Pentecostal Theology: the historical value of the fundamental truths
It is not too often that we look at how the Fundamental Truths came about. We know that these 16 statements formed what we now believe to be true but how did we get them and why did we even bother making the doctrinal statement. Many might not know but the early leaders were very much against doctrinal tests.
One of the things that is often believed is that the Pentecostal movement was one of restoration. This is completely wrong. There was never a time in the history of the faithful since Pentecost that there was not miracles, people praying in tongues and prophetic ministry. I am not sure how we started to believe it was a restoration of the gifts (maybe Charles Fox Parham?) but it simply is not correct according to church history and tradition.
Since the Reformation, there has been a strong emphasis on the supernatural ministry of Jesus among His people. Martin Luther operated in healing and John Wesley prayed in tongues often. These are just two of many stories from the pages of history.
Anyone that actually believes in the restoration doctrine is ignored to church history and tradition at best. To be clear: there is NO historical basis for it at all.
Forerunners to Pentecostalism
There was at least two revival movements before the outbreak in Topeka, Kansas that was Pentecostal in nature. While some of the bad theology from these movement made its way into Pentecostalism; the impact can not be denied. A third revival that I believe had direct impact that pre-dates both of them is the Moravian revival of 1727.
The first revival that was a forerunner was the Methodist revival. The church that John Wesley started was not the tree huggers and gay affirming church it is today. They were the fire brands of the 1800’s. Every town of any size was seeing a Methodist revival happen. Churches were planted everywhere. People were having Pentecostal experiences such as praying in tongues, angelic encounters, and spiritual trances.
The second revival that was a direct forerunner was the holiness movement. The idea of Christian Perfection was copied from John Wesley but many of the holiness groups took it to a whole new level. Names like Charles Finney, D.L. Moddy, R.A. Torrey, and A.B. Simpson all out of this holiness camp. Many of the earliest Pentecostals were influenced heavily by them.
Out of the holiness movement came a healing revival that pre-dates the Topeka Outpouring as well. The leaders of the healing meetings are of the likes such as Charles Cullis, A.J. Gordon, Carrie Judd Montgomery, Maria Woodworth-Etter, and John Alexander Dowie. They based most of their healing ministry on Is. 53:4-5.
The common attitude among these leaders were that nothing but unbelief could keep the faithful but seeing the New Testament church re-established among them in holiness and power.
In 1895, Benjamin Hardin Irwin threw a curve ball at the holiness movement. He preached a third work of grace that he called the “Baptism of Burning love.” Many of the core leaders rejected it as heretical but it did lay the foundation for what they began to call the Pentecostal experience.
What happened in Topeka?
Charles Fox Parham is one interesting guy. That is putting it lightly. His doctrine on something was downright racist and sexist. However, he was a leader in Pentecostal thought from the earliest days. He was influenced by Irwin as well as Frank Sandford to have a serious look at the early church in the Book of Acts. Out of this came the deep conviction that every person who was baptized in the Holy Spirit prayed in unknown tongues as a result.
Parham began proclaiming to the world using his newsletter that “Apostolic faith of the New Testament has been fully restored.” He believed that having the Baptism in the Holy Spirit made Pentecostals “an elite band of end time missionaries.” He got even more out there teaching that only Pentecostals would be raptured at the catching up of the saints. Believe it or not, this was normal in his newsletter. He even wrote about it in his book, Voice Crying in the Wilderness.
They would leave Topeka to take the Pentecostal message to Kansas City then on parts of Kansas on their way to Houston, Texas. It was here that William Seymour sit outside the window listening to Parham’s teaching on the Holy Spirit. It was shortly after this that Seymour left for California and what became known as the Azusa Street Revival.
Theological Differences started early
Revival tends to make doctrinal difference louder than ever; not make them disappear. This was true in the Reformation. It was true in the Methodist revival and it was true in the aftermath of the Azusa Street revival.
The first challenge was within months of the Outpouring of the Spirit at Azusa Street. It was questioning of the narrative literature in the New Testament. For most people, we just calls that the Book of Acts and the end of Mark 16. Some people question if using these passages for theological foundations are proper or not. Followers of Parham believed Acts was authoritative in nature. The other side believed they were over-reaching in their hermeneutics of Paul.
The next challenge was many Pentecostals questioned Charles Fox Parham’s view that the prayer language was a foreign languages for missionary service. In theological terms, they realized that they were operating in glossolalia and not xenolalia. Parham would double down but most people changed their view. They started believing that praying in tongues was for intercession and praise.
