Is the Assemblies of God a cult? Or, Wikipedia, authority, and the cult of truthiness.

I submit for your consideration two apparently unrelated questions:

  • Is the Assemblies of God a cult?
  • Is Wikipedia an authoritative encyclopedia?

I submit that the Assemblies of God is as much like a cult as the Wikipedia is authoritative. We are, instead, a movement.

A Word on Wikipedia
Over the last few months Wikipedia has taken much heat over its collaborative form of public authoring and editing. Nearly anyone can post an article, make an edit, or undo edits. This is good, and not-so-good: The good of it is that Wikipedia benefits from the collective mind of many editors. Where one editor may have it wrong, several others can guide an article to incremental perfection (in theory). On the other hand, one misinformed or biased “editor” can make subtle or egregious changes, and it may not come to the attention of those best armed to correct it. Thus, Wikipedia’s “democratic” version of truth becomes “reality” … or “Wikiality.” (See Stephen Colbert’s “Wikiality” report from August 1, 2006.)

Here’s a brief roundup of stuff that has surfaced in the media—note, this is only what’s surfaced. Wiki-vandalism and counter-factual edits occur frequently, perhaps daily. This is just a sampling of the most sensational Wiki-news:

  • On May 26, 2005, Brian Chase created an article on John Seigenthaler, Sr., former assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy and founder of the First Amendment Center. Containing numerous falsehoods, the article claimed: “For a brief time, [Seigenthaler] was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.” The article was remained uncorrected until September 23 — four months. Seigenthaler journaled the affair in an op-ed piece in USA Today on November 30, 2005. (See: “A false Wikipedia ‘biography,’” “Seigenthaler and Wikipedia — Lessons and Questions,” and: “Wicked truths about Wikipedia show weakness of online encyclopedia: South Florida Sun-Sentinel“.)
  • On November 9, 2005, an article on Jens Stoltenberg, prime minister of Norway, was edited to accuse him of languishing in prison for pedophilia. Editors corrected the article in 22.5 hours but by then the Dagbladet newspaper had already featured the edit on the front page. (See: “Norwegian Wikipedia Locks Page about Prime Minister,” and “Wikipedia and Vandalism“. Oh, and there’s a lousy machine-translation of the Dagbladet article here.)
  • On December 1, 2005, former MTV VJ and so-called “podfather” of podcasting, Adam Curry, anonymously edited a Wikipedia article on podcasting to inflate his own role and deflate others’. (See: “Adam Curry Caught in Sticky Wiki,” and Curry’s admission to “pilot error” on his blog. Meanwhile, Dave Winer complains about “People with erasers“.)
  • On December 12, 2005, a Long Beach, N.Y., group associated with QuakeAID (also alleged Wikiality victims), announced a class action suit against Wikipedia on behalf of those “who believe that they have been defamed or who have been the subject of anonymous and malicious postings to the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia.” (See: “Wikipedia Class Action Lawsuit.”)
  • On December 13, 2005, Alfred Cunningham releases, “Online Encyclopedia Is a Gathering for Internet Predators,” claiming that numerous Wikipedia contributors are pro-pedophilia.
  • On December 19, 2005, A photo of Bill Gates on his bio page, mysteriously acquired both horns and mustache. (See: “Screen shots of Wikipedia vandalism.”)
  • On January 18, 2006, popular British DJs, Scott Mills and Mark Chapman took turns defacing their own entries until Wikipedia locked the article from further changes. “‘We can’t be held responsible for anything,’ concluded Chapman, drily, inadvertently summing up the Wikipedia philosophy.” (See: “Wikipedia editing hobby goes nationwide.”)
  • Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia co-founder, has come under criticism for repeatedly making edits to his own bio page on Wikipedia, removing credit for his fellow co-founder Larry Sanger, and deleting “porn” and “erotica” references to his adult search portal. (See: “Who owns your Wikipedia Bio?”)

Now, I enjoy and use Wikipedia frequently. It’s a quick read (though articles are not always well-organized) and is a handy source of links to external sites with more information. It’s also a good barometer of current thought on a given subject, but the thinking is often shallow and disorganized nevertheless. Wikipedia is admittedly weak on facts — nobody’s job is on the line. Professionally-edited publications have staff who fact-check articles going to press—reputations and careers are at stake after all. It pays to get it right. Wikipedia, with one paid staff member, has nobody. And, in practice, efforts to fact-check and repair articles are still subject to fellow collaborators ability to revert an article to its former status if they feel like it.

Wikipedia illustrates “truthiness,” a word selected by the American Dialect Society as the Word of the Year for 2005. Truthiness is, “the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.” Indeed, Wikipedia scores high on the truthiness index: all the editors who get their words publicly viewable fully believe, or wish, their writing to be true. But as we can see with the recent controversies over personal bios, we have no reason to endorse Wikipedia’s truthfulness … its accuracy … it’s reflection of reality.

