jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

dividing lines

Yes, my therapist is still out of town. So, last night I ate dinner with Louis Morgan. It was great. What started out as a quick study break turned out to be nearly 3 hours of excited exchanges, giddy reactions, and good fellowship. It was one of those nights where one of us nearly got all serious and leaned in over the table with big eyes and said in a spittle-filled whisper, “If we stick together man, we could change this thing! We could change this whole freaking church!” Luckily we both resisted the “drugged out hippie-with-a-cause speech” and neither of us have anything to feel embarrassed about today. Still, we talked about a lot of good stuff.

That included a certain set of issues about which there seems to be a VERY significant disparity among various ministers, members, and attendees of CoG churches. The pattern generally, but certainly not completely, follows a pattern of age. So, for example, there are some things that in the mind of older ministers and members are absolutely set-in-stone part-of-our-identity not-worth-wasting-your-breath talking about types of issues. Yet, the younger ministers and members not only have the opposite view of the issue, they seem largely out of touch with the traditional stance on the issue and the fireworks they would likely set off if they tried to seriously have the conversation. I’m a little concerned about how out of touch with one another these two ends of the spectrum seem to be.

What’s an example of one of these issues? Alcohol. It’s probably good right now that many of the younger (I’m not talking about the youth group, I’m talking about under 40) members, especially the college kids, don’t actually seem to know what type of reaction they would get on discussing this issue. That would make some of them determined to have the discussion, and I’m not sure we’re quite ready to have that discussion on the “official” level.

There are others of course. I would include any sort of restriction on women in the ministry and speaking in tongues as “the initial evidence.” What’s unique about the alcohol issue is that there is actually room in our current statements to teach that consumption in moderation is completely acceptable. But not many people seem to know that. I have asked many young ministers what they think the church’s “official” stance on the issue is and they almost always say, “That it’s a sin to do it at all.” Well, that’s not our official stance. Our official stance is a commitment that reads: “We will practice temperance in behavior and will abstain from activities and attitudes which are offensive to our fellowman or which lead to addiction or enslavement.” I think that’s a great commitment, and there’s actually plenty of room for interpretation in it. I was surprised when I first realized that that was the closest we currently come to advocating total abstinence from alcohol. (NOTE: Tom Rosson pointed out that I was incorrect about this–see the discussion in the comments to this post).

I think those (alcohol, women in ministry, tongues as initial evidence) are three issues that currently have the potential to divide the church. It’s kind of embarrassing to say that. I know of a handful of non-coggers that read my musings. And I think they are probably kind of shocked to read that. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we can handle talking about those issues. Maybe those issues would not divide the church as much as I think. We’ll see.

Anyway, Louis and I agreed that those three seemed to mark a significant generation gap. What do you think? Are there more issues than those three?

11 comments on “dividing lines

  1. Tom Rosson
    March 15, 2008

    A small correction, the COG does teach abstinence from alcohol. If you had gone one click further on Behavioral Temperance , you would find the statement, “a Christian must totally abstain from all alcoholic beverages”.

    However, it is interesting to look at the practice of other Pentecostals in different cultures. In Europe most of the Pentecostal denominations that have American ties have statements against alcohol consumption. In contrast, the “indigenous” Pentecostal movements usually do not have a total abstinence stance. All Pentecostals would agree that drunkenness is wrong. But they disagree about total abstinence. And if you look at the New Testament alone, it is difficult to defend the Church of God position (cf. John 2; 1 Tim 3:8, 5:23 Mt 9:17; Lk 10:34).

    It does make one wonder what role the American Prohibition (and the historical development of it) played in the shaping of the doctrine of total abstinence.

    Initial evidence is also not uniformly held by “Classical” Pentecostals around the world. And as the lines of distinction between Pentecostals and charismatics become more and more blurred, the doctrine of initial evidence will eventually become an open debate in the church. It is already an open debate in interdenominational Pentecostal theological conferences.

