Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Theological Matters & Unity

When I was a boy, I was raised in the Assemblies of God.  My family attended an AG church that was miles from us and we would wake up on Sunday mornings and drive over an hour to church.  We did it twice on Sunday and then again on Wednesday evening.  Eventually they planted an AG church on our side of town and we ceased driving that far.

In those days, our AG churches were clearly AG.  Every AG church had the name “Assembly of God” somewhere in their name.  Whether it was Airport Assembly of God, Trinity Assembly of God, Calvary Assembly of God, Northeast Christian Assembly of God, etc., the name “Assembly of God” was incorporated into the church.  I remember the first AG church to not use “AG” in their name (Christian Outreach Center) and it was controversial to say the least.  I remember hearing people say that COC was compromising and they were moving away from being Pentecostal.

Fast forward to today.  In my city there are about 10 AG churches.  Only two have the AG name.  COC is gone but after COC, other churches begin to drop the AG name.  This moved started in the late 1990’s when Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church was making its rounds among AG pastors.  Soon they too were dropping the AG name in favor of “community church” names or just “Trinity Church.”

Now in fairness, I don’t think they all did this to be popular.  Some would still gladly claim to be AG while not using AG in their names.  Some were pragmatic and did see the “community church” movement and jumped in.  I see it a different way and I’ll explain in this post.

First, in the late 1990’s there were two “moves” among the AG churches I was familiar with.  There was the revival movement coming out from Brownsville Assembly in Pensacola, FL.  Many thought Brownsville would drop the AG name or even leave the Assemblies of God altogether but they never did and still remain to this day in the AG with the name “Brownsville Assembly of God.”  The Brownsville revival died out around 2002 and the other stream took over.  This was the Rick Warren stream.  Warren had even been invited to the General Council of the Assemblies of God, the first non-Pentecostal speaker ever to the Assemblies of God.  Warren did not know it but he became the chief of church growth to many in the AG churches.  I still remember pastors at AG ministers meetings I would attend in those days all boasting about reading and implementing Warren’s purpose driven styles.  Some AG pastors I knew were even following Warren’s preaching style to the point of wearing Hawaiian shirts like Warren did.  They dropped preaching out of the King James Version in favor of the New Living Translation because of Warren.

Secondly, this led to churches uniting around methodology and not theology.  When I was a boy, the Assemblies of God were clearly Pentecostal churches.  Our church was very Pentecostal in the worship and in the preaching.  I remember talking to my father about the Baptist or Presbyterian churches and he would tell me they were indeed Christians but they didn’t know much about the Holy Ghost.  Pentecostal theology was vital.  I still remember hearing a Pentecostal pastor preach, “I fear the day when we will be Pentecostal in theology but not experience.”  At every turn, Pentecostal theology was taught and emphasized.  When a person got saved at our church, they were baptized in water and they told to seek God for the Holy Ghost.  The wording might be wrong but they clearly knew their theology even if you don’t agree.

Fast forward to today.  Most AG churches I am familiar with no longer emphasize doctrine at all.  In fact, doctrine is often avoided at all costs.  I personally have had an AG pastor tell me that theology does not matter.  He felt doctrine was not livable and so he wanted to preach “life application sermons” rather than theology to his church.  Where does this come from?  Rick Warren!

I had another AG pastor friend who was going to plant an AG church.  What did he do?  In the old days, the AG’s would set up a tent and have the preacher hold tent meetings.  This would usually draw small crowds at first and the preacher would preach on the need of the people to be saved and baptized in the Holy Ghost.  Those who came and got saved or baptized in the Spirit were then included in the new church plant.  The preacher would work until the church could support him (most stayed bi-vocational their entire lives).  Now AG church planters usually get some money from the District and plant the church.  They will attend numerous church growth conferences to learn the latest gimmicks to church growth.  Gone are the days of fasting and prayer (though they say they still pray).  In my friends case, he traveled to all sorts of churches many of them non-AG to learn their gimmicks.  At one point I asked him (after he traveled to a large seeker church in the West) why he would want to learn from them since they are theological different than the AG’s?  He replied, “Because they are growing and we can learn from them.”  The bottom line is this: growth is desire and whoever is growing is who we look to.  Theology is not the issue.  Prayer and preaching is not the issue.  Pragmatism is.

