Why I Am A Part of the Assemblies of God
Knowing my identity in Christ has never been a problem for me. I was born-again a few decades ago and somehow I just knew I belonged to Him - no questions. I cannot really explain this knowing or give a theologically precise set of reasons for this knowledge. Except maybe to point to the Pauline passage, "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children" (Romans 8:16 NIV). But knowing where and how I fit into the greater Body of Christ has been a bit trickier.
All denominations or ministry networks provide their members some sense of identity. The anthropological pull to be a part of a group or community is strong. One need only to look at Adam to understand it is not good for men to dwell alone (cf. Gen. 2:18). Even after Babel the need to form bands and tribes is driven by more