When in Rome……
An “unofficial” guide to finding your place
in the new “Global Church”
Rev. Jeffrey L. Whittaker
In the brief study that follows, I will attempt to share with you a journey that began for me when I opened the resolutions packet for the August 2005 General Council of the Assemblies of God. I pressed in to discover the thought processes and Biblical reasoning behind the proposed changes in the Fellowship's Constitution and Bylaws relative to the Global Ecumenical movement. As the process unfolded, I became more concerned and headed for the mile-high city with prayerful anticipation. This odyssey led me to a brief but life changing relationship with the late Dr. Opal Reddin (a true mother in Israel), as well as e-mail exchanges with denominational officers, professors, pastors and a variety other figures. The purpose of sharing these with you, as well as the accompanying commentary, is to provoke discussion and hopefully bring a new level of understanding and action to the beloved movement known as the Assemblies of God. I am purposefully including only portions of the mail written to me by different individuals, and have removed direct references to their identities. The originals have been copied and preserved for accuracy and accountability purposes. The first and most important thing I have learned by studying church history is that the brightest and most sincere men are still susceptible to the pitfalls and errors that have been common to every movement ever raised up by God. "When I am weak, then I am strong" must always be our battle cry until the Lord returns, putting an end to temptation and every other device of the Wicked One. May the Spirit of Truth guide us all on our quest to do His Will in these most challenging days.
WHEN MARY CAME TO TOWN
I was on my way to a hospital call in South Bend, Indiana, when I decided to take a short cut through the campus of the University of Notre Dame. I often do this to pray blessings on the campus, to get around that “college atmosphere”, and sometimes merely for diversion. This day would prove to be different than most. When I passed between the Joyce Center and the storied football stadium known affectionately as “The House that Rockne built”, I noticed something I had never seen before in all the years I’ve lived in this region. To my surprise, standing erect on the back of a tractor-trailer was a 33-foot stainless steel statue of “Our Lady of Fatima”. This particular figure was designated “Our Lady of the new Millennium” by Pope John Paul II, and was being taken around the world so that Mary’s actual presence could inspect the condition of her faithful followers.
I proceeded to burn a roll of film taking several pictures of the huge personage, returning to my office to prepare a teaching about the apparitions attributed to Mary around the world, along with the abhorrent doctrines that have been accepted as canon law by the Vatican due to the exhortations of the Mother of God. Living so close to the University, I have contact with Roman Catholic friends on a weekly basis at least, and try to be prepared to lovingly share with them, as well as equipping my local congregation to deal with their friends. It was while in this mode that I received my resolutions packet for the Denver Council. And it was this urgency and passion that motivated me to write my first letter to my denominational leadership, seeking understanding as to where we as a fellowship were going relative to Global Ecumenism.
June 18, 2020
Dear “Brother Superior”,
First of all, please allow me to say hello and thank you for your ongoing ministry to our Lord first, and also our great fellowship….
My question pertains to the packet of information I just received last week that contained the proposed amendments to the Constitution and Bylaws; specifically number 14 dealing with the Ecumenical Movement. I grew up from childhood, and have now pastored for nearly 11 years just minutes from the University of Notre Dame. It took several overseas missions trips to appreciate the true nature of the Roman Church compared to that of the Evangelical/Protestant movement. In other nations where there is no “Bill of Rights” in existence, the RCC is very aggressive and antagonistic. I have been personally threatened both in the Philippines and Haiti by agents of Rome who are continuing to work in a confusing, syncretistic manner in the same field where we are trying to preach the true Gospel of Grace through faith in our Lord Jesus. Back here in the “Michiana region” (Michigan/Indiana border area), all attention is focused upon whether or not the Irish will beat Michigan in football. I have now become painfully aware that the battle is much more involved, subtle, and costly. I have had priests court some of my church members (especially former Roman Catholics), and have just finished over 5 years of interaction with an aged Polish Priest who actually studied with John Paul II. Overseas the tools may be intimidation and violence, but here in America it is the velvet glove of Ecumenism. I need understanding as to why the General Presbytery felt moved to delete the very clear language of our documents in favor of more generalized, nonspecific terms. The unaltered closing paragraph (lines 65-69) is very clear about differentiating between the two forms of cooperation in both versions, but in the proposed amendment it seems redundant. Also, the interdenominational label actually makes the Church of Rome sound like just another evangelical denomination instead of the historic enemy of the truth since at least 1517. I defer to your wisdom and experience, and anticipate your answer.
Pastor Jeff Whittaker
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June 18, 2020
Dear Pastor Whittaker,
Thanks for your note…. I don’t have the proposed resolution before me, so my answer may not be complete.
I think the main reason for the change has to do with the idea that what confronted the AG in the 1950s and 1960s is not longer the case to day. At that time, it was believed that all denominations were uniting into a world church—through the National and World Council of Churches. If I remember correctly, this was proof-texted into the harlot of Revelation. Actually, the ecumenical movement in the NCC and WCC is now pretty much dead. The liberal churches may get together, but not the evangelicals and Pentecostals. In fact, the National Association of Evangelicals (of which we are a member) forbids its members from belonging to the NCC.
I think the present language really had more to do with Protestant unification than the Catholics. When this resolution went into the bylaws decades ago, there was little dialog at all with the Catholics.
Some of our pastors feel that the present language inhibits them from cooperating with other religious groups on social and political issues such as: abortion, stem cell research, assisted suicide, etc. It’s kind of hard for an AG pastor to work with Catholics and others on these issues when our official language may create unnecessary barriers to such cooperation on a local level dealing with political and social issues.
I trust this helps give some perspective on the proposed change.
Blessing to you, and thanks for your kind comments.
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June 28, 2020
Dear “Brother Superior”,
Hello again, this is Jeff Whittaker from Niles, MI (Michiana Christian Embassy of the AG). I mailed you some time ago in reference to the proposed Constitutional change proposed in relation to the ecumenical movement that is going to be considered at the General Council in Denver. I appreciated your answer and have been meditating on its implications. However, as time has passed, there have been others who have been doing more research relative to our position and whether or not there has been any activity on behalf of The Assemblies of God within the active ecumenical movement. One name which has resurfaced time and again is (that of) a Professor of Church History and Ecumenics in the School of Theology at Fuller Seminary. He is listed as a participant in the global ecumenical “summits” dating back to 1996 and as recently as 2002 when Pope John Paul II called over 200 religious leaders to Assisi, Italy for a global meeting. I understand from the source (Ecumenical News International), that he did not represent the AG by name, but is considered a spokesman for “the Pentecostal Church” in general. In the article mentioned, it was discussed that he has been involved with dialogue that included a mutual “proselytizing” agreement whereby Pentecostals would not pursue Roman Catholics evangelistically, considering this an insult to them as if they were not already “saved”. It is this similar position that Evangelist Benny Hinn has recently been working under during his time at the Vatican during the memorial celebrations after the death of Pope John Paul II. "The Professor" is also listed as an attender/participant at a World Council of Churches meeting as a member of the “continuation committee”, as well as helping to lead a dialogue with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches about ecumenical efforts. This provokes one to wonder if the WCC and ecumenism are not still a threat to sound doctrine and fellowship, rather than a “dead issue” left over from the 1950s and 60s. Thank you once again for your leadership and kind consideration.
In the fear of the Lord and love of the AG,
Pastor Jeff Whittaker
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June 28, 2020
Thanks for your note.
“The Professor” has made it clear in all his work with various Protestant groups and the Catholic Church that he does not have official status to represent the Assemblies of God. He has never represented that he does. The officers of the General Council, including the former general superintendent G. Raymond Carlson, and Brother Trask have made it clear to (him) that in those settings he does not speak for the Assemblies of God nor does he represent the Assemblies of God; but neither Brother Carlson nor Brother Trask nor the General Council officers have forbidden “the Professor” to be present in such settings.
In the spirit of Matthew 18, I suggest you express your concerns directly to him.
“The Professor” has been a long-time friend of mine, and is the leading authority on the Azusa St. Revival. His new definitive book on Azusa should be out later this year. On several occasions, “the Professor’s” contact with Catholics in the hierarchy has helped to back off persecution of Pentecostals in several different countries. (I think it amazing that we are now negotiating our way out of persecution. Perhaps if the Apostle Paul would have negotiated with the Jewish leaders of his time, he could have found some common ground and avoided many of the painful “difficulties” he suffered at their hands!)
(The letter continues)
He is essentially doing what David duPlessis did a number of years ago. He has felt called to bear the Pentecostal witness in settings where normally others have not gone. Obviously, there are many who feel the Lord could not have called him to do that, even as many felt the same way about duPlessis.
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June 29, 2020
Dearest “Brother Superior”,
Thank you for your reply, as well as for your counsel. I wanted to refer my first question to you, gain understanding from a leadership perspective, and then to send “the Professor” a note directly. I didn’t want to do so unadvisedly, or based upon faulty information. From a credentialing standpoint though, I know as Presbyter (just finished 5 year term), we deal with “disapproved practices” on occasion, and when there are individuals working amongst our churches sowing discord (a recent case in Michigan saw a handful of churches “jump ship” under the encouragement of a former credential holder, so we authored a statement to the entire District discouraging contact with the party). With the current prohibitions in place concerning the ecumenical movement, doesn’t this place “the Professor” on shaky ground, let alone his being recognized as a member of the AG, if not an official emissary?
