Small beginnings have produced much growth. The Assemblies of God came into being as a result of a small convention in Hot Springs, Arkansas, April 2-12, 1914. At this gathering, some one hundred twenty pastors and evangelists registered as delegates representing twenty states and several foreign lands. In all, about 300 men, women, and children participated in the founding convention. And now, more than 100 years later, the Assemblies of God has become one of the largest families of Christian churches in the world.
A number of factors led up to the founding of the Assemblies of God. Before the closing of the frontier, a series of revivals had refreshed the land under such preachers as Barton Stone at Cane Ridge and Charles
G. Finney. This culminated in the last great nationwide revival which occurred on the eve of the Civil War in
1858-59, a revival sometimes called the great “Prayer Meeting Revival.”
Sometime after the Civil War, the freshness of a vital experience with Christ was exchanged for a “culture-religion.” A mood of self-satisfaction and complacency began to replace the earnestness and prayerfulness of earlier years in many churches across the land.
As social unrest challenged the tranquility of American domestic life, a series of devastating ideas weakened the American churches: Biblical criticism, liberal theology, Darwin’s The Origin of Species published in 1859, and the rise of the social gospel in which education and social activism were to displace the old-fashioned mourner’s bench.
Shaping the Coming Pentecostal Revival
Two parallel, sometimes overlapping, movements—Fundamentalism and the Holiness revival—developed in opposition to what was felt to be an alarming trend in the larger church world. Each of these conservative reactions was to have a significant influence on the shaping of the coming Pentecostal revival and the Assemblies of God.
Fundamentalism. Fundamentalists stressed verbal and inerrant inspiration of the Bible, which was seen as the final and complete authority for faith and practice. Contributions to the shaping of Assemblies of God theology were its views on Scripture, on the person and work of Christ, on the shaping of its doctrine of sanctification in distinction from their traditional Holiness view, and in its emphasis on the second coming of Christ.
Holiness Movement. The Pentecostal movement owes much of its inspiration and formation to the Wesleyan Holiness revival of the 19th century. Its emphasis on spiritual experiences and its tradition of earnestly seeking God created a receptive mood for the Pentecostal revival. The methodologies of the camp meeting and the revival were eagerly adapted. From the Keswick wing (which emphasized the “enduement of power”) of the Holiness movement came the Bible institute program, the ecclesiology of the Assemblies of God, the missionary vision, the emphasis on divine healing, much of its early hymnology, and even a significant portion of its early leadership.
As the spiritual tempo began to rise in the late 1800s, prayer bands met in various areas of the United States and in many places throughout the world. Bible conferences were held and much was written about conditions of the Christian church. God began to respond to these cries for revival and began to pour out His Spirit upon individuals and various groups of believers. Some of the great preachers who helped to usher in the Holiness movement and the rise of Pentecostalism include A. B. Simpson, R. A. Torrey, D. L. Moody, William Booth, and Maria Woodworth-Etter. In the late 1800s, there were isolated reports of a few individuals, such as William Jethro Walthall in Arkansas (1879), Daniel Awrey in Delaware, Ohio (1890), and Carl Hanson in Dalton, Minnesota (1899), experiencing the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
Roots of Twentieth Century Pentecostalism
Pentecostalism as a movement traces its roots back to January 1, 1901, when God poured out His Spirit among a group of students at Charles Parham’s Bethel Bible College in Topeka, Kansas. Here it is reported that Agnes Ozman became the first of millions in the twentieth century to experience the Pentecostal baptism. In spite of strong opposition, this revival spirit moved through Kansas, into Missouri, southward to Texas, and finally to the West Coast.
Here it broke out anew in 1906 in the Azusa Street Mission of Los Angeles, and from Azusa Street the Pentecostal message spread all around the world. Among the first to receive Pentecost in the Azusa Street mission was Mrs. Rachel Sizelove who later took the news to Springfield, Missouri, which is now the home of the Assemblies of God. Others experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in the Azusa Street revival included Elder C. H. Mason, founder of the Church of God in Christ; Pastor William Durham, of the old North Avenue Mission in Chicago, who a few years later spearheaded discussion of the “finished work of Christ”; G. B. Cashwell, of Dunn, North Carolina, who was instrumental in taking the message to the southeastern United States; and Elmer Fisher, founder of the Upper Room Mission in Los Angeles. Joseph Smale, T. B. Barratt, and others from overseas visited Azusa Street. Still others went out from Azusa Street as missionaries to Hong Kong, Korea, South Africa, Liberia, and many other places.
To trace the stream of Pentecostal history in every direction from this point becomes virtually impossible because of its rapid spread. Nevertheless, in 1906-07, the revival broke out among students at the Christian and Missionary Alliance ministerial training school at Nyack, New York, and four early leaders of the Assemblies of God received the Holy Ghost: David McDowell, Frank M. Boyd, Gordon F. Bender, and William I. Evans. Pastor D. W. Kerr accepted the message at Beulah Park Camp Ground near Cleveland, Ohio, in 1907. That same year, Marie Burgess, later Mrs. Robert A. Brown, carried the message from Zion, Illinois, to New York City, where she and her husband pastored Glad Tidings Tabernacle, a strong missionary church in the Assemblies of God.