As the Wikipedia disclaimer states:

“[N]othing found here has necessarily been reviewed by professionals with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information. … The content of any given article may recently have been changed, vandalized or altered by someone whose opinion does not correspond with the state of knowledge in the relevant fields.”

On Wikipedia and the Assemblies of God
In early January, an article came across my feed reader piquing my interest. I have a feed sucking down references to the Assemblies of God in weblog entries, and Google’s blog search evidently spiders Wikipedia “talk” pages. (Talk pages are publicly viewable “behind-the-scenes” discussion among the contributors for any article.) On the talk page for the “List of Purported Cults” article, Wikipedia user T. Anthony (aka. Thomas R., a conservative Catholic), was debating the status of the Assemblies of God as a purported cult, eligible for inclusion on the list.

This invited research.

Back in August of 2005, another Catholic from Australia, user Jachin, added the A/G to the list—no surprise given that the new Family First political party in South Australia has been “energetically derided as a fanatical right-wing fundamentalist Christian organisation” for its conservative values and close ties to the Assemblies of God in Australia (the former A/G superintendent, Andrew Evans, co-founded the party and is the SA Parliamentary Leader for the party). However, T. Anthony removed the listing by August 30 and asked for a source citation. Apparently, the BBC was blamed for the cite, but T. Anthony couldn’t find it. All the BBC had to say was that the A/G is “Another small Pentecostal body in which each congregation retains its autonomy.”

(Now, T. Anthony is no A/G-lovin’ fool. His grandmother is A/G, sure, but she has “strong faults” and “unpleasant aspects,” and he finds that “Pentecostalism is odd.” While open to persuasion, he’s just not sure we’re a cult.)

The discussion continued through September, when T. Anthony noted the Assemblies of God returned to the list despite his earlier edit. Throughout September, he continued requesting the elusive BBC citation, but like Yeti, the Roswell Alien, or the Loch Ness monster, it remained missing. The best Anthony could find this go-around was a discussion on the Sydney Morning Herald website—from a discussion forum, not the newspaper itself. This kind of citation is not sufficient to warrant inclusion on the list.

By November the A/G was off the list once more at T. Anthony’s insistence, consistently and politely continuing to demand a cite for verification. Again, the BBC is the alleged culprit, without evidence.

And in the latest round (the one that caught my eye), on January 7, 2006, T. Anthony removed the A/G from the purported cult list once more. Again, he asks for the evidence that the BBC ever referred to the Assemblies of God as a cult or even, in British terms, a sect. T. Anthony has searched the reliable sources on the Net and has turned up nothing. He allows that, “individual AoG preachers may make their congregations cult-like, but I don’t see how you can justify the entire religion being a purported cult by any normal definition.”

Still, as ever, he remains open. Just give up the proper citation and he’ll throw in the towel.

What gives?
Normally, I would dismiss this kind of discussion—if I even noticed it in the first place—because every religious movement has its evangelists and detractors. Nothing in the Wikipedia talk pages raises the bar on the discussion. No new evidence is shared, no thoughtful dialog ensues. We have one quixotic defender of the A/G, who doesn’t even agree with us, and a void of silence — until the Assemblies of God is quietly added to the list for another go-around.

But this minor skirmish is taking place on the most highly visited encyclopedia site online. You know, and I know, that Wikipedia isn’t authoritative. But not everybody who reads the site knows or cares about that disclaimer. Sites and publications like this frame issues, people, and events in a certain light, and it’s possible—likely, even—that a few motivated detractors can do more damage to a reputation than an army of evangelists or a horde of neutral editors could correct.

So what if Norway’s prime minister got out of jail with a clean bill of moral health in only 22.5 hours—it made front page news. So what if Seigenthaler didn’t kill his boss—his reputation was besmirched for four months!

Wikipedia has made itself a gateway for … something. I don’t know what. I can’t call it a gateway for “truth,” or “facts,” or “knowledge,” because those aren’t claimed and evidence abounds otherwise. It’s a gateway for organized opinion, I suppose, but even then, it’s only organized on the page. Behind the thin veil of order and neatness and clean design is a chaotic brew of dissension, reverted entries, vandalism, petty retribution, honest inquiry, sound editing, and puerile commentary.

You get what you pay for? On a good day, I suppose. But on a bad day you might pay for far more than you deserve. Like Seigenthaler. Like Stoltenberg.

Were it not for the lone efforts of T. Anthony we’d be stuck in the cult-bin. I applaud him.

So what is a cult?
According to the Wikipedia editors, a cult is merely whatever a trusted media source identifies as a cult. This circular definition keeps the list in harmony with Wikipedia’s policy on neutrality, no original research, and verifiable sources. So, if the BBC ever does run a piece asserting that the Assemblies of God is a cult, we’re on the list. Period. And no amount of apologetics or frothing at the mouth will change it. It doesn’t matter which definition of “cult” you use, and there are several, it only matters what others with media leverage have said.