Then, you have the William Durham mess. Is a believer sanctified instantaneously or progressively? The lines were drawn very sharply on this. Whole church groups still exist today based on what they believe about this doctrine. Durham preached that inbred sin has been dealt its’ final blow at the Cross. Seymour rejected this was and kept his Wesleyan view on the matter.
Now, the major blowup of early Pentecostalism! Baptism in the trinity or in Jesus name? R.E. McAlister preached at a camp meeting in California that the Apostles were baptized in Jesus name and not the trinity. Many people over the next few years felt a need to be re-baptized in Jesus name because this is what they believed happened in the early church according to the Book of Acts.
How the Fundamental truths developed
When people gathered in 1914 in and around Hot Springs, Arkansas to talk about a cooperative fellowship, there was an over-riding conviction: there would be no test of doctrine for admission. They were very much anticreedal in view. If you ask anyone present in Hot Springs that week, there would never been a theological statement made!
E.N. Bell, the first General Superintendent said of the meeting when asked,
These assemblies are opposed to all radical higher criticism of the Bible and against all modernism and infidelity in the Church, against people unsaved and full of sin and worldliness belonging to the church. They believe in all the real Bible truths held by all real Evangelical churches.
In Hot Springs, they were there to form a fellowship, not a denomination. They wanted to lay down some basics things like common concerns, convictions, and choosing of some officers for legal purposes.
The Pentecostal movement was churches that values the following five things: personal experience, prophetic preaching, spontaneity of worship, personal holiness, and biblical authority. Any church that agreed to these basic things were consider a member of the newly formed Assemblies of God.
However, just two years later, that openness was completely gone. The issue of Jesus Only and Baptism was a serious threat to the young movement. They was ready to draw doctrinal boundaries very quickly when there was groups telling other people they were not really saved if they were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A detailed statement of faith that would become known as the 16 fundamental truths of the Assemblies of God was written. In the first draft, it included a very long statement concerning the trinity. They wanted everyone to know that classic Pentecostals were in fact orthodox in their view of God.
The following was said about that first statement by its framers,
The Statement of Fundamental Truths in not intended as a creed for the Church, nor as a basis of fellowship among Christians, but only as a basis of unity for the ministry.
What is interesting about the Fundamental Truth statement is that while the explanation of the Trinity is quite long; the statement about healing and the initial physical evidence is not. You would have thought there would have been more of a statement about the issues that made us Pentecostal or what we call our cardinal doctrines. There was not.
What it did in 1916 was defending the movement against the issue of Jesus Only. However, what the framers did not realize at the time was that it would be come the outline of systematic theology for Pentecostals for generations to come. It has become the litmus test of Pentecostal doctrine.
It is important to know that the fundamental truth statement has been altered since 1916 in a few cases. It was a year later that Article 6 was words as it is today about the initial physical evidence. The biggest changes came in 1961. Among them was the wording of the belief that the Scriptures are the inspired Word. (This was due to the General Superintendent at the time, Thomas Zimmerman becoming the President of the National Association of Evangelicals.)
Early life in the people of Pentecost
A few bible schools exist at the bible. Central Bible College in Springfield, MO was the main training grounds for pastors and missionaries. There was a few other small schools around the country as well. However, most of the people were educated by books being passed around the church and the guest evangelists that would show up with huge charts about the end times.
Probably the most well known of them was Finis Jennings Dake that wrote many notes in the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible. While his work was one of the first to be read outside of Classic Pentecostal churches; some of his extreme views were become common place for decades to come.
Pentecostal hymnals were another way that doctrine was given to the faithful. Hymns such as “It’s Harvest Time,” ” I’ll fly away,” and ” Send the Fire” were sung at churches and people would sing them at home as well. Much of the doctrine of early Pentecostals came out in the hymnals they would sing.
This did not come without challenges. The rise of Pridgeonism, a form of universalism began to get into the churches within the Assemblies of God. It was known to be “the reconciliation of all things.” It was officially condemned as heresy at the General Council in 1925.
The other challenge came in the form of Benjamin Baur. He was a pastor who wanted to be ordained in the Assemblies of God but believed that the faithful would endure through the times of testing or “the great tribulation.” He made a long written defense to why he believed as he did but in the end, he was denied ordination due to his view “diminishing the nearness of the Lord’s return.” This led to the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy at General Council in 1937.
It was also in this period that Alice Luce, a missionary to India and Hispanics pushed for a philosophical position that empowered national churches. Her writings in the Pentecostal Evangel in 1921 prepared the way for a commitment to indigenous leadership as a principle. Most other Pentecostal movements were centralized but the Assemblies put the emphasis on indigenous ministry.
