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This Week in AG History -- Dec. 16, 1916

In the early years of the Assemblies of God, one of the great debates that arose was between Oneness proponents and the proponents of the Trinity, with the final decision playing into the creation of The Statement of Fundamental Truths.
When the December 1913 call came for the organizational General Council of the Assemblies of God to be held in April 1914, the foremost reason given was to “come together … that by prayer and study of the Word of God, and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we may get a better understanding of what He would have us teach, and thus do away with many divisions over doctrines …” The 1914 General Council adopted no formal creed concerning “what to teach” but rather stated that “the holy inspired Scriptures are the all-sufficient rule for faith and doctrine.”

Early Pentecostals saw themselves as part of a restorationist movement returning to the primitive nature of the faith and practice of the early Christian Church as found in the book of Acts. Like the 16th century reformers, they believed that any religious standard of authority outside the Scriptures was void. Many also embraced the spirit that followed the awakening revivals of the 1800s: they should teach the Bible while having “no creed but Christ.”

The Pentecostals were also a movement that believed in the restoration of the gifts of the Spirit. While all Pentecostals affirmed the authority of Scripture, some also demonstrated a proclivity toward viewing spiritual revelations as a competing, rather than complementary, source of authority. Some preachers felt pressure to produce “new light” and “fresh insights” as proof of anointing in their exposition of the Scripture.

One such insight was the “revelation of the power of Jesus’ name” that swept through the early Movement, beginning in 1913. This “New Issue” addressed the idea that Peter received a revelation in Acts 2:38 that the “name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, was the name of Jesus.” This understanding led to many being re-baptized in Jesus’ name only, and to the teaching that Jesus was the name as the Father and the Holy Spirit, rather than the historically orthodox teaching of the Trinity, “one God in three persons.”

The teaching threatened to rend the new Movement in twain. While there had been a generally agreed upon policy that anyone with a new teaching would not advance it until he was amid “a multitude of counsellors” where it could be considered with confidence by others, the “New Issue” proponents had begun preaching the Oneness doctrine widely. Both publications of the Assemblies of God, the monthly Word and Witness and the Weekly Evangel (later The Pentecostal Evangel) sought to respond to this teaching in the spring and summer of 1915. These articles were very careful not to speak as official voices of the Assemblies of God but instead to advise from scriptural views, allowing their readers to determine their own understanding.

The debate soon became so divisive that a call came for a third General Council to be held in October 1915. There was a free discussion of the new issue as leader after leader spoke their convictions on the matter. From this came a statement that sought to apply “the spirit and liberality” of the Hot Springs declaration that the Scriptures are the only source of authoritative doctrine. The statement leaned toward the Trinitarian position but also stated that “no line of Christian fellowship or of ministerial fellowship” should be drawn by differences on the matter of a baptismal formula.

Despite this attempt at maintaining unity, the division over the issue only grew. A fourth General Council was called for October 1916, with one of the main items on the agenda being the settlement of the stance of the Assemblies of God as to its approved doctrines, especially on the person of Jesus Christ and the Trinity.

A committee of five was appointed to report to the Council, including E.N. Bell, D.W. Kerr, T.K. Leonard, S.A. Jamieson, and Stanley Frodsham. Kerr had spent much time in study on the issue and came to the Council prepared with copious notes, allowing the committee to prepare a statement in a relatively short amount of time.

The statement delineated 17 points of doctrine. Each point was presented, debated, and voted upon separately. Point 13, “The Essentials As To the Godhead,” contained 10 subpoints, coming down solidly on the side of Trinitarian teaching, and showing the high importance they placed upon this particular doctrine. Other topics addressed were the Scriptures, the fall and salvation of man, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, sanctification, healing, the church and its ministry, ordinances, and the return of Christ. The Dec. 16, 1916, issue of the Weekly Evangel presented the first printed installment of this “Statement of Fundamental Truths” on Page 8. The article contends that this statement “is not intended as a creed for the church, nor as a basis of fellowship among Christians, but only as a basis of unity for the ministry alone.”

These actions forced the removal of the Oneness proponents and established the course of doctrinal belief for the Assemblies of God until the present. While there have been several revisions, renumberings, addition of Scripture passages, updated language, and simplification of phrases, the Statement of Fundamental Truths has remained unchanged at its core since its adoption in 1916. For a more complete discussion of revisions to the document, see “The Historical Development of the Statement of Fundamental Truths” by Glenn Gohr in the 2012 edition of Assemblies of God Heritage.

Read the report “A Statement of Fundamental Truths Approved by the Council” on Page 8 of the Dec. 16, 1916, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “I Fell in Love with the Nazarene” by Sarah Payne

• “Questions and Answers” by E.N. Bell

• “The Bible” by D. W. Kerr

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

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

Ruthie Edgerly Oberg

Ruthie Edgerly Oberg is an ordained Assemblies of God minister and fourth generation Pentecostal. She served in senior and associate pastoral roles for 25 years. Oberg speaks at national conferences and local churches.