ICLCM Organizing Document December 2004
Greetings in the name of our Lord and Elder Brother Jesus Christ!
I write this Organizing Document as I attempt to communicate to you the vision that God has given me in this first year of my consecration to the Office of Bishop in theChurchofGod. Clearly, there was evidence of the call of God on my life to serve the Church in this most apostolic anointing and call. And to that end, God saw fit to assemble together women and men of faithful distinction to lay hands on me witnessing to the power of God on my life for such elevated service.
I believe we are at the beginning of experiencing the 4th Great Spiritual Awakening of the Church here inNorth America. In my opinion, these spiritual revivals are at the core or center of our religious life here in theUnited States and have had far reaching implications throughout the world.
According to Christine Leigh Heyrman, Department of History, Universityof Delaware, in her article, The First Great Awakening, what historians call “the first Great Awakening” can best be described as a revitalization of religious piety that swept through the American colonies between the 1730s and the 1770s. That revival was part of a much broader movement, an evangelical upsurge taking place simultaneously on the other side of theAtlantic, most notably inEngland,Scotland, andGermany. The Reverend William Tennent, a Scots-Irish immigrant, and his four sons, all clergymen established a seminary to train clergymen whose fervid, heartfelt preaching would bring sinners to experience evangelical conversion. Originally known as “theLogCollege,” it is better known today asPrincetonUniversity.
Religious enthusiasm quickly spread from the Presbyterians of the Middle Colonies to the Congregationalists (Puritans) and Baptists of New England. By the 1740s, the clergymen of these churches were conducting revivals throughout that region, using the same strategy that had contributed to the success of the Tennents. In emotionally charged sermons, all the more powerful because they were delivered extemporaneously, preachers like Jonathan Edwards evoked vivid, terrifying images of the utter corruption of human nature and the terrors awaiting the unrepentant in hell.
The First Great Awakening also gained impetus from the wide spread American travels of an English preacher, George Whitefield. Although Whitefield had been ordained as a minister in the Church of England, he later allied with other Anglican clergymen who shared his evangelical bent, most notably John and Charles Wesley. Together they led a movement to reform the Church of England (much as the Puritans had attempted earlier to reform that church) which resulted in the founding of theMethodistChurchlate in the eighteenth century. During his several trips across theAtlanticafter 1739, Whitefield preached everywhere in the American colonies, often drawing audiences so large that he was obliged to preach outdoors. What Whitefield preached was nothing more than what other Calvinists had been proclaiming for centuries – that sinful men and women were totally dependent for salvation on the mercy of a pure, all-powerful God But Whitefield – and many American preachers who eagerly imitated his style – presented that message in novel ways. Gesturing dramatically, sometimes weeping openly or thundering out threats of hellfire-and-brimstone, they turned the sermon into a gripping theatrical performance.
The Second Great Awakening was the second great religious revival in United States history and consisted of several kinds of activity, distinguished by locale and expression of religious commitment. In New England, the renewed interest in religion inspired a wave of social activism. In western New York, the spirit of revival encouraged the emergence of new denominations. In the Appalachian region of Kentucky and Tennessee, the revival strengthened the Methodists and the Baptists, and spawned a new form of religious expression—the camp meeting.
The most widely known preachers of this period was Charles Grandison Finney, a lawyer from Adams, New York. The area from Lake Ontario to the Adirondack mountains had been the scene of so many religious revivals in the past that it was known as the “Burned-Over District.” In 1821 Finney experienced something of a religious epiphany and set out to preach the Gospel in western New York. His revivals were characterized by careful planning, powerful preaching, and many conversions. Finney preached in the Burned-Over District throughout the 1820s and the early 1830s, before moving to Ohio in 1835 to take a chair in theology at Oberlin College. He subsequently became president of Oberlin. Of interest to me is always the emergence of denominational bodies or organizations who develop identity in the midst of the movement. Two other important religious denominations in America—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church or Mormons) and the Seventh Day Adventists also got their start in the Burned-Over District.