In January, 1907, Glenn A. Cook held a revival in Indianapolis, where J. Roswell Flower, First General Secretary of the Assemblies of God, was converted. Alice Reynolds, later Mrs. J. Roswell Flower, received the baptism of the Holy Ghost at this time. Two years later, J. Roswell Flower gave up the study of law and, assisted by his fiancée, sponsored a camp meeting in Indianapolis. At this camp he, too, was filled with the Spirit.
Forming the Assemblies of God
Others had similar experiences as the Pentecostal fire began to spread. Eventually it seemed necessary to form an organization of like-minded Pentecostals under one Bible name for the purpose of spreading the gospel, training workers, and banding together to send out missionaries.
At the close of 1913, E. N. Bell’s Pentecostal paper, the Word and Witness, issued the now famous call for a general council of Pentecostal ministers to convene in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the spring of 1914—the call that culminated in the founding of the Assemblies of God. In the fall of 1913, Howard A. Goss, then pastor at Hot Springs, had discussed such a gathering with E. N. Bell, editor of Word and Witness. Since Goss had a lease on the Hot Springs Grand Opera House, they decided to call for a council to meet there April 2-12, 1914. Carried on the front page of the December 20 issue of Word and Witness, the call was addressed to “The Pentecostal Saints and Churches of God in Christ,” and was signed by M. M. Pinson, Phoenix, Arizona; A. P. Collins, Fort Worth, Texas; H. A. Goss, Hot Springs, Arkansas; D. C. O. Opperman, Houston, Texas; and E. N. Bell, Malvern, Arkansas.
Five of the basic reasons for calling the General Council were (1) to achieve better understanding and unity of doctrine, (2) to know how to conserve God’s work at home and abroad, (3) to consult on protection of funds for missionary endeavors, (4) to explore the possibilities of chartering churches under a legal name, and (5) to consider the establishment of a Bible training school with a literary division.
The Basis of the Assemblies of God
At the first General Council, a “Preamble and Resolution on Constitution” was adopted which identified the new Fellowship as the General Council of the Assemblies of God. This voluntary cooperative organization was inaugurated for the purpose of following “Scriptural methods and order for worship, unity, fellowship, work and business for God, and disapprove of all unscriptural methods, doctrines, and conduct” in order to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God …” (Eph. 4:17-32). The delegates also moved to consider the five purposes announced in the Convention Call in the Word and Witness.
This basis of fellowship held the Assemblies of God together until the Statement of Fundamental Truths was adopted in 1916 and until the official constitution and bylaws were adopted in 1927. From those formative years, the Assemblies of God has developed a multitude of evangelistic programs and experienced an explosive rate of growth, reaching all segments of society both in the U.S. and abroad.
While the Assemblies of God is growing in America, the real story is the ethnic transformation of the AG as our Fellowship is becoming more global, diverse, and growing. Over the years there has been a demographic shift in the AG. Certain segments of the AG seem to be in spiritual and numeral decline, mirroring the general decline of Western culture and its rejection of biblical value. However, non-whites and immigrants are eagerly embracing a strong Pentecostal identity, bringing much growth in numbers in the AG. The founders of our Movement laid the foundation for this growth when at the second General Council in November 1914, they committed the fellowship to “the greatest evangelism that the world has ever seen.” Currently, as of the 2015 statistics, the Assemblies of God in the U.S. has 12,897 churches, 37,068 ministers, and over 3 million adherents. Worldwide, the Assemblies of God has over 67 million adherents.
“Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace…”
Formation of the Eastern District Council
This same religious fervor and growth as seen in the Assemblies of God as a whole, is also found in the formations of the Eastern District which is now known as the PennDel Ministry Network. David McDowell did not attend the historical gathering in Hot Springs, but afterwards, Chairman E. N. Bell, notified him of his election as a General Presbyter for the Eastern part of the United States, instructing him to organize an Eastern District.
After much planning and debate, the Eastern District was formed at a convention held June, 14, 1917 at Glad Tidings Hall, New York City, with Robert Brown as the host pastor. At that time the district included all the churches affiliated with the AG in the region east of the Ohio River and above the Potomac River. Early superintendents included John Coxe (1917-1918), Robert A. Brown (1918-1922), Joseph Tunmore (1922-1930), J. Roswell Flower 1930-1936), Flem Van Meter (1936-1943), and Wesley R. Steelberg (1943).
The New England District (which later was split into Northern New England and Southern New England) was formed out of the Eastern District in 1919. In 1943 a vote was taken to divide the district again, and New York-New Jersey became a district of its own (later becoming separate districts of New York and New Jersey in 1954). A. Newton Chase became the superintendent of the Eastern District after the split in 1943. Chase served as superintendent for 16 years (1943-1959), followed by Russell Williams (1959-1978), and then Philip Bongiorno (1978-2002). In 1983 the district voted to change its name to the Pennsylvania-Delaware District, which became effective on July 1, 1983. Currently the district has 434 churches and 1,173 ministers as shown in the 2015 statistics. Stephen R. Tourville is now serving as District Superintendent since 2002. This year marks the 100th MinistrieSummit/District Council as PennDel begins a year of reflection, commitment, and renewal as it embarks on its second century of growth and ministry.