The Assemblies of God

The Assemblies of God: Godly Love and the Revitalization of American Pentecostalism

Margaret M. Poloma
John C. Green
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 268
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  • Book Info
    The Assemblies of God
    Book Description:

    The Assemblies of God (AG) is the ninth largest American and the world's largest Pentecostal denomination, with over 50 million followers worldwide. The AG embraces a worldview of miracles and mystery that makessupernatural experiences, such as speaking in tongues, healing, and prophecy, normal for Christian believers. Ever since it first organized in 1916, however, the charismata or gifts of the Holy Spirit have felt tension from institutional forces. Over the decades, vital charismatic experiences have been increasingly tamed by rituals, doctrine, and denominational structure. Yet the path towards institutionalization has not been clear-cut. New revivals and direct personal experience of God - the hallmarks of Pentecostalism - continue as an important part of the AG tradition, particularly in the growing number of ethnic congregations in the United States.The Assemblies of God draws on fresh, up-to-date research including quantitative surveys and interviews from twenty-two diverse Assemblies of God congregations to offer a new sociological portrait of the AG for the new millennium. The authors suggest that there is indeed a potential revitalization of the movement in the works within the context of the larger global Pentecostal upswing, and that this revitalization may be spurred by what the authors call godly love: the dynamic interaction between divine and human love that enlivens and expands benevolence.The volume provides a wealth of data about how the second-largest American Pentecostal denomination sees itself today, and suggests trends to illuminate where it is headed in the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6839-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Although religious revivals have been said to be “as American as baseball, blues music and the stars and stripes” (McClymond 2007, xvii), they inevitably stir up controversy as well as revive faith. The Azusa Street Revival that occurred in Los Angeles between 1906 and 1909, now commonly credited as the birthplace of Pentecostalism, had followers and detractors, as did the Pensacola Outpouring some ninety years later. In both cases, many people attributed spiritual and social transformations to these events while others were put off by the turbid emotionalism they saw at these revival meetings.

    The Assemblies of God (AG), a...

  5. 1 Congregational Overview
    (pp. 19-44)

    The above epigraph was penned by Pastor James T. (Jim) Bradford of Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, one of the twenty-one congregations included in our study. Bradford has since relocated to the nearby U.S. Headquarters of the AG, where he serves as General Secretary and a member of the denomination’s Executive Presbytery. If Springfield is (as some have affectionately and humorously called it) “Rome on the Ozarks,” Central Assembly has been the AG’s St. Peter’s Basilica. But as we will see, Central Assembly has been in transition, providing an excellent illustration of what sociologist Malcolm Gold (2003) has...

  6. 2 Charisma and Structure in the Assemblies of God Theoretical Overview
    (pp. 45-60)

    Although most traditional Pentecostals have been wary of new revivals outside the denomination, the AG has been revitalized at least in some degree by them. Tension has always found a home within the AG; in fact, it can be argued that a degree of tension between what we have been calling the primal and the pragmatic—or, to use sociological concepts, between charisma and social structure—has been an important factor in the AG’s vitality (Poloma 1989; Poloma and Pendleton 1989). Social scientists have long recognized that tension and conflict can have positive institutional consequences (see Coser 1956; 1967). Tension...

  7. 3 Pentecostal Identity and the Charismata Mixed Motivation and Religious Experience
    (pp. 61-78)

    The concern expressed by Eric Patterson in the above epigraph, found in the conclusion of his and Edmund Rybarczyk’s edited volumeThe Future of Pentecostalism in the United States(2007), serves as a fresh reminder that the AG remains at an intersection. InCrossroadsPoloma (1989) used the sociological theory of Thomas O’Dea to explore in detail the dilemmas inherent within a denomination struggling against the routinization of charisma that some sociologists would say is inevitable in all religious groups. Would routinization and institutionalization lead to the demise of distinct Pentecostal experiences in modern Pentecostalism? Is it possible for charismata...