Working it out,
Here is where we stumble over perhaps the most-used term in our ecumenical church world today; “unofficial”. There is so much activity being carried on in the name of the church (fellowships and denominations) that is questionable, yet whenever someone does raise a question about it, the word “unofficial” comes out like a sanctified 5th Amendment. Later on in my correspondence with other leaders I press this question again and again, yet never receive a comprehensive or clear answer. Local churches are referred to as “autonomous” when uncomfortable situations arise that need definitive leadership, and when someone is acting in direct contradiction to the stated beliefs or standards of the movement, their activity becomes officially “unofficial”. This constant blurring of lines and ill-defined ministry is leading us to a crossroad that will demand decisive action. If certain parties have been given special dispensations by denominational leaders to pursue “unofficial” relations with Rome, when our bylaws call for the contrary, that is wrong. When knowledge of such arrangements become known, trust is shaken and cynicism can begin to set into the heart of the rank and file of the movement.
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June 29, 2020
Thanks for your note and question.
Section 11 of Bylaw Article IX indicates disapproval for ministers or churches “participating in any of the modern ecumenical organizations on a local, national, or international level in such a manner as to promote the ecumenical movement…”
The Professor’s involvement with the Roman Catholic Church and WCC has NOT been to promote the ecumenical movement. He has felt called by the Spirit to bear witness to Pentecostal doctrine and experience, and to participate in dialogue. To my knowledge, he has never promoted the ecumenical movement (we will deal with this misunderstanding in a later section).
The Professor has the support both of his district (Northern California/Nevada) and the district in which he resides (Southern California) in what he is doing. One of the dilemmas that the Assemblies of God and Pentecostals have faced worldwide is that much of the Catholic and Orthodox world have branded us as a “sect” and this has often inhibited or ability to work freely (or work at all) in countries dominated by the Orthodox or Catholics--and especially the Orthodox. His efforts have resulted in the growth of a different perception by many Orthodox and Catholics and State Protestant Churches of both the Assemblies of God and Pentecostals in general--a realization that we stand within the historical stream of orthodox Christianity rather than being a cult (like Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses).
The Roman Catholic/Pentecostal dialogue that both David duPlessis and now the Professor have been involved with has brought the Catholic hierarchy a different perception of who we really are and has, on the whole, been helpful to the Pentecostal movement.
If we don’t dialogue with these people, then they are free to form impressions of us that are not accurate. So, the Professor feels his burden and calling has been to assist the Pentecostal Movement by bearing witness to the real nature of the Pentecostal faith. He has been able to do that as an individual and not as a representative or appointed spokesman for either the Assemblies of God or the Pentecostal Movement.
Additionally, his testimony and involvement has had a personal spiritual impact on those he has met and dialogued with. Many of these leaders realize how spiritually empty their personal experience is, as well as that of the churches they lead--and have been open and receptive to the work of the Spirit as he has borne witness. He has never pulled punches or softened his very clear commitment to Biblical doctrine and Pentecostal experience as he has carried out the mission he feels the Spirit called him to do.
I trust this helps as you assess the issue,
So the Professor is in good standing with all District and National leadership, and his ministry is to stand for Scriptural truth and the integrity of genuine Pentecostalism. That is wonderful and very commendable. However, the public writings and activities of the Professor paint a different picture. An article from the spring 2000 edition of the “Fuller Focus” magazine published by Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California stated,
“Cecil M. (Mel) Robeck Jr. (M.Div., ’73; Ph.D., ’85), professor of church history and ecumenics and Fuller’s “ambassador to the church worldwide”, participated in two historic meetings during the Christmas and New Year holidays, one in Israel, the other at the Vatican. As co chair of the International Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue, co chair of the local Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue, and consultant to the Commissions on Faith and Order of the National and World Councils of Churches, he is an apologist for all evangelicals as well as for the Pentecostal tradition.”
I am amazed that this Professor is lauded around the world as such a key figure in Vatican relations and international ecumenism. According to the Fuller Seminary article, “he is an apologist for all evangelicals as well as for the Pentecostal tradition.” He is recognized by Fuller as their ambassador to the world, but yet our own credentialing body “disavows” any OFFICIAL recognition of his activities. It also appears that there is a great deal of misunderstanding amongst our leaders as to the true nature of the Professor’s work since in his own writings he clearly states that evangelizing Catholics is actually proselytism, and that the Assemblies of God needs to go even further in normalizing relations with Rome for the purpose of common ministry. It doesn’t sound like the WCC and NCC are the dead issue of the 1950s as some are supposing.
Are we now looking for the Pope's approval so that we can minister in Catholic dominated countries? This appears to be the case. And we can be assured of the Pontiff’s continued goodwill as long as we don't evangelize Catholics, as “unofficially” agreed to by the Professor in his ecumenical non-proselytizing agreement that he “unofficially“ signed with the Vatican in the name of Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches worldwide. If the Professor's role is not as an “official” representative or appointed spokesman for the Assemblies of God, what weight do his words and works truly have? If his opinions and negotiations do not represent those of his denomination, he must therefore be considered out of sync and his work merely symbolic. However, since he is in good standing with all denominational authorities, it would appear that he is a special emissary sent on a highly sensitive mission. Also, according to our national executives, being someone who “has never pulled punches”; the Professor must be constantly debating Rome’s scholars about the vital doctrines recovered during the 16th Century Reformation.
I followed the advice of my superior and started a dialogue with the Professor. I was forbidden by him from disclosing any of the information he shared with me in his correspondence, but the content of my responses will give a clear sense of what was discussed.
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June 29, 2020
My name is Jeff Whittaker and I pastor and AG church in Niles, MI, roughly 15 minutes from Notre Dame University in South Bend, IN. Your name recently crossed my desk in connection with the changes proposed to the General Council Constitution and Bylaws slated for discussion at this August’s meeting in Denver. Ecumenical News Intl. has listed you as a participant in many meetings with Vatican authorities (as well as other groups), including the famed meeting in Assisi with Pope John Paul II. Having been raised in the Southwest Michigan region for most of my life, I was ignorant of many spiritual dynamics involved with encountering the Roman Church at home and abroad. It took my getting out of the United States to see the true nature of what inspired the reformers to action. We have had our Gospel outreaches attacked; physical violence threatened (and in a pastor friend’s case, carried out), and converts bullied and intimidated. The level of syncretism and open idolatry practiced takes one’s breath away. Just recently here in the “Michiana region” (the border area of Michigan and Indiana), I visited the 33 foot tall “pilgrim statue” commemorating our lady of Fatima, as well as other apparitions from around world. How do you see your role as it relates to the AG? Are you wanting to mainstream that movement into the move for global ecumenical unity, and how does that work relate to our fellowship’s current stand on such efforts? Did you aid in constructing the current language that is being considered for change in August? My sincerest wish is not to be contentious, but rather to seek understanding of this most crucial issue. Many have paid a dear price in the past, and many are still in the midst of wrestling around the world.
The following letter is the one I sent to my superior, reporting to him that I had indeed followed through with my correspondence to “the Professor”.
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July 13, 2020
Dear Brother Superior,
I just wanted to write you a short note to let you know that I have indeed been able to correspond with the Professor, and have had some enriching exchanges. He furnished me with many of his articles, as well as official position papers released under the auspices of the Roman Catholic/Pentecostal dialogue. He is very passionate about bringing visible unity to the church, and very compassionate towards his friends and colleagues in Rome. I wanted to forward a copy of the reply I sent him just today, so that you would know what I said. All of his work is public domain via the internet, but I will not send any of his personal correspondence to you out of respect to his wishes. Here is the copy of my answer.
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Again I want to thank you for your in-depth replies and personal attention. I can see why you have had such a successful tenure as a Seminary Professor! As I stated in my brief reply just days ago, I wanted to take the time to thoughtfully read over the articles you attached (they came through fine). My heart burns with the desire to indeed see Christ’s High Priestly Prayer of John 17 answered fully and visibly in my generation, and I continue to attempt to obediently play my part in its fulfillment, as I know you are. As I think back over my own limited and brief experiences, I am stirred to fresh commitment to maintaining relational contact with everyone placed in my path by God’s providence. I traveled in music ministry with an old group called “The Spurrlows” back in the 80s, worked for four years at the Billy Graham Association while studying at North Central University (starting as a second shift janitor and finally being offered a crusade coordinator’s position), and have always found myself “outside the lines” so to speak. I have been serving now for a number of years as the President of our local Ministerial Association, and have seen the institution of what we call “The Church of Niles”, that has been worshipping together monthly for nearly three years. I believe that our public unity is a testimony in the face of a world that is sharply divided in so many ways; my heart beats with yours. In reading the report from the fourth phase of the International Dialogue (1990-1997) between the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Pentecostal leaders, in which you were such a noted participant, I was struck by some key thoughts. First of all, I was touched by your call (which you state so well in all your papers and articles that I have read) to common civility and gentleness when dealing with our Roman Catholic friends, and to not launch into harmful and antagonistic rhetoric which serves only to divide and deepen existing gulfs that exist between us. The believers under our leadership should be encouraged to engage in friendly relations at every possible level, trusting the Holy Spirit’s ability to touch hearts and minds. I have countless Catholic friends with whom I have daily contact in our community….