The editors involved on this article have agreed to a policy for taxonomy that attempts to remain neutral. In order to avoid any claims of personal or ideological bias, all entries on the list must be verified with a citation from a trusted news source. To assist the editors, there’s an orderly list, in descending value and international scope, of sources which can be trusted to call it right. Never mind the fact that articles from the AP, Reuters, BBC, CNN, the New York Times, and so on, can be equally biased as any single editor on Wikipedia, as long as it is a legitimate cite, it’s fodder for the list.

Truth by democracy.

Before we can make lists of a certain kind of thing, whether it be antique bread knives, 4th-dimensional super-beings, best rock songs of the 80s, or mind-twisting cults, it is helpful to define what the thing being listed actually is. To do this, I refer you to a nice overview written by the late Jan Groenveld, from the Cult Awareness Information center, titled: “Identifying a Cult.” Here are some salient distinctions between commonly used definitions of “cult”:

Secular Definition

CULT — From the Latin “cultis” which denotes all that is involved in worship, ritual, emotion, liturgy and attitude.

This definition actually denotes what we call denominations and sects and would make all religious movements a cult.

Christian Definition

CULT — Any group which deviates from Biblical, orthodox, historical Christianity. i.e. They deny the Deity of Christ; His physical resurrection; His personal and physical return to earth and salvation by faith alone.

This definition only covers those groups which are cults within the Christian religion. It does not cover cults within other world religions such as Islam and Hinduism. Nor does it cover psychological, commercial or educational cults which do not recognize the Bible as a source of reality.

Universal Definition

CULT — Any group which has a pyramid type authoritarian leadership structure with all teaching and guidance coming from the person/persons at the top. The group will claim to be the only way to God; Nirvana; Paradise; Ultimate Reality; Full Potential, Way to Happiness etc, and will use thought reform or mind control techniques to gain control and keep their members.

This definition covers cults within all major world religions, along with those cults which have no OBVIOUS religious base such as commercial, educational and psychological cults. Others may define these a little differently, but this is the simplest to work from.

(From: Jan Groenveld, “Identifying A Cult,” [http://www.caic.org.au/general/idencult.htm], viewed 01/30/06])

And then, regarding the Christian definition of cult—especially the “Orthodox Bible-Based Cult”, Jan adds this comment:

A group is called a cult because of their behaviour — not their doctrines. Doctrine is an issue in the area of Apologetics and Heresy. Most religious cults do teach what the Christian church would declare to be heresy but some do not. Some cults teach the basics of the Christian faith but have behavioural patterns that are abusive, controlling and cultic.

This occurs in both Non-Charismatic and Charismatic churches. These groups teach the central doctrines of the Christian faith and then add the extra authority of leadership or someone’s particular writings. They centre around the interpretations of the leadership and submissive and unquestioning acceptance of these is essential to be a member of good standing. This acceptance includes what we consider non-essential doctrines e.i. not salvation issues (such as the Person and Work of Christ.) The key is that they will be using mind control or undue influence on their members.

(From: Jan Groenveld, “Identifying A Cult,” [http://www.caic.org.au/general/idencult.htm], viewed 01/30/06])

(Emphasis added.)

I like this structure. It resonates with what I’ve read on cults and various cult practices, and provides a nice framework to know what is being discussed when the world “cult” is brandished. I especially like the focus being on behavior over and above doctrine. On one hand, anything religious is a cult. But from within orthodox Christianity, typically only those groups outside of orthodoxy, with aberrant doctrines, are viewed as cults. However, given the framework above, we can say that even within orthodoxy, there may be an adherence to orthodox doctrines, and yet individual churches or pastors can rise to the level of cult-status by their behaviors. This is like seeing definition three (universal definition) worked out from within a group that is mainstream and religious.

So, is the Assemblies of God a cult? Yes. According to the secular definition. And if a BBC journalist were writing with this definition in mind, we might easily get tagged as a cult without failing any sort of cultic litmus test. And if that happens, guess what? Editors for the leading Internet encyclopedia have all the rationale needed to identify us as a cult.

And thus a long-standing meme is revitalized. Truthiness wins and truth gets knocked on the head.

I suspect there are several A/G churches operating as cults according to the universal definition—or even the Christian definition. It would come as no surprise to me. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if it turns out there are Baptist cults that fit the bill, too. Or Methodist cults. Anywhere you find people, something will go wrong somewhere, eventually. And before you know it, some intrepid Wikipedian is taking names and editing stubs.

But Pentecostals and Charismatics sometimes get a raw deal. Do a few searches online and you’ll find the A/G mentioned in connection with emotional abuse and mind-control on various watch lists. The whole “Holy Spirit” thing is just too weird for some Christians to grapple with. As one anonymous poster writes on FactNet.org, “Casting demons out or exorcism is a procedure that is not performed in mainstream religions; only extremist cults perform these kinds of bizarre, abusive, sadistic, mind-control rituals.”

