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An Apology for the Apostolic Pentecostal Movement

031_apostolic_faith.gifApologies usually mean saying you’re sorry, that you regret something that happened. In the classic sense, however, an apology is a formal defense of a position or a belief to which one strongly adheres. Colleges and seminaries use the term apologetics to define a group of academic subjects that often come under attack, like theology, church polity or other basic tenets of faith. Over the nearly one hundred years of the modern Apostolic movement, many apologies have been written to defend the oneness of God, baptism in Jesus’ name, the new birth experience, speaking in tongues and the holiness lifestyle. Frank Ewart, David Gray, Oliver Fauss, Oscar Vouga, Ralph Reynolds and other early leaders wrote articles, pamphlets, tracks and a few books to address detractors of their faith. In recent years, J. L. Hall, David Bernard, Dan Segraves and others have addressed doctrinal issues in their writings. Talmadge French’s analysis of oneness organizations approaches the subject from an application view. David Bernard has contributed more to the field of Apostolic apologetics than any other writer, for which we should all be very grateful.

Despite these excellent writings, I believe that the Apostolic Pentecostal movement needs an exhaustive apology of the entire range of doctrines that make us different from the balance of Christianity. Far too many people, especially young people who attend secular colleges and universities, have been swept up into the ubiquitous, conventional Christianity that has essentially reduced the belief system of the New Testament down to a simplistic statement about Jesus, or, even simpler, about loving everyone. With distinctives erased and unity across doctrinal divides universally emphasized, many people today don’t know or don’t care about the signature Apostolic truths that gave rise to our movement. We need to put something into their hands to counter the pervasive ecumenism afflicting twenty-first century Apostolics.

Most of our vociferous preaching and teaching targets palpable enemies that we collectively abhor. We preach about the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. We sound the alarm against placing a chip under our skin that reminds us of the mark of the beast. We weigh in against Hollywood, drugs and alcohol, illegitimacy and bizarre fads. We preach against refusal to worship, against failure to pay tithes and give in offerings, against newer versions of the Bible and chronic church problems like cliques, lack of commitment and lukewarmness. We also spend much quality in-service time combating the whole range of human emotions gone awry, like anger, jealousy, lust, greed, dishonesty, pride and other failings of the flesh. These areas are extremely important to discuss, and we need to continue to address them, but all of them may be aired in a cross-section of churches, regardless of denomination on any given Sunday. Judge for yourself how comfortable we feel browsing the bookshelves in the religion section of Borders or Barnes and Noble. If a subject attracts our interest, we rarely give the affiliation of the author a second thought. A homogeneous brand of Christianity seems to be widening its circle, gradually pulling Apostolics into its influence. Commonalities are increasingly becoming accepted; distinctives are gradually being abandoned.

This drift away from Apostolic distinctives may be attributed to several causes, most likely a combination of them all. It is possible to define these forces with some accuracy, although, admittedly, I have not done the necessary research to document my contentions. Having issued that standard disclaimer, I am convinced that we can at least trace any tergiversation among us to the following movements: church growth, charismatic beliefs, the emerging church and relevancy doctrine, contemporary worship styles, the metamorphosis of preaching and writing content and mega churches. Parallel patterns in the political realm may be seen as well, making the old saw, “politics make strange bedfellows” a prevailing reality. Indeed, in the church world, to see Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals holding hands and worshipping together makes for a strange sight, given the wide divergence in their doctrinal backgrounds. All of this simply points out the trends that observers of the scene can readily witness.

Let me enlarge on these contentions. Basically, the church growth movement has placed a larger emphasis on the path to numeric growth than on any aspect of doctrinal truth. Growth is the main doctrine. Whatever changes need to be made to facilitate growth must be seen as necessary. Charismatic beliefs have permeated the church world, placing such great emphasis on supernatural manifestations that doctrine or denominational differences have been downplayed, or even ridiculed. Some congregations even advertise themselves as “non-denominational charismatic” to show that anyone of any belief system will be welcomed and accepted into their fellowship. The emerging church and relevancy doctrines have specifically targeted conventional practices or beliefs that seem condemnational or exclusive. They use terms like inclusiveness, deconstruction and narrative to affect fundamental changes in church doctrine.

