I would have to say that Assemblies of God is the only denomination in the world in which I have the most agreement with. But I don’t agree with it enough; not at least to the point where I would seek ordination with them. Take my family to an AG church? Yes. Ordination? No. Here’s why…
On the “Beliefs” tab of ag.org we have all of the theological statements of Assemblies of God. There are the Core Doctrines, Fundamental Truths, Official Statements, Position Papers, and the Topics Index. Here I am only dealing with the Fundamental Truths (which I agree with 95%), the Position Papers, and the Topics Index.
I AGREE WITH AG ABOUT…
The Statement of Fundamental Truths
1. The Scriptures Inspired.
2. The One True God.
3. The Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. The Fall of Man.
5. The Salvation of Man.
6. The Ordinances of the Church.
7. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
8. The Initial Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
10. The Church and Its Mission.
11. The Ministry.
12. Divine Healing.
13. The Blessed Hope.
14. The Millennial Reign of Christ.
15. The Final Judgment.
16. The New Heavens and the New Earth.
I am in 100% agreement with how the 16 Fundamental Truths are written. However, on points # 13 and #14, I would interpret those truths with a post-tribulation perspective, although almost all AG leaders would likely interpret it through a pre-tribulation perspective. This means I believe the Day of the Lord involves all of the following events: the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of all dead Christians, the rapture of all living Christians, the death of the Antichrist, and the beginning of the Millennium (1 Thess. 4-5; 2 Thess. 2; Rev. 20:1-6). Most AG leaders, however, would place the rapture before the appearance of the Antichrist on earth.
Point #8 says, “The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance. The speaking in tongues in this instance is the same in essence as the gift of tongues, but is different in purpose and use.” I have no problem with the language and terminology of this statement, but I would interpret it through a charismatic perspective, although almost all AG leaders likely interpret it through a classical Pentecostal persepctive. The charismatic view was articulated by the Vineyard churches in their Statement of Faith, in the following way: “We believe that the Holy Spirit indwells every believer in Jesus Christ and that He is our abiding Helper, Teacher, and Guide. We believe in the filling or empowering of the Holy Spirit, often a conscious experience, for ministry today. We believe in the present ministry of the Spirit and in the exercise of all of the biblical gifts of the Spirit. We practice the laying on of hands for the empowering of the Spirit, for healing, and for recognition and empowering of those whom God has ordained to lead and serve the Church” (Romans 8:9-10; John 16:7; John 14:26; John 16:13-15; Romans 8:14; Luke 24:49; Acts 4:31; Acts 8:18-19; Acts 19:1-2; 1 Corinthians 2:4- 5; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 2 Corinthians 6:4-7; Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:15-17; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21; Acts 8:14-17; Acts 19:6; Mark 1:41; Luke 6:18b-19; Mark 16:18; Acts 13:1-3; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).
This agrees with the experience and teaching of John Wesley and the early Methodists; and I believe, the early church as well. Most AG leaders, however, would place at least the emphasis, if not their doctrine, on the experience of speaking in tongues as the only evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a believer’s life. While I can agree with their statement when it says, “The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance,” I would not agree with the classical Pentecostal perspective of this statement, which seems to suggest that it is the only or exclusive sign of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. While I would be quick to point out that regeneration from the new birth is separate and distrinct from Spirit baptism, I would just as quickly say that feeling God’s presence, trembling, falling, dreams, visions, the voice of God, physical healing, casting out demons, and other miracles, are also signs of Spirit baptism. However, if I were to compare any of these signs with each other, then I would lean more towards what AG calls the “physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance,” in other words, feeling the presence of God and speaking in tongues. To me, this is the most evident, strongest, and obvious sign of Spirit baptism that I can find in the Bible, church history, and experience (Acts 2:4). But I would never want to go into a Pentecostal extreme, and say that dreams, visions, and feeling God’s presence alone–without tongues–are not equally signs of Spirit baptism (Acts 2:17). I believe Wesley and the early Methodists were in this second category. Most AG leaders, however, would likely shrink back from such a perspective; and assert that speaking in tongues is the only real evidence of Spirit baptism that is considered acceptable in their church. William J. Seymour actually retracted this view some years after the Azusa Street Revival. In his statement “The Apostolic Faith: A Doctrinal Overview,” he said, “Fourth, as amended: “The speaking in tongues being one of the ‘signs following’ the baptized believers and other evidences of the Bible, casting out devils, healing the sick and with the fruits of the Spirit accompanying the signs” (1 Cor. 13; Mark 16:16-19; Acts 2:2-3; Acts 10:44-46; Acts 19:6).”