If Not a Cult, What Then?
Way back in September 1998, historian Vinson Synan, dean of the Regent University School of Divinity, told the Pentecostal World Conference that about 25 percent of the world’s Christian population is Pentecostal or Charismatic. Yes. In all, one in four Christians today believe in this sort of stuff. And that number increases daily.

While there is evidence for an unbroken thread of Pentecostal/Charismatic-like mysticism running throughout church history, the modern phenomenon began with the “touch felt around the world” on January 1, 1901 when Agnes Ozman was baptized in the Spirit and spoke in tongues at Bethel Bible College, under Charles Fox Parham’s leadership. From 1906–1909, it reached a tipping point with the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, California, led by a former student of Parham’s, William Joseph Seymour. This revival and the worldwide attention it captured is often considered the genesis of the movement that became Pentecostalism.

From humble beginnings at a backwater Bible college under a racist teacher, to a racially integrated revival, to the formation of new denominations by 1914, to the charismatic renewals of the late 50s, to the incredible, explosive growth of the Pentecostal world in the global South (Brazil’s Pentecostal population exceeds that of America by far), the Pentecostal/Charismatic cultural phenomenon is nothing less than a full-fledged movement.

But what is a movement, you ask?

I’m grateful to Steve Addison‘s weblog for providing this succinct quote from Luther P. Gerlach and Virgina H. Hine, authors of People, power, change: Movements of social transformation, a sociological study of the Black Panthers and Pentecostals:

“A movement is a group of people who are organized for, ideologically motivated by, and committed to a purpose which implements some form of personal or social change; who are actively engaged in the recruitment of others; and whose influence is spreading in opposition to the established order within which it originated.”

On the surface, this helpful definition sounds suspiciously like the “universal definition” of cults cited above. However, looking closely, I see a significant difference between mind-controlling cults and movements like the A/G: with a cult, personal change is imposed by an authoritarian structure for the benefit of the hierarchy itself. With a movement, personal change is organic: it comes from within. In the case of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement that change from within is not imposed by any human agency, it is enabled by Divine agency acting from within, and the change benefits the individual first. Society then benefits as individuals are themselves empowered to be change agents within their culture.

Does that sound like Acts 2 to you?

Conclusion
Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly for personal gain. Simon the ex-sorcerer fell prey to this temptation when he was first impressed with Philip going about working miracles. Even after his own conversion, when Peter and John came to Samaria, Simon was fascinated that when the disciples laid hands on people, folks were filled with the Spirit. So, naturally, he offered money and then begged of them, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Of course, that earned him a stern rebuke (Acts 8:9–25).

Perhaps today there are not enough stern rebukes going on in the Pentecostal and Charismatic world. Perhaps there are too many cult-like churches rising up in our midst because, after all, the temptation to capitalize on a movement’s power to change and mobilize is heady stuff. There’s a good reason we are admonished to “lay hands on no man suddenly” (1 Timothy 5:22). Men and women of anemic character, of uncritical, impressionable minds, and of weak doctrine and practice should not be suddenly thrust into leadership. I am not sure that “premature ordination” is really the root of doctrinal and behavioral excess in some churches, but it does seem clear to me that without leaders evidencing the spiritual transformation that is at the heart of our movement we are vulnerable to every Simon the Sorcerer who wants to mold his church into a cultic center of power.

Despite the inaccuracies of Wikipedia and the discussion over whether the A/G is a cult, or not, the truth is, perhaps there is more fodder for this claim than we would like. It’s Wikipedia’s job to be “truthy.” Whatever that is. But it’s our job to be spotless.

Think there’ll ever be a Wikipedia list of purported spotless denominations?


Websites of Note:

In addition to the articles linked to in my story above, I found these posts on Steve Addison’s blog worth reading:

Also see “The Origins of the Pentecostal Movement” by the inimitable Vinson Synan, Ph. D.

[tags]Adam-Curry, Agnes-Ozman, American-Dialect-Society, Assemblies-of-God, Assembly-of-God, Australia, BBC, Bethel-Bible-College, Bill-Gates, BlogRodent, Charismatic, Charismatics, Charles-Fox-Parham, colbert-report, controversy, cult, cult-watch, cults, Dave-Winer, encyclopedia, Family-First, Global-South, Jan-Groenveld, Jens-Stoltenberg, Jimmy-Wales, John-Seigenthaler, Larry-Sanger, mind-control, brainwashing, movements, MTV, orthodoxy, pedophilia, Pentecostal, Pentecostalism, Pentecostals, QuakeAID, Regent-University, religious-movements, Robert-Kennedy, Stephen-Colbert, truthiness, USA-Today, vandalism, Vinson-Synan, Wikiality, Wikipedia, William-Joseph-Seymour[/tags]

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22 Responses to Is the Assemblies of God a cult? Or, Wikipedia, authority, and the cult of truthiness.

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  2. Hello, Rich.

    Fascinating article you here.

