The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, but it continues to lose members and baptize fewer people each year.
The latest statistics, compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources from church reports, show membership has dropped by more than 204,000, down 1.3 percent to 15.3 million members in 2015. It’s the ninth year in a row there has been a membership decline.
Led by charismatic preachers and self-proclaimed prophets, African churches are swelling with promises of miracle healings, signs, and wonders. But in recent months, governments across the continent are trying to rein in these churches.
When literary critic Steve Moore praised the novel Infinite Jest for its “sardonic worldview perfect for the irony-filled nineties,” the exasperated author, David Foster Wallace, replied that that was “like saying a ‘kerosen[e]-filled fire extinguisher perfect for the blazing housefire.’”
The ’90s may be over, but the scorching irony of our sardonic age shows no sign of dying out as David Foster Wallace may have hoped.
That we still need writers — and artists, thinkers, and plain old human beings — putting out fires of cynicism is clear enough to me. Not because I hate it. The problem is that I love being the cynic.
Allowing Southern Baptist missionaries to speak in tongues, or have what some SBC leaders call a “private prayer language,” speaks to the growing strength of Pentecostal churches in Africa, Asia, and South America, where Southern Baptists are competing for converts and where energized new Christians are enthusiastically embracing the practice.
WHEN I FOUND out years ago that most early Pentecostal denominations had been committed to nonviolence—including the Assemblies of God, the denomination of my heritage—I thought it was about the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. Not kill for the United States of America (or any country)?
Then I stumbled upon the Pentecostal Evangel, a weekly magazine of the Assemblies of God (USA), which published these revealing words during World War I:
From the very beginning the [Pentecostal] movement has been characterized by Quaker principles. The laws of the Kingdom, laid down by our elder brother, Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, have been unqualifiedly adopted, consequently the movement has found itself opposed to the spilling of the blood of any man.
This was new to me. I was reared in a U.S. Pentecostalism that taught intense loyalty to the United States and deep pride in combatant military service. Where did this hidden history of Pentecostal nonviolence come from?
Reading other early accounts of Pentecostal peacemaking prompted me to further examine where it had gone and whether it could re-emerge. It would also challenge and deconstruct my understanding of Christianity.
In the 1930s, the Pacifist Handbook actually listed the Assemblies of God as the third largest church in the U.S. that “opposed war.” Although not universal, Pentecostal conscientious objection and noncombatant service in the U.S. continued into World War II and beyond.
One day when I was at my grandparents’ home in east Texas, they asked me about the subject of my dissertation. With nervous hesitation, I shared that the Assemblies of God used to be a pacifist denomination and that I was researching the history of pacifism’s emergence and eventual decline in U.S. Pentecostalism.
“Well, of course, we know that,” my grandmother responded.
Read the Full Article
You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!