Assemblies of God churches and non-denominational churches are each a significant part of Christianity in the world today. Millions of followers of Jesus Christ attend such churches every week. Though they have some overlapping areas of belief and practice because they are both Protestant, they have important differences as well.
Assemblies of God is a Pentecostal Protestant denomination while non-denominational churches are Protestant, but not necessarily Pentecostal. Assemblies of God emphasizes baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking tongues. Some non-denominational churches believe that, but others don’t.
What else is the same and different about Assemblies of God and non-denominational churches? What do they believe and practice? Why are they each growing so rapidly? Keep reading to learn more.
Assemblies of God vs Non-denominational churches
Assemblies of God churches and non-denominational churches have a lot of similarities. In fact, in some cases, if a non-denominational church is Pentecostal, a person could attend a service with members from each group and not notice a lot of differences between them. The chart below is a starting point for people to understand what makes each group unique.
|Assemblies of God||Non-Denominational|
|Branch of Christianity||Protestant; evangelical; Pentecostal||Protestant; mostly evangelical; some Pentecostal, some not|
|Founding||1914 in Arkansas though important events in their history trace back to Kansas a decade earlier||non-denominational churches grew in number in the 2nd half of the 20th century|
|Membership||65 million globally||millions, but ultimately unknown because there is no central tracking system|
|Salvation; Calvinist or Arminian?||by grace through faith in Christ alone, which reflects Protestant theology; Arminian||by grace through faith in Christ alone, which reflects Protestant theology; a church may be Calvinist or Arminian|
|Ordinances||water baptism and the Lord’s Supper; consistent with Protestantism||water baptism and the Lord’s Supper; consistent with Protestantism|
|Doctrinal emphasis||baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues||varies widely from church to church; some may be Pentecostal, others Reformed, and still others Baptist|
|church government||congregational, but the denomination also has state and regional ministerial organizations||mostly congregational, but some are pastor or elder led; none have state or regional ministerial organizations|
|Pastor qualifications||varying degrees of formal education, but most have attended a Bible college or seminary; license and ordination opportunities for those in ministry||varying degrees of formal education, but most have attended a Bible college or seminary; no certification or accreditation opportunities|
Why is it challenging to collect data on non-denominational churches? Non-denomination churches are independent in a way that Assemblies of Go churches aren’t. Assemblies of God churches are independent in that each body conducts their own affairs, including the election of leaders.
However, Assemblies of God churches are still part of a global entity that has state and regional organizing bodies. Church leaders attend district meetings, provide financial support for shared endeavors like missions, and participate in other joint efforts. Non-denominational churches have no such affiliations with the wider body of Christ.
What are non-denominational churches and where do they come from?
Below are three questions people commonly ask about non-denominational churches:
What are non-denominational churches? Non-denominational churches are theologically Protestant. They are often independent of any ministry network or association, and have no history with a traditional denomination, like Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, or Presbyterian.
Where do non-denominational churches come from? Historically, people looking to transform perceived errors in doctrine and practice in existing traditions have started many Christian denominations. For example, Martin Luther initially sought to reform the Catholic church, not start a denomination called Lutheranism. Likewise, John Wesley initially sought to reform the Anglican church, not start the Methodist denomination.
Sometimes people who establish a non-denominational church are displeased in some way with churches affiliated with a traditional denomination. Some Christians see “denominationalism” as bad and they believe starting a new church is the best option.
What do non-denominational churches believe? Most non-denominational churches are Protestant, not Catholic. Many are conservative evangelical, and hold to beliefs such as:
- the Trinity; that is, God is one yet exists in three persons: Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit
- the inspiration and authority of Scripture
- the death of Christ as an atonement for sin and his bodily resurrection from the dead
- salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone
- the Church is the body of Christ in the world
- there are two ordinances: water baptism and the Lord’s Supper
- the return of Christ
- non-denominational churches may be Calvinist or Arminian; Pentecostal and charismatic or not; premillennial or amillennial
What are non-denominational church pastors like? Pastors of non-denominational churches are often trained through education and ministry experience like the clergy in traditional denominations.
Sometimes pastors begin as bi-vocational, which means they work non-ministerial part-time jobs, and work part-time as a pastor. This arrangement is sometimes a financial necessity when a new church is young.
Non-denominational churches, because they don’t have the financial support of a large, worldwide denomination, often start similar to how a small business starts: they are few people, they have little income, and they have few staff or clergy. Pastors play a similar role to entrepreneurs.
Where do Assemblies of God churches come from?
In approximately 100 years, the Assemblies of God went from inception to one of the largest Christian denominations in the world. They trace through roots to 1914 in Arkansas. Their doctrine of emphasis, speaking in tongues, is traced to Kansas about a decade earlier.
There were multiple reasons that Pentecostal Christians and the churches they attended, sought unification and organization:
- Ministerial effectiveness through unity and combined efforts
- Doctrinal unity surrounding Pentecostal beliefs and practices
- Unity over standing against “Oneness Pentecostalism,” a movement that taught against the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity
- The joint pursuit of being recognized by state and local governments for the purposes of minimizing persecution and utilizing tax advantages
Why are Assemblies of God and non-denominational churches growing?
At the beginning of the 21st century, many Christian denominations are declining. Assemblies of God and non-denominational churches are growing. Church historians and sociologists continue to study why this is the case, but a few things are clear:
They are newer than other denominations and churches: Non-denominational churches are relatively young. Assemblies of God, even though it’s over 100 years old, is young compared to other traditional Protestant denominations like Lutheranism (500 years old), Presbyterianism (400 years old), and Methodist (300 years old).
Why does youthfulness help? Older Protestant traditions have centuries of traditions that can be challenging for new people to embrace. When a denominational embedded into a culture (e.g. Lutheranism and Germany or Methodism and England), it was easier to trace one’s family roots in that tradition and see one’s culture in it as well.
Yet some denominational traditions seem outdated to many young people and young families, so they attend churches that seem newer and perhaps more relevant. Many young people associate the hymns of Lutheranism, Methodism, and Presbyterianism with their grandparents, for example.
Is Assemblies of God is experiential? Some sociologist attribute the growth of the Assemblies of God denomination to it being an experiential and verbal religion. To be clear, Assemblies of God pastors and theologians would likely disagree with this description. They would credit the denomination’s growth to God’s work through the Holy Spirit.
To understand what some sociologists are saying, consider this: Many Christian denominations have a tradition of teaching catechisms, which are memorized questions and answers as a way to teach doctrine. Throughout history, people of all ages would memorize answers to theological questions as a way to learn about God and Scripture, which took hours, days, and even months to accomplish.
In contrast, the unique doctrinal emphasis of the Assemblies of God is baptism in the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues. So a person doesn’t need to spend hours and days and weeks memorizing theology to belong to the community; rather, they must only have a spiritual experience that occurs in a moment, which requires no instruction, teaching, reading, or intellectual strain.
Assemblies of God and non-denominational churches have a lot of similarities, but they have key differences, too. Both will continue to play an important role in Protestant Christianity in the 21st century.
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