    Living in Europe, I am far removed from the debate among the pastors and church leaders in the States. But I suspect this is the reasoning behind the statements from our denominational leaders at the Engage21 conference to “stay Pentecostal.”

    I guess it comes down to this: How do I pass on my faith to my children. At some point in time, it has to become their own faith. And in order to do so, they must grapple with the issues. The “sacred” doctrines have to be re-examined before they will take ownership of their beliefs.

    We have the same processes taking place now with the postmodern children who have grown up and are grappling with basic foundations of the Church of God.

  2. Jonathan Stone
    March 15, 2008

    Tom, thank you for your very, very helpful comment. Also, your correction is not a small one. So, thanks for pointing that out. I’m glad that the statement still stops short of calling the moderate use of alcohol sinful, and that we state that we are committed to being respectful and tolerant of others’ outward behaviors. However, I’m disappointed in the statement that “a Christian must totally abstain from all alcoholic beverages.”

    I agree that the current position is difficult to defend Scripturally. Furthermore, the statement on abstinence actually makes no logical sense with the statement before it. If we were to totally abstain from anything that had the potential to create bondage we would have to abstain from practically everything. There is plenty of bondage in this world, including many forms of addictive behavior. “My therapist” tells me that there are people that are addicted to almost anything you can imagine. Even a high school debate team would easily discredit our statement on alcohol.

    It’s interesting that you mentioned the cultural influence of American prohibition. Louis Morgan, who can tell you almost anything you want to know about CoG history, told me that our position on women in the ministry coincided with WWII. Women had to step up to the plate in the workforce in order to keep our economy, as well as our military supplies, going during the war (thus, Rosie the Riveter). However, after the war there was a large push to encourage these same women to go back home, raise families, and let the returning men go back to work. So, there was lots of vision cast to American women for staying at home. It was during this same time that our position on women in ministry significantly changed and we officially put limits on their role in ministry. Before that time women pervaded, in some areas even dominated, the ministerial work of the church.

    By the way, this brings up questions about just how international we really are. And I hope to post about the issue of internationalization soon.

    Anyway, from a historical perspective prohibition obviously does not work. In fact, it unleashed all kinds of deviant behavior in this country. Those that controlled the headwaters of illegal activity during prohibition (namely the Mafia), were some of the most violent and evil forces in this country during their time. Absolute statements and rules like the one we have on alcohol are not only legalistic, logically inept, and Scripturally unsupported (IMHO), they also create a general spiritual atmosphere that is unhealthy and dangerously beneficial to the work of the enemy.

  3. Dennis J Adams
    March 15, 2008


    Your post is very important to today’s generation who are seeking refuge and a true worship experience in a group of people who will lead them and nurture them. Legalism has always been a detriment to the classical Pentecostal movement. You are so right about if this was debate who would win!

    My children have never been able to agree with these statements. As you know the majority generation (under 40) as referred to in your comments agree with having some alcohol beverage. When I spoke for Micah in Richmond we spoke extensively about this issue. As, you know he serves in the AG.

    Now, as you know, the church that I have now is filled with people that have abused alcohol and other addictive drugs. I so agree with Emily about the disjunctives about what can or cannot be addictive. This would is and can be addictive.

    Is one hypocritical who stats to one not to drink but he himself drinks? To define the reality of addiction has become a finer line than we want to admit. I spoke with an official a few months ago about this and he explained that when he was in Spain, that some of the officials over there grew grapes. He also mentioned that they poured water in his beverage to “weaken” the alcohol content per volume at dinner. Now that is just silly and religiously ignorant.

    I have asked this question for years about countries like Italy, Ireland, Scotland and such! I have always been under the assumption that the “Gospel” was universal not American. Should I drill this down further, South Eastern.

