Quaker Theology #12 Fall-Winter 2005-2006

Historical and Theological Origins of Assemblies of God Pacifism -- 3

Loyalty to Government. The final parallel to be considered is the attitudes that both early Quakers and the early Assemblies of God held toward government. Despite their disestablishment actions and speech in many areas, each group also contained members who supported their governments. Tension resulted in both groups because of these competing emphases. Some wanted to be loyal to their vision of the radical Christ, while others also felt the need be faithful to the government.

Their qualified cooperation with the state is viewed in light of the proclamation of their peace testimony. Both groups dealt with their governments in similar manners: drafting resolutions, sending letters to those in authority, and repeatedly declaring their loyalty to the earthly institutions. They both limited this allegiance with the qualification of nonviolence, but the qualification did not last in the Assemblies of God. Specific similarities and differences between the early Quakers and early Assemblies of God are explained throughout this section.

George Fox and other early Quakers were emotionally involved in the Commonwealth government. Peter Brock commented that "their past tied them to the parliamentary cause in countless ways that made it extremely hard to separate decisively from it."(120) This is why Fox supported Cromwellís army and encouraged the government to use military force against the papacy. He hoped for swift victory when his side was fighting and told Cromwell, "let thy soldiers go forth with a free willing heart."(121) Fox evidenced a strong loyalty to his government and he believed that it was ordained of God. Fox supported the use of force when the government was upholding peace and ridding the world of evil even though he believed that it was neither Christian nor something in which he himself could participate.

Here the outward swordmen have not learned yet to beat their swords and spears into ploughshares and pruning hooks. Yet ye that are in that seed, see that ye accuse no man falsely, that hath the sword of justice, which is to keep the peace, and is a terror to the evil-doers, and to keep down the transgressors, and for the praise of them that do well. (122)

The early leaders of the Assemblies of God stressed their loyalty to the United States government in clear and certain terms. In 1917 the General Council prefaced their pacifist resolution with "While recognizing Human Government as of Divine ordination and affirming our unswerving loyalty to the Government of the United States . . . ." (123) That same Council showed that it was attached to the American way of life emotionally when it condemned "insulting the flag." (124)

The following excerpt is a window into the American souls of some early Assemblies of God ministers:

Bro. E. L. Banta spoke on the importance of our loyalty to the powers that be, since they are ordained of God; and told of some so-called Pentecostal preachers who thought they were doing honor to God by insulting the flag and of the humiliation to them that followed. Bro. A. P. Collins followed and said we were on Bible grounds in honoring the government, and said that the flag stood not only for civil freedom but also for religious liberty; and that at the Texas District Council they had purposed to cancel the credentials of any preacher who spoke against the government. This body also agreed that such radicals do not represent the General Council. (125)

Civil freedom and religious liberty were the American qualities that A. P. Collins, who was a member of the General Presbytery, considered to be worthy of allegiance. Both Quakers and Pentecostals expressed loyalty to their governments because they thought they were the best options available. This was so strong in both cases that they sometimes vacillated on their peace testimony.

Brock argued that at first Fox did not require, or even think it necessary, that all Quakers agree with him regarding his noncombatant position. Since Cromwell was seeking justice (in their view) there was tension between the two ideals of peace and justice. The achievement of justice, even through violent means, was important enough for Fox to "enthusiastically support the government."(126) Thus the early Quakers differed from the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition and accepted at least the police functions of civil government. (127) The early leader of Quakerism, George Fox, wavered on pacifism and evidenced a strong loyalty to his government until it looked as if his cause (the parliamentary system) was defeated by the restoration of the monarchy. Once his side lost he decided to disapprove fighting. By the end of 1659 he had confirmed his position for Christians and proclaimed, "All that pretend to fight for Christ, are deceived; for his kingdom is not of this world, therefore his servants do not fight. Therefore fighters are not of Christís kingdom, but without Christís kingdom." (128)

Even as they were passing the pacifist resolution and declaring themselves conscientiously opposed to war, early Assemblies of God leaders were allowing plenty of room for those among them who wanted to fight for America. When the Assemblies of God explained the pacifist position to the constituency in May 1917, the second paragraph of the article began with the following qualification, "It is not intended to hinder anyone from taking up arms who may feel free to do so, . . ." (129) J. W. Welch, the chairman of the executive presbytery and author of the article, also stated his own opinion:

Personally I should deplore the necessity for our young men to bear arms against others, but would be pleased to see many of them serve in a capacity that would afford them an opportunity to save life and to point men to Christ who may be facing death in the trenches. (130)

In 1918 a reader sent a war-related question to The Christian Evangel, "Would it be murder for a child of God to go to war and shoot men as do other soldiers?" E. N. Bell, a member of the general presbytery, answered that "Our faith leaves this with the conscience of each man. We have never opposed the going to war of our members whose conscience allowed them to go." (131) Thus the Assemblies of God was like the Quakers in that they did not, at the beginning, forbid their members to participate in war even though the leader of the group was in favor of a noncombatant stance.

