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ELT and EP photo in Hot Springs
Holding a historic picture from the 1914 gathering in Hot Springs, current members of the Assemblies of God Executive Leadership Team and some Executive Presbyters pose in the same place as the original photo.

Approximately 300 people gathered in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on April 10-11, 2014, to celebrate the centennial of the Assemblies of God. Echoes of the statements from the founding general council, where another 300 ministers gathered in the same place exactly 100 years earlier, could be heard throughout the two-day event.

The centennial celebration, sponsored by the AGTrust, featured seven speakers and a night of gospel music and worship. The celebration concluded with a pilgrimage to the site of the former Grand Opera House, where the first general council was held, to re-create the iconic photograph of the founders of the Assemblies of God.

One hundred years ago, Hot Springs had a reputation as a wild town, known for its alcohol, prostitution, gangs and drugs. When the founders of the Assemblies of God met at the Hot Springs Grand Opera House for the first general council, they had to pass by the saloon at the front of the building in order to attend the meetings in the auditorium. The centennial celebration was held in a more sanctified setting — the spacious First Assembly of God, Hot Springs, Arkansas, pastored by Larry Burton.

The centennial celebration drew people from across the United States. Jean and Magalie Rebecca, a husband and wife who pastor Haitian Assembly of God, Dorchester, Massachusetts, were excited to be able to participate: "We grew up in the Assemblies of God in Haiti. The Assemblies of God is a worldwide family, and we wanted to represent Haitians in Hot Springs."

Attendees also included descendants of some of the participants in the first general council, held April 2-12, 1914. Bonnie Olsen, the granddaughter of founding Assemblies of God minister Oliver P. Brann, felt right at home. She commented, "I experienced faith-filled services and the power of God this week. I wish I could experience this every day!"

General Superintendent George O. Wood opened the celebration on Thursday by recounting the five reasons for the formation of the Assemblies of God as enumerated in the century-old "Call to Hot Springs." Each speaker continued in this vein, expounding on why the founding principles of the Assemblies of God remain compelling today. Greg Mundis, executive director of Assemblies of God World Missions, shared about the heritage of missionaries who suffered, sometimes unto death, to bring the gospel around the world. Assistant General Superintendent Alton Garrison preached on the bedrock importance of the Word of God.

Hot Springs prayer
Many men and women came forward for healing during the centennial service held at First Assembly of God in Hot Springs.

True to Pentecostal form, the afternoon service included an extended time at the altar. Hundreds of voices were raised in fervent prayer, and people flooded the altars and aisles in the church. Following a time of prayer for specific areas of ministry, Garrison asked those present in need of healing to come forward for prayer. Vocal spiritual gifts were manifested, and several people later testified of physical healings.

Wilfredo de Jesús, pastor of New Life Covenant Church, Chicago, Illinois, encouraged those who are carrying on the Pentecostal legacy to fight complacency in their spiritual lives. "It is essential to build a bridge," he asserted, "so that the younger generation can learn about the power of the Holy Spirit from the older generation." He illustrated this principle with the biblical example of Elijah, the older prophet, who discipled Elisha, the younger prophet. De Jesús pointedly observed, "Elijah and Elisha were from different generations, but they walked together."

Thursday evening, gospel musicians Johnny Minick and Russ Taff led participants in three hours of rousing worship. The music included songs from each decade of the last 100 years. About 40 people - including Wood and Garrison — even participated in a Jericho March, which is a spirited procession around the church in a single file during the worship service. The practice originated in Kentucky Presbyterian camp meetings during the Second Great Awakening and had been adopted by some early Pentecostals.

On Friday morning, three younger ministers spoke — Rod Loy (First Assembly, North Little Rock, Arkansas), Rob Ketterling (River Valley Church, Apple Valley, Minnesota) and Aaron Cole (Life Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin). They described how Assemblies of God founding ideals are being carried out today and also envisioned the future of the Fellowship.

Following the Footsteps of the AG Founding Members
Attendees of the centennial event make their way up to where the iconic "photo of 300" of the original founders of the Assemblies of God was taken in 1914. Once there, a new centennial photo was taken in the exact same place, re-creating the century-old photo.