    Finally on this issue, where I pastor I am always debating the marijuana issue. It seems that almost everyone smoke a little marijuana now and then. What would a COG pastor say to someone who has a medical marijuana card and desires to be part of the leadership team? These medical cards area as easy to get as food stamps. The real issue is temperance, not total abstinence. If one has an addictive personality he/she should be careful on what they partake in. Probably total abstinence would be the key to a successful lifestyle or career. Should one drink a NA Coors or O’Douls? There is less than 0.5% per volume. What if they drank a case?

    As far as women in ministry the COG has been so foolish over this issue that is hurts my fingers to comment on this. Yes, women should be ordained and lead. Come on out of the caveman days and realize that women are and have been excellent communicators and leaders. If not, then they should be quiet in church and sit on the other side of the men like in Romania and other EU countries. This is so β€œIce Age”!

    Baptism in or of the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues has some real debate material in it! I have read so many books by the Charismatic side of this issue. This can be a real “push you away” topic. It is almost boarder line insanity. It is so close to the UPC’s issue that you must speak in tongues to go to heaven. Can one be baptized in the Holy Spirit and not speak in tongues? How many hours have I personally logged at the “altars” waiting for someone to speak in tongues so I could approve the baptism? To many! God forgive me of my “ignert” ways. How faces have we padded or necks have we stroked to get the person to speak in tongues for the approval moment and that great sense of the “Home Run” feeling at eh end of the church service. Then, to even a sadder statement is when great saints of God wait their whole life to be baptized in the Holy Spirit and feel less than because it never happened the way the COG taught.

    To these issues, they must be addressed and if the church separates for sometime then all should realize when issues like these are left to lie and perpetrate homes and lives that is normally the result. Bravo for bringing them to your blog. Your dinner last night must have been ordered by the Lord.


  4. Louis Morgan
    March 16, 2008

    Jon, I really enjoyed hanging out yesterday. The meal was good and the conversation was great. We must do this again. (Mike McMullin hurry up and get to Cleveland and join us!)

    Tomorrow I’ll try to find the article we discussed. And you’ve really sparked an interest for me to revisit the Spurling material– maybe its time has come.

    I believe the doctrinal differences among generations exists– and is probably true for most denominations. However, for Classical Pentecostal denominations like the COG there has been a shift in thinking concerning the role of sanctification. I believe it has shifted from an emphasis on Christian perfection to one of depending on the Lord daily and seeking to operate in His love. Perhaps this is something that attributes to the difference. I’m just thinking out loud here.

    Tom, I agree with your assessment. Thanks for reminding us about the temperance statement. However, this is perplexing to me. What do COG members do in European countries were having a glass of wine is as normal as having a cola is in the States? Do the same teachings apply there as in the States? And, I believe younger Christians have difficulty understanding why a glass of wine is wrong when the NT explains that Jesus, the disciples, and others drank wine.

    One of my college roommates was denied credentials in North Georgia b/c, when asked, he said he would never tell a member they were sinning if they drank a beer. This guy even told the examining board that he never had a drink himself and did not plan to have one. But, they would not allow him to have license on that basis. He is one of the most sincere Christians I have ever met. His brother is a missionary, and his mother is also a minister. Sadly, after that experience, his entire family left the COG. I think it just shows some of the generational difference with that one issue alone.

    OK, I’ll have to argue for the liberation of women ministers later on. πŸ™‚

  5. Travelin' On
    March 16, 2008

    Wow, what a dinner you had with Louis!
    The past and the future are colliding! Hang on to your hats!
    You’ve got quite a blogroll building up and some good discussion going.
    Am I sensing a whole new doctoral dissertation? πŸ™‚
    I’m not even going to get started commenting on all this now, but you better believe I’m gonna come back and see what you guys are coming up with. πŸ™‚
    We need our therapists!!

