The Assemblies of God is one of the largest Christian denominations in the world. Over 100 years after its birth, Assemblies of God churches are still growing. Yet similar to other denominations, not everyone who attends an Assemblies of God church remains committed to it.
In general, people leave the Assemblies of God because of doctrinal differences related to Pentecostal theology or disagreements concerning certain denominational regulations. Pastor David Wilkerson, Hillsong Church in Australia, and Bethel Church in California are well-known examples.
What are examples of theological differences that have caused people to leave the Assemblies of God? What are examples of disagreements over certain practices? Why did David Wilkerson, Hillsong Church, and Bethel Church leave the denomination? Keep reading to learn more.
People leave the Assemblies of God because of theology
People leave Assemblies of God churches for a variety of reasons, some of which are unique to the denomination, and others are commonly found in other traditions.
Because one of the unique convictions of the denominations relates to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in which the initial evidence is speaking in tongues, it is often a factor, both positively and negatively, when people leave the Assemblies of God for theological reasons.
- Some don’t believe there is enough emphasis on supernatural experiences: some people leave the Assemblies of God because churches don’t stress charismatic expressions enough in their worship services or in the lives of their members. These people are initially drawn to the denomination because of their beliefs about baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, but are discouraged that those convictions, along with other phenomena like healing, words of wisdom, and words of knowledge, aren’t highlighted more intensely.
- Others believe there is too much emphasis on supernatural experiences: Other people leave the Assemblies of God because churches encourage experiences like speaking in tongues too much. These people are first drawn to a church for reasons that aren’t necessarily theological, like a children’s ministry or because they have friends who attend. But they grow uncomfortable with some charismatic expressions that they are encouraged to seek and experience.
When people leave the Assemblies of God for a church in another Protestant tradition, like the Church of God or a Baptist or Methodist church, they haven’t changed the core of their theology. (See Assemblies of God vs Church of God: What’s the Difference?)
All Protestant traditions believe in doctrines like the Trinity, the inspiration of Scripture, and the death of Jesus Christ as an atonement for sin and his resurrection from the dead.
People leave for practical reasons
Sometimes people leave the Assemblies of God for reasons that aren’t theological. It’s sometimes the case that something about the structure of a local church’s ministry or a matter related to the operations of the denomination causes people to seek alternatives. (To see the full list of what the Assemblies of God denomination believes see The 16 Fundamental Truths)
- Reasons related to local churches: examples are numerous and include the lack of service opportunities, not enough worship service options, the strength of youth ministries, the availability of Sunday school classes, small groups, and men’s and women’s ministries.
- Reasons related to the denomination: some pastors and churches leave the Assemblies of God because they want to ordain ministers on their own and customize their plan for growth without having to submit to denominational regulations (see illustrations below).
Why did David Wilkerson leave the Assemblies of God?
David Wilkerson is known for writing the best-selling book The Cross and the Switchblade and for starting the addiction-recovery program Teen Challenge. Wilkerson was from a small town in Pennsylvania who God called to minister to street gangs in New York City. He later planted in a church near Times Square.
An important part of Wilkerson’s ministry was training former gang members and drug dealers to do ministry. Though Wilkerson had a positive relationship with the Assemblies of God denomination, in which he was an ordained pastor, he believed that some of their policies and procedures limited the growth of his ministry.
Wilkerson wanted his church to ordain people that God called to ministry, rather than have the Assemblies of God do it. The parties eventually decided on an amicable split and Wilkerson’s church maintained the support of the denomination. (For more, see Why Did David Wilkerson Leave the Assemblies of God?)
Why did Hillsong leave the Assemblies of God?
Brian Houston started Hillsong Church in Australia in the early 1980’s. In 2018, the church split from the Assemblies of God denomination. Hillsong, known in large part for its worship music and famous pastors, successfully extended its influence not only throughout Australia but around the world. The ministry even moved the center of their operation to America, though they still consider themselves to be based in Australia.
Houston believed that Hillsong outgrew the policies and procedures of the Assemblies of God. The parties were a match theologically, but church leadership held that a customized structure for church growth and pastoral ordination would accelerate their ministerial efforts around the world.
Hillsong didn’t believe there was anything inherently wrong with the Assemblies of God processes, but that they didn’t fit their vision for expansion. Hillsong has a working relationship with the Assemblies of God and still supports the denomination. (For more, see Why Did Hillsong Church Leave the Assemblies of God?)
Why did Bethel Church leave the Assemblies of God?
Bethel Church in Redding, California is known for its pastor Bill Johnson and for the reported supernatural occurrences that have happened in the church, including gold dust and feathers falling from the ceiling, and for a cloud of smoke that sometimes hovers in the sanctuary, which some liken to the cloud that led Moses in the book of Exodus.
When Johnson and Bethel leadership decided that the church would be more effective on their own, they recommended to the congregation that they vote to become independent from the Assemblies of God. (Also see Assemblies of God vs Foursquare: What’s the Difference?)
The congregation voted to leave the denomination, which Johnson later rescinded because the church failed to follow the proper procedure for leaving the network.
Johnson invited representatives from the denomination to the church who spoke to the congregation after which the membership took another voting and again opted to become independent.
Bethel and the Assemblies of God split because of different visions for how to expand the global reach of the church’s ministry. Their partnership didn’t end because of theological differences or unresolved conflict. Bethel continues to support the denomination. (For more, see Why Did Bethel Church Leave the Assemblies of God?)
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