    Wiki whackers are people who whack the Wikipedia, either overtly, say through vandalism, or more subtly to spread disinformation, say for political purposes, etc. Although it is seemingly handy to use, the Wikipedia cannot be trusted.

    I would only add that nowadays the word “cult” has been weaponized and is thoroughly loaded with sinister connotations. And I think some people intentionally use it that way, as a weapon, for various reason, and not simply to be dispassionately technical.

  3. Rich, on a different note, for some reason your blog is taking nearly forever to render in my browser. It was slow before (I only have a modem connection), but lately it’s nearly at the point of being unuseable. Can anything be done to speed it up?

  4. Steve says:

    Rich,

    Great writing. I’ve never been real impressed with Wikipedia. If I want information about something/someone, I want it to be correct. I found to many errors (if I can spot a spelling error — it HAS to be bad) the couple of times I checked it out.

    That said, I loved your summary of the beginnings of the Assemblies of God. I’m in the middle of a history of the AG course and you covered it well enough that I think I can pass may test. :-)

    Take care,
    Steve

  5. Rich says:

    Hi, Moonbones, I wonder if this would be a faster experience for you?

    http://tatumweb.com/blog/wp.php

    Give that a try … there are fewer widgets on that page. On the other hand, I use a lot of images in my blogs, and that can really slow things down.

    Thanks for the compliment, Steve. But if my postage-stamped size summary of the A/G history helps you pass the test, then you are probably not taking the right course!

    Rich.

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  7. quicksilver says:

    On wikipedia, I was wondering if you have seen this comic from Penny-Arcade a while ago? I think it illustrates wikipedia’s problem nicely.

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2005/12/16

    I’m not really inclined to believe at this point that AG is just a movement. I believe they have become so large and influential as a religious movement, that they are a church now. I really see no differences between a church and the AG. Perhaps they have just blurred the lines, but even their position papers refer to themselves as “the church.”

  8. Rich says:

    You’re right, the A/G is no longer “just a movement…” we may have surrendered that piece of our identity in 1914 when we became an organized “fellowship.” We do, however, still stand firmly within the overall Pentecostal/Charismatic “movement.” I think that would be indisputable.

    Interestingly, we’re a bit double-minded about the whole “fellowship” thing. Over and over, the official line is “The Assemblies of God is a voluntary, cooperative fellowship of like-minded ministers–not a denomination.”

    This from General Superintendent Thomas Trask:

    “It would be easy to follow the path taken by others and become a hierarchical denomination, but we have to realize that one of the reasons God has blessed this Fellowship is it has given priority to serving the ministries of the local church. … God raised up the Assemblies of God to be a movement––not a denomination. Our founding fathers never intended for this church to become a denomination. But over time––as more procedures, policies, and bylaws are put into place––a Fellowship can become a denomination.”

    From “Where Is The Spirit Leading The Assemblies of God?

    And:

    “Externally, we were created as a fellowship. There are
    many who call us a denomination, but there is a world
    of difference. A denomination, as it ages, becomes
    more restrictive. It puts in place policies, practices and
    procedures.

    A fellowship is a releasing agency. We are 91 years
    old. However, over this period, we have put into place
    practices, procedures, and policies that have become
    more restrictive. I believe, for the 21st century, the
    church needs to be a releasing agency.

    But, ultimately, this isn’t about whether the Assemblies
    of God is a denomination or fellowship. It is about the
    kingdom of God. This church was raised up by God to
    serve the kingdom of God. Not to serve a fellowship.
    Not to serve a denomination.”

    From: “Q&A: Interview with Tom Trask

    However, the official bio page says:

    “[Trask] also serves on several boards and committees for the denomination, including the General Presbytery.”

    From: “Our Executive Leadership

    I say we’re a denomination by any practical definition of the term. It’s like the young Christian apologists who say “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” Sure. That looks great on a cereal box but it only proves we’re writing our own dictionaries.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Rich.
    BlogRodent

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  10. Rich,

    I enjoyed your post quite a bit, but I would like to offer a dissenting opinion about whether or not movements are a good thing. I am a former A/G minister and I think this is an exceedingly important question which the A/G has yet to think through.

    Here is the question: What is the theological or biblical rationale for the pentecostal assumption that ‘tradition’=hierarchy=ossified=bad? I call this a ‘pentecostal assumption’ because I don’t think I’ve ever seen it clearly stated and defended. I think that it is just part of the traditional of the pentecostal faith.

    Pentecostalism arose within the context of two related ideas which were widespead in late 19th century America. The first was Revivalism. The tradition of the great awakenings in America left people with the expectation that there would be bizarre manifestations and signs when the spirit of God was moving in the church. A revival is the bringing back to life something which is dead. What was it that was ‘dead’? Well, that brings us to the second idea, Restorationism.

    Restorationism is the view that the church is now apostate and must be ‘restored’ somehow to the pristine faith of the early church. (In this respect, the Pentecostals, the Mormons, the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are all one big happy family–and, a propos of your post, you can see why they would all look like cults to a Roman Catholic.) The early founders of Pentecostalism believed that the church was apostate and they were praying for God to give them a sign that he was going to revive the church by his Spirit (Restorationism + Revivalism). In their interpretation, the sign of this revival would be speaking in tongues. After they fasted and prayed for a while, voila! Agnes Ozman recieves the gift of the spirit and Pentecostalism is underway.

    The early pentecostals saw themselves as the restoration of the early church and they decided that they weren’t going to let themselves become apostate like the catholic church or the protestant sects. They would never have denominational divisions. They would never allow hierarchies. They were a revival, a movement, not an ossified organization. These ideas are clearly still current in Pentecostalism around the world today, even despite the manifest fact that the A/G is a denomination and that there are indeed denominational divisions among the various pentecostal sects.

    In a spirit of love and respect for the good work which God has done through the pentecostal movement. I would like to submit the following questions and responses, hoping that they provoke more serious reflection and dialogue.

    (1) What biblical or theological reason is there to think that ‘tradition’ is bad?

    (2) What biblical or theological reason is there to expect that the movement of God’s spirit is always accompanied by ecstatic experiences?

    (3) What biblical or theological reason is there to think that the church became apostate and needed restoration by the Pentecostals?

    (4) What biblical or theological reason is there to think that the church is a movement?

    In response to (1): Tradition is not bad at all. St. Jude urges believers to contend for the faith which has been ‘once for all handed down’ (the greek verb here is paradidomi, whose noun form is the word for ‘tradition’. Jerome’s vulgate renders this phrase, “semel traditae sanctis fidei”). Tradition is not a static ossification of the truth. Rather it is a precondition for our growth in the truth. We learn from those who have come before us. We need not always agree with them, but we ignore them to our peril. There are no new problems, no new heresies. Study of the church fathers and the councils of the church allows us not to have to reinvent the wheel with every generation.

    Moreover, the hierarchical language of bishops and deacons and so forth is already there in the text of the New testament as well. There are clearly people in charge who have been chosen to lead the groups of the faithful. There aren’t any normative statements about church structure and organization, but if you believe that the spirit guides the church, then isn’t it possible that the spirit guided the church to create the hierarchy of deacons, priests and bishops?

    Isn’t the A/G’s opposition to tradition and hierarchy just a general part of post-enlightenment American culture. We don’t really like anybody telling us what to do. We are spiritual, not religious. We like country clubs and megachurches with no committment and nobody telling anybody else what to do. We are customers who can take our religious business elsewhere, so why tie ourselves to a specific denominational tradition. (cf. the phrase “church shopping”).

    In response to (2): There is no reason to think that only those who have spoken in tongues are filled/baptized/moved by the spirit. This is a longer, more technical argument in NT scholarship, so i’ll simply refer the interested reader to the landmark study “Baptism in the Spirit” by J.D.G. Dunn. (The most recent rejoinder to it by a pentecostal is “Spirit and Power”, by A/G missionary Robert Menzies)

    In response to (3): Contrary to the Restorationist belief, God explicitly promised that the church would not fall into utter apostasy–”and the gates of hell shall not prevail against [the church]“–cf. mark 16.18. Moreover, the argument is also wildly historically inaccurate. Moreover, the early church was not perfect. Most of the NT epistles were written to try to straighten out very serious problems in the early church. The church has learned and grown a lot since the first century, e.g. we have formulated a theology of the trinity, of the hypostatic union of the person of Christ, etc. These theological doctrines are crucial parts of the christian faith which we are now able to articulate more clearly than Paul or Peter could have.

    The oneness pentecostals are heretics because the deny the doctrine of the trinity . . . but isn’t it possible that they deny the trinity because they have never read about the council of nicea, just because the church was already apostate (read ‘Catholic’) by then. If the founders of oneness pentecostalism had read the arguments from the third century about why jesus and the God of the old testament cannot really just be different faces of the same reality.

    In response to (4): “If the church is a movement, then everybody becomes a minister” (this one of the benefits of being a ‘movement’ put forward in one of the other articles you linked). There is no structure, no authority, just everybody being led by the Spirit and doing their own ministry.

    Unfortunately, it never works that way. The fact is that abilities, gifts and callings are not evenly distributed. If everybody is a minister, then nobody is a minister. If everybody is a minister, then why should anybody go to school and learn greek and hebrew or study theology? One A/G pastor I know has a master degree in divinity from AGTS and he told me that all of the other pastors in his district resented him because because of his degree and they were always suspicious of him. He needed more ‘kneeology’ than ‘theology’ etc. etc. etc. In other traditions, one celebrates academic acheivment and places those who know the most about the bible and theology in positions of leadership so that they can help guide and direct the church, but in pentecostal churches everybody is the same. Nobody can know anything more than anybody else, and anybody who claims to know something more is immediately labelled ‘arrogant’.

    I don’t think the A/G is in danger of changing its mind on any of these four questions any time soon. But they are deeply troubling questions that i think any A/G person who is concerned about her denomination ought to think about.

    yours,

    shane wilkins

    P.S. If a BBC reporter found out that Paul Yonggi Cho was officially endorsed by the A/G, and then read his book “The Fourth Dimension”, she would have good grounds for labeling the A/G a cult. (cf. the article “Shamanistic Influences in Korean Pentecostal Christianity” by Jeremy Reynalds.)

  11. Rich says:

    Thanks, Shane, for that enclycopedic magnum annotamentum. I’ll do my best to respond soon. It may call for another post whereupon you may once again skewer me on your broadsword of truth.

    I may be rash in saying this, but I suspect I largely agree with you, but I must write out my thoughts in order to spin — err — nuance them properly.

    Regards,

    Rich
    BlogRodent

  12. i’m sorry. . . i really didn’t mean for that entry to be quite so long. . . it’s just that this is a topic that i’ve done a lot of soul searching about in the last five years. i look forward to your response. I don’t want to skewer anybody, I just want to hold a mirror up to the A/G, because there are some real problems there which won’t get any better unless somebody is willing to point them out.

    shane

  13. Thanks, Rich, for the alternate link to your blog. It does load up more quickly.

  14. Rich says:

    Moonbones, you’re welcome! I’m not sure if you can post comments from that page, though, so I’ll have to see if I can fix that.

    Shane, no offense taken. I was attempting to be wry and witty. I wasn’t perturbed in the least. I was amused and pleased my post inspired such a thoughtful comment.

    Regards,

    Rich.
    BlogRodent

  15. Pingback: WikiWatch

  16. Rich says:

    Here’s an interesting website that watches Wikipedia, worth the notice:

    WikiWatch

    “I really don’t go out my way to find bad Wikipedia articles, but sometimes that’s all that Google offers me.”

    Rich
    BlogRodent

  17. Fr. Daniel says:

    Rich, I think that applying the “secular definition” of “cult” to the AG would better result in writing of “the AG cult” rather than describing the AG as “a cult”. The article (“a” vs. “the”) makes a difference. For example, in Old Testament study, we often make reference to the Temple cult, but we would not describe Temple worship as being a cult. The indefinite article causes us to switch from the “secular definition” to the “universal definition”.

  18. Rich says:

    Fr. Sparks, thanks for your comment!

    I agree with you, the proper use of semantics places the A/G (or any faith) in the proper relationship to the word which describes it. At least, for those who know the difference.

    But for most, the word “cult” has one meaning: whacked out people who aren’t orthodox Christians. For them, even writing, “The Assemblies of God cult” would still denote all the negative cultic baggage that some Wikipedians evidently want to assign us. Thus, my lengthy diatribe.

    I probably could’ve shortened my conclusion to say, “The A/G cult is not a cult, but some elements do exhibit cult-like behavior. Not all cults are truly cultic.” But where’s the fun in that? :: grin ::

    By the way, may God bless you, keep you and your men safe, and give you wisdom as you prepare for deployment.

    Regards,

    Rich
    BlogRodent

  19. Dr. Shepherd says:

    The sad thing about the Assemblies of God is how they had been founded by Bible believing people who for two millennia taught, only men can hold the office of Pastor according to Bible Scriptures.

    Now in more modern times since the onset of women’s liberations, that those same women have targeted the Churches as their next goal.

    As today these same liberated women living in the elusions of women’s equalities, are only fooling themselves when they take on the name of a woman being a pastor.

    And for a denomination to cater to this delusional state by acting as a ordaining denomination in ordaining women, to draw more women tethers into their organization. $$$

    According to the Biblical author Paul, who was responsible for contributions that comprise being nearly one half of the New Testament, that such heresies of women being ordained as pastors will be cursed?

    Gal 1:8: But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

    Gal 1:9: As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

    Assemblies of God feminists who uphold these false teachings claim that the prophet Joel’s prophesy in Acts 2:16-17:

    Acts 2:16: But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:

    Failing to inform people today that this was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies only to the children of Israel and Jews. Peter proclaimed that those prophesies were then that day fulfilled.

    It was soon after that day and time that the apostle Paul became a converted Christian, and began his contributions to Bible Scriptures led by the Holy Ghost, and set more sound doctrines into motion.

    While led of the Holy Ghost Paul wrote also;

    1 Cor 14:34: Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

    1 Tim 2:11-12: Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

    1 Tim 3:1-2: This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

    Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, he has not changed Paul’s writings.

    Mal 3:6: For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.

    Assemblies of God wake up! Repent! For as many women that you have un-scripturally ordained you have done it at the cost of loosing your anointing! We pray you will repent and return back to bible scripture for sound doctrines.

    Or will we see now what becomes of a cursed denomination that continues to teach doctrines opposite of what Bible Scripture states? And fulfill the prophesied APOSTACY that marks histories end.

  20. Rich says:

    Dr. Shepherd,

    The self-same Bible-believing people who founded the A/G articulated our doctrines nearly 100 years ago, in 1914, including the position that women should be allowed to proclaim the Word of God as ordained ministers.

    This does not make us a cult, nor does it make us apostate. And I would challenge you to cite sources indicating that the reason the A/G did this was for financial gain.

    The passages you cite are clear, but your interpretation of them is foggy. I could go on as to why, but this post is not the proper forum for that discussion.

    For now, I recommend:

    Exploring Why We Think The Way We Do About Women In Ministry
    by Dr. George O. Wood, general secretary of the Assemblies of God.
    Are Pentecostals tinkering with the words of Scripture by permitting the ordination of women and affording them every role in ministry available to men? As Pentecostals, we better have an answer to this question.

    Jesus And Women
    By Doug Clark
    The words accepting, sensitive, and affirming sum up what Luke and the example of Jesus teach us about the Master’s attitude toward women.

    Dealing with Questions on the Role of Women in Ministry
    By Zenas J. Bicket

    Regards,

    Rich
    BlogRodent

  21. Josh says:

    WikiCult seems to have the right idea — see wikicult.org.

  22. The Fair and Balanced says:

    Hmm the woman in the pulpit thing? Having come to God via the Assemblies of God I have to admit that many women had their hands in my discipleship as a youngster. But many women including my own mother tore her own family and marriage up in order to point us all to Christ. And me and my 5 older brothers are solid Chistians today because of it however the methods used were obstinance confrontational rebellion against my father’s authority which is not the pattern advised by Paul in 1st Peter 3:1-6 to convert a husband to the faith. So as it turns out the main scripture to used to put women into the pulpit or leadership over men in the church is Galations 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (KJV). Most take this verse as our relationship to each other as individuals while the context makes it clear that it refers to our relationship to Christ. Our relationship to each other has already been spelled out in detail in other scriptures designating children to be under parents, wives under husbands, churches under male pastors, and all married people into heterosexual marriages with people of the oposite gender. To take this passage in Galations as it has been taken at first glance that it refers to our relationship to each other would be to destroy the intent of piles of other scriptures which cannot be allowed. If women can use it to be pastor then a male can use it to marry and have sexual activities with another male all with the blessings of God. The lawsuits to divorce in about 75% of all marriages in the US are initiated by women. How can women continually see women preachers in the pulpit laying the law down to audiences with men sitting in them, and later be able to resist the temptation to replicate the sitation at home by turning the tables on their own husband by calling the shots and trying to teach him how to act though it is against the scriptures to do so? I find that most people follow the examples they see played out in front of them rather than by following the written word. Just because a woman is good at a job does not mean she is allowed to do it, just the same as that fact that I might be able to do a good job of breaking all car windows on my street in 10 minutes does not mean I should be allowed to. The spiritual exploits and miracles of many will be rejected by Jesus because of the additional inquity (lawless) in their lives. Thus they will be denied entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven – Matthew 7:22-23. So we see that though they did many good things together with God, they will still be outcasts because of a failure to be legalistic enough.

    Though I do agree in part with the main intent of Dr. Shepherd, I have to dissent in that he accused concering Acts 2:16 “Failing to inform people today that this was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies only to the children of Israel and Jews”. This smacks of typical baptist doctrine which declares that all miracles and apostles passed away after the death of the last apostles which is a ludacrist idea. It was the last days then and it still is the last days. It will be the last days until the Day of the Lord appears. Dr. Shepherd should realize that verse verse 17 applies it to all flesh which is beyond Israel and the Jews. Further more the middle wall of partition was removed placing all gentiles who accept the Lord into the commonwealth of Israel according to Ephesians Chapter 2. Futhermore the Northern House is Israel comprising of about 10 lost tribes are foretold to someday be regathered and brougt back to the Land of Israel and anyone of us reading this today could be part of that number. Futhermore anyone could always join Israel just as Caleb joined himself to the tribe of Judah when they left Egypt with Moses, and also as Rahab the harlot joined the nation and religion. All gentiles are grafted in to Israel and that is the only way we can get to heaven. There is no us and them, the church and israel. Anyone who is not Israel will never be saved, you either get grafted into the tree of Israel or you perish. According to Jeremiah 31:31-33 the only people God ever made a convenant with durring or since the days of Moses was the house of Israel and Judah and to get in on that deal you have to join Israel by submitting to the authority of Jesus who himself is a Jew and an extention of the kingdom of Israel under the lineage of David and the Messiah of the Kingdom of God. Replacement theology that the church has replaced Israel is a big no no. There is only one body, one spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all according to Ephesians Chapter 4. Because the word “Cult” is not a word from the bible, I refrain from using it to define those who quote the bible or claim to live by it’s precepts. It was no doubt created by the evil one to hurt good people. It is better to refer to the wrong doers as Heretics, false prophets, hirelings or blind leaders of the blind.

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