Cordas C. Burnett (1917-1975) served the Assemblies of God as an evangelist and pastor; however, he is most remembered for his passion for the education of the ministers and constituents of the Movement.
After graduating from high school in Granite City, Illinois, Burnett felt that he needed more education to serve God and his church. He began preaching while still in high school and served as a pastor in Carrollton, Illinois, while only 18 years old. Knowing his skills needed honing, he enrolled at Central Bible Institute (CBI) in Springfield, Missouri, in 1936 and sought his ordination with the Illinois District of the Assemblies of God in 1937.
After completing a year at CBI, Burnett returned to the pastorate in Illinois and took classes at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana, finally completing his bachelor’s degree cum laude at DePaul University in Chicago. He later did graduate work at Washington University in St. Louis.
While pastoring in Chicago, Burnett received an invitation to return to CBI in 1948 as an instructor and later as vice president from 1954 to 1958. In 1959, he was appointed to serve as secretary of education for the Assemblies of God. When the position of president at Bethany Bible College in Santa Cruz became open, Burnett and his wife, Dorothy, received the call to move to California.
Along with his work in the pastorate and educational institutions, Burnett also served the larger evangelical movement in influential leadership positions, including 25 years as field secretary for the American Bible Society and 17 years as convention chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals.
When the Assemblies of God created its first solely post-graduate institution, the Assemblies of God Graduate School (now Assemblies of God Theological Seminary) in Springfield, Missouri, the executive presbytery called on Burnett in 1972 to return to Springfield to provide leadership for the new school as executive vice president. He provided a guiding influence to this work until his death in 1975 at age 58.
In 1951, during his tenure as an instructor at CBI, Burnett addressed the General Council held in Atlanta, Georgia. He shared his concern that young Pentecostals, in their academic pursuits, were facing questions arising from theological modernism, including higher criticism, theological liberalism, and neo-orthodoxy. His address, titled “Four Foundations for our Faith,” was published in the Oct. 21, 1951, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel. Burnett told the leaders of the Assemblies of God that “young people have gone out from our assemblies to attend some institutions of higher learning and have come back dazed and uncertain as to where they stand and what they believe. We must have an answer for them.”
Burnett proposed that the answer these students needed was “found in a living Pentecostal faith which, undergirded by four tremendous foundation stones, stands tonight for all to see.” A vibrant Pentecostal testimony, he asserted, provides an alternative to the atheism, theological liberalism, and neo-orthodoxy, which were prevalent in theological training schools through the writings of thinkers like Bertrand Russell, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Julian Huxley.
Addressing the preachers, pastors, and educators of the Assemblies of God, Burnett insisted that Pentecostal young people must be grounded with sound arguments in these four areas: the inviolability of the human soul (man is more than just a physical combination of chemicals and that death is not the end of life); the infallibility of the Bible (a refusal to make the Bible a simple fetish, but to reasonably defend it as the authoritative rule of faith and conduct); the irrefutability of Christ’s deity (the logical reasonableness of Jesus’ claim to divinity); and the incontestability of His resurrection (a defense of the literal bodily resurrection of Christ). Burnett believed that Pentecostal churches must teach these four points to their students in order to prepare them with an answer to the questions of the age.
Burnett’s commitment to these theological foundations led General Superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman to say, upon Burnett’s death, that “through his efforts many significant steps of advancement have been made, both innovative and substantial in meeting the educational needs of the many ministers who have attended Assemblies of God educational institutions.”
Today his name is memorialized at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary through the Cordas C. Burnett Center for Biblical Preaching and the Burnett Library, which provides more than 130,000 scholarly resources for its students.
Read C. C. Burnett’s address, “Four Foundations for our Faith,” on page 3 of the Oct. 21, 1951, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Making True Disciples” by Robert W. Cummings
• “Thousands – then Twelve” by Donald Gee
• “Has the Cuban Revival Been a ‘Mushroom’ Revival?” by James W. Nicholson
And many more!
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Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.