In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a movement known as the "Shepherding Movement" of the "Discipleship Movement" that affected many charismatic churches. Because I currently reside within charismatic circles, I am dealing with the aftermath of this movement. I don't really know much about the movement myself (I knew no one who was a part of it while it was still going on), but I notice that many around me place a strong emphasis on authority in their teachings.
Considering that we live in a rebellious culture, indeed a rebellious nation, it is difficult to assess the validity of my resistance to this tendency. I recognize that many in our culture use the concept of freedom is a means of licentiousness, and part of the Christian life is moral living.
Personally though, I have no real problem with the concept of authority itself, because I don't trust myself that much. I want to be ordained under a denomination to protect myself from myself. The issue is when it comes to doctrine.
Submitting to Teaching
I believe that it is much easier to submit to someone else's wisdom than it is to submit to someone else's teaching, at least for me. I can say that I trust this person's wisdom more than my own, because they are living a more successful life than I am. But what do I do if someone is teaching something I don't agree with.
If I'm merely a member in the congregation this is easy. I disagree. If they make it a point of membership, then I leave. Simple. But what if I am a teacher? If I am a teacher, than I must teach it, or at least not disagree with it. I now have a measure of authority myself, and if I disagree with the church on a doctrine, and I undermining what the church is saying.
Quite frankly, I already have this problem. When I speak on doctrinal matters, most people tend to listen and believe. It is part of my gifts. Besides, I do know a bit about that stuff. So I watch what I say.
But it is not like I can simply believe something that I don't believe. As Martin Luther can tell you, that's not really possible: "Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear reason ... I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honourable to act against conscience." Can I just shut my brain off and accept? Not really.
Assemblies of God
A big reason for dealing with this is because I am planning on being ordained. Part of being ordained is that I must adhere to the "16 Fundamental Truths". Personally, I don't like the name because of my disdain for Fundamentalism, but that's not the point of it. They are essentially the working doctrinal creed of AG, and I have no issue with that. They are as follows:
- The Infallibility of Scripture
- Deity of Christ
- Human Depravity
- Salvation by Faith
- Credobaptism/ Zwinglianism
- Baptism of the Holy Spirit
- Speaking in Tongues as the Initial Evidence of Baptism in the Holy Spirit
- Classic Protestant Ecclesiology
- Divine Healing
- Eventual Resurrection for all believers
- Millennial Reign of Christ
- Final Judgment: Eternal Life or Hell
- A New Heavens and a New Earth
Then there's number 8. Now, I do believe that there is such a thing a speaking in tongues. If you disagree, I would be happy to explain to you why. But the idea that it is thee initial evidence of being baptized in the Spirit is another matter.
Some qualification is in order real quick. In the Assemblies of God, Baptism of the Holy Spirit is not seen to happen at salvation. It is an event which occurs after salvation (maybe moments, maybe years) where the Holy Spirit anoints you with power to enable you to do the ministry of the Church. Associated with this is the presence of the miraculous. But this is not the same thing as salvation. It is a separate event. Assemblies does not teach that you need to speak in tongues to be saved.
What it does teach if that if you do not speak in tongues then you were not baptized by the Spirit. Now I just don't believe that.
My pastor says that they believe that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence because there is always a sign that one is baptized. With regular baptism, it is being wet. In spirit baptism it is speaking in tongues.
But that doesn't make sense. When you are baptized in water, the sign is that you have water on you! Thus, if you are baptized in the Spirit, the sign is that you have the Spirit on you. And what is the evidence of the Spirit? Well, first of all love. Additionally, there should be joy. And one would probably also expect peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Isn't that the evidence of the Spirit? Shouldn't those manifesting be the "initial sign"?
My experience also goes against this. There was a moment when I felt the Spirit overwhelm me, and I was filled with an impulse to do the will of God. And I possessed by the heart of the Lord. There is no other name I can call that experience than baptism, since I felt my self "immersed" in the Spirit. Yet I did not speak in tongues. 3 years later, I first spoke in tongues, and I barely felt the Spirit at all. Yet, according to my pastor, it was the 2nd of these two experiences that was the Baptism. That is completely illogical to me.
Viewing the history of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement in Gary McGee's book People of the Spirit, history doesn't really agree either. Minnie F. Abrams and Pandita Ramabai, who had powerful manifestations of the Spirit, moved in the Spirit long before they had any instances of speaking in tongues. Besides, there is no place in the Bible that insists on this either. All that is there is that speaking in tongues was a common manifestation of the Spirit in the book of Acts.
So, Dealing with my Disagreement
So, since I really disagree with Assemblies on this, how do I approach it? Do I merely consider myself wrong? Do I start to search elsewhere? Neither of these sits well with me. The first, as Martin Luther pointed out, is neither honorable or safe.
The latter is impractical. As a theologian, I will always find things that I disagree about.
There do exist some things that I am willing to part company on, like the Trinity, baptism, and certain soteriological ideas. However, I don't really care enough on this issue to do that. At the same time, I can't just simply accept it either.
Instead, I intend to employ a lesson that I learned from Star Trek: never disagree with the captain in front of the crew. When ever Riker disagreed with Picard, he followed through with the order anyway, but felt free to have some choice (though respectful) words with the captain in the ready room. This is what I intend to do. I am perfectly willing to teach this as official AG teaching, but in the meantime, write lots and lots of letters to those above me on the subject of changing it.
Now I ask anyone out there whether or not you think this is a reasonable course of action. What do you think?