In addition, contemporary worship styles, ironically originating from the freedom of Pentecostal worship, have swept the entire church world in almost every denomination. Featuring new songs, expressive and individualized worship practices and vanishing restraints of rigid liturgy, contemporary worship has elevated worship above any other aspect of the Christian experience. Preaching content has become refocused away from Bible exposition and doctrine to social, psychological and even political topics. Modern pulpiteers and a Christian genre of writers seek relevancy of their subjects and the accommodation of current human problems rather than proclaiming scriptural truths. Finally, the rise of the mega-church has made the church the message instead of Christ, in that people their social status needs met, their ability to command community attention and their individual anonymity in the practice of Christianity.

Undoubtedly, more sources exist that I have not identified that have contributed to the doctrinal and practical vagueness presently encountered in the Apostolic movement, but these are among the most dominant. They are subtle, yet powerful forces, and if we do not proactively engage them on a number of levels, they may succeed in hollowing out the Apostolic church in the next few years or decades. We need a plan on a grand scale, one that will galvanize the church into effective action. First, and I think most importantly, we must counter these ideas from an official standpoint. Church leadership, both organizationally and locally, must purposely and deliberately campaign against false or misleading philosophies. We must spell out what we believe and preach and teach Bible doctrine in an unequivocating style. We must also address these movements academically. It is not enough to resort to irritating harangues and preachy condemnations of these new trends. That will seem self-serving, fear-based, and, frankly, stupid. Failing in the academic aspects will leave the door wide open for falsehood to succeed. It is imperative that scholars among us speak and write authoritatively about these topics with a thorough grasp of their ideas and with sufficient documentation.

Spiritually, we must also launch an expeditionary prayer force to specifically combat false doctrines that threaten the church. I am not talking about a defensive prayer for protection and safety. I am talking about aggressive, invasive prayer. Apostolic people everywhere need to be informed about the nature of our new enemies and encouraged—even commissioned—to pray against them in every way they possible can. If we cannot find it within ourselves to do at least this much, then we might as well admit that we do not believe in prayer! Besides, none of our other initiatives will work without the power of prayer behind them anyway. We must also find creative ways to weave Apostolic truth back into our worship. The soft platitudes of much contemporary worship we now practice say little of the nature of doctrinal truth. If there is no discernible difference between the worship of Apostolic people and the rest of Christendom, then something is fundamentally wrong.

Recently, I happened to find myself sitting around a banquet table with several outstanding Apostolic leaders. We engaged in some scintillating discussion about Bible topics and contemporary ideas. We challenged each other, bantered with each other and enlightened each other in a number of areas. Afterwards, all of us remarked about how much we enjoyed our time together. We also confessed that there is not nearly enough of this going on among us. I believe that there is genuine interest in acquiring Bible knowledge in Apostolic people, but we need to tap into it to a much greater degree and with a much greater conviction that ever before. We have permitted the church world around us that has little or no knowledge about Apostolic truth to drive our agenda and define our purpose. Church growth for numbers’ sake alone is not healthy growth. Seeking after the supernatural for the novelty of it violates the scripture that tells us not to seek after signs and wonders. Abandoning vital Bible truths in order to achieve relevancy among non-church goers leads to apostasy. It is based on a false premise that pure Bible teaching is irrelevant. The scripture is timeless and continually renews its own relevancy in every generation.

Furthermore, our worship must lead us to the true God, not to just a sense of spirituality. Every religion in the world promotes some sort of spirituality; our commission is to direct people to truth. Spirituality without truth is the cruelest form of religion. Our choice of content in preaching and writing must not be void of the staple truths of God’s Word. Narratives, drama, testimonials and other formats that place “connecting” with people above proclaiming doctrinal truth will ultimately fail to achieve the purpose of the church. We are not called to entertain or to run churches to the exclusion of conveying saving truth. To be a mega-church must not form our most sought after ideal of a successful church. This is not because it is wrong to be big, but rather it is wrong to anoint any purpose other than the proclamation of truth to be all-encompassing. If being big becomes our priority, then being truthful gets bumped to a lesser role. Once that happens, mans purpose subverts God’s purpose and the anointing leaves.

Will we respond to the challenges of this generation? If we do not, we will be left with a very different church in the years to come. I believe that we must come to a vital realization: the only arena in which we have no competition is the arena of this Apostolic message. If we decline to shoulder it because it makes us too different, then we are doomed to be like everyone else. I contend that if we have no distinctive message, we have no reason to exist. We will be outclassed, out-spent and out-performed in all the areas that we may envy the church world at large. If we are Apostolic, then we need to be the best Apostolics we can be, but we cannot abandon the Apostolic truth because it hinders us in being whatever else we want to be. These are the issues we face today. Our convictions must answer them in the affirmative.

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