In the Appalachian region, the revival took on characteristics similar to the Great Awakening of the previous century. But here, the center of the revival was the camp meeting—defined as a “religious service of several days’ length, for a group that was obliged to take shelter on the spot because of the distance from home.” Pioneers in thinly populated areas looked to the camp meeting as a refuge from the lonely life on the frontier. The sheer exhilaration of participating in a religious revival with hundreds and perhaps thousands of people inspired the dancing, shouting and singing associated with these events.
The first camp meeting took place in July 1800 at Gasper River Church in southwestern Kentucky. A much larger one was held at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in August 1801, where between 10,000 and 25,000 people attended, and Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist ministers participated. It was this event that stamped the organized revival as the major mode of church expansion for denominations such as the Methodists and Baptists. This event was also instrumental in the birth of the churches of the Restoration Movement, particularly the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Church of Christ.
Traditionally speaking, the Third Great Awakening was a period in American history from 1886 to 1908. It is also called the Missionary Awakening. This Awakening began with the Haymarket Riot and the student missionary movement, rose with agrarian protest and labor violence, and climaxed in the revivalist candidacy of William Jennings Bryan in 1896. Gilded Age realism came under harsh attack from trust-blasting muckrakers, Billy Sunday evangelicals, “new woman” feminists, and chautauqua dreamers. After radicalizing and splitting the Progressive movement, the passion cooled when William Howard Taft succeeded Theodore Roosevelt in the White House.
Of direct significance to me is the rise of modern Pentecostalism that got it start around 1901. Although the 1896 Shearer Schoolhouse Revival in Cherokee County, North Carolina might be regarded as a precursor to the modern Pentecostal movement, the commonly accepted origin dates from when Agnes Ozman received the gift of tongues (glossolalia) at Charles Fox Parham’s Bethal Bible College in Topeka, Kansas in 1901. Parham, a minister of Methodist background, formulated the doctrine that tongues was the “Bible evidence” of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Parham left Topeka and began a revival ministry which led to a link to the Azusa street revival through William J. Seymour whom he taught in his school in Houston, although because Seymour was an African-American who was only allowed to sit outside the classroom to listen. Through Elder Seymour’s efforts who later became Bishop Seymour, this awakening took wings and began to fly.
The expansion of the movement started with the Azusa Street Revival, beginning in 1906 at the Los Angeles home of a Mr. and Mrs. Edward Lee when Mr. Lee experienced what he felt to be an infilling of the Holy Spirit during a prayer session. The attending pastor, Elder Seymour, also claimed that he was overcome with the Holy Spirit on April 12, 1906. On April 18, 1906, the Los Angeles Times ran a front page story on the movement. By the third week in April, 1906, the small but growing congregation had rented an abandoned African Methodist Episcopal church at 312 Azusa Street and organized as the Apostolic Faith Mission.
Of the most identifying characteristics of the first decade of Pentecostalism was its interracialness. All of the gatherings, prayer meetings or services were marked by interracial assemblies,”…Whites and blacks mix in a religious frenzy,…” according to a local newspaper account. This lasted until the mid 1920’s when the splittering along racial lines got the best of the communities that had come together during this most remarkable period. When the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America was formed in 1948, it was made up entirely of Anglo-American Pentecostal denominations. In 1994, Pentecostals returned to their roots of racial reconciliation and proposed formal unification of the major white and black branches of the Pentecostal Church, in a meeting subsequently known as the Memphis Miracle. This unification occurred in 1998, again in Memphis, Tennessee. The unification of white and black movements led to the restructing of the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America to become the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America. Today, largest Pentecostal denominations in the United States today are the Church of God in Christ, (of which I’m a direct descendant of) Church of God (Cleveland) and the Assemblies of God. According to a Spring 1998 article in Christian History, there are about 11,000 different pentecostal or charismatic denominations worldwide.
