The founders of the Assemblies of God were not “cookie-cutter” Pentecostals. They were pastors, evangelists, and missionaries who hailed from a variety of religious and social backgrounds. Some came from large northern cities; others from small southern hamlets. Many were entrepreneurs who had launched churches, orphanages, and rescue missions without any denominational backing. They often differed on ministry methods, which were shaped by their personalities and cultural preferences. They were not all cut from the same mold. However, they all believed they were helping to restore the vibrant witness of the New Testament church, and they all believed that they could do more together than they could apart.
This diversity within the early Assemblies of God naturally created tension. However, many founders embraced this tension and sounded a common theme — that they aimed for “unity of the Spirit” until one day they could achieve “unity of the faith.”
The first masthead of the Christian Evangel (the original title of the Pentecostal Evangel), from 1913, stated: “The simplicity of the Gospel, In the bonds of peace, The unity of the Spirit, Till we all come to the unity of the faith.” This call to unity implicitly recognized that readers did not yet have “unity of the faith” — that disagreement existed on some matters. In the meantime, they affirmed that believers should aim for “unity of the Spirit.”
The minutes from the first General Council, held in April 1914, reveal that the convention began with devotions. The devotions set the tone for the next 11 days of meetings. According to the minutes, the devotions brought together “Men of God, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,” but who “were not yet in perfect unity in faith.” The minutes then reported that participants “retained the unity of the Spirit until the unity of Faith was being much manifested in the meetings.” This language about keeping “unity of the Spirit” while aiming for “unity of the faith” was repeated in the resolution that officially formed the General Council of the Assemblies of God.
The Pentecostal Evangel, in 1924, published a devotional article about “the two unities” — the unity of the Spirit and the unity of the faith. The article, by pioneer Assemblies of God pastor W. Jethro Walthall, illuminated what early Pentecostals meant when they used the phrases “unity of the Spirit” and “unity of the faith.” According to Walthall, “unity of the faith” — which is the believer’s eschatological hope — cannot be fully achieved on earth. Before they achieve perfection in heaven, Christians can maintain “unity of the Spirit” on earth. Walthall wrote that “unity of the Spirit” is achieved by “walking worthy of our calling, and this is done by a meek and lowly walk with God, and maintaining a loving and long-suffering attitude to all saints.”
These insights — showing how early Pentecostals theologically explained the existence of differences amongst themselves — provide hope to those today who struggle to find unity amidst diversity.
Read “The Two Unities” by W. Jethro Walthall on page 5 of the Nov. 8, 1924, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel. Also featured in this issue:
• “The Sin of Hopelessness,” by Florence L. Personeus
• “The Old-Time Power,” by Donald Gee
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
Pictured: Assemblies of God leaders in San Antonio, Texas, circa 1926. Front row is unidentified. Identified on the back row (l-r): unidentified, Josue Cruz, unidentified, H.C. Ball, Josue Sanchez, and Demetrio Bazan.