Monday, December 02, 2013

I Belong To A Denomination...On Purpose

Every year about this time I, along with all my fellow Assembly of God ministers, am asked to renew my credentials.  This means I do a few things - I update personal information, pay my annual dues, and reaffirm my agreement with our Doctrinal Statement.  I have done this for years (15 to be exact), but this time it gave me a reason to reflect on a couple of things.

I pay to be a part of a denomination - to be precise, we are a "cooperative fellowship."  When I first interviewed to receive my credentials I was asked what the local denominational authorities existed to help me with.  I had no idea.  But 15 years later I have grown to appreciate what the network of pastors, ministers and missionaries means to my vocation.  In addition, I have seen the benefit of accountability and restoration in the lives of many pastors who would not otherwise have it if they were on their own.  Many younger ministers begrudge their annual dues, but I have grown to appreciate what they represent and facilitate.

In broader terms, there is benefit in belonging to a specified network of relatively like-minded ministers.  It is true that we all belong to the Church universal, but if that is the only group of church leaders we belong to we will belong to nobody when push comes to shove.  We are human and we need support, friendship and fellowship on incarnational, not theoretical, levels.

But with denominational specificity comes doctrinal specificity.  And here, there arise a handful of issues.  Through the years I have wrestled with a few things: the culture of my denomination as opposed to its theology, doctrinal specifics my denomination has traditionally regarded as central that I do not, and a few specific areas of potential disagreement with the statement itself.

As to the culture of the Assemblies of God, there is a broad spectrum of church expression given the missional and entrepreneurial DNA of our denomination.  But that does not mean that there have not been times in my ministry life when leadership has strongly implied that if I am not doing things their way I am doing them wrong.  But as a wise leader once told me, "The beauty of the AG is that I can listen to those things and then go home and do church the way God built me to do church."  This piece of advice kept me from leaving more than once while I listened to cultural pressures from pastors different from myself.

As for doctrinal disagreements, my study and convictions have aligned me with our Statement of Fundamental Truths, though my sense of what is primary is a little different than our traditional formulations.  This does not keep me from being a part of the AG.  What it does is provide an encouragement to be a part of the theological growth of the movement.  If I agree broadly and feel there are areas of growth in specifics, why not be a part of the movement and help build it from within?  I don't know of a reason not to.

I went ahead and renewed again this year, and I think it will be a good thing.


James Divine said...

So many true and good things. However, I have Los seen times in thirty years with AG where legalistic thinking at the regional leadership has slowed down what the Spirit was wanting to do.

Bruce Cole said...

Very well said Pastor Phil. I too have often struggled with some of our fundamental truths as I have often felt that sometimes we were asked to check our intellect at the door. I am thankful for thinkers such as you in our movement that are starting to have an impact on our culture without compromising on our vital "organs".

In that vein of thought I would highly recommend the new book by Frank Menzies titled "Pentecostals - Their Story is Our Story". I think you will appreciate the scholarship.

Sharon K said...

Growing up in the most legalistic times of the AG, it has taken me longer to develop a reason to remain within the Church boundaries. Stepping back and studying the fundamental Statement of Faith, I can say I have no problem with the organized Church. Also being within the Living Hope Church where Pastor Steiger teaches directly from the Word of God, verse by verse, helps me to understand what God is saying to me. Pastor gives me background and challenges me to consider how God would have me apply His Word to my life & Ministry. While I don't agree with all policies of leadership, I DO agree with the fundamental truths & God's Word taught. God & I deal with the rest....