However, my thoughts were arrested when I came upon paragraph 94 within section V of the Dialogue entitled “Proselytism” which reads: “All Christians have the right to bear witness to the Gospel before all people, including other Christians. Such witness may legitimately involve the persuasive proclamation of the Gospel in such a way as to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ or to commit themselves more deeply to Him within the context of their own church (emphasis added)… Both the Pentecostal and Catholic members of this Dialogue view as proselytism such “selfish actions as an illegitimate use of persuasive power.” I began to meditate on a few situations where Roman Catholics have asked me questions relative to key doctrines which have been points of “non-negotiation” amongst Catholics and Protestants for 500 years; one account stands out above the rest.
A friend of many years had the unthinkable happen when his mother was struck by cancer and died. One day in our afternoon mail we received a letter from our friend which contained a mass card with the usual appeal that we would pray that a few drops of the precious blood of Jesus, shed from His immaculate heart, would extinguish some of the tormenting flames of his mother’s suffering in Purgatory. My heart nearly burst, and I couldn’t restrain myself any further. To see the anguish in my friend’s note at the vision of his mother’s suffering for an indefinite period of time in flames to cleanse her of her temporal sins was more than any Christian heart of compassion could stand. I immediately sent him an e-mail filled with the wonderful Scriptural promises of Christ’s “once for all” atonement, and the glorious reality that for the one who trusts in His substitution…; “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”. I wasn’t thinking quickly enough at the time, or I would have asked him if his mother was faithful to wear Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s brown scapular, with its “sabbatine promise” of deliverance from purgatory on the first Saturday following death. Today my friend is worshipping in a Lutheran congregation and his spouse is being affected by the growth of their two young children.
I truly agree with the philosophical position calling us to maintain cordial relationships with all people of any faith, but I also believe that there are key doctrines in existence which cannot be ignored at the crucial moments of “witnessing”. I have also experienced the advances of an experienced, older Polish priest in one of our local parishes who studied in Poland with John Paul II as a young man. He has attempted to call some of our members “back to the Mother Church”. In reading the documents from Vatican II entitled “Decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio”, I found a clause related to ecumenical relation and baptism which reads, “Baptism, therefore, envisages a complete profession of faith, complete incorporation in the system of salvation (emphasis added) such as Christ willed it to be, and finally complete engrafting in Eucharistic communion (emphasis added).” The “complete engrafting in Eucharistic communion” reflects the ultimate goal, as well as the huge impasse that the perpetual sacrifice of the transubstantiated mass still proves to be. This huge doctrinal issue shouldn’t affect our relationships with Roman Catholics as fellow human beings who deserve every courtesy and kindness, but it does place a significant road block to true “communion”. Pope Benedict XVI (Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote in the famous “DOMINUS IESUS”, paragraph 17, “Therefore, there exists a single church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter (another major doctrinal issue) and by the Bishops in communion with him. The churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches…. On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery (the major doctrinal issue of TRANSUBSTANTIATION), ARE NOT CHURCHES IN THE PROPER SENSE;”
When I see these statements put into practice on a local level amongst the believers in my church, I know that the road to “oneness” is a one-way street. These major, historic doctrines are the barrier to complete communion. Until these are addressed in the context of meaningful, cordial friendship, there will continue to be significant distance theologically, as well as the tangible, visible unity that we all desire. As I have stated before Brother “Professor”, I appreciate your tireless labors and your passion for these noble ends, and you will have my prayers that the Holy Spirit continues to grant you wisdom and boldness to speak into whichever heart He sovereignty opens to you.
God help us all,
(Continuing on with the same letter...)
I have also come into possession of articles authored by our own Dr. Opal Reddin which are very direct and, I believe, reflective of our historical and theological position. I was forwarded the articles by a fellow AG minister from a web cite call the Discernment Newsletter. I had already retained one of her articles on ecumenism from the spring 2000 edition of the CBC Bulletin magazine, and have read it from the pulpit as well as citing it in written work. These are indeed vital days to be alive! See you in Denver.
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July 13, 2020
Your concerns are very well stated, and the spirit in which you stated them is commendable. You have clearly identified major roadblocks that arise in Catholic theology to our witness to Christ base on Scripture. I suppose that my response is that these barriers should not prevent dialogue, but they should not prevent persuasion and the setting forth of Biblical truth. I cannot agree personally to the statement on proselytism-your “friend’s” situation being a classic example of the need for evangelism. When I pastored, I was blessed with many persons coming out of the Catholic Church because they could not square Catholic teaching on some subjects with the Bible. These were persons who simply could not follow Christ within the context of the Catholic Church. At the same time, I had excellent relationships with those who remained in the Catholic Church. It seems to me that dialogue, if done rightly, is a precursor to evangelism. You cannot win anyone unless you are talking to with them.
Why didn’t the Professor ever answer me after my last letter? I am a small Bachelor of Arts Degree holder that cannot possibly hope to match wits with such a traveled Doctor of letters as he. Why didn’t he reply in order to correct my misinterpretation of church history or to offer strategic counsel as to my friend’s change of life and faith?
The Professor is not considered an official representative of the Assemblies of God, yet he has crafted and signed official documents putting forth guidelines for Pentecostal/Evangelical behavior on the mission field. Remember his statement that Roman Catholics, within their existing system, are just fine and not in need of the true Gospel! We must ask ourselves, Are we to only pursue Catholics who are disgruntled? Is the Roman Catholic system wrong because it is unscriptural and corrupt, or simply if it becomes unbearable to select individuals who "(can) not follow Christ within the context of the Catholic church"? The implication is that those who are "happy" within Rome's dungeon should be left alone! This reflects the posture of the new Constitution and Bylaw passed in Denver, which makes it appear that Popery is simply another denomination amongst all the other evangelical groups with whom we live and serve each day. If we have any true Christian love for our Catholic friends, we should be praying that the Holy Spirit will give us daily opportunities to witness to them so that they can be rescued from an oppressive system of error.
I recently discovered a report of the Catholic News Service written by Cindy Wooden that contains very enlightening revelations about the official ecumenical strategy of the Vatican.
“Cardinal Walter Kasper, The German cardinal, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said an “ecumenical spirituality” focused more on prayer and less on strategizing must underlie all efforts for Christian unity. Cardinal Kasper spoke March 27 at Rome’s Salesian University, which was marking the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s document on ecumenism.
The cardinal said that in the 40 years since the council huge strides have been made, not only in reaching agreements on important points of faith, but especially in how Christians relate to and interact with each other. “Separated Christians (Vatican II term for Heretic--emphasis mine) no longer consider each other strangers, or competitors or enemies,” he said. At the same time, Cardinal Kasper said, the last decade has been marked by “signs of tiredness, disillusionment and stalemate.” The cardinal said that at the center of the difficulties lie questions about identity--with the danger of either heightening the importance of one community’s distinctiveness or of pretending the differences are not important.
The point of ecumenism is not to negotiate a way around differences, but to engage in a process of continual conversion and fidelity to Christ, who wanted all his disciples to be one, the cardinal said. “The closer we draw Jesus Christ, the closer we draw to one another in him,” he said. The big question is how Christians can become one with out losing differences they have experienced as gifts of the Holy Spirit, Cardinal Kaspar said. While Pentecostal Christian communities can be difficult dialogue partners, especially if their focus is Proselytism (Evangelism in our view), the cardinal said they can teach the mainline churches about the gifts of the Holy Spirit being poured out on each Christian for the good of the entire Community.
Cardinal Kasper said a greater focus on the Spirit acting in each of the baptized makes it possible to envision a church “in which the magisterial, for example, has an undeniable and irreplaceable role,” but one that does not exclude consideration of the consensus of the faithful, the input of theologians and the centrality of worship. “Such a vision would maintain all of the essential Catholic positions on ministry and magisterial, but at the same time would respond to criticisms made by or separated brothers and sisters” about the Catholic Church being too centralized and hierarchical, he said. Cardinal Kaspar said the only way forward seems to be through the development of an ecumenical spirituality and a readiness to respond after praying the words ‘Come, Holy Spirit.’”
You can see through this article published by Catholics for Catholics, that the goal of the ecumenical directives of Vatican II are to bring the “separated brethren” back to the true church embodied in the RCC. This will be cleverly done by diverting discussion away from the concrete issues of Scripture and doctrine, and directing everyone’s attention to the subjective, experiential dynamics of the charismatic renewal. The final desired result of this tack will be to focus on signs and wonders, dreams, tongues, or other common ecstasies, instead of a serious discussion about TRUTH. This is the nefarious nature of what is happening in our church world today.
In the Wednesday, February 15th edition of the South Bend Tribune newspaper, there was a report from the World Council of Churches summit that is meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The story states,
“Speakers and messages to open the WCC meeting repeatedly urged Christian Churches to look beyond the differences that undermine unity within the faith, such as intense disputes over homosexual clergy and tolerance of same-sex blessing ceremonies. WCC members include mainline Protestants, Anglicans and Orthodox churches representing more than 500 million followers. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but cooperates on many levels. Cardinal Walter Kasper (remember him?), head of the Vatican’s council for Christian unity, read a letter from Pope Benedict XVI noting “spiritual closeness” with the WCC’s goals.
