5 January 2015 A.D. A Switcheroo: An Assemblies of God Minister Becomes “An Anglican”
An odd, pecular, interesting, and notable story. I predict more stories like this for the future.
Ziegler, Jon. “Why I Am Becoming Anglican: a Brief Explanation for my Assemblies of God family.” The Blogicus Californicus. 2 Jan 2014. http://theoblogicuscalifornicus.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/why-i-am-becoming-anglican-a-brief-explanation-for-my-assemblies-of-god-family/#comment-116. Accessed 5 Jan 2015.
Why I Am Becoming Anglican: a Brief Explanation for my Assemblies of God family
Disclaimer: This post was written for a specific audience (a group called AG Ministers Under 40) and might be difficult to understand outside of that context. It is sort of an explanation as to why I am leaving the group. This post does not attempt to explain what Anglicanism is. It also uses language that would probably not make much since for someone unfamiliar with AG theology and practice.
During this year past year, I made a very difficult decision to leave the only church I have known. I grew up in an Assemblies of God (AG) church. My family has been AG since the 1930s and is one of the oldest Pentecostal families in New Orleans. My father is an AG pastor and I have two brothers who are ordained AG ministers. I have held AG ministerial for a couple of years, but with the recent transition of the New Year (2015), my AG ministerial credentials have lapsed. God willing, I will be confirmed on January 25th into the Anglican Church by Bishop Todd Hunter at Holy Trinity in Costa Mesa.
I am not leaving with hurt, bitterness, or resentment. Quite the contrary, I maintain a deep love and respect for the church that taught me the name of Jesus. The last AG congregation I was a part of (in Pasadena, CA) was a wonderful group of people led by a theologically capable pastor that I appreciate greatly. I am excited about the direction of the AG (under George Wood) and I am confident that it will continue to thrive in the decades to come.
Because of my positive wishes toward my friends and family in the AG, I was not planning on sharing publicly my reasons for leaving. That is, I am not trying to convince people to leave the AG or even that it was a good idea for me to leave the AG. I actually want people to stay and make the AG even better. (I tried myself really hard to stay, and finally had to acknowledge that God was calling to the Anglican Church—or perhaps more accurately, God was making me into an Anglican). However, my friend (and fellow AG minister) Dan suggested that I give a public explanation for why I am leaving. His reasoning was that if people continue to leave silently, how will the AG address those issues which led to their exit from the church? I think Dan is right and so I am taking some time to explain how I became Anglican.
But before I do, I will explain exactly what I mean by “Anglican,” as there exists a wide range of theology and practice within the Anglican communion (ranging from liberal to fundamentalist, low church to high church, Calvinist to Arminian). I am joining the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) which considers itself to be evangelical (prima scriptura, Christo-centric), charismatic (Spirit-filled), and catholic (embracing the universal practices of the ancient church, especially regarding sacraments, liturgy, and the episcopate).
HOW I BECAME ANGLICAN
I am not becoming Anglican in spite of my AG pastors and mentors, but rather it was (at least in part) because of their influence that I have continued on this journey. Here I will name some of the shifts that resulted in my theological transition.
1. Recognizing the importance of Discipleship
While in Chi Alpha (XA) at UL Lafayette, my pastor Eric taught me about the importance of discipleship. It seemed that for Eric and a lot of XA folks, Christianity had to be caught as well as taught. This led to a lot of important questions, such as, from whom did the first Pentecostals catch it? Who discipled Eric? And who discipled the person who discipled Eric? And so on? Doesn’t that chain eventually lead back to Methodists, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics? If Christianity is something that is passed on by people, then who were the people who passed it on between the Apostles and Martin Luther (the first Protestant)?
While in XA, I began to develop a more embodied view of the faith, one in which the Spirit works through people and practices (i.e. spiritual disciplines) to form people over time.
I began to realize that the people between the Apostles (Early Church) and Martin Luther (Reformation) were critical to my relationship with Christ. Those Roman Catholic people were the ones who preserved the ‘Jesus way’ of living and who perpetuated the knowledge of Holy Scripture. I could no longer hate—I had to appreciate (the Church)!
