Tuesday, October 4, 2016

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Oneness Pentecostal Growth & Development - Part 4

The remainder of this dissertation will, therefore, further investigate Pentecostal uniqueness and growth—particularly that of Oneness Pentecostalism—by examining two aspects of the movement's internal dynamics. First, the growth of the Oneness movement will be traced by its institutional development through a period of undifferentiated expansion during the early revivalism and the earliest organizational efforts to a period of more diversified ministries in the movement's maturity. Second, gleaning from Peter Berger's notions of religion as "world construction" and "world maintenance" and Arthur Paris' study of the religious "worldview" of black Pentecostals, the unique ethos of Oneness Pentecostal life and practice will be discussed—that is, the centrality of the divine "epiphany" in ritual worship, the theoretical framework which rises from the act of worship and in turn reshapes the content and interpretation of this act, the role of the Oneness community (congregation) as an inclusive, independent social world, and the crisis of the Oneness community in the larger context of American society.21

The "undifferentiated growth"/"analytical proliferation" model of Pentecostal development—first applied in William Menzies' Anointed To Serve: The Story of the Assemblies of God—encapsulates the dynamics of changing policies and structures in the history of the Oneness movement.22 The early years of Oneness expansion were lived in institutional isolation apart from the struggles of the mainline American churches. In this time of revival efforts, Oneness Pentecostalism grew in a rather undifferentiated pattern, showing only a limited ministry strategy or organization. But with the emergence and development of the major Oneness, or Apostolic, organizations, the movement witnessed the formation of a clear-cut missions strategy, the specialization of organizational and administrative structures, the appearance of diversified service agencies, and the blooming of educational concerns. The appearance of the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated in 1932 and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ in 1931 (and their later merger into the United Pentecostal Church in 1945) and the return of most black Apostolics to the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World in 1937 marked the beginning of this maturation process as the Oneness bodies sought to harness the energies of the movement in concerted efforts to meet the changing needs of their constituencies.

Before dealing directly with this institutional maturation process (in the next three chapters), the dynamics of this growth should be examined. Luther Gerlach and Virginia Hine of the University of Minnesota have observed five factors crucial in the growth and spread of American Pentecostalism. While these factors are not presented as the "necessary conditions" for the rise and advance of the movement, they are "operationally significant" and provide a sound, meaningful basis for describing the movement's growth dynamics. Although formulated from Gerlach and Hine's studies of Pentecostalism—both classical and neo-Pentecostal—in the 1960's, the five factors well describe the rapid growth of early classical, Oneness, and neo-Pentecostalism and the decline in these growth patterns as these groups became more institutionally and administratively complex. These five factors are

1. A segmented, usually polycephalous, cellular organization composed of units reticulated by various personal, structural, and ideological ties.

2. Face-to-face recruitment by committed individuals using their own pre-existing, significant social relationships.

3. Personal commitment generated by an act or an experience which separates a convert in some significant way from the established order (or his previous place in it), identifies him with a new set of values, and commits him to changed patterns of behavior.

4. An ideology which codifies values and goals, provides a conceptual framework by which all experiences or events relative to these goals may be interpreted, motivates and provides rationale for envisioned changes, defines the opposition, and forms the basis for conceptual unification of a segmented network of groups.

5. Real or perceived opposition from the society at large or from that segment of the established order within which the movement has risen.23

The essentially "headless" quality of Pentecostal organization is often obscured by the fact that most Pentecostals belong to established denominations practicing one of the traditional organizational polities. But the notion of individual access to the spiritual source of authority, when seriously considered, prevents true organizational solidarity and centralized control. The factional, schismatic tendencies of Pentecostals are especially apparent in the growth of new congregations and organizations through fission. The rise of a gifted leader more often results in a break from his parent church to establish an independent congregation than in the elevation of this new leader within the existing structure. The proliferation of congregations through fission, although decried by Pentecostal leaders, continues as the growing edge of the movement.24