This emphasis would later be the bedrock for the healing revivals that would break out across America. They were be led by local Assemblies that was locally governed. Some of the biggest names in the revival came out of the Assemblies of God like Jack Coe, A.A. Allen and others.
The rise of Pentecostal Education
Shortly after the second World War, there came a new interest in Pentecostal education. The quality of training for ministers was greatly improved and the schools around America became more stable. One of the most important of these changes was the instructors were just pastors touched by the Spirit but people with actual graduate degrees in theology.
This caused a major fear that many had to be faced: Would intellectualizing the faith lead to complete religiousity? It was a serious concern and one that it s very valid. Anyone that does not have this concern at any stage of life is in need of serious questioning. Many still question this today within classic Pentecostalism.
For the most part, professors tried to balance theological though with spiritual application. One of them was Stanley Horton. He would lead the thought process for the movement for most of the next 50 years. He also understood the tension of working out theology practically in real life conditions.
It was in the 1960’s and 1970’s that many Pentecostal professors were becoming fellows in academic societies. It would far to say that the most popular of them was the Society for Pentecostal Studies. Others would join societies centered around thinkers and doctrines of theology. One of them is Dietrich Bonhoeffer Society.
The Assemblies of God would also see the introduction of scholarly textbooks centering around the Fundamental truths. Many of them were be printed on the Logion Press label with Gospel Publishing House. Most textbooks within the Assemblies of God find their home at Logion.
Moving forward in Theology
Theology in the church pew remain from popular books and worship songs. With the introduction of Praise and Worship, it was very common for people to see choruses at church and home. The theology of the Pentecostal movement was given to the faithful through these songs as well. Songs like “Send it on down” and “Enemy’s Camp” became popular.
One thing that had changed is that the Assemblies of God churches were no longer store fronts. They had complexes that would hold thousands at a time. Many Pentecostal preachers have large television ministries. Some of the personalities believed they were the face of the movement. They thought they were too big to fail.
This led to a practice around 1970 of developing white papers concerning issues that we called Position papers. This was wisdom because we didn’t need to write more to the Constitution or the Fundamental Truths. We now have dozens of them and they are normally added to every few years.
In presenting and voting on these position papers, it has developed the theological identity of the Pentecostal movement. Many believe that the position do not have authoritative weight and disagree with them. (To be honest, I completely reject the Modern Apostles and Prophets paper!) It is also worth saying that some of these white papers undermine the spirit of our original documents.
A strong Eschatology
With the Assemblies of God accepted within the mainstream of Evangelicalism and a member of the National Association of Evangelicals, there has been some question how our theology works out in light of being strong on pneumatology and Arminian in nature. The wider challenge among reformed groups is the emphasis on Pre-mIlliennism.
While many within classic Pentecostalism are strongly dispensational in orientation; there has been some softening of this in recent years. There is also many rejecting the more extreme views of the doctrine. (There is no biblical grounds for “seven church ages.”) There are even a few Pentecostals that hold to a Pre-wrath conviction.
However, at the core of our fundamental truth and doctrine; there is a emphasis on the imminent catching up of the saints. As Pentecostals, we believe we must live every day as it is our last. Jesus could call us home at any point.
It is our conviction that the New Testament shows over and over that the catching up of the saints was believed to be imminent. The early church fully expected the Lord to return within their lifetime. Many believed they would not taste death but would be caught up with the Lord in the air.
As Melvin Hodges said in 1966, the Assembly is “the present manifestation that the agency that prepares the way for the manifestation of the Kingdom.” The emphasis must always be on the great commission and ushering in the coming reign of Jesus on the earth.
As Peter Kuzmic puts it,
In the age of rationalism, theological liberalism, religious pluralism, Pentecostals believe that evident supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit validates the Christian witness. As in the Apostolic days, the Holy Spirit is the very life of the church and its mission, not replacing but always exalting Christ the Lord.
The question in light of the end times that we live is simply: How now shall I live? While some would wish for an answer of simplicity, the harsh reality is there none to offer. Any decision to live as a Pentecostal in this time of history is complex in nature.
The path has been set before us and we know how what our fathers and grandfathers in the Pentecostal movement did to make sure we have sound theological foundations. It is critical that we carry this to the next generation if the Lord chooses to tarry that long!
We live in a time where Paul talked about be tossed back and forth by every wind of doctrine. He would go on to talk about “cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Eph 4:14) Notice this was to the faithful at Ephesus. This was where the greatest revival in the Book of Acts happened. (See Acts 19) In the aftermath of great revival, Paul warned about sound doctrine! Think about that.
We owe to those who have gone before us to keep the sound doctrine they imparted into us and we have a mandate to pass the same sound doctrine to the next generation in Jesus name!