  8. 4 Structure and Charisma Doctrine, Power, and Administration
    (pp. 79-101)

    Although the humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow penned the above epigraph nearly sixty-five years after the Azusa Street Revival, the early Pentecostals would wholeheartedly have agreed with his thesis. Having experienced Pentecost like they believe the early Apostles did, they did not want to see it fall prey to “dead religion.” Well into the 1980s, when Poloma was gathering data forCrossroads, many AG leaders were openly resisting becoming a “denomination,” preferring to refer to their faith as a “movement” or a “fellowship.”¹ There is less talk of the AG not being a denomination these days, but like pentecostals of all...

  9. 5 Spirit Baptism and Spiritual Transformation An Exercise in Socio-Theology
    (pp. 102-120)

    Baptism in the Spirit, identified as the “crown jewel” of pentecostal theology by AG theologian Frank Macchia (2006c), is at the heart of pentecostal spiritual transformation. An experience subsequent to Christian conversion or being “born again,” it opens believers’ eyes to a dimension of reality that is a-rational and supra-empirical. Spirit baptism marks the beginning of a journey of empowered spirituality for service that is at the core of Godly Love, with “signs and wonders” that reflect a “supernatural” dimension of daily life. Its main functions have been described in a position paper by the General Council of the Assemblies...

  10. 6 Spiritual Empowerment Pray-ers, Prophets, and Healers in the Pews
    (pp. 121-143)

    Early Pentecostals, including the Assemblies of God, intentionally ignored many of the theological distinctions that have marked various flavors of American Protestantism, but they soon found themselves embroiled in doctrinal squabbles of their own making. As AG historian Edith Blumhofer (1993, 4) astutely described the paradox, Pentecostals “are not doctrinally unconcerned, but they are suspicious of theological finesse.” Instead of well-developed systematic theologies, they have opted for biblical terminology and their understanding of biblical precedent. Not always aware of the social scientific theories of the construction of human reality—including the social construction of religious reality that brought Pentecostalism into...

  11. 7 Law of Love and Love of Law Beliefs, Mores, and Faces of Love
    (pp. 144-170)

    In a posthumously published work that is painstakingly difficult to read, sociologist Philip Rieff (2007) critiques aspects of the Weberian theory of charisma as he writes a treatise on “the gift of grace, and how it has been taken away from us.” At times reading like the work of a scholar with a mind far beyond most mortals, while in other sections sounding like the ranting of a curmudgeon about the loss of a world that never was, Rieff’s (2007)Charismacan be mined for golden nuggets to enrich sociological comprehension of a poorly understood and often misused concept. Of...

  12. 8 Ushering in the Kingdom of God Religious Values, Godly Love, and Public Affairs
    (pp. 171-187)

    Paul Alexander represents an example of recent efforts by young Pentecostals to understand the implications of their faith for public affairs. Here, as in other areas, the Assemblies of God confronts a dilemma between the “law of love” and the “love of law” that can encourage different—even contradictory—approaches to public life. On the one hand, distinctive Pentecostal religious experiences can promote a just and compassionate society. On the other hand, the traditional religiosity of Pentecostals can promote a society characterized by traditional moral values. As Alexander notes, these approaches among the Assemblies of God “come and go,” and...

  13. 9 Covenants, Contracts, and Godly Love
    (pp. 188-206)

    Grant Wacker (2001, 15) has identified a process that has gone on throughout the history of Christendom in which groups “have found ways to weave heavenly aspirations with everyday realities.” This interchange between primitive experiences and pragmatic practices serves as a foundation for Wacker’s historical discussion of Pentecostalism. While taking for granted the primitive or charismatic features inherent in this religious movement, Wacker’s analysis focuses on pragmatic practices rather than on charismatic experiences, leading him to wonder whether the tale of early Pentecostals was one in which “heaven had invaded earth or earth had invaded heaven” (p. 15).


  14. Appendix A: Statistical Tables (Pastors Survey)
    (pp. 207-210)
  15. Appendix B: Congregational Measurement Scales
    (pp. 211-218)
  16. Appendix C: Statistical Tables (Congregational Survey)
    (pp. 219-224)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 225-238)
  18. References
    (pp. 239-248)
  19. Index
    (pp. 249-258)
  20. About the Authors
    (pp. 259-259)