Now my point here is not to boaster the Assemblies of God.  I have no dog in the fight.  I am simply observing the church world from the bleachers.  I understand the desire of pastors to be full-time.  I was there.  I am thankful I am not now.  The pressure to grow your church (and yes its viewed as “your” church) is immense.  Rather than learning how to preach, how to pray, how to fast, how to evangelize, etc. the emphasis is on the latest gimmicks to get people in the door.  My friend above who planted an AG church uses every gimmick you can imagine from dropping Easter eggs from helicopters (thanks to Steven Furtick for that gimmick) to offering free movie tickets to attendees to giving away a new car.  All gimmicks designed to get people in the door.  Once they are there, he preaches goofy sermon series’ designed to “get them hooked to church.”  Sin, repentance, holiness, even AG doctrines such as the baptism in the Spirit are not emphasized.  Their “worship”service is am emotional rollercoaster full of sappy love songs to Jesus and make you feel like your a 14 year old at a junior high school dance rather than church.  And my friend has one goal: numbers.  It’s all about the growth.  His mentors are all seeker sensitive pastors and he idolizes men such as Perry Noble and Andy Stanley.

Go back 50 years and not one AG pastor would have listened to a Perry Noble or Andy Stanley.  Why?  Because they were not Pentecostals!  Pentecostals only listened to Pentecostals in those days.  The attitude was that Pentecostals have the baptism in the Holy Ghost and Baptists do not.

Some see all of this “unity” as good.  I don’t.  Again, I’m not arguing for Pentecostal theology.  In many ways, my theology is more Wesleyan now than Pentecostal.   I still love Pentecostal people and while I do see theological errors among them (mainly among those who claim Pentecostal such as those in the Word-Faith camp), I would not classify myself as Pentecostal.  What I see taking place is not unity around the gospel.  I see unity around methods.  John MacArthur warned that churches today are uniting around methodology and not theology.  I agree.  The lines are not blurred between the distinctives of the Pentecostal movement and those in the Baptist churches.  Yet it is not theological unity that is taking place.  It is emotional experiences that are unifying them.

There is no doubt that Jesus prayed for unity of His body in John 17:22-23.  In 1 Corinthians 1:10 Paul the Apostle emphasized unity in theology.  The people of God are unified who have been saved by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:14-21).  Jesus is Head over His Church (Colossians 1:15-20).  Jesus also knows those who are His own (John 10:27; 2 Timothy 2:19).  Unity in the local church must be around theology.  We must know what we believe and speak the same beliefs.  Obviously, as sinful humans, we are not perfect in our understanding and we all need correction.  This is why we need the church.  The church helps us to know what we believe and maintain that belief through faithfulness and good works (Hebrews 10:23-25).  The elders of the church help us to obtain this unity by teaching us the Word of God (Ephesians 4:11-16).  Doctrine does matter (1 Timothy 4:16).

The balance of all this is to have both sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and sound experiences.  I don’t want to go to church to hear a theological lecture every time.  We need a balance of sound doctrine with practical living.  Notice this is how Paul taught in his epistles.  He would teach theology and how to put it into practice.  For example, Ephesians is six chapters.  The first three chapters of Ephesians are theological in nature.  The last three are application in nature.  Our theology transforms our lives for better or for worst.  This is why Paul would issue such a condemnation as in Galatians 1:6-9 over the issue of the gospel.  Without sound doctrine, the gospel is lost.  Salvation is gone.  The Lordship of Jesus is robbed.  Life is hopeless.

My friends, I urge you to pray for the Church of Jesus Christ.  Pray for God to show us the need for sound doctrine.  Pray for the Lord to us godly elders who are not leading for gain but for the love of Christ (1 Peter 5:1-5).  Peter the Apostle wrote in 1 Peter 4:8, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”  I want all this for myself and the church of God.

May the Lord be glorified in and among His Church!