The celebration culminated in a pilgrimage to the site where the Hot Springs Grand Opera House once stood. The 300 attendees viewed the new historic marker in honor of the Assemblies of God centennial, which was placed in the sidewalk near Mountain Valley Spring Company, located at 150 Central Avenue. They proceeded to climb the winding trail behind the site of the former Grand Opera House until they reached a small clearing where the iconic photograph from the first general council had been taken.

J. Don George, an Assemblies of God senior statesman and founding pastor of Calvary Church, Irving, Texas, called the centennial event in Hot Springs "a historic occasion that will be long remembered." He noted that the event was relatively small in comparison to the larger centennial celebration slated to be held in Springfield, Missouri, on August 5-10, 2014, in conjunction with the World Assemblies of God Congress. "As a movement we are called to generational, gender, cultural and racial diversity," George stated. When thousands of visitors from across the United States and the world descend on Springfield in August, this diversity will be on full display.

Commemorative Plaque
A historic marker, indicating the historic location of the site of the founding convention of the Assemblies of God, was placed in the sidewalk on Central Avenue in Hot Springs.

The men and women who met in Hot Springs 100 years ago laid a foundation for a cooperative Fellowship that would help Pentecostals to more effectively evangelize the world. One hundred years later, the Assemblies of God has more than 3.1 million adherents in the United States and more than 66 million worldwide.

The centennial gathering offered both a celebration of the past century and a vision for the future. According to George O. Wood, the Assemblies of God, throughout its history, "has been marked by purpose and passion." He explained, "Our purpose is embedded in our doctrine, mission, values and strategies. Our passion comes from the work of the Holy Spirit who continues to empower us to do the greatest work of evangelism the world has ever seen." Wood predicted, "The future for the Assemblies of God is truly as bright as the promises of God."

 

 


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Cities increasingly restricting basic religious liberties

Wed, 02 Jan 2013 - 1:46 PM CST

Shane and Marlene Roessiger
The Roessigers

Not so long ago, local government officials usually agreed that members of churches brought benefit to - or at least didn't harm - their communities with their prayers, Bible studies and evangelistic activities.

But an alarming number of municipalities now take a hostile approach toward Christians exercising their First Amendment freedoms. In various cases around the country, followers of Christ have been threatened, fined and even jailed for such protected liberties as discussing Scripture in a living room or talking about Jesus on a public sidewalk.

In October, the city of Venice, Florida, dropped charges against Shane and Marlene Roessiger, a couple accused of having an unauthorized "house of worship" in their home. Although only six to 10 guests showed up for Friday night prayer and Bible study meetings at the Roessigers, the city contended that the gatherings violated an ordinance requiring houses of worship to be on at least two acres of property.

"This is a trend we're seeing across the country, with local code enforcement going after small religious group meetings in homes," says Kevin T. Snider, chief counsel of the Pacific Justice Institute, which represented the Roessigers.

Snider believes there is underlying ill will by various local governments against people of faith, particularly Christians.

"That animus is usually by one person in code enforcement or on the city council," Snider says. "It used to be that people who were anti-religious kept their views to themselves. Now they feel emboldened."

Venice threatened the Roessigers, who are Pentecostals, with $250 daily fines for holding the meetings. In October, on advice from the city attorney, the Venice Code Enforcement Board voted 6-0 to dismiss all charges and penalties.

AG PASTOR TARGETED

Paul Gros
Gros

For the past 31 years, on Tuesday and Friday nights, Assemblies of God pastor and evangelist Paul S. Gros has gone to Bourbon Street in New Orleans to share the gospel with revelers. His wife, Mireya, accompanies him many times, and members of various churches, including Vieux Carre Assembly of God, where he has pastored since 2009, also go along.

But a year ago, the city passed a speech ban that prohibited congregating on Bourbon Street "for the purpose of disseminating any social, political or religious message between the hours of sunset and sunrise."

"I suspect someone in city government decided this was cramping the party style, and anything that might hurt the party atmosphere needed to be eliminated," says Joseph E. La Rue, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Gros.

