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This month marks the centennial of the Assemblies of God’s Statement of Fundamental Truths. When our Fellowship incorporated in 1914, the Founders stated that we did not need a “creed” beyond the affirmation that “the holy inspired Scriptures” are “the all-sufficient rule for faith and practice.” As long as believers recognized “Scriptural methods and order for worship, unity, fellowship, work and business for God,” the Founders felt that all would be well for the new Movement.
Developments within the broader Pentecostal community soon tested that feeling. At an April 1913 camp meeting in Arroyo Seco, California, an evangelist named R. E. McAlister remarked in the course of a sermon that “the apostles invariably baptized their converts once in the name of Jesus.” That night, a preacher named John G. Scheppe received, so he thought, “a glimpse of the power of the name of Jesus.” The next morning, he shared this vision with others, and many Pentecostal believers who had been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were rebaptized in the name of Jesus only. So began what came to be known as the “New Issue,” “Jesus Only,” or “Oneness” Pentecostalism.
The New Issue — which was really the old heresy of modalism — began to divide the recently formed Assemblies of God. Many leaders of the young Fellowship sought rebaptism according to Oneness teaching, as did members of local assemblies. (Some of them later recognized their error.) To resolve this controversy, J. W. Welch, chair of the Assemblies of God, called for a General Council in October 1916 to settle the doctrinal question. “The time has come,” he wrote, “for the interpretation of what scriptural teaching is. The time for sifting and solidifying is here. The time for great shaking has begun, and all that can be disturbed will be shaken into separation for that which is settled in God.”
The General Council met Oct. 1–7 in St. Louis, Missouri. The result was the Statement of Fundamental Truths, which has remained substantially the same over the last 100 years. As we look back on its history, we see three things that Pentecostal doctrine does for Spirit-filled believers.
First, it clarifies the meaning of God’s Word. All early Pentecostals believed that the Bible is “the all-sufficient rule for faith and practice.” Unfortunately, that belief in and of itself was not sufficient to settle the dispute over the New Issue.
Perhaps an analogy will help here. Think of doctrine as a pair of eyeglasses. Our belief about Scripture’s inspiration and authority is the frame of the eyeglasses. Other doctrines — of, for example, the Trinity — are the lens of the eyeglasses. To see clearly, you need both the frame and the lens.
The same is true when you read Scripture. You need a “frame” or presupposition that God’s Word is inspired and authoritative, but you also need a “lens” that shows you how to read specific passages correctly. That’s what doctrine does. It clarifies both the formal authority of Scripture as well as the substantive interpretation of it.
Second, doctrine unifies believers. In His earthly ministry, Jesus taught that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). This was true of the Assemblies of God in the period before we adopted the Statement of Fundamental Truths. We were a Fellowship increasingly divided over both what we believed about God and how we baptized believers. Confusion led to division.
It’s interesting to note that right after the Statement of Fundamental Truths states that Scripture is “the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice,” it goes on to say that the Statement is “a basis of Fellowship among us.” The Founders realized that where confusion leads to division, clarity leads to unity. There can be no true communion between people when we disagree on fundamental, substantive issues like those that characterized the debate over the New Issue.
Not only did the Statement of Fundamental Truths unite believers within the Assemblies of God around the doctrine of the Trinity, it also united us with believers in other Christian fellowships who share the same doctrine. This is most obviously true in our relationship with the member denominations and churches of the National Association of Evangelicals, of which the Assemblies of God was a founding member in 1943. We can have genuine fellowship across denominational lines when we realize that fundamental doctrines like the Trinity unite us with Christian believers across the ages and around the world.
Third, doctrine testifies to our specific divine calling as a Fellowship. Our Statement of Fundamental Truths includes doctrines that are core to the theological witness of our Fellowship. Referred to as the “Fourfold Gospel,” these core doctrines teach that Jesus is Savior (Article 5), Healer (Article 12), Baptizer in the Holy Spirit (Articles 7 and 8), and Soon-Coming King (Articles 13–16). These core doctrines explain our intense commitment to evangelize the world in the power of the Holy Spirit, with signs and wonders following, because Jesus Christ is returning for us soon!
As we commemorate the centennial of the Statement of Fundamental Truths, let us recommit ourselves to the vision of “a full-gospel ministry” they describe!