We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, September 14, 2013

AOG & The Spirit

In the midst of the general statistical decline of much of the Christian church in the United States, the Assemblies of God (AoG) stands out as a notable exception.  Its statistics for 2012 (here) show continued solid growth across the board, a fact that has been widely noted in the religious press as well as in the media generally (see here).  The obvious question is, "Why?"  A number of answers are offered in the various news articles including such things as a flexibility when it comes to adapting to local culture, remaining true to its core conservative values, skillful use of social media and modern communication technologies, a focus on minorities and acceptance of women's leadership at all levels of the church, and other factors that may contribute to growth but don't really explain it.

In that light, the observations of one knowledgable commentator, Steve Strang, in a posting entitled, "Pentecostal Fire Still Driving Assemblies of God Growth" are helpful.  He writes, "The baptism of the Holy Spirit and the belief that the power of the Spirit is for today caused the Assemblies of God to start in 1914—only eight years after the Pentecostal revival broke out at Azusa Street in Los Angeles. From talking to leaders, experiencing the services and my firsthand knowledge, I believe this Pentecostal fire is still important and fueling the growth."  Strang elaborates, "Sure, there are many problems with the Assemblies, including how to cope with worldliness that inevitably creeps into the church as well as a drift toward liberalism, modernism, complacency and denominational bureaucratic lethargy. But there is still a desire and a fervor for that Pentecostal power and a desire to reach the world that seems to embody what is happening in the Assemblies of God in 2013."  I added the emphasis.

Mainline congregations can and do grow.  The churches of other evangelical denominations can and do grow.  The difference is that the AoG continues to sustain its growth across the denomination, internationally as well as nationally.  Out here in the mainline world, we have to acknowledge the Pentecostal connection to the Spirit continues to have a life-changing, trends-defying power.  The heart of the matter is not doctrinal nor is it driven by trendy strategies.  At the heart of the matter lies the Spirit.