Does this trouble anyone else, or is it just me? Do you see this silken thread of “unofficial” relationships that leads from the Vatican to our Professor, to the WCC, to the General Council? When our honored leaders see the ecumenical movement in the WCC and NCC as a dead issue, where will we end up?
The Impossible Dream: Evangelicalism’s Quest for Union with Rome
Ian H. Murray’s introspective book, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950-2000. (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2000. 3 Murrayfield Road, Edinburgh EH 12 6EL, UK; P.O. Box 621, Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17013, USA.) confirms the agenda of Rome when he writes,
In the past thirty years numerous Catholic-Protestant groups, official and unofficial (such as our AG credentialed Professor), have sought a resolution of theological differences. The only real ‘success’ has occurred where supposedly Protestant negotiators have given way to Roman Catholic teaching…. The Pope underlined the same lesson in his encyclical letter Ute Unum Sint in 1995 when he warned all Roman Catholics engaged in ecumenical dialogue to ‘stand by the teaching of the Church’. What Rome has said she can never unsay (This statement is indescribably huge!!). This had been spelled out so many times, apart from ecumenical dialogue, that one can only suppose that some evangelicals never read or took seriously such books as Cardinal Bea’s The Unity of Christians. The infallibility of the Roman Church and her head, the successor of Peter; the inherent efficacy of the sacraments; the final authority of her teaching (both Scripture and later revelation) ‘by virtue of the very special help of the Holy Spirit’-- all this was clearly set out by Bea, head of the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity. ‘The evangelical side rejects all these tenets’, he noted in his book of 1963 (The same year our General Council passed the original resolution defining AG relations to the Ecumenical movement)… If, then, all the committees of the past thirty years have got nowhere in obtaining any doctrinal change, it is not unworthy to suppose that an inability on the part of ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) supporters to make effective doctrinal progress was perfectly predictable (pp.245-246).
The ECT document mentioned at the close of the previous paragraph was crafted and signed by many notable Evangelical and Catholic personalities back in 1994. Amongst the list of luminaries who signed it, one name that stood out to me in particular was that of Rev. Jesse Miranda, Executive Presbyter of the General Council of the Assemblies of God. Here are some quotes from the ECT document that reveal its questionable nature.
“This statement (ECT) cannot speak responsibly for our communities (meaning that it is already considered UNOFFICIAL by any OFFICIAL credentialing body or denomination)…. We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Jesus Christ. Living faith is active in love that is nothing less that the love of Christ…. All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ (as defined by the Catholic Catechism or the Scriptures?)…. Three observations are in order in connection with proselytizing. First, as much as we might believe one community is more fully in accord with the Gospel than another, we as Evangelicals and Catholics affirm that opportunity and means for growth in Christian discipleship are available in our several communities. Second, the decision of the committed Christian with respect to his communal allegiance and participation must be assiduously respected. Third, in view of the large number of non-Christians in the world and the enormous challenge of our common evangelistic task, it is neither theologically legitimate nor a prudent use of resources for one Christian community to proselytize among active adherents of another Christian community [This is again blurring the lines drawn 500 years ago. Lines that have clearly shown the true nature of the RCC, and demonstrated its distinctive place outside of the Evangelical Gospel] (Killing the Gospel Softly: An Analysis of ECT. Rob Zins. www.angel fire.com)”
As such a high level and respected figure, why would Brother Miranda set his pen to such a shaky document, especially in light of the prohibitive language of the AG’s Constitution and Bylaws that, at the time of ECT’s signing, were still eleven years from being amended? Perhaps he too was laboring under a special dispensation from the national office as a strictly “unofficial” representative of the fellowship, or even as an “autonomous” agent beyond anyone’s influence or control.
The Charismatic Renewal: How Can This be Wrong When it Feels so Right?
One of the most significant events to appear on the ecumenical horizon this century is what we have come to know as the Charismatic Renewal, a manifestation of spiritual activity which hit two major Catholic Universities beginning in January of 1967. In her testimonial book, As by a New Pentecost (Franciscan University Press, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Steubenville, OH 1992), author Patti Gallagher-Mansfield records some startling insights that should give any student of Protestant Pentecostal Orthodoxy cause to stop and reflect. She states in the opening section that at the beginning of the 20th Century,
"Sister Elena felt inspired to write to Pope Leo XIII urging him to renew the Church through a return to the Holy Spirit.... (Blessed Elena further stated) Oh, if ever the 'Come Holy Spirit' which, since the Cenacle and after, the Church has not ceased repeating, could become as popular as the 'Hail Mary' (p.7)"! Mansfield further records, "Pope Leo XIII invoked the Holy Spirit on January 1, 1901- the first day of the first year in the Twentieth Century. He sang the hymn 'Venti Creator Spiritus' (Come Creator Spirit) in the name of the whole Church. On the same day, an event took place in Topeka, Kansas, that marked the beginning of a great revival in the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit destined to sweep throughout this country and around the world. Rev. Charles Fox Parham and his students dedicated themselves to prayer and the study of God’s word concerning the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.... This event is generally accepted as the beginning of Pentecostalism. In 1906, a continued outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred in Los Angeles, and is commonly referred to as the Azusa Street Revival (p.8)."
So, official Catholic Charismatic History according to Mrs. Gallagher-Mansfield, that the great Pentecostal Revival of the 20th Century arrived because Pope Leo XIII invoked the Holy Spirit on behalf of the entire church (over which he is the supposed head). We owe everything we have experienced since Topeka to the proclamation of the Bishop of Rome. I wonder if the Professor, reputed to be “the greatest expert on the Azusa Revival” by our national leaders, will share this insight at the centennial celebration this summer in Los Angeles? Allow me to share some additional quotes that I believe are very significant.
"Friday night (of the Duquesne weekend in 1967) in the chapel, our other faculty advisor held up a statue of Our Lady which depicted her with her hands lifted up in prayer. He described Mary as a woman of faith and prayer.... I believe it was significant to have our attention drawn to Mary at the beginning of our retreat.... In God's plan, it was necessary for Mary to 'with us' in an explicit way as we experienced a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit that Weekend. The Fathers of the Church call Mary 'the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.' How can she fail to be present when the Holy Spirit is at work? (Ibid p.35)
These statements are foundational to understanding of those involved in the renewal. I am not saying that the Holy Spirit was totally absent from all Charismatic Renewal services that have ever taken place, or that it is impossible that souls could be saved or changed by them. My own journey in Pentecost began at a Kathryn Kuhlman service at Notre Dame University in the 1970s. My point is: What is the theological foundation of the movement? Tongues and other phenomena cannot be the only standard for defining true doctrine and fellowship. If that were the case we should also start endorsing the so-called apparitions of Mary around the world simply because they are periodically accompanied with miraculous "signs". Even Benny Hinn stated on an interview with Larry King that God’s desire to heal takes many forms, including Fatima, Lourdes, etc. Brother Benny, you can’t be serious!? We must never forget what the Apostle Paul said to the Church in II Thessalonians 2:9-11 about the appearance of "lying signs and wonders" that would characterize the end times, deceiving multitudes who did not have a love and passion for the truth! Please allow me share one more set of quotes from As by a New Pentecost that reflect the Ecumenical perspective held by the Roman Catholic Authorities that were involved in 1967, and still are.
"Of the four of us who attended this first meeting (prior to the "big" weekend of Jan. '67, emphasis mine), for a number of reasons only Patrick Bourgeois, a fellow instructor in the theology department, and I were able to make it to the next meeting. We returned to find the prayer and discussion centered this time upon the Epistle to the Romans. The only way I can express the way we felt about the discussion was that it was not all clouded up by Reformation issues (pp.17-18). Another man writes, "I would relate the Baptism of the Spirit to Confirmation as follows. Our Sacrament of Confirmation is identical to the New Testament Baptism of the Spirit.... If a confirmed Catholic is later transformed in a context such as we have experienced, this is simply a revival of the grace of the sacrament.... in an ecumenical perspective, this could be the Spirit’s way of leading us into unity with one another. All of the people we have met in the group are active in their own churches; we have found no sectarian spirit, no repudiation of the larger institutional church.... I find myself becoming more and more committed to the Catholic Church.... It is well to remember that to many Pentecostals and Evangelicals, we represent at best a dead institutionalism, and at worst the Anti-Christ. Unless they know and respect real Catholics, they will not direct fringe Catholics back to their own Church. Formed Catholics, I think, will find their Catholicism enhanced by contacts with these groups; but they will also serve their Church by creating a climate of understanding and love, and by retrieving the strays (pp.21-22).
Do you see how the material from Murray’s book as well as the other sources demonstrate the incremental strategy of the Vatican to re-assimilate all peoples back into the bosom of the “Mother Church”?
