Assemblies of God Founded
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Founder
Eudorus N. Bell, Howard Goss, D.C.O. Opperman, Arch Collins, Mack M. Pinson, J. Roswell Flower
Time Period
4/1/1914
Description
The Assemblies of God, founded as a non-denominational fellowship of Pentecostal churches in 1914, gradually evolved into a formal denomination over the next two generations. In 1916, the Assemblies adopted a formal confession of faith in response to a controversy over the doctrine of the trinity. In 1943, it allied with formerly-skeptical evangelicals to form the National Association of Evangelicals. Despite, or perhaps because of, this transformation, the Assemblies grew rapidly, from its original handful of ministers into a global denomination fellowship of loosely linked nationally based Assemblies of God denominations, claiming some 66.4 million adherents.
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Prominent Religious Events and People in American History
Narrative
The Assemblies of God (AG ), as a Pentecostal denomination, had its roots in the Holiness movement during the late 19th century, which taught that it was possible for believers to live a sinless life once they had gone through a work of grace subsequent to salvation. Some holiness advocates called this moment "entire sanctification," others a "second work of grace," others "Holy Spirit baptism." Pentecostals distinguished themselves from the Holiness movement by adding a third supernatural experience called "Baptism in the Holy Spirit," always signified by speaking in tongues (or glossolalia); what had begun in the book of Acts chapter 2 at Pentecost as the Spirit fell on the apostles continued to the present day. Pentecostals also affirmed miraculous divine healing and the imminent Rapture of the saints.

Pentecostalism was a restorationist movement that sought to restore the Christian church to its form during Apostolic times, the time of the early church, as described in Acts. Protestant denominations that failed to recognize the importance of tongues were no better than Catholics in their estimation, dead churches that required Spirit-led revival. Unsurprisingly, most evangelical Protestants did not think highly of pentecostalism's claim to purity. Harry Ironside, a popular evangelical preacher labeled it an "unpentecostal imposture."

In April 1914 a group of pentecostal ministers from the Apostolic Faith Movement, the (white) Church of God in Christ, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance gathered in Hot Springs, Arkansas at the Grand Opera House to found a new fellowship of Pentecostal churches. The founders wanted to avoid calling their new organization a denomination. Denominationalism rubbed against the Pentecostal idea of restoring the primitive faith of the early church, a faith devoid of denominational divides. They chose the name Assemblies of God to emphasize its identity as a fellowship of local, independent assemblies. Indeed, the AG's constitution explicitly, and at some length, declared that its purpose "is neither to legislate laws of government, nor usurp authority over said various Assemblies of God, nor deprive them of their Scriptural and local rights and privileges." Rather, it existed "to recognize Scripture methods and order for worship, unity, fellowship, work and business for God, and to disapprove of all unscriptural methods, doctrines and conduct."

However, this was a case of wanting to have one's cake and eat it too. Enforcing doctrine and practice inevitably requires some kind of authority over local churches. Immediately following the meeting in Hot Springs, a doctrinal controversy broke out within the AG that set the fellowship on the path toward denominationalism. The controversy centered around the doctrine of the trinity. The AG held to the traditional Trinitarian view of one God in three co-equal persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Oneness Pentecostals, on the other hand, believed that God was one person while the titles of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit merely describe that one God's manifested roles. As a result of the controversy, the AG took a step closer to becoming a formal denomination when it adopted a binding creed, the Statement of Fundamental Truths, with 16 doctrines to which all AG ministers must subscribe.

As the Assemblies of God transformed into a formal denomination, it simultaneously began seeking rapprochement with evangelical Protestants. The various publications of the AG softened their critiques of evangelicals. In 1943, the Assemblies, with the encouragement of General Secretary J. Roswell Flower, joined the nascent National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Organized to counter attempts to push religious broadcasting off the airwaves, the NAE united a diverse group of both evangelical and Pentecostal denominations, but the largest member was the Assemblies of God. Joining the NAE was a crucial moment in the "evangelicalization" of the Assemblies of God, a term coined by Pentecostal critics of the AG's shift, who also pointed to a decreased emphasis on tongues-speaking and other pentecostal doctrines in AG churches.

As the Assemblies moved toward the evangelical mainstream, it also moderated its stance on non-cooperation with the government (different from the principled pacifism of the Quakers and Mennonites). Early Pentecostals were suspicious of entangling the primitive church with a corrupt state, eschewing military service and even voting. The Assemblies had officially decried U.S. involvement in the First World War in 1917, but during World War II the Assemblies did not pass a pacifist resolution and many more AG members fought in the war than applied for conscientious objector status. In 1967, the AG formally removed the pacifist plank from its constitution. John Ashcroft's election to the U.S. Senate in 1994 -- after serving as governor of Missouri and before his appointment as U.S. Attorney General -- marked the first time an Assemblies of God member had gone to Congress and symbolized how much the denomination had been transformed in just two generations.

That transformation has not hurt the growth of the Assemblies of God, both in the United States and especially abroad. In 2010, the AG claimed nearly 3.1 million adherents in the United States and 66.4 million worldwide.
Religious Groups
Pentecostal Family: Other Timeline Entries

Pentecostal Family: Other ARDA Links

Photographs

Members of the First General Council, Hot Springs, Arkansas- Wikimedia Commons

E N Bell, first general superintendant of the Assemblies of God- Wikimedia Commons

Grand Opera House, Hot Springs, Arkansas- Internet Archive

Assemblies of God national headquarters- Wikimedia Commons- photo by Joelfun (Free Art License)
Source(s)
Blumhofer, Edith, 1993. Restoring the Faith: The Assemblies of God, Pentecostalism, and American Culture. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Web Page Contributor
Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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