But Pentecostal organization is not only "headless," it is also "segmented," that is, it demonstrates strong patterns of personal interrelationships and group linkages. Personal association, leadership exchanges, and networks of travelling evangelists create this "infrastructure" of the movement. Each individual Pentecostal has a personal network of fellow Pentecostals linked together in varying degrees of closeness. Likewise, many Pentecostals "crossover" to worship in churches other than their own. This creates fluctuating rather than static memberships in local Pentecostal groups. The association and friendship of ministers who frequently visit each other's churches also promotes this blending of congregations. Networks of traveling evangelists also unite mixed congregations in periodic revival meetings. Beyond these, several internal dynamics contribute to strengthen of the social networking within the Pentecostal movement. A "grapevine" communication system collects and distributes information of importance throughout the movement. The provision of prayer and financial support to individuals and congregations serves to link organizationally distinct groups. Most importantly, the shared ideological commitment to the experience of Spirit baptism and the authority of a non-human leader insures interaction within the diverse ranks. Joined by these central beliefs, Pentecostals quickly unite when faced with real or perceived opposition.25

Face-to-face recruitment along lines of pre- existing social relationships also facilitates the spread of Pentecostalism. Gerlach and Hine's studies reveal that fifty-two percent of Pentecostal converts were recruited by family members and twenty-nine percent by close friends. Other significant recruiting relationships include those between neighbors, business associates, fellow students, employer-employee, and teacher-student.26 The growth potential of any given congregation matches the number of available recruits among friends, relatives, and associates of the original core. This is especially evident when socio-economic distinctions are superimposed upon the differences in recruiting relationships. For those at the lower end of the economic scale, kinship ties are most significant in recruiting; whereas many non-kin associations are significant among those at the upper end. While experiences of economic deprivation and social dislocation might predispose people to embrace Pentecostalism, the committed witness of a "significant other" almost always leads to these conversions.27

A third crucial factor in the dynamics of Pentecostal growth is the act, or experience, of commitment. Such commitments result in cognitive restructuring, feelings of certitude, and effortless behavioral changes as the new movement and its value system are embraced.

Charisma, that quality traditionally ascribed by sociologists and anthropologists only to magnetic leaders of emergent movements, flows freely through the ranks of Pentecostalism. The fact [is] that less extraordinary individuals can be led through a social process into an experience of commitment, with all its personal and social ramifications, and can influence others in turn.28

Pentecostal commitments involve not only a highly motivating religious experience, but also an objectively observable act of "bridge-burning." This act which sets the believer apart from old behavior patterns and associations and identifies him within the new community of beliefs and behavior symbolizes effective participation in the movement. In Pentecostalism in general, glossolalia functions as this "bridge-burning" commitment experience. For Oneness Pentecostals this commitment extends to the act of baptism (or quite often rebaptism) in the name of Jesus.

The shared Pentecostal ideology, the fourth factor in Pentecostal growth, not only links the movement with a common value system, but also functions as a pattern for personal and social change. Gerlach and Hine find in the Pentecostal ideology a dogmatic quality, a call for serious involvement, and a "positive fatalism" of divine guidance. The dogmatism of the Pentecostal ideology, with its accompanying in-group/out-group understanding of opposition, offers a clear, simple focus for action and behavior. Dean Kelly, in his influential Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, argues that the growth of conservative, including Pentecostal, churches has outpaced that of more liberal churches due to the clear sense of life purpose offered in the conservative groups.30 Pentecostals reject the philosophical acceptance of the gap between social ideals and real behavioral norms which underlies the stability of the status quo. Rather these "true believers" accentuate the enabling power of the baptism of the Spirit which allows the realization of the otherwise impossible demands of the Christian ethic. The individual Pentecostal approaches his ideology with seriousness and spends many hours in study of its tenets and applications. This involvement, in turn, functions as a "mechanism for renewal of commitment" and increased involvement within the larger community. Above all, the Pentecostal ideology motivates believers to action, insuring them of divine guidance and ultimate triumph. Such "fatalism," rather than creating a passive retreat from hardships, encourages struggle and work to overcome obstacles. Even difficulties become perceived, not as failures, but as redirection given by God or times of temporary testing of devotion. Hence, the ability of the movement to persevere is almost limitless.31

