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This Week in AG History — July 14, 1957

A timely warning about compartmentalizing religious beliefs.

Sixty-three years ago, J. Robert Ashcroft delivered a remarkable address that encouraged the Assemblies of God to invest in Christian higher education. Pentecostals must train the next generation of “thinkers and doers,” he surmised, or lose their young to the forces of “selfism, secularism, (and) scientism.”

Ashcroft’s message, delivered at the 1957 commencement for Evangel College (now Evangel University), warned that family, church, and freedom were threatened by three emerging trends in society: secularism, statism, and paganism. All Americans, he noted, are subject to these societal pressures. It will be difficult, he predicted, for Christians to remain true to biblical values.

Secularism, the first trend that Ashcroft identified, results in the compartmentalization of religious beliefs from other daily activities. This runs counter to the Christian faith because, he noted, Christianity is concerned with “the whole of life.” While Ashcroft recognized a distinction between the secular and the sacred, he expressed concern that making the distinction “too severe” would harm both the secular and sacred elements.

A society that dispels the influence of religion impairs its ability to reflect deeply about morality and human need. Ashcroft noted that a society that jettisons religion ends up “sinking in a quagmire of immorality.” Ashcroft was quite clear: “Secularism leads to depravity.”

Statism, the second trend identified by Ashcroft, is when the state takes over most or all spheres of life, leaving little room for freedom of conscience. The state becomes the ultimate authority and the arbiter of morality. Ashcroft pointed to communism as typifying the statist approach. Statism undermines human dignity and freedom. “The individual must rise above statism,” he asserted, noting that Christians schools are an important bulwark for freedom.

Ashcroft identified paganism, the third trend, as “de-centered religion” — spirituality that de-emphasizes the person of Christ and biblical truths. “Orthodoxy and old-fashioned holiness,” Ashcroft noted, “are held up to ridicule while paganism and superficial religion are receiving the plaudits of men.”

How can Christians promote biblical values in a society that has drifted from its Christian roots? Ashcroft noted that many colleges and universities began as Christian institutions but over time drifted from their founding values and mission. A Christian heritage does not guarantee a Christian future. Christians must not reject higher education as ungodly, Ashcroft advised, and should instead work to develop institutions that reflect their values.

In his address, Ashcroft expressed a high calling for Evangel College — that it become “a true fountainhead of spiritual leadership, Christian character, and devoted orthodoxy.” This mission — that Assemblies of God schools serve as a training ground for reflective, faithful Christian leaders — remains a focus for the Fellowship 63 years later.

Read J. Robert Ashcroft’s commencement address, “A Call to Christian Service,” on pages 4-5 and 20-21 of the July 14, 1957, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

* “Let the Fire Fall!” by Bert Webb

* “Should Christians Drink? Smoke?” by Betty Stirling

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Darrin J. Rodgers

Darrin J. Rodgers has served as director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC) since 2005. He earned a master's degree in theological studies from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and a juris doctorate from the University of North Dakota School of Law. He previously served at the David du Plessis Archive and the McAlister Library at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of Northern Harvest , a history of Pentecostalism in North Dakota. His FPHC portfolio includes acquisitions, editing Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, and conducting oral history interviews. His wife, Desiree, is an ordained AG minister.