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7 Responses

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  1. I hear you brother, and share your concerns, especially in regard to the A/G. Doctrine is never secondary to nor superfluous in regard to church growth. That was never put in our purview anyhow (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 3:7).

    stephenwinters

    05/13/2016 at 11:31 AM

  2. Are there any good books on how to preach both sound doctrine and practical living?

    jahiddle

    05/13/2016 at 6:00 PM

    • I would recommend Dr John MacArthur’s book on expository preaching as well as a book on preaching by James Bradford (Preaching: Maybe It Is Rocket Science). These are both sound books.

  3. Hello! I agree about some of your criticisms regarding gimmickry and shallowness (my word, not yours). But I disagree about the importance of what you are calling “doctrine”.

    How are you defining “doctrine”?

    Why are you distinguishing between “doctrine” and “practical living”?

    Disqus Withme

    05/14/2016 at 1:50 PM

    • Doctrine would be the foundational doctrines of the faith (Acts 2:42; Hebrews 5:11-6:2). 1 Timothy 4:16 instructs us to watch our life and doctrine closely and to persevere in them. The elders are to teach sound doctrine (Titus 2:1) and must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) and rebuke those who contradict (Titus 1:9).

      I’m not arguing for a lecture on doctrine but a passionate teacher who leads by example (Hebrews 13:7) which flows from sound doctrine. I find that lacking in many churches.

      Thanks for the inquiry.

      • Thank you for the response.

        My main point:

        I agree with you that teaching and instruction are extremely important in our time and circumstances, but I think that what we think of as “doctrine” is almost always not important, at best.

        Regarding “doctrine”:

        Briefly, the Greek words sometimes translated as “doctrine” in some English Bibles simply mean “official instruction or teaching as a lesson” or “teaching” or “that which is taught” (see the LSJ, http://lsj.translatum.gr/wiki/%CE%B4%CE%B9%CE%B4%CE%B1%CF%83%CE%BA%CE%B1%CE%BB%CE%AF%CE%B1, http://lsj.translatum.gr/wiki/%CE%B4%CE%B9%CE%B4%CE%B1%CF%87%CE%AE). Most or many (depending on the word) translations nearly always translate those words as “teaching(s)”, which is more correct, I think.

        And so, teaching and instructing about adultery/divorce, putting others first, giving to the poor, and love and mercy are perfect, prime examples of “sound teaching/instruction” (or “doctrine”).

        Paul’s examples of what is contrary to sound teaching/instruction (or “doctrine”) consist of murder, kidnapping, perjuring, fornication, lewdness and greediness, boasting and pride, seeking dishonest gain, and forbidding to marry and abstaining from food, and slander – among other similar acts – according to their desires.

        All of the above (and the like) is the focus in Scripture, and is what we will be judged on, and needs to precede any extra-Biblical discussions about theology, imo, especially among the immature.

        Why am I writing this?:

        I see that theology leads to division and sectarianism (aka, “heresy”). As a “layman”, I see that Christians in the U.S. are not particularly faithful, truthful, kind, loving, merciful, patient, peaceful, etc. So we don’t need distractions. Paul warned against “profane old wives’ fables”, “pride”, “obsess[ion] with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions”, “idle talk”, “divisions”, “quarrels”, “words taught by [mere] human wisdom”, and “exceed[ing] what is written”.

        Those things are sinful. As far as I know, incorrect theology (e.g., Calvinism and/or Arminianism) is not sinful.

        Finally,

        I realize that “theological/doctrinal” discussion can be fun (for Christians and atheists alike), and I suppose it helps some Christians in their Christian walk. I don’t want to take that away, if that’s the case.

        Thank you for your time and the platform.

        Disqus Withme

        05/15/2016 at 12:01 PM

  4. By the way, my previous comment (a few minutes ago) was very long. It’s not at all necessary to post it to your blog. If you have any thoughts you’d like to pass on just to me, you can email me at disquswithme@gmail.com. I will not protract the discussion.

    Thank you!

    Disqus Withme

    05/15/2016 at 12:07 PM


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