The importance of real or perceived opposition from society at large is the final factor in Gerlach and Hine's evaluation of Pentecostal growth. Pentecostals possess a "psychology of persecution" often rising from real experiences of ridicule or rejection by mainline denominations in the case of both classical and neo-Pentecostalism. At other times, when no real external opposition is present, Pentecostals, nonetheless, spend much time and effort describing the outside threat and their need to isolate from it. (The Oneness Pentecostal rejection of the neo-Pentecostal movement exhibits notions of perceived rather than real opposition.) The fact remains, intense opposition, if less than total suppression, tends to unify local congregations provides a basis for identification between groups. Opposition builds and reinforces the links in the segmented network of the movement.32

While Gerlach and Hine's studies concern the whole of the Pentecostal movement, their conclusions are quite pertinent in the study of Oneness institutional development from undifferentiated growth to mature diversified ministries. These dynamic factors fuel the self- conscious Oneness effort to recapture the pristine fervor and immediacy of the Azusa revival and demonstrate the patterns of attendant Oneness growth. The shift toward administrative efficiency and multiplied service agencies, depicted in the following three chapters, reveals two seemingly contradictory levels of Oneness Pentecostal growth: the vertical growth of an increasingly complex centralized organization and the horizontal growth of factional, diffuse congregations linked most strongly by networks of personal associations and external opposition.

9Ibid., p. 235.

10Ibid., p. 185. Anderson bases this conclusion on the overall racial makeup of Oneness Pentecostalism with its higher percentage of "impoverished and socially ostracized" blacks. This fails to note the early racial separation (1924 in the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World) which divided Oneness believers along the "color line." White Oneness believers shared approximately the same economic and social standing as other white Pentecostals. More intense deprivation cannot explain the continued emphasis upon ecstasy in this group.

16Arthur E. Paris, Black Pentecostalism: Southern Religion in an Urban World (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982), p. 83.

17Virginia H. Hine, "Non-Pathological Pentecostal Glossolalia: A Summary of Relevant Psychological Literature," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8 (1969). Anderson discredits this study for rather oblique reasons, see Vision, p. 286.

21Part III of this dissertation will address the issue of the Oneness Pentecostal worldview and religious framework.

22See William W. Menzies, Anointed to Serve: The Story of the Assemblies of God (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1971).

23Gerlach and Hine, People, p. xvii.

24Gerlach and Hine, "Five Factors," pp. 26-30.

25Gerlach and Hine, People, pp. 33-78.

26Gerlach and Hine, "Five Factors," p. 30.

27Gerlach and Hine, People, pp. 79-97.

28Gerlach and Hine, "Five Factors," p. 32.

29See Virginia H. Hine, "Pentecostal Glossolalia: Toward a Functional Interpretation," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 8 (1968).

30Note the central thesis of Dean M. Kelley's Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (New York: Harper and Row, 1972).

31Gerlach and Hine, People, pp. 159-182 and "Five Factors," pp. 33-37.

32Gerlach and Hine, People, pp. 183-97 and "Five Factors," pp. 36-37.

1 comment:

  1. Joseph, I am equally glad to see your resumption of posting as well as Dan. I would add a further comment that even though this work is now over 30 years old, there is still a great deal of relevancy. Like you, I would very much like to see a further delving into this subject matter. This is further underscored by the tremendous societal and spiritual upheavals witnessed during the intervening time period. While I am likely stating the obvious, nevertheless I would especially like see such an enterprising researcher to factor in the influences of the digital or information age which was only in an infant stage at the time of your original work during the re-visitation of this topic.