Upon returning to the church in which I grew up in as its Senior Pastor after some sixteen years of absence, I received a rude awakening when I tried to contact the Charismatic Student Fellowship at Notre Dame. For two years I called and left enthusiastic messages, hoping to build bridges and to see what was happening on campus after the "glory days" of the 1970s. I came to understand that the Charismatic hold-outs (now middle-aged) were meeting in a small structure off campus, and I was explicitly warned not to call the campus anymore because the President, along with priests on the faculty, had frozen them out of the official life of the University. You see, many of these precious souls found Christ through the Evangelical Gospel, and received an insatiable hunger for the Scriptures after receiving their Baptism in the Spirit. This is what Mrs. Gallagher-Mansfield referred to when she spoke of the “strays” that were finding their way out of the Roman system. Do you see that I truly believe that the Spirit, in His great love, is willing to baptize our dear Roman Catholic friends as well and anyone? I do! But when these new saints begin to devote themselves to the Word of God more than the traditions of the Magisterium of Rome, they each have their own "Reformation experience" and quickly find themselves at odds with the powers that be. The charismatic renewal has now become a faint memory on Notre Dame's campus, and the remnant is tolerated more than encouraged. True Pentecost will always lead people to the True Gospel. But if we follow the counsel of Cardinals Kaspar and Bea, we will lay down the Scriptures, pick up the guitars and start singing until we all feel better. Tongues are not an adequate measure of Biblical truth in the vital points of salvation. Too many Catholic Charismatics continue to seek deeper relationship with Mary as the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, venerating occultic and unscriptural apparitions of her instead of the Scriptures.
What Was, Is, and (Maybe yet) to Come
At this point in our discussion I believe useful to reproduce the two versions of the Assemblies of God Constitution and Bylaws Article IX, Section 11 (Resolution 19) which were presented and eventually approved in Denver, CO.
Section 11. Article IX The Ecumenical Movement.
The General Council of the Assemblies of God disapproves of ministers or churches participating in any of the modern ecumenical organizations on a local, national, or international level in such a manner as to promote the ecumenical movement because:
a. We believe the basis of doctrinal fellowship of said movement to be so broad that it includes people who reject the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the universality of sin, the substitutionary atonement, and other cardinal teachings that we understand to be essential to biblical Christianity.
b. We believe the emphases of the ecumenical movement to be at variance with what we hold to be biblical priorities, frequently displacing the urgency of individual salvation with social concerns.
c. We believe that the combination of many religious organizations into a world super church will culminate in the religious Babylon of Revelation 17 and 18.
(This is not to be interpreted to mean that a limitation may be imposed upon any Assemblies of God Minster regarding his or her Pentecostal witness or participation on a local level with interdenominational activities.)
This statement, originally adopted as Resolution 13 at the 1963 General Council, was reaffirmed in 1995, was amended by the General Presbytery and presented in Denver in August 2005 in the final form that follows. *NOTE* The original version mailed to credential holders did not contain the underlined words "or Ecumenical". A supplementary resolutions booklet was given to the delegates when they arrived at the Council.
Section 11. Interdenominational or Ecumenical Relationships.
The General Council of the Assemblies of God encourages ministers or churches to fellowship with other Christians of like precious Faith who hold to the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the universality of sin, the substitutionary atonement, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and His second coming.
The General Council of the Assemblies of God shall not belong to any interdenominational or ecumenical organization that denies the evangelical beliefs stated in the above paragraph, and urges its ministers and churches to avoid entanglement with such interdenominational or ecumenical organizations except as opportunity may arise to support Biblical values in the culture or provide opportunity to bear witness to our evangelical and Pentecostal faith and experience.
I would like to briefly encapsulate some of the comments that were made from the floor in favor of Resolution 19.
First of all, when reading the original from 1963, one can discern a clear line of reasoning that sets forth, in prohibitive language (a no-no in today's politically correct world), the inherent dangers of the modern "unity movements" in whatever form they may appear. Subparagraphs a, b, and c gave a logical AND SCRIPTURAL explanation of said dangers. Also, the Scriptures cited did not offend in any way by irresponsibly setting dates, but rather established a philosophical foundation that warned against the universal trends of political/ecclesiastical unity already proven to be false throughout history. Finally, the parenthetical statement at the end of the original resolution addressed the issue of localized community ministry between people of "like precious faith" as being encouraged and permissible. What then was the problem that necessitated the change?
One notable figure who spoke in favor of the new bylaw was Brother Rhoden of the Potomac District, who set forth two basic arguments. The first was that it would "open up more opportunities for ministry to men such as Dick Foth” (a respected "minister at large" to the D.C. area), and, he went on to say, "How many of us had to change our eschatology when the Berlin Wall came down?" (Remember, I already stated that the old language made no embarrassing predictions or time related prognostications). This comment was met with scattered laughter from the delegates. Dr. Don Argue, past President of North Central Bible College, the National Association of Evangelicals and, according to the June 15th issue of the Washington Post is now an "informal adviser to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton", requested that a written statement be read from the Council Floor, but his request was denied by the Chair.
Those speaking against Resolution 19 ranged from pastors of local congregations (myself included), a retired missionary who labored under a death sentence from a Bishop in Ireland, and a retired Professor from Central Bible College, the late Dr. Opal Reddin. Dr. Reddin presented a very systematic line of reasoning that was supported by copious amounts of Scripture stating why the proposed changes were neither necessary nor desirable. The Chairman politely cut her off before she could finish.
The question was called for and a vote taken by secret ballot. The measure passed by a vote of 899 to 767.
A few important questions arise when one considers the rationale for changing the 1963 resolution to its current form. What additional ministry opportunities will our Potomac Brother now have that he did not have in the past? I have personally had meetings and very in-depth discussions for years with everyone from Muslims to Mormons, and yet never violated the 1963 bylaw. What was meant when Brother Rhoden spoke of these “new opportunities”? And when comparing the specific, scriptural language used in 1963 to that of 2005, one can see that the criteria of "the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the universality of sin, the substitutionary atonement, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and His second coming" could be (and are) interpreted so broadly that Pope Benedict XVI himself could sign off on them due to their vagueness and breadth. Also, when Resolution 19 removed subparagraph c, an actual doctrinal position relating to eschatology was simply done away with by a majority vote! Do we as the Assemblies of God no longer believe in a progressive movement towards the ultimate revelation of the Beast State and the False Prophet? We should have a position paper prepared, giving systematic exegesis of the Scriptures and open discussion of this issue before we glibly cast it aside because the Berlin Wall is no longer standing!
Before Denver, the parenthetical statement at the end of the 1963 Resolution gave me the liberty to accept an invitation from local "Pro-Life" groups (both in Wisconsin and Michigan) to pray the invocation at their annual banquets. The last of these events that I participated in was held in the fellowship hall of a local Roman Catholic Church with the priest present and featured a Lutheran keynote speaker. I was there connected with the Pro-Life effort, but never shared in an Ecumenical Mass where the transubstantiated "host" was offered as a bloodless sacrifice for my continuing salvation within the "true church" under the valid Episcopate in good standing with Peter's successor in Rome! (Please forgive my tone as well as my run-on sentence). I am simply stating that we did not need to completely revamp a strong statement that left no doubts as to where the AG stood, for one that is ambiguous and full of loopholes. Perhaps with the already mentioned "special dispensations" granted to select individuals under the old 1963 language, the General Council felt it was time to bring our Constitution into line with what we were already practicing.
This post-Council letter reiterates the question.
August 12, 2020
I just wanted to write you a short note now that council is concluded and as a question. With the limited discussion from the floor relative to the overall philosophy of the ecumenical resolution (I refer to Brother Rhoden’s brief remarks and Dr. Argue’s not being able to read his prepared statement), could we see a new strategic position paper on how to conduct ourselves in local outreach to Roman Catholics that would reflect the General Council’s philosophy? Perhaps some of the published materials could be included in a column or interview section of an upcoming “Enrichment”. My personal correspondence with The Professor (which were incredibly enlightening) along with the statements of the New England brother about one of their congregations celebrating an ecumenical mass under the leadership of a priest leads me to believe that more grass roots discussion would be beneficial. Thanks again for your leadership and any help you can give in this area….
Asking, seeking, and knocking…together,
Pastor Jeff Whittaker
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August 12, 2020
I’m on a two-week vacation right now, so my response will be short! I try to keep up my emails daily or by the time I get back, it would be overwhelming.
I’ll forward your note to the editor for Enrichment and see if they would like to do this.
The next message I received was from The Editor of the ministers’ journal of the Assemblies of God, and also marks the end of my conversation with Brother Superior. Some day I pray we will be able to finish it.
August 12, 2020
I would be most interested in considering this and will work with our editorial staff. However, please know I have had an ongoing situation with some who want me to print some strong articles against any contact with the Catholics. I certainly do not want the Enrichment Journal to become a battleground over this issue. We have considered a place on the Web where these issues could be discussed and views exchanged.
Jeff, please keep in touch!
August 12, 2020
Dear Brother Editor,
Thank you so much for your prompt and kind reply! I am greatly encouraged by the promise of some sort of constructive discussion. Your idea of providing someplace on the web for such discourse could serve the desired purpose well! I also firmly believe at the same time that some strong leadership from our national executives or appointed representatives on this issue could aid tremendously in diffusing unnecessary and potentially damaging exchanges. Defining the difference between cordial social intercourse with a clear understanding of our “reformed” position, and that of all out ecumenism characterized by joint worship services with transubstantiated masses or other confusing gestures. I truly do believe that all in leadership are agonizing over these questions, and I pray for all of us that we will receive the Holy Spirit’s leading in this crucial hour.