2. Recognizing the Centrality of the Church
There was another XA pastor at ULL named Charles who had a profound impact on my life. He taught me about discipleship by discipling me.
He recommended that I read a David Watson’s book Called and Committed: World-Changing Discipleship. Watson indicated that evangelism was not just about making converts, nor was it only about making disciples. The ultimate goal of evangelism is to make people into family members of God’s family (i.e. the church). This confirmed what I had already been observing as non-believers were being incorporated into our XA group. Christian infants (i.e. new believers) needed the family to teach them what it means to be a family member. As Christians matured, they become more responsible family members.
Over time, I began to recognize that what God wanted was a family, a people that he could call his own. This is the message of the Old Testament. And the good news of the New Testament is that even gentiles can be welcomed into God’s holy, set-apart family.
Thus, I began to have a much higher view of the church. The church was not a means to end, but rather it was the end to which Jesus came. He wanted a people. Ecclesiology (the theology of the church) and Soteriology (the theology of salvation) are inseparable. To be saved, is to be saved into the church (the people that God is saving). Thus salvation is ‘personal’ in the sense that it involves my person, my desires, my will, my emotions, etc.—but it is not personal in any individualistic sense. That is, it is not just about “me and God,” but about how God is reconciling all of creation to Himself through the Head and Body of Christ.
3. Recognizing that Conversion is a Process, not just an Event
When I was a missionary in Berlin, Germany (basically doing XA in Europe), an AG missionary named Johnny told me to read Beginning Well: Christian Conversion & Authentic by Gordon Smith. Smith helped me to recognize that conversion is a process—which includes several important steps and/or events—but should not be reduced to an event. Smith demonstrates how these important conversion steps do not happen in the same order for all Christians.
One of the necessary steps that Smith names is baptism. Although Smith does not argue in favor of infant baptism, his book helped me to see it in a more favorable light and to recognize that rebaptizing someone is unnecessary.
4. Recognizing that Pentecostalism had been strongly influence by anti-Pentecostal thinkers like Zwingli and John Nelson Darby
I am a semi-Reformed thinker. I have always recognized that the medieval Roman Catholic Church had developed several unhelpful theologies and practices which were foreign to the ancient Catholic Church, and thus in need of reforming. That is why I have a good bit of sympathy and a lot of respect for reformers like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, etc. However, in reading about the Reformers, I also recognized that on several points, Pentecostals have more in common with the Medieval Catholic Church than they do the Reformers. The Reformers were skeptical about the continuation of miracles and the gifts of the Spirit in the church after the apostolic age. Whereas, like Pentecostals, The Roman Church (as well as the Eastern Orthodox Churches) continued to believe in miracles, healing, and spiritual gifts (even if they had fallen out of practice in many areas).
Even though the Reformers were skeptical about miracles, most them did recognize at least one miracle: Christ makes himself present to us at the eucharist. Most Reformers maintained the ancient tradition that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, whether bodily present (Luther) or merely spiritually present (Calvin). However, there was one skeptical Reformer named Zwingli who denied the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and considered it simply a memorial. Zwingli’s memorialist view of the Eucharist was perpetuated by many Protestants over time and was eventually adopted early Pentecostals.
In reflecting on the Reformation, I began to see Zwingli’s rejection of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as an extension of the cessationist Reformation program: God does not show up and do miracles. As a Pentecostal, I have always believed in miracles. I began to recognize that the early church believed in miracles, in the gifts of the Spirit, and in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. God is a miracle working God who continues “to show up” in the church through the power of the Spirit working in people and in the sacraments.
Thus, I began to recognize the centrality of the Eucharist for Christian worship, the necessity of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, and the rejection of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as a part of the Reformation cessationist project (which I have never bought into). I developed not only a high view of the church, but also a high view of the sacraments (seeing them as something that God is working through) and not merely powerless symbols.