Prior to Foxís pacifist decision, Quaker leader John Lilburne, a former Leveller, (132) quit the military and renounced violence. (133) He was only one of several Quakers who became pacifists in the 1650s. Thomas Lurting was a "fighting Quaker" who served in the English Navy until he developed "some scruple of conscience" during an attack on Barcelona. The reality of war seems to have had such an impact on him that it became clear that it was in every way opposed to the character of Christ. His firsthand experiences convinced him that he had both to be a pacifist and to convince as many of his Quaker brothers as possible of his perspective.(134) Arthur Booth-Clibbornís experience is similar in that his intense antiwar activism and writing was prompted by his firsthand experiences in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). His famous book Blood Against Blood was penned shortly after he witnessed the violence of that war firsthand.

Quaker pacifism became an official principle of the Society of Friends in 1660. This took place after "the utopian millenarian hopes" of early Quakers were destroyed by the restoration of the monarchy in England. Fox then began to hold an uncompromising position that forbade any Quaker to serve in the military, "it was contrary to our principles, for our weapons are spiritual and not carnal."(135) This was quite different from the way that the Assemblies of God developed. The Americans were on the winning side of World War I and II and the American Pentecostals continued to stress their loyalty to government and to allow each Christian to choose whether or not to fight. Quakers began to dismiss any Friends who approved of fighting in a war, while the Assemblies of God threatened to dismiss any Pentecostals who spoke against the government of the United States. (136) It seems that being on the losing or winning side of a war contributed to the future of pacifism for both the early Quakers and the early Assemblies of God.


Hopefully, the Assemblies of God reference to a Quaker heritage is no longer as enigmatic as it once was. Quaker pacifism and the twentieth century Pentecostal movement were linked together by several Quakers. The early Assemblies of God leaders read, published, and recommended the pacifistic and inspirational literature of Quakers. They also shared many theological perspectives with Quakers and were founded by descendants of Quakers. Both early Quakers and early Pentecostals were radical, restorationist, defenders of the poor who allowed women to minister while evangelizing the masses and remaining loyal to their governments. Their pacifism was closely tied to the first five of these characteristics but in tension with the last one. The evidence supports the assertion that at least a minority of the early Pentecostals valued and sought to emulate the peace testimony of the Quakers.

[From The Conclusion]

Acceptability from the Religious Establishment

During the debate about the military service article at the General Council in 1967 one Assemblies of God minister blatantly revealed their quest for acceptance as a reason for opposing conscientious objection because it provided "protection of a few at the cost of condemnation of the whole."(28) The specific issue of killing in warfare was an embarrassment because it brought condemnation from the American churches with which the Assemblies of God had associated.

The Assemblies of God began by attempting to restore New Testament Christianity to the church and to the world. Some believed that this restoration included a critique of violence and injustice. Others limited the restoration to glossolalia, healings, and other gifts of the Holy Spirit. Both approaches conflicted with the religious establishment in America. However, those who accepted the former did so in a public manner that attacked the way the American churches supported their "Christian" government. Those who limited restoration to the latter manifestations of the Spirit could enjoy their experiential Christianity in the privacy of their own churches.

As the Assemblies of God grew, the minority who critiqued war had diminishing significance. By the time the Assemblies of God desired to affiliate with other American evangelical churches (1940s) they had hardly any critique of war left. Nevertheless, their limited conscientious objection did not match the ethics of the churches with which they desired to associate. The leaders who led the Assemblies of God toward the religious establishment did not highlight their pacifist heritage, and they gladly let the dwindling minority expire.

The Assemblies of God impressed American evangelicals with their support of World War II by sending sixty-five thousand soldiers and over sixteen million pieces of free Christian literature to the Allied forces while employing over one hundred personnel in their Servicemenís Department. (29) They participated in the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942 and thus conformed to the American church that many had hoped to reform. They assumed the appearance of a conservative American established denomination on the outside (regarding their politics), and reserved their radical practices (glossolalia, etc.) for the inside.

