The "revival" at Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida, is the latest in a series of occurrences that have exacerbated the schism within the ranks of the Assemblies of God. The controversial activities at the Florida church, and its numerous clones around the country, have widened the gap between the denominational hierarchy and the conservative elements of the Assemblies.
Although the divisions go back many years (Some differences going back as far as the Latter Rain movement in the late 1940s), it is the recent occurrences that have caused both sides the most consternation.
Among the recent decisions by the AG leadership that have cause the schism to widen are the ordination of controversial faith healer Benny Hinn in late 1994, the unqualified endorsement of the psychologically-based and ecumenical Promise Keepers movement, and the failure to stand against the unbiblical "laughing" movement. That movement is now being widely embraced by many as the precursor of Pensacola.
Hinn has since been pressured to resign from the Assemblies because of an impending (at this writing) expose' by CNN. Hinn's departure was a victory -- although a hollow one -- for conservatives. These same conservatives, for the most part, have not changed their opinions about Promise Keepers and the laughing phenomenon and have merely ignored the leadership's support of the movements.
The Brownsville Revival, so called, is another story. Those who question its authenticity or resist its infiltration are denigrated and sometimes ostracized by their peers and their pastors. Pressure, originating from headquarters in Springfield, is applied to those reluctant to jump headlong into this "move of God."
Scores of AG pastors from almost every state have contacted The Inkhorn with similar stories about their being 14 shunned" by their brethren for expressing opposition, or just caution, about the Brownsville phenomenon. Others report that because of hierarchical approval and positive reporting in the Christian media, many of their congregations are demanding Brownsville-type services and manifestations. Some have caved in to this pressure. However, most of those we've heard from are standing firm, knowing that such a stand may cost them their positions and/or their livelihood. Again national leadership is urging all churches to join in this current move.
Yet, Superintendent Thomas E. Trask apparently has seen some disturbing reactions to the "push" for Brownsville. In a letter to all AG pastors in January of this year, Trask expressed concern about antagonizing church members who oppose the Brownsville movement. Trask wrote:
"If you are having people leave the church because of excesses, you need to seek help."
Trask opened his letter by saying:
"This [Brownsville] is a sovereign move of God... "
By this declaration, he endorses the leadership, their claims and the manifestations. In other writings, he has encouraged his pastors to visit Brownsville and experience this revival in their own churches. Yet in the January 3 letter, he cautions:
"... leadership does not make it happen. One does not need to whip something up or help the Holy Spirit in producing manifestations by pushing people over and then calling it slain in the Spirit."
It is obvious that the crowd is being worked up into a frenzy of emotional energy by the raucous music and the planting of ideas in the minds of the attendees by the leadership. It is carefully orchestrated manipulation. To deny that is to ignore the video-taped evidence.
Trask, in the letter, continues,
"One does not need to copy what God has done some place else."
We agree. But how can he make such a statement in light of his previous statements about pastors attending the Brownsville revival to catch the fire. Shouldn't he caution Brownsville pastor John Kilpatrick and Evangelist Steve Hill about their producing manuals for pastors to study so they too can experience a Brownsville-type revival? If we're not to copy what God is doing in one place, then why are these "cloning" manuals being so widely distributed? The manuals and instruction sheets do not contain general guidelines for praying, fasting and waiting on God to send revival. They contain specific information about how to perform certain activities associated with the unbiblical manifestations and how to manipulate or control the participants.
From the scores of phone calls we have received at The Inkhorn, we are getting a clear picture of an exodus of long-time, Bible-believing saints who are offended by the introduction of false manifestations and unbiblical practices into their churches. Sadly for the churches, those leaving are the generally the bedrock of the churches: the ones who have worked, prayed and supported financially the efforts of the local church and the denomination worldwide. Some of those leaving are doing so because they've had enough of man-made revival and psychological manipulation. Others have been asked to leave -- or forced to leave -- their churches because they had the audacity to question their pastor or other leadership about the new things being introduced.
Still others are uncertain about what to do, and have asked our advice. We are very careful about making specific recommendations, not knowing all the facts in most of these cases. But we have adopted a policy that gives general guidelines. And it is this: Stand up and speak out; or stand up and get out. The important part of the phrase is stand up. Take a stand for what is right!
If leadership will listen to your concerns, your comments and your complaints, stay where you are and continue to give input about the troubling circumstances. You may be God's key to getting the leadership to see through this false movement. Or you may be able to help others with similar questions. Even if it appears at first that your comments are being ignored, continue to be a source of light in that congregation and express to the leadership your growing concerns.
If, however, you are rebuffed or continually ignored, or if you are criticized and chastised for daring to speak against this "move of God," then we suggest you find a place where the truth is preached and the leadership is not afraid of biblical scrutiny. Don't become bitter. Don't try to take friends with you. (Tell them your concerns. Tell them what the Bible says, and let them determine for themselves what is true.) Don't rail against the leadership. Pray for them. But do not stay where truth is suppressed and "the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" (2 Peter 2:2).
The Assemblies of God is preparing for its biennial General Council in Indianapolis in August. Just like two years ago, the denomination enters the meetings factionalized. The only difference between this meeting and the 1995 meeting is that the conservatives, just as disgruntled but significantly weaker, will be even less of a factor.
Superintendent Trask has cemented his support among the larger, more liberal districts and churches. As was the case in 1995, his firm hand on the proceedings of the business sessions will ensure that the conservatives have little, if any, input into the proceedings.
What has happened to the conservatives? Some have resigned their credentials. Many have adopted a "Nothing's going to change" attitude, saying it is hopeless to resist the liberal leanings of Trask and his constituency. Many conservatives pastor smaller churches and cannot afford to attend the General Council. Thus they are not allowed to vote on policy and doctrinal issues. At the 1995 General Council, for example, only about 3,100 voting delegates attended the sessions. The number eligible to vote includes all ordained ministers and that number totals more than 30,000.
One pastor of long standing, whose churches have never been able to send the pastor to General Council, wrote to the Assemblies leadership, saying that because the majority of AG pastors have small congregations, "the majority of our (AG) pastors cannot vote on matters of faith, and holiness and church government."
The pastor went on to say, "I just recently cast an important ballot for local and national offices by absentee ballot. This worldly government is more just than our own General Council."
The idea of absentee ballots for all ordained ministers might be a good idea, but will probably never be realized because that might wrest political control from the existing power brokers.
AG leadership has ignored the warnings and the questions of conservatives, both in and out of the Assemblies. But the divisive and nagging questions will not disappear. What is disappearing is a growing number of discouraged, disenchanted and disenfranchised believers from the ranks of the Assemblies of God. Unless the AG leaders forsake their current direction and get back to the old paths (Jeremiah 6:16) of biblical Christianity -- that is, back to sound doctrine and biblical precedent for manifestations -- they may find themselves leading a numerically large fellowship, but one that is spiritually weak, spiritually immature and spiritually decimated by experiential religion. What a tragedy that will be!
Because of Jesus,
Reprinted with permission from The Inkhorn
This article was originally published in The Inkhorn
Vol. 8 No. 2
March 1997, pages 1-11
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