to memories of God’s provisions during the Great Depression, to accounts of healing and early Pentecostal revivals, Wayne and Evelyn Pitts’ new book will be warmly welcomed by the thousands who have been touched by their lives and ministry. Wayne Pitts, ordained by the Assemblies of God in 1943, and his wife Evelyn enjoyed long-term pastoral ministry in Florida.

Hardcover, 284 pages, illustrated. $25.99 retail. Order from: amazon.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Lois Hodges oral history interview


hodgeslois

Lois Hodges, the widow of leading Assemblies of God missiologist Melvin L. Hodges (1909-1988), celebrated her 100th birthday on September 23, 2008. Darrin Rodgers, director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, recently sat down with Sister Hodges and recorded an oral history interview.

The interview was recorded in two parts. In part one, Sister Hodges discussed her childhood as well as the background of her husband. Melvin Hodges’s father, Charles, was a 1902 graduate of Boston Theological Seminary (now Boston University School of Theology), the oldest Methodist seminary in the United States. While pastoring in Washington State, he grew disenchanted with “ecclesiasticism,” cast his lot with the Pentecostals, and ultimately joined the Assemblies of God. His son, Melvin, was called to the ministry at age 10, learned Greek from his father at age 13, and matriculated at Colorado College at age 15. A precocious young man, Melvin’s theological knowledge and preaching skills became widely noted, including by a young woman named Lois from Fort Collins, Colorado. Melvin and Lois married in 1928.

In part two of the interview, Sister Hodges recounted her life and ministry with Melvin, telling stories of how they had to live by faith during the Great Depression — when they did not have a regular income and food was scarce. They pioneered churches in Colorado and Wyoming until leaving for the mission field in Central America in 1935 with three young children. Melvin and Lois returned to Springfield in 1954. From 1954 to 1973, Melvin Hodges served as AG field director for Latin America and the West Indies. He then became a professor of missions at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He was a prolific writer, and many of his publications deal with missions, church growth, and the indigenous church principle.

Click here to listen to PART ONE and PART TWO of the oral history interview with Lois Hodges.

Posted by Darrin J. Rodgers

1 Comment

Filed under Missions, News