The Assemblies of God
1914 ~ Present
By 1914, the Pentecostals had been driven outside the framework of traditional, organized American Christianity. They were rejected by the Holiness Movement, as well as the Fundamentalists, to say nothing of the scorn with which they were viewed by the larger church world. Outside the Holiness-Pentecostal bodies in the Southland the bulk of the early Pentecostals were independent people, with but the loosest affiliations, if any were entertained at all. Advocates of organization found strong opposition from many who had undergone the painful experience of being ostracised from traditional denominations. However, it became increasingly apparent to growing numbers in the amorphous Pentecostal world that glaring needs were pressing for some kind of atructured relationship, if the revival was to be preserved from disintegration.
While the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World was slowly progressing, its influence had not yet penetrated much past the northern states. An early practical need arose that Howard A. Goss resolved by securing ordination in 1907 from Bishop Mason of the black Church of God in Christ. That body, having been legally incorporated, was eligible for reduced clergy fares on the Southern railroads. To poverty-ridden Pentecostal preachers this was no small boon.
Serving the Southeast were the Holiness denominations which had maintained their exiting structures, simply tacking on the Pentecostal doctrine as an additional feature. The largest of these bodies were the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the Pentecostal Holiness Church, and the Church of God in Christ, all of Methodist origin and episcopal in polity. However, spreading rapidly over the nation were independent congregations without formal cohesion, other than loose associations of some regional groups, such as Parham's Apostolic Faith Movement.
Parham was adamantly opposed to formal organization, although he may be credited with the first steps toward the organization of the Pentecostal Movement. In 1905 he was sponsoring conventions, the first interchurch associations of the new movement. By 1906, he was issuing credentials to new ministers, titling himself "The Founder and Projector of the Apostolic Faith Movement."He furnished the name by which the early Pentecostal Movement was widely known, the Apostolic Faith.
The December 20, 1913, issue of the Word and Witness carried the formal call for a "General Convention of the Pentecostal Saints and Churches of God in hrist." It was signed by M.M. Pinson, A.P. Collins, H.A. Goss, and D.C.O. Opperman. In the months that followed, the call was repeated twice, in February and in March. The final call appeared in the March 20, 1914, issue of the Word and Witness. In spite of opposition, those who stood steady were prepared to go ahead.
In the meantime, while press and pulpit were heated with earnest argumentation pro and con, preparations were quietly going forward in Hot Springs. H.A. Goss, pastor in Hot Springs, secured a six-months lease on the Grand Opera House, an abandoned theater building located in the heart of the little resort community. Goss moved his mission congregation into the building during the winter, then left the church in the hands of faithful helpers while he journed northward on an extended evangelistic tour that took him as far as Milwaukee.
They came from many parts of the nation, and from several foreign countries. Twenty states from coast to coast, but predominantly the Midwest, were represented by the 300-plus persons registered as ministers and missionaries. Many of the great names in the early history of the Pentecostal Movement were present at the Hot Springs meeting. F.F. Bosworth, A.B. Cox, J. Crouch, R.E. Erdman, Cyrus B. Fockler, J. Roswell Flower, H.A. Goss, S.A. Jamieson, John G. Lake, B.F. Lawrence, T.K. Leonard, Jacob Miller, D.C.O. Opperman, M.M. Pinson, Fred Pitcher, E.N. Richey, and John Sinclair were there. Those present who would serve the fellowship sooner or later as Chairman (later the term was changed to Superintendent) were E.N. Bell, A.P. Collins, J.W. Welch, W.T. Gaston, and R.M. Riggs. The convention opened on Thursday, April 2, 1914.
An important decision arrived at during the first General Council was to incorporate under the name "The General Council of the Assemblies of God." No attempt was made to formalize a precise doctrinal statement. The Preamble outlined the general principles of common belief, basing the entire fellowship on the Bible as "the all-sufficient rule for faith and practice." It was not until doctrinal issues over the Godhead and baptism in Jesus' Name, threatened to rend the unity of the fellowship that a sharply defined statement of faith was hammered out. Breadth and tolerance governed the opening session. On April 12, 1914, the first General Council session came to an end, having transacted the incorpoation of a new fellowship. Out of diversity and independence, from all quarters of the land, and even beyond, those of like precious faith agreed together to join in a "voluntary, cooperative fellowship."