This concludes the first section dealing with the issues stemming from the Ecumenical Resolution presented at the General Council in Denver Colorado, August 2005. In the next section, I will present the surprising turn of events that quickly followed.
GOING GLOBAL: A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME….
In this section I will relate the events and communications that followed the General Council of August 2005 and the amazing dynamics of what is happening amongst evangelical churches relative to the quest of establishing a global entity. The most striking thing to me is the timing of my introduction to the movement, as well as the striking similarities between their goals and those of the Vatican with regards to reuniting the Church. Even as I type these words I am painfully aware of how paranoid and conspiratorial this sounds. But upon further examination, it can be seen that many of the figures at the point of these new movements are very enthusiastic about pursuing a true Global Church, and are not afraid to imply (subtly or not) that the Roman Catholic Church should be included in the Evangelical family and be treated as if it were just another denomination amongst the rest. This first letter deals with my impressions of a luncheon I was invited to attended for the Global Pastors Network, which was hosted by an AG pastor, introduced and endorsed by AG leaders, attended by high level AG District officials, and headlined by world famous German AG Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. I have great personal regard for all who were in attendance, but we need to examine both the charismatic ethics of what was presented that day, as well as the governmental impact of where it is potentially leading us.
September 13, 2020
Dear District Brother,
I just wanted to drop you a short note because we were not able to connect following the Bonnke luncheon in Warren…. The first impression that made an impact on me personally, was the energetic appeal made by (National AG leaders) relative to our getting on board with Bonnke’s efforts in the name of the Global Pastor’s Network (referred to as GPN from here on). After the number of speakers finished, each communicating the impact of having Bonnke in their churches, there was a striking appeal relative to helping him finish his seven part film project, prefaced by the opening statement of one of the brothers that “I believe there is $500,000 in this room”. The other element that struck me was when we were encouraged, much like watching a TBN share-a-thon, that we would receive a portion of Bonnke’s anointing for the nations if we sowed into his “good soil” (the parable used by a brother from Georgia, I believe). Then just this morning I received a GPN e-mail promoting an upcoming conference that stated:
Announcing the 2006 Billion Soul Pastor Conference “Releasing Soul-Millionaires for God”. GPN announces the Billion Soul Pastors Conference, January 25-27, 2006, in Orlando, Florida. Since 2001, more than 15,000 have attended GPN leadership events, including 5,100 and 6,300 at the past two biannual pastors’ conferences. This year, 1,600 kingdom-minded pastors and leaders will be able to attend an event that is all about raising up and releasing “Soul Millionaires” for the cause of Christ! In order to accommodate pastors on the level of ministry growth and strength they desire, this Billion Soul Pastors Conference will offer three levels of registration:
I. The Success Level
Investment is $250 per pastor/leader-and their spouse can attend for an additional $100-for only 900 openings at his level of registration.
II. Strategic Level
Investment is $500 per pastor/leader- and their spouse can attend for an additional $150- for only 400 openings at this level of registration.
III. The Soul-Millionaire Level
Investment is $1,000 per pastor/leader- and their spouse can attend for an additional $250- for only 300 openings available at this level of registration.
Go to www.GPN.tv and register today. Due to the limited number of seats available, we anticipate this event to fill quickly. Don’t be left out. Register today!
(My letter to “Brother continues)
I completely understand that we as AG credential holders have the freedom to participate in cross-denominational ministry (OR NOT) as the Spirit would lead us (I myself am the President of our local ministerial alliance and participate in monthly “Church of Niles” worship services amongst like-minded Protestant Churches), but some of the language of this new movement is rather all-encompassing and borderline irresponsible. I am very thankful to already be a part of a 6 Billion-Soul campaign known as AGWM; good soil to be sure. I am also disturbed to be exhorted to “lay down my ego and my logo” at the feet of the GPN. I pray that I am laying down my ego on a daily basis, but keeping my logo still serves a discipline and networking purpose that is absolutely necessary in this blurred “global village” that we live in. Thanks so much for your time and efforts, and I addressed this note to you personally because I saw you at the lunch, and carbon copied it to our “District Leader” so as to keep closely in touch. I welcome any teaching or insights you can give me.
At this juncture I approached national leadership in the AG for clarification and direction relative to these fast-moving developments.
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September 23, 2020
I know that with all the recent developments relative to Hurricane Katrina, you are probably consumed with many meetings and calls, so I am not anticipating a quick answer to my questions. I am writing concerning the recent luncheon held in Warren, MI under the auspices of the GPN. I saw many of my friends and District Officers…. “The Evangelist” greeted us via cell phone and then your DVD welcome was played. I was very attentive to what would follow because of my familiarity with the ministry of Brother Bonnke and the enthusiastic endorsement given him by our key leaders in attendance. The overall presentation of the seven part film series was very striking, and the excellence of production was quite evident. Questions began to form in my mind and heart as the program advanced to the pledge stage. We were told by one of the platform speakers at the beginning of the presentation “I believe that there is $500,000 in this room!” We were then exhorted that Bonkke’s ministry was the “good soil” of Matthew 13, and that if we sewed sacrificially into it, we could expect a corresponding release of the same anointing that rests upon Bonnke in Africa, so that “what is now our ceiling will become our floor”. I was struck by the TBNish atmosphere with many of the impartational statements that were being made. This was compounded when I received the following e-mail last week: (SEE THE SAME PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL CONTAINED IN THE ABOVE LETTER TO “DISTRICT BROTHER”).
(I continue…) I completely understand that AG credential holders have the freedom to participate (or not to participate) in para-church community ministries. I have been employed by the Billy Graham Association while studying at North Central, traveled in interdenominational music ministry, and am now the President of my local ministerial association, etc. and enjoy seeing the Lord move amongst His entire Body at home and around the world. Having said that, I again express my concern about the tone and language used by the GPN. I watched my own copy of the promotional DVD sent out before the Warren, MI luncheon and listened intently as our late Brother Bill Bright exhorted us to “lay down our logos and egos” to come together in this unprecedented outreach to 1 Billion souls, 5 million church, etc. The advertisement that I copied to you in the previous paragraph floored me with its “investment” language and appeal that the registration paid would be according to “the level of ministry growth and strength they desire”. Every pastor I know would love to be a “soul-millionaire”, and can now achieve it by (merely) sowing $1,000 into a conference as well as receiving Bonnke’s anointing by giving sacrificially. I KNOW THAT OUR FELLOWSHIP UNDER YOUR LEADERSHIP HAS NEVER ENDORSED THIS KIND OF SIMONY. Being located where I am in Southwestern Michigan, I have had personal contact with a pastor about charismatic fundraising techniques, and (told him) that “dead men don’t ask for refunds”. Is the GPN desiring to function in a “trans-denominational” form after we have all laid aside our egos and logos? I pray that my ego is crucified daily, but my logo is a useful tool in stating doctrinal positions and providing guidelines for raising up disciples.
I was one of the people who spoke to the ecumenical resolution during General Council in Denver, and believe that this issue reflects its implications that go far beyond what some hold as the archaic, 500 year old issue of Luther’s argument with the Pope. The letterhead of the GPN is full of names and agendas, which would require exhaustive research if one sought to understand the totality of what is being presented. However, someone who is a loyal son or daughter of the AG may be tempted to simply say, “If ‘Father’ endorses it, it must be alright”; the burden that this places upon your leadership is almost unbearable. The principle issue of the selling of indulgences and promising spiritual blessings of impartation of God Graces in connection with money is exactly what started the Reformation, and I could not imagine that Luther himself could have kept silent in light of the “soul-millionaire” and “$500,000 in this room” talk that was being forwarded. Globalism is another face of ecumenism that is not specifically directed at the fallen institution of the Roman Church.
Please forgive my tone if I have come across as sarcastic. I am just passionate about the incredibly challenging days we find ourselves in. I have enjoyed the gracious correspondence I have had with Brother Superior and the Professor prior to council, and am eternally grateful to be a current member of the ongoing “6 Billion Soul Campaign” being conducted by the unsung heroes of AGWM (Assemblies of God World Missions). I look forward to hearing from you and receiving deeper understanding of these issues at your leisure.
Asking, seeking, and knocking,
September 23, 2020
Dear Brother Whittaker,
Choice Christian Greetings!
I am writing in response to your email dated Monday, Sept 19. As you have seen, I have been a participant in GPN. My time goes back to the days of Dr. Bill Bright. Having said that, it does not mean that we throw a covering over all that GPN is doing. And what you encountered there in the Reinhard Bonnke meeting would not receive our endorsement.
I don’t believe that one should be pressured or made to feel as a second-class citizen if one doesn’t participate in this type of fundraising. It is unfortunate that that happens. I have deep appreciation for Reinhard Bonnke and others, but that certainly does not mean I endorse this method he is using. I guess what I am saying to you is it would appear that one would have to chew the meat and spit out the bones. Keep that which is good and throw aside that which is unacceptable.
I trust I have been helpful to you in these matters. May the Lord richly bless you is our sincere prayer.