  6. Travelin' On
    March 16, 2008

    Wow, what a dinner you had with Louis!
    The past and the future are colliding! Hang on to your hats!
    You’ve got quite a blogroll building up and some good discussion going.
    Am I sensing a whole new doctoral dissertation? πŸ™‚
    I’m not even going to get started commenting on all this now, but you better believe I’m gonna come back and see what you guys are coming up with. πŸ™‚
    We need our therapists!!

  7. Tom Rosson
    March 16, 2008

    Louis, I think most of our pastors comply to total abstinence. But at the grass roots level it is often ignored. I have been often in members’ homes (in various W.European countries) and been offered wine with dinner – which I graciously declined.

    I don’t know of any conspiracy, but functionally there is a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy in place. The European Christians simply have a different understanding on the issue.

  8. Robb
    March 16, 2008

    Hey Jon. I am greatly enjoying your blog. Thank you for putting this stuff out there. I agree with the don’t ask don’t tell policy, but I think it is in part fueled by another bug-a-boo of the church, namely numbers. If we dealt with these issues by the book, then we would run off all our addicts and our reports would reflect that.

    I am not sure if initial evidence can as easily be dealt with as some of these others. I myself have had all the prodding as mentioned above, but I think it is distorting the issue to say that the doctrine is akin to UPC lines of thought. I am not about hitting home runs, but I do not believe the origin (and intent) of that doctrinal statement forsay the emotional abuses it would spawn in later generations.

  9. Jonathan Stone
    March 16, 2008

    Wow, these are very helpful responses. Thanks for sharing! A few quick comments.

    Dennis and Robb, I agree with both of you that the ‘initial evidence’ issue is a bit of a different beast.

    Louis, lets hear about the liberation of women! And the story you shared about your friend is a real tragedy (if I may use that word)! That’s exactly why I think we have to start talking about it.

    Tom, thanks for putting the current situation into such concise words: Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy. That’s what we currently have. And I think that we increasingly have it here in the states and many are unaware of it.

    DB, yes “our therapists” are coming home today–PTL! The last thing I need is ANOTHER doctoral dissertation! But it is interesting how this blog is as relevant to my doctoral project as it is.

  10. m.d. mcmullin
    March 16, 2008

    Did I come to the party too late? Some of these comments are as long as the post. Jon and Louis, I am looking forward to getting together once I arrive in Jerusalem (mid-April).

    Alcohol – Initial Evidence – Women in Ministry –those really are some big issues.

    I agree that an older generation would be surprised to hear that any Christian let alone minister would even need to talk about alcohol. I know at my church, many would be surprised to find out the number of parishioners that may have a glass of wine with dinner. Upon finding out many would then point out “…and that’s why their families are falling apart….” I can’t put my finger on the sermon, but recently Mike Bickle (of IHOP – prayer not pancakes) said he felt the Lord was restoring wine to the church. Take that literal, take that symbolic, take it back to Kansas City where Mike is from…who knows.

    Initial Evidence is a big one. I believe that tongues should not be the ONLY evidence we see in a Spirit-filled believers life. The Spirit should be doing more in a Spirit-baptized believer than just making he/she speak in tongues. How about the other fruits and gifts of the Spirit.

    Women in Ministry – really interesting correlation between WWII and the call to a more traditional role for women. I wonder if their might also be a correlation with the acceptance into the NAE (national association of evangelicals) around that time which also forced us to submit a declaration of faith to be admitted. So much for “no man made creeds” and “pour my Spirit on all flesh”.

  11. Jonathan Stone
    March 17, 2008

    Mike, it’s never too late to party on these discussions. You thickened the conversation quite nicely. Interesting point about the NAE. What year did we join the NAE? And “my therapist” and I were just talking about the fruit of the Spirit in this same way. The way we ended up putting it was this, “I’m less interested in the initial evidence of the Spirit and more interested in the ongoing evidence of the Spirit.” As far as the restoration of wine goes, I am still waiting for someone to prophesy that God is pouring out “new beer” on his people. He He.

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This entry was posted on March 15, 2008 by in intergenerational, issues.
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