PENTECOSTAL GROUP CELEBRATES CENTENNIAL
The Assemblies of God USA (AG) completed their 100th anniversary celebration last week. Formed in 1914 from a gathering of 300 people, the group has become the largest Pentecostal group in the USA (about 3.1 million). The celebration was attended by many guests from the AG groups in other countries. The worldwide number of adherents is about 67.5 million.
Psychology of Religion approaches groups initially by understanding beliefs and behaviors. Of course, official beliefs of any faith do not always match what the rank and file believe or practice. Nevertheless, learning about the official beliefs is a good starting point.
The AG identify 16 fundamental truths, which their clergy are expected to profess. If you examine their beliefs, you will see they are similar to common core beliefs of conservative Christian groups with the exception of what has been known as "Plus 2" referring to the Pentecostal beliefs in 1) divine healing and 2) Spirit Baptism with speaking in tongues.
The AG is affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Older AG leaders felt this joining with non-Pentecostal Christians was a mistake. In the early decades, AG clergy took pride in their Full Gospel message, which set them apart from other Christians who did not believe in present day miracles and spiritual gifts (e.g., speaking in tongues, prophecy) described in the New Testament book of Acts and 1 Corinthians. The spiritual experiences of the early 1900s gave birth to American Pentecostalism. During the 1960s and 1970s, a charismatic wave swept across the U.S. and enlivened Christians in Catholic and many Protestant congregations. Since those years, Pentecostals have blended with Evangelicals. Beliefs in an active supernatural realm became commonplace. Many Christians sang enthusiastic worship songs. And they prayed to God to act in their personal lives as if God were a personal friend.
Behavioral expectations are rather strict even for American Christians. Just looking at their list of "Position Papers" offers a sense of what social and moral issues are important to the fellowship (e.g., abstinence from alcohol, divorce, gambling, homosexuality, remarriage).
Women, AG, and Pentecostals
Interestingly, the AG draws upon the Bible and AG history to show how God has blessed the "public ministry of women." One Pentecostal preacher widely known outside of the Pentecostal movement is Aimee Semple McPherson. In 2013, the lead university (Evangel University) hired their first female president, Dr. Carol Taylor. For a recent essay on men and women in the AG, see the 2014 article by Dr. Joy Qualls and notice her references.
Sociological Study of AG USA
Sociologist Margaret Poloma has studied the AG using survey and interview methods. You can find a summary of her findings in a 2010 book on the AG published with colleague John C. Green. They surveyed pastors and members of select congregations. Most pastors (86%) reported speaking in tongues on a weekly basis. They commonly prayed for healing (90%) and gave an altar call for salvation (92%). They endorsed official beliefs at a high rate of agreement-- 85% believe spirit baptism requires speaking in tongues. The AG has long been strict about social behavior. Percentages agreeing or strongly agreeing with traditional prohibitions are (See tables in the Appendix):
No dancing 80%
No gambling 99%
No movies 51%
Data about congregational beliefs and practices are also part of the survey and summarized throughout the book. The view that the Bible is the Word of God and true "word for word" is highly endorsed (96%). A core belief in Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation was also highly rated at 96%. The requirement of speaking in tongues as key to being baptized with the spirit was not endorsed by 65% of the sample (p. 152).
[A few years ago, a medical study on speaking in tongues garnered much press.]
An interesting question tapped beliefs about the role of faith in solving life problems. About 50% disagreed and 18% had no opinion in response to: "if enough people were brought to Christ, social ills will take care of themselves." (p. 152)
Ethnic Diversity and Pentecostals
Pentecostals look back to the early 1900s and find Blacks and Whites worshiping together. However, the early integration did not last long. See the chapters in Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restoration by Renea Brathwaite and Lois Olena about the color barrier in the USA and the chapter by Johan Mostert and Mervin van der Spuy on the problem in South Africa. Relations among people of diverse ethnic heritage has improved considerably in recent decades. Adding to ethnic diversity has been the considerable growth of renewalist groups among people of Hispanic and Asian cultures.
Pew reported results from a survey of 10 countries in 2006. Their data indicated pentecostalism and charismatic movements represented about 25% of the world's Christians. Pew uses renewalist as a term for pentecostal and charismatic groups. And they found four countries where these groups were near or greater than half the population (%): Brazil (49), Guatemala (60), Kenya (56), Philippines (44).
Articles about the beliefs and behavior of renewalist groups can be found in various behavioral science journals.
The Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS) includes behavioral science research presentations at their annual meetings. And they publish a journal, Pneuma.
An online journal not affiliated with SPS is also easily available.
An Encyclopedia of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity can be found at Routledge
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