(his secretary’s initials)
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September 29, 2020
In your kind reply to my inquiry regarding the GPN, you referred to the Assemblies not giving blanket endorsement to the movement. Then your recorded endorsement at the beginning of the presentation sent the wrong signal, implying that you are highly placed in the GPN, along with your photo being displayed prominently on all their literature. If you are not, at least the (AG) Evangelist is. This kind of high-level endorsement definitely communicates that we’re all in this Global Family together. I am curious as to what we can do to speak to the serious theological issues raised by the Kingdom Now/Latter Rain positions of Bonnke and others. When I did a word search of “Latter Rain”, I found the resolution passed by our 1949 General Council coming out clearly against it, as well as conferences conducted by figures active in the “New Prophetic and Apostolic Movement” like Ted Haggard, C. Peter Wagner, Bill Hamon, etc.
I understand your counsel contained in the old cliché “eat the meat and spit out the bones”, but I am stirred much deeper as I remember Paul’s Scriptural exhortation found in Galatians 5:6-9. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availed any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith that worketh by love. Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” How many bones do we spit out before we stop eating or choke? The bone of Mel Gibson’s traditionalist, Latin Mass with no public testimony of New Birth through faith in Christ’s finished work alone (Mel was featured at the beginning of the GPN DVD being interviewed as a team member by “the AG Evangelist”)? The GPN DVD images of our dear late brother Bill Bright receiving an award on a platform filled with Roman Catholic Cardinals (the Templeton Prize?), or maybe the bone of the prominent Kingdom Now theology which includes transferable anointing through the three levels of financial investment for Kingdom Minded leaders (Simony/Indulgence)? At some point Scriptural orthodoxy demands a joint statement of faith to clarify some of these “bones”. With all respect, I do not feel that we can afford to adopt a permissive posture in light of the urgency of these questions. As a local pastor, I counsel my people not to invest hundreds or even thousands of their dollars in manipulative media ministries that mix just enough true Gospel with their own contrived doctrines to sound credible. I wish that all you and I had to do was to dedicate babies, teach attentive Sunday School classes, and baptize new converts; but I fear that we are laboring under the burden expressed by Jude who lamented, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Allow me to insert some information related to one main figure listed amongst the luminaries of the Global Pastors Network. Pastor Ted Haggard, current President of the National Association of Evangelicals, is considered to be one of the most cutting edge leaders in the United States today. I want to reproduce some e-mail correspondence that took place between Pastor Haggard and the Apologetics Coordination Team, a discernment ministry based in the U.S. Upon Pastor Haggard’s election to the head of the NAE, Brothers Sandy Simpson and Mike Oppenheimer felt compelled to write an open letter to the Association, seeking clarification as to how they could accommodate some to the unorthodox beliefs held by their new President. This concern arose out of Haggard’s prominent place in groups that include: The Wagner Leadership Institute under Apostolic Ministries (AM) and the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA). He has also been listed in a number of The National School of the Prophets (NSOTP) conferences (An Answer to Ted Haggard: Response to Ted Haggard‘s Email Rebuttal to our Open Letter to the NAE. By Sandy Simpson and Mike Oppenheimer, April 2000). The reason I am including highlights from their material is not primarily to establish a picture of Ted Haggard’s doctrine, but rather to demonstrate the manner in which he responds to straight forward questions (or doesn‘t). On page 1 of the article, Pastor Haggard responds,
“I assume that what I write always has the possibility of being used in public. If I want something to be personal or confidential, I mark it such, which is very seldom. It’s just the wording of (an) ‘official response’ might require a little more thought….”
Take note of the use of the familiar term “OFFICIAL”. By invoking unofficial status, Brother Haggard can simply go on and on without ever taking responsibility for what he really believes. And, if challenged, he can quickly say that the questionable material was “unofficial”, making any inquiry null and void. If Brother Haggard grows weary of the process, he can simply stop responding and hope that the troublesome seeker will just go away. Earlier in ACT’s Open Letter, Simpson and Oppenheimer wrote,
“Ted Haggard has been promoting the agenda of C. Peter Wagner and his New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) and International Coalition of Apostles (ICA). (p.1)”
To this charge, Pastor Haggard responded,
“I do not embrace the modern prophetic movement represented by Dr. C. Peter Wagner, Chuck Pierce, Cindy Jacobs and others, nor have I ever. Because of the legal arrangement we made with Global Harvest Ministry when the World Prayer Center was being constructed, they have used our building for conferences. I am invited to speak at those conferences because I am viewed as a ‘balancing voice.’ After hearing me speak, the attendees know that I do not embrace the interpretation of the prophetic that the other speakers espouse. (p.2).
The amazing thing is, that though Pastor Haggard states that he doesn’t “embrace the prophetic movement represented” by the individuals cited, nor agrees with their teachings, he nonetheless appears on the platform in his own sanctuary with those same figures praying in the following manner.
“Father, I thank you for those who have the office of either a prophet or a prophetess or have a strong flow in the prophetic. And Lord Jesus, we as a group of pastors, many in this room apostolic pastors, we release, we bless, we confirm the calling of the prophet- the calling of the prophetess- the calling of the prophetic, and we welcome it into the global church of the world.” (Ted Haggard, National School of the Prophets, Chuck Pierce/Cindy Jacobs, Saturday May 13, 2000, 11:00 AM).
When I quote Pastor Haggard as saying, “I do not embrace the modern prophetic movement represented by Dr. C. Peter Wagner, Chuck Pierce, Cindy Jacobs and others, nor have I ever”, and then record his “prophetic prayer”, I do so only to demonstrate the main problem that lies at the root of many of the modern Global/Ecumenical movements. That problem is DISHONESTY! When clear definitions are sought or doctrinal expositions asked for, all that is given are broad, confusing statements of "unofficial" babble. The Vatican’s Ecumenical double talk is dishonest, the Fuller Professor’s perceived crusade to bring awakening to Rome is dishonest, and the misrepresentation of where our fellowship stands is dishonest. I believe that everyone’s motives are pure, but LET’S JUST LAY OUR CARDS ON THE TABLE! What does anyone “officially” believe anymore? Martin Luther made 95 statements that still stand after 500 years, but we have trouble defining things after a mere 42 year span between 1963 and 2005.
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November 1, 2020
Thanks, as usual, for your kind reply…. I understand that we do not have an official connection with the GPN, the same way we do not have an “official connection” with the Vatican through “the Professor” from Fuller Seminary, and that our church’s governmental structure is based upon local autonomy. My question is: When is local autonomy superseded by the General Council’s Constitution and Bylaws? If a school or local assembly, for instance, begins to teach post-tribulation rapture or that tongues is no longer considered the initial physical evidence of Spirit baptism, I assume that the District and/or General Councils would step in to remedy the error. In the same way, with all the varied winds of doctrine that exist in today’s confusing world, shouldn’t we leaders be prepared to give either endorsement or censure to things being taught under our watch? I allow my local Sunday School teachers the liberty (autonomy) to teach their classes out of books that they want to teach from (most are using GPH). However, I have had teachers that wanted to use works by extreme “Word of Faith” or “Restored Apostolic and Prophetic” authors, and I had to veto their autonomy for the good of the local body. They have, to a person, been very submissive and understanding once I showed them the errors of the desired textbook compared with Scripture. This is the posture that I am continuing to work out in my own heart and mind with regards to current “global trends”. It seems that there are so many varied schools of thought represented, that an indistinguishable noise just drowns out any meaningful discussion. If it’s global, it must be good and right. If it’s big, it must be good and right. These pragmatic and utilitarian forms of reasoning are unreliable indicators of God’s truth and overall will. That is why I continue to preach the 16 fundamental truths, and labor in my small corner of God’s harvest field in Michigan…, knowing that I am already a part of God’s Global Harvest, and a member of His Cosmic, Universal Body; even if I don’t register into the very broad based and poorly defined ecumenical Networks of our time. As you said in you latest minister’s letter entitled “A of G or K of G”, “…we must be willing to put aside “our ambitions, our egos, our agendas, and find what the Lord’s agenda is for the Assemblies of God.” I agree. The only thing that arrested my attention was that what you said sounded much like a paraphrase of Dr. Bill Bright’s quote of North American Mission Board President Robert Reccord who said, we must be willing to “leave our logos and egos behind”. Administrative and doctrinal definitions are very vital in the days ahead. We here in Michigan are having many fellowships and discussions amongst the credential holders, and are looking forward to many more opportunities for study and debate.
By His Grace,
I have repeatedly cautioned throughout this paper about the slowly numbing nature of the designations “OFFICIAL" and "AUTONOMOUS", and how they affect our thinking towards trends in the church. The classic words of the hymn "prone to wander, Lord I feel it" are too often swept aside and replaced with a faulty belief that "we could never do what all those other men and movements have done!" So we eventually end up going down the same tragic path, all the while being deluded into thinking we are doing a "global thing" for the Lord, creating a Bride worthy of His return! We trade on famous names and high-profile celebrities while God is still content to work in His mysterious ways through nameless missionaries and martyrs around the world. A solitary Vietnamese woman preaching from village to village and being arrested by anti-Christ secret police will surely have more reward in Heaven than we will with our "faith talk power lunches" where we buy and sell the anointing according to our "desired level of success", enabling us to fill our buildings and be considered "Soul-Millionaires" by our peers!