Position Papers and Other Specifics I Agree With
17. Rejection of Homosexuality and Gay Marriage.
18. Divorce is only acceptable for adultery and desertion.
19. Hell as eternal punishment.
20. The sinfulness of gambling.
21. The heretical nature of positive confession and the prosperity gospel.
22. Evangelical Arminianism.
23. Abortion acceptable only if the mother’s life is in danger.
24. The sinfulness of suicide.
25. Conditional Security.
I DISAGREE WITH AG ABOUT…
1. Pre-Tribulation Rapture. As stated above.
2. Tongues as the Only Evidence of Spirit Baptism. As stated above.
3. Total Abstinence from Alcohol. While alcoholics would do well to abstain from alcohol during rehab, the New Testament does not bind Christians to total abstinence. It speaks against drunkenness, saying that it is better to be filled with the Holy Spirit. But it remains a fact that the drink at the Lord’s Supper was red wine. The Pharisees gossiped about Jesus being a “wino” because He drank a little wine from time to time. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine! Paul even commanded Timothy to drink a little wine in order to relieve a stomach problem. And yet, the Assemblies of God teaches total abstinence. I think this must have come from the prohibition idea that was popular during the early fundamentalist and Pentecostal movements in the early 1900s; and it has less to do with New Testament teaching.
4. Apostles and Prophets Are Just Missionaries and Pastors. Assemblies of God does not believe in apostolic and prophetic ministry in the sense we find it in the Bible. They believe that their missionaries are “apostles” and their pastors are “prophets,” in a sense. But only in a sense: they refuse to use the Biblical titles or descriptors of “apostle” and “prophet” even though the Bible does so (Ephesians 4:11). I personally believe that the apostolic and prophetic ministry exists today. I reject the “manifest sons of God” teachings and other extremes, but I generally lean toward the view of the Latter Rain movement, the prophetic movement (IHOP, Mike Bickle), and non-denominational charismatic churches, that apostles and prophets are for today; and that they have existed all throughout church history, just under different titles. I believe the Bible teaches that an apostle is a prophetically guided church planter that works miracles. I believe that a prophet is a prophetically guided spokesman in a local charismatic church: he may or may not be involved in healing and deliverance as well. For more on this view, see Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, Appendix B. I believe the functions of apostle and prophet have continued throughout the history of the church and are still in existence today; however, to follow Christ’s teaching, we should shun titles, and not seek to be called “Teacher,” “Father,” “Apostle,” or “Prophet” (see Matthew 23:10).