Bishop Yvette Flunder, Presiding Prelate of Refuge Ministries/Fellowship 2000 and Pastor of The City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco, CA, writes in an article entitled, Neo Pentecostalism – Speaking in New Tongues, “Historians would say that the Azusa Street revival played a major role in the development of modern Pentecostalism-a Movement that changed the religious landscape and became the most vibrant force for world evangelization in the 20th century. Azusa Street became the most significant revival of the century in terms of global perspective.”
According to Dr. Robert R. Owens, Dean of the School of Christian Ministries Emmanuel College, Frankling Springs, “The Pentecostal Movement in the US traces its roots to the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, founded by Elder William J. Seymour in 1906. He taught the direct connection between the baptism with the Holy Ghost, speaking with other tongues, interracial solidarity, and the empowerment of women.
Preaching these truths, which were a constant feature of Seymour’s ministry, caused the most negative reactions. These departures from the prejudiced, racial, ethnic and gender attitudes of the dominant culture scandalized many in the wider society…Seymour believed that the truest evidence (of the baptism) was the selfless agape love of God that knows no boundaries of color, sex, or economic status.”
So Bishop Flunder wonders, “What is the essential message of the “Day of Pentecost?” What made the 1906 revival so powerful? What is the Pentecostal message for today?” She goes on to say, “Surely Neo-Pentecostalism must include embracing the Radically Inclusive Love of Jesus Christ with an eye toward departing from the prejudiced, racial, ethic, and gender attitudes of our time.”
I believe this is key. I would say that I’m a Neo Pentecostal who believes that the broader implications of the “Day of Pentecost”, the ability of those who received the giftings of the Holy Spirit to “speak with other tougues” to the gathered community in Jerusalem that day is remarkable. The ability of speaking and the willingness of those to hear and understand what was being said was that which unlocked the doors of the church. They swung opened that day and 3000 souls were added to the church.
The power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to “speak in tongues” is more than a good feeling, a religious aestheticism that comes over a person taking control of individual body. We are given our ability to “speak in tongues” to add to the church. The ability to speak to those who are from every circumstance and station of life. The power to promote the radical inclusive nature of the Gospel. The power to share with all whose life journeys need a liberating word. We are the ones who I believe God is calling together for the express work of the proclamation of the Gospel with this freeing, liberating message. “We are free to be who God has called us to be.”
It is with this background, that I would like to annouce the founding of “The Inter-Denominational Conference of Liberation Congregations and Ministries, Incorporated,” whose focus will be the support, nature and pastoral care of ministers, pastors, congregations and ministries who share in the Inclusive Gospel of Jesus Christ across denominational lines. We don’t seek to be a denomination as such for many in the Body of Christ come from any number of different faith traditions. However, we do actively seek to serve those whose need for relationship and connection may extend outside the normal channels of covenantal or connectional realities. For all have a designated place at the table of God regardless to every barrier that seeks to disavow us from ourselves, from one another and from God. We seek to be the conduit of apostolic covering, spiritual care and nature, and practical resourcing needed for the work of ministry in this new day of the church.
Administratively, we have established The Bishop’s Council of Advise, serving as the Standing Committee of ICLCM with the Bishop as Chair. As the Bishop’s Council, it advises the Bishop, providing strategic planning, formulating and implementing and the co-ordinating of policy directives relating to the life and work of ICLCM.
We also are making plans to convene our annual conference/gathering, “Liberation Conversation-2005 featuring the Amistad Lecture Series” to be held in late Spring/early Summer here in New England. Please look for further information regarding relevant activities and events.
We solicit your prayers as we embark on this rather overwhelming task that’s been gifted us. And if you are interested in joining/partnering/co-labororing with us, please give us a call or send us an email.
May God Continue to Bless Us All….for the Journey Has Begun!
By God’s Grace in the 1st Year of My Consecration,
The Right Dr. Reverend John L. Selders, Jr., CLS, D.D.
Bishop Presider – The Inter-Denominational Conference of Liberation Congregations and Ministries, Inc. (ICLCM)