Although the French Quarter pastor shared his faith in Jesus in a nonconfrontational way, in May a city police officer told Gros he could be arrested if he continued evangelizing after dark. So Gros, on the recommendation of ADF, confined street preaching to daylight hours while the organization challenged the law in court. If arrested, Gros could have faced six months behind bars and a $500 fine.

However, La Rue says the law is so outrageous even the liberal American Civil Liberties Union filed suit after ADF did.

In September, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the city from enforcing the law until its constitutionality is determined. In the meantime, Gros, who is recovering from liver cancer, has returned to evangelizing in the evenings.

Typically, Gros carries a 9-foot cross with 2-inch-tall LED lights containing short, scrolling gospel messages. He also uses a megaphone on occasion in an effort to convince raucous carousers to repent and accept Jesus as their Savior.

"Religious speech is just as important and just as protected as any other type of speech, at any time of the day," La Rue says. "The city of New Orleans has said if you are going to talk about Jesus after dark, you're a criminal. The very idea that government can tell us you can't say 'God bless you' is ridiculous."

CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS

While the expanding plethora of local ordinances is problematic, researcher William Jeynes argues that additional laws protecting prayer and Bible reading may be the solution.

"The great danger is that people are coming to the conclusion that our Constitution is subject to varying interpretations and therefore they are restricting religious rights," says Jeynes, a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

Jeynes, who also is an Assemblies of God evangelist, has been instrumental in ensuring that the Bible is taught statewide in public schools in nine states. He also helped construct a constitutional prayer amendment that 83 percent of Missouri voters approved in August.

The amendment, passed earlier by overwhelming majorities in the Missouri Senate and House, ensures that public school students can pray over their lunch in a cafeteria and read their Bibles during recess or study hall. More broadly, the amendment guarantees the right of citizens - including elected officials - to pray and to acknowledge God in public settings and on public property.

Jeynes sees the recent spate of city officials trying to curtail religious expression as the fallout from the Supreme Court declaring sponsored Bible reading and organized prayer off limits in public schools half a century ago.

Curtailments have accelerated in numerous school districts, so that now students in some places are suspended for uttering, "Praise the Lord," or even for bringing a Bible to school.

"Subsequently, school administrators who are anti-Christian bigots seem to have more leeway to declare certain freedoms as impermissible," Jeynes says. Whether through ignorance or abuse, enough principals and superintendents are engaged in restricting rights to keep most Christian teachers and students intimidated about talking about their faith in public schools, Jeynes says.

"It's amazing how our society protects the rights of people to say four-letter words, but not to utter a five-letter word: Jesus," Jeynes says.

Dana Crow-Smith
Crow-Smith

In Phoenix, The Rutherford Institute tangled with officials over distribution of free water by an Assemblies of God member motivated by compassion. Dana Crow-Smith handed out bottled water on a public sidewalk in 112-degree heat in July and engaged willing passersby in conversations about their religious beliefs.

A city official with the Orwellian title of "neighborhood preservation officer" approached Crow-Smith, who attends Deer Valley Worship Center in the suburb of Peoria, and told her she had to possess a $350 mobile vendor's permit to give away water. The Rutherford Institute informed the city that such action violated Crow-Smith's First Amendment right to freely exercise religion.

In October, Phoenix City Council members struck down the ordinance prohibiting distribution of free water in public.

STANDING UP

Rutherford Institute founder John W. Whitehead and Jeynes believe there will be increasing numbers of instances limiting liberties unless and until Christians rise up en masse to protest.

"With so many attacks going on simultaneously, the Christian community becomes weary of fighting," Jeynes says.

Regardless of being discouraged or oppressed, Whitehead says Christians don't have the luxury of failing to respond to bullying officials.

"Churches can't be too comfortable to be bothered," Whitehead says. "It's up to churches to tell government to leave these people alone."

Nevertheless, Whitehead is encouraged by the outcome of the Crow-Smith ordeal.

"This victory in Phoenix shows that one person can stand up and change government for the better," Whitehead says. "The democratic process can work, provided that Americans care enough to make their discontent heard."

Author: John W. Kennedy, Pentecostal Evangel


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