B) John Nelson Darby
Growing up AG, I thought all Christians believed in a secret rapture (where Christ suddenly steals all true, living Christians away to heaven). It turns out that idea of a secret rapture is a new doctrine that was invented as late as the 19th century and is only believed by a minority of Christians. The idea of a secret rapture seems to have its origins in the teachings of an English, Plymouth Brethren preacher named John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). Darby was the father of Dispensationalism—the “doctrine” which divides time into separate “dispensations” in which God deals differently with people in each dispensation. According to classical dispensationalism, miracles ceased with the apostles. Dispensationalism was made popular in America among fundamentalist through the Scofield Reference Bible. Because early Pentecostals were not educated theologically, they often turned to the Scofield Reference Bible as theological textbook of sorts (despite the fact that Scofield denied the contemporary use of spiritual gifts like tongues). Dispensational eschatology (secret rapture included) is inherently anti-Pentecostal and our best AG theologians have demonstrated this (see Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit). God’s preferred future is not to destroy all of creation, but rather to renew it by baptizing all of creation in His Spirit.
I embrace the gifts of the Spirit because church history demonstrates that they were not only at work in the Apostolic age, but that they were still in use during the Patristic Age (the age of the ancient church). The reason I embrace the Spiritual gifts is the same reason I reject dispensationalism and the secret rapture. I am only interested in practicing the faith that was passed down from Jesus by the Apostles. And that faith knew nothing of dispensations and a secret rapture. Sadly, the AG is committed to dispensationalist theology, as it has enshrined dispensationalism in its “Fundamental Truth #14 -The Millennial Reign of Christ ”
Thus over time, I have grown at odds with certain AG theological commitments (Zwinglian sacramental theology and Darby’s dispensational eschatology) not because I have become less Pentecostal, but because I have recognized these doctrines as inconsistent with the Pentecostal experience.
5. Recognizing the Pattern of the Early Church
While in seminary I studied Early Church History and read primary sources from this time period. It became clear to me that the apostles (sent out by Christ) had appointed bishops in the cities where they ministered. We still have the writings of Bishop Ignatius of Antioch (discipled by John the Apostle) and Bishop Clement of Rome (discipled by Peter and Paul). If the Apostles left us bishops, why were we in the AG following a District Superintendent? If the early Church Fathers were baptizing infants, why were we denying them admission into the church? If the Fathers recognized the power of God working through the sacraments, why was I a part of church that trivialized the sacraments?
Like many Pentecostals, I had always thought of myself as a theological primitivist. That is, I was under the impression that the early church had theology right and if we could just get back to the early church we would be okay. In time I discovered that my AG beliefs were far from ancient, primitive faith. AG “Fundamental Truths” numbers 7 (subsequence) and 14 (rapture/millennium) were invented in the 19th century and number 8 (initial physical evidence) was invented in the 20th century. “Fundamental Truth” number 6 (“the ordinances,” i.e. sacraments), as understood by the AG, has older origins, but still no older than the 15th century. These newer teachings are at odds with the ancient church mothers and fathers who were martyred as they spread the gospel throughout the world.
Today, I continue to see myself as a primitivist, and therefore I find certain AG theological particulars unhelpful because they fail to conform to the universal teachings of the ancient church.
6. Recognizing the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit at work in other Churches
I began to realize that there were churches where the spiritual gifts seemed more active than in AG churches. A closer look at the Vineyard churches should cause us in the AG to question the importance of Classical Pentecostal “distinctives.” Margaret Poloma demonstrates in her book, The Assemblies of God: Godly Love and the Revitalization of American Pentecostalism, that when compared with AG churches, Vineyard churches typically practice speaking in tongues and prophecies in greater frequency—despite the Vineyard’s rejection of classical Pentecostal formulations (i.e. “Fundamental Truths” 7 and 8). Many in the AG would argue that “Pentecostal theological distinctives” produce the “Pentecostal experience,” but Poloma’s studies use quantitative data to prove the opposite is true.
Over time, I learned more about the charismatic renewal, and how millions of people from Mainline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church experienced what Pentecostals call “Spirit-Baptism” and practiced speaking in tongues. I came to realize that I didn’t have to choose between Spirit-filled experience and historic orthodoxy. I could choose Spirit-filled, living orthodoxy: Anglicanism.