This next letter is the last in my series because I never received a response to it. My goal was (and is) to come to grips with current trends through meaningful exchange with those more experienced and wiser than myself, and to receive instruction to correct my misperceptions. However, I do not believe it wrong to keep “asking, seeking, and knocking” in the process.
November 16, 2020
Last week I was in Springfield to visit Dr. Opal Reddin, whom I am sure you know is day to day in her battle with illness. While booking my flights, I came upon an invitation to Dr. Denbow’s inauguration! I arrived in Springfield on Tuesday afternoon, had a blessed time with Dr. Reddin, attended two days of classes and a chapel service at CBC, and enjoyed the inaugural service immensely! I was unable to find you at the reception, and regretted not having the chance to greet you personally. While in Springfield I also received your e-mail answering questions relative to the autonomy of a body such as the College (we discussed) while still being under the governing leadership and guidance of the General Council Constitution and Bylaws and Executive Officers. The main thrust, once again, to my question, has to deal with the issue of clarity of definition. As an Assemblies of God Pastor, I have “signed on” under the banner of our fellowship with its 16 fundamental truths (which I am in the process of preaching through right now). I have an identification card in my wallet with your signature on it…. We have a legal relationship as well as one of shared vision for spreading the “Full Gospel” around the world. That relationship was reinforced at Dr. Denbow’s inauguration on 10 November. However, the question that remains unanswered is: How far do we go in establishing new entities with a very broad base of participation and doctrinal views? It seems that every time we turn around, we run into a new question mark. In my previous notes I have asked about the fundraising theology of the GPN luncheon given in Warren, MI where we were challenged with the statement “I believe that there is $500,000 in this room”, and that if we gave sacrificially, the same anointing that is on Reinhard Bonnke in Africa would fall on us here in America (latter rain doctrine of transferable, purchasable anointing). After this AG (unofficially) endorsed lunch, I find that one of our Colleges is offering two of Bonnke’s classes. When I went to the GPN website to do some follow-up checking, I found that there is a GPN Pastor’s Training Institute with four chairs of study offering 29 classes each, and that you are the head of the Spiritual Formation Chair! An entire college education for ministry offered through the GPN!
The AG Evangelist (and leader in the GPN), in a letter dated 7 November 2020 states, “Our own General Superintendent, Thomas Trask, and many fellow AOG pastors and evangelists have also committed themselves to the vision of planting five million new churches for a billion soul harvest within the next 10-15 years.” The AG Evangelist is using your name as a point of influence to get other AOG pastors to sign onto this “vision”. How does one commit himself to a vision that is unofficial? The appearance is that we are indeed moving incrementally towards an official relationship as in the aforementioned connection with “the College”. The GPN has set goals very similar to our own “Decade of Harvest” of the 1990s, but now we will do it as a global conglomeration of varied leaders and theologies. The Dean of the GPN Pastors Institute, Dr. Elmer Towns, is credited with helping to found Liberty University with Brother Jerry Falwell. In the Spiritual Foundations Chair, are we able to teach the beneficial nature of tongues in devotional prayer or the public ministry of the gifts of the Spirit? I know that we can at CBC, NCU, etc. The last time I checked, Jerry Falwell was still anti-Pentecost.
I had an AG missionary in my office this morning for a get acquainted meeting and the usual budgetary discussion. With the AG Evangelist’s (GPN) letter in my hand, I told him that I would love to help him with his little ministry..., but I was committing a large amount of funds to Brother Bonnke and the GPN for the purpose of “fulfilling the Great Commission in my lifetime”, receiving a portion of the anointing that rests on Bonnke, and so that I could be considered a visionary “Soul-Millionaire”. I asked the “little” AG missionary if he could promise me that kind of return for my dollar…. He didn’t have an answer. After reassuring him of my love and respect for his “little” ministry, we gave him a love offering.
We can only maintain an “unofficial” position for so long before concrete definitions are called for. Whether it is evangelical restorationism from one side through political activism, or hyper-charismatic latter rain/dominionism from the other, many believe that our historic Assemblies of God Biblical position needs to be reaffirmed. There are many figures in the GPN that support using the Koran to reach Muslims and retuning them to their villages as “Messianic Muslims” without renouncing Islam, while others are teaching that we must take over and prepare the earth before Christ can return. I agree that we should continue to lovingly cooperate with any and all who hold to orthodox protestant theology (as in our new ecumenical bylaw), but when it’s time to train up pastors and future leaders for our churches, we should send them to a place where we know they’ll get the same training that made our fellowship the fastest growing body in history.
Thanks for bearing with me, Jeff Whittaker
In the Assemblies of God (as in every denomination) there are many missionaries who are struggling for support and colleges that are in need of funds for the carrying out of their respective missions. I included my exchange with the AG missionary to demonstrate the hurtful nature of the whole pragmatic, success driven way of thinking when it is allowed to take root in the church. Why would the head of one denomination that has its own schools for training young men and women throw his support behind an ecumenical school for pastors that has a "crazy quilt" faculty and an equally diverse doctrinal foundation? Is there some kind of change coming? How can our leaders insist that new credential holders be grilled during interviews about their belief in Tongues as the initial physical evidence of Spirit Baptism, while at the same time occupy leadership chairs in Global Training Institutes where that distinctive means nothing because it is seen as divisive or belonging to a particular "ego and logo"?
I cooperate frequently with other churches in my local community, even serving as the President of our area Ministerial Association. Right now our local Assembly is giving a Southern Baptist home missionary free office space in our building to aid him in getting his new work off the ground! Do I believe one denomination should reach out to help another? Should AG dollars sent to aid Hurricane victims be shared with others who are not part of our denomination? Is it even possible for several evangelical denominations to join forces for community outreaches or even a National Day of Prayer? To each of these questions my answer is a resounding yes!! “Then”, you may ask, "What is the problem"?
We are not to strive to become a global "force" that brings God's Kingdom into realization through geo-political demonstrations of man made, visible unity. This has always led to one tragic appearance of a Church/State Beast after another, which has done nothing but wreak havoc on the true Gospel. The Crusades, the social gospel, and even some of the new “purpose driven” efforts to reform world governments through battling AIDS in cooperation with the United Nations, are all examples of the Church attempting to do God‘s work with man‘s wisdom! In a recent bulletin from the GPN reporting on their January "Soul-Billionaires" convention in Orlando Florida, organizers were beaming due to the fact that the secular media was singing its praises, and that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani put in an appearance to the delight of the gathered throng. Is Mayor Giuliani now a born again believer in Christ and an auxiliary member of the GPN? What was his purpose in attending and making such a high profile appearance? This is very reminiscent of the whole Mel Gibson interview used on the GPN promotional DVD that made him look like a cooperating brother. Where do these men stand with Christ, and are we giving them UNOFFICIAL endorsement by sharing platforms and press releases with them? In a January 27, 2021 e-mail release reporting on the same GPN Billion Soul Pastors Conference, Robert Barringer of Peru was quoted as saying,
“To plant five million churches is the great mission of the church - we must be focused and ready for Christ!”
Is planting five million churches truly “the great mission of the church”? Whose Church? “Christ’s Church of course!” the visionary rebuttal rings out. That is wonderful, but allow me to be practical for a moment. Will the new Churches be Southern Baptist? Assemblies of God? Evangelical Free? United Methodist? “Don’t be so carnal and political!” the Soul Billionaire rebukes. But under what statement of faith will these churches worship? I have already demonstrated that I completely believe in cooperative ministry amongst denominations, BUT DO YOU SEE THE UNDEFINED CHAOS THAT LOOMS ON THE HORIZON? Perhaps they will simply be local congregations incorporated under the banner of the new “UNOFFICIAL” GPN fellowship. Will national executives of each denomination sign on with the GPN vision as AG Evangelist Jimmy Davis stated in his November 7th letter that, “Our own General Superintendent, Thomas Trask, and many fellow AOG pastors and evangelists have also committed themselves to the vision of planting five million new churches for a billion soul harvest within the next 10-15 years.”?
Please allow me to see if I clearly understand this. The Assemblies of God National Executives are now committed to helping plant 5 million non-sectarian, non-Pentecostal, pro-Global/Ecumenical Churches, while also training ministers through the GPN Pastoral Training Institute, 25% of which is led by chairman Trask of the Spiritual Formations Department. At the same time, they are committed to planting thoroughly Pentecostal “Transformational Churches” within the Assemblies of God, a fellowship that now has an average pulpit vacancy rate of 10% in each District according to CBC President Dr. Gary Denbow (January 10, 2006, Michigan District Conference on the Ministry).
As a small member within the Assemblies of God denomination, I ask (one final time) the question about our collective future in light of our continuing high-profile quest for Ecumenical Globalism. I have genuine affection for the leaders of our fellowship at every level and do not want to be contentious, provocative or sensational. This small pamphlet would not even exist if my personal correspondence with each figure had not been cut off by the silence of “unofficial” non-response. My hope is to foster discussion and debate so that clear understanding can be found that will lead to clear actions that will ensure the spiritual health of all Biblical Fellowships around the world, starting with our own.
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