5. Born Again Christians Can’t Be Indwelt By Demons. The Assemblies of God rejects that this can happen. I disagree. The Bible nowhere teaches that people are “oppressed” and that demons can just externally harass you. Although it is not hard to imagine that. The only Biblical prayers used in combat against demons are eviction prayers. Terms and phrases that express a desire to “cast out” a demon in Jesus’ name. If we stick to the Biblical, we will see better results. I have had personal experience with godly Christians indwelt by evil spirits, who were suffering, wanted help, and got deliverance. One even saw a demon come out of her mouth! “The Life of Brigid” has an occasion of a nun who was demonized; and the Golden Legend also has an occasion of a nun who was possessed by an evil spirit sitting on a head of lettuce; and after she ate it without praying, it entered into her, and threw her into a fit. The church father Tertullian shares a similar story of a Christian girl who became demonized the moment she set foot in an ungodly theater. Experience teaches this to be true; and all Biblical prayers against demons take the character of “casting out” and not “casting away” or “casting off.” This subject frightens those who don’t understand. But demons are no match for the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Can the Holy Spirit and demons dwell in the same body? Yes. No Christian is perfectly sanctified. Holiness is a gradual, growing process. And I believe, as did Teresa in the Second and Third Mansions of Interior Castle, that lizards and snakes exist in those dark parts of our souls, that have not fully yielded to Christ. Those parts of us, for all intents, which we have not sanctified, or grown in, and are still weak points exploited by the devil. Those areas in us, which we call areas of improvement, weak points, and immaturity, are precisely those parts of our body that demons may very well inhabit, until we discover by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, that we should pray for them to be cast out of us in Jesus’ name, and the opposite aspect of the Holy Spirit would be asked to fill that place of us where we have not yet experienced full deliverance from sin. It is that area where Romans 7 becomes Romans 8, where flesh yields to the Spirit, and the demons struggle with your mind, in order for you to continue to give control to the flesh. To view sanctification merely as an ethical or psychological issue is not sufficient. The Bible says the devil gets in the way of holiness quite a bit (see Ephesians 6; James 4:7). I see this AG perspective of demonization as just a another twist on the fundamentalist idea that born again Christians can’t be touched–that they are so safe and secure they can’t lose their salvation. I think its just as spiritually harmful as teaching the doctrine of eternal security.
6. Miraculous Gifts Can’t Be Imparted by the Laying on of Hands. Although there were many things wrong with the Latter Rain movement, I believe that they got their ideas right about apostles, prophets, and impartation. Paul clearly said, “I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift” (Romans 1:11); and also, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14); and again, a descriptive passage: “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6). Assemblies of God rejects that it is possible to impart or transfer gifts of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands. They say this is because spiritual gifts can only come from the Holy Spirit and not from any person. But this goes directly against the doctrine of laying on of hands, and of the historical doctrine of ordination, which in the Catholic and Anglican churches, was seen as a ceremony of empowering the new minister with the Holy Spirit.
7. It Is Acceptable for Female Pastors to Teach Scripture to Men. Unlike Assemblies of God, I do not believe the Bible allows for females to pastor or teach Scripture to men. It allows for them to prophesy under charismatic inspiration and to serve in other ways: but the roles of pastor and Bible teacher are too authoritative for women to fill. It overthrows gender distinctions and the spirit of patriarchy (rule by men) that we see in the family and the church throughout Scripture, and may even open the way for effeminacy and homosexuality in the church. In my statement on “The Ministry” I say, “Scripture allows for only one man of God to be the senior pastor of a church; other men may serve as deacons, teachers, and evangelists. Women of God may serve as deaconesses and teachers of young women and children, but must remain respectful of the leadership by the pastor and male deacons. We believe that a Spirit-led presbyterian view of church government is the closest to Scripture; and that a godly male church council should prayerfully vote to ordain and hold local pastors accountable for their faith and conduct. Both men and women may prophesy in church services for a few minutes, but only if they feel led by the Holy Spirit to share a revelation. However, it is contrary to Scripture to allow women to preach sermons to men, because that would disrupt the natural authority that God has given to men. Such authority must never be abused, nor twisted into unreasonable, authoritarian power trips; but rather, as a shepherd watches over his sheep, and as a father watches over his family with love, care, and concern, so also should men lead their churches. We totally reject covering theology (1 Timothy 2:12; 3:1-13; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14-15; Titus 2:3-5; 1 Corinthians 11:5, 15; 14:34; Romans 16:1, RSV; Acts 15:1-30; 16:4; 17:11).”
8. Contemplation and the Presence of God Are Not Essential to Biblical Worship. I was surprised to find many things said about music, preaching, prophecy and other aspects of the church service, but nothing about Spirit-filled contemplation and focusing on God with closed eyes, and being lost in God’s presence, speaking in tongues. To me, that’s Biblical Pentecostal worship! Worshiping God in the Spirit! Trance-like praise and worship, marked by swaying and dancing and clapping. David dancing before the ark, losing his self-consciousness. Their whole “Worship in the Bible” article sadly lacks this basic Pentecostal practice. See my book How to Experience God, chapter 1, “Worship.”
This is just a start. There is a lot in the Topics Index I haven’t covered.