Assemblies of God Use of Scripture for Ethical Issues

The Assemblies of God interprets scripture in order to please both the secular and religious establishment, and they adjust their use of Scripture depending on the issue being addressed. The early minority who professed pacifistic ideals consistently appealed to the Bible, specifically to the New Testament and to Jesus. They began their articles with such questions and declarations as "What saith Scripture on this all important matter," (30) "the arguments [are] based solely on the authority of Godís Holy Word,"(31) and "I took the stand that I did as a C. O. [because] I could not see any other stand to take as a Christian who is measuring his walk by the Word of God."(32)

The 1917 resolution itself contained references to Scripture in every paragraph, and quoted five specific verses.(33) They interpreted the instructions and life of Jesus seriously and applied them to themselves, regardless of the consequences. Their respect for the New Testament meant that they would take the reproach of Christ upon themselves even to the point of death. Those Pentecostal pacifists publicly proclaimed the nonresistance inherent in the good news of Jesus.

Whenever any Assemblies of God people argued against the pacifists or the conscientious objectors they would consistently employ a rationale that appealed to defending the innocent, obeying the government, or freedom of conscience. When they referred to Scripture, they quoted the Old Testament, Romans 13, and any other verse that would support doing what the government said. They consistently avoided both the Gospels and any reference to Jesus. Beginning with the support of the European War in 1914, "[otherwise] not a life in Christendom would be safe. The State is of God,"(34) and continuing to the present, "we are committed to its avoidance [war] as much as accountability, sensibility, and responsibility allow,"(35) the militants within the Assemblies of God have avoided Jesusí words and deeds.

More bluntly, the Assemblies of God interprets scripture in a haphazard manner and uses it to defend the secular and religious establishments. Ethical convictions that are not held by their evangelical associates receive no biblical support from the Assemblies of God. Disagreeing with war and capital punishment are not conservative evangelical ideals so the Assemblies of God ignores any New Testament evidence that might bolster those beliefs.

They deal with war by quoting Romans 13 and by appealing to conscience based on Romans 14. They actually provide an interpretation of the latter that they blatantly contradict regarding other ethical issues, "The Scriptures call for the employment of personal conscience in all matters."(36) Even when appealing to Paulís "disputable matters" passage they uncritically apply it to everything just to ensure that they do not have to take a stand against war.

But they never reference Romans 14, "Each of us will give an account of himself to God," when discussing issues about which they feel they are on solid American evangelical ground: abortion, drinking alcohol, lotteries, gambling, suicide, and smoking tobacco.(37) Contrarily, since most conservative Christians support capital punishment, the Assemblies of God employs numerous Old Testament scriptures and Romans 13 to support it as well, once again stating "there is room in the church for honest differences of opinion concerning the use of capital punishment."(38)

Significantly, they employ the example of Jesus only regarding safe ethical issues. Gambling is wrong because "Jesus taught that love is what earmarks the Christian and his disciple (John 13:35). No Christian who seeks to love his neighbor as himself (Matthew 22:39) can justify profiting from greed and addiction that motivates so much of gambling."(39) The audacity of quoting these verses to apply to gambling and then never one single time mentioning Jesus or the gospels when discussing war is remarkable.

"Personal conscience in all matters" and "honest differences of opinion" only applied to killing in war and killing criminals. The Assemblies of God clearly chooses their scriptures selectively in order to bolster the status quo and its interests. They have ceased to hear the radical call to peace that Jesus issued. Once the Assemblies of God made it into the establishment they had either to deal with the arguments of their pacifists or ignore them. So far they have ignored both them and the portions of scripture to which they referred.

The Limiting of Ethics and Ecclesiology

The loss of any support for pacifism and the neglect of certain portions of Scripture have been accompanied by a narrowing of focus within the Assemblies of God. They have limited their ethics to personal matters and to issues that their evangelical friends support, i.e. the personal matters of war (drinking, gambling, and homosexuality) rather than the corporate and international issues of war. They have limited their ecclesiology to personal evangelization, i.e. saving peopleís souls rather than critiquing the social order and transforming peopleís lives.

Limited Ethical Concerns

The goal of this section is to demonstrate that the General Council of the Assemblies of God selects their ethical positions based not upon the New Testament or the teachings of Jesus but upon preconceived notions that correspond to mainstream evangelicalism. The Assemblies of God lost their prophetic minority who recognized the antichrist nature of violence and who critiqued capitalism, patriotism, imperialism, sexism, and racism.(40) These became nonissues for the Assemblies of God until it became popular within American culture to deal with the latter two. (41) Rather than address these earlier extensive concerns, they instead argue for abstinence from such actions as drinking, gambling, and homosexuality.

The rationales that they use to support these positions reveal that they employ Scripture in a highly selective manner and greatly limit their ethical concerns. In essence, they begin with a position that is popular among conservative American Christians and then go the Bible to support it. This is painfully evident in their defense of their positions on these three ethical issues when compared to the way they defend their position on war.

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