Church, Identity, and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times

Church, Identity, and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times

Church, Identity, and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times

Church, Identity, and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times

Synopsis

Since colonial days, religious work in American has happened through denominations. At least since the start of the twentieth century, these religious bodies consisted of a fairly tight, intra-denominationally connected system of congregations, regional judicatories, and national offices. This system was the product of more than two centuries of consolidation among Americanbs historic immigrant and indigenous churches. The vast majority of these structures are still in place, retain some semblance of internal coherence, have considerable social and religious significance, and will be with us for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the stresses upon them today clearly indicate that they are entering an unsettled period of transition. The purpose of this book is to examine the national structures of eight diverse Protestant denominations as a part of that shift. The frame of this study is the relationship between the theological and organizational nature of national denominational structures as they adapt to the changing situation of the twenty-first century.

Excerpt

Gary B. McGee

In the cauldron of doctrinal controversy at the sixth national gathering of the General Council of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Missouri, in 1918, the delegates announced as their "distinctive testimony" that speaking in tongues represents the uniform "initial physical sign" of the postconversion experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit. In so doing, they voiced the sentiments of the large majority of Pentecostals who had insisted since the inception of the Pentecostal movement at the turn of the twentieth century, that glossolalic utterance marked the inauguration of the Spirit-filled Christian life. Eventually this became known as the doctrine of "initial physical evidence," or simply "initial evidence."

Pentecostals saw themselves as an end-times movement raised up by God to evangelize the world before the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Forming new denominations, like the ones they had left or been forced out of, was the last thing on their minds. Cold ritual, the "Social Gospel," and arid discussions on theological issues had no place on their agenda. A common goal to proclaim the good news in the power of the Spirit knit them together. But despite the idealized sense of unity that prevailed, quarrels over correct doctrine quickly divided them, revealing how seriously they considered scriptural teaching and authority. As early as 1906, they parted ways over the absolute requirement of tongues for Spirit baptism. Four years later, in 1910, the house again divided over the nature of sanctification. Then, in 1913, a major dispute arose over the biblical understanding of the Godhead. An excessive use of biblical literalism mixed with the Jesus-centered piety of the Holiness Movement prompted a march of events that climaxed in a division between trinitarian and "Jesus' Name" or "Oneness" Pentecostals. Hardest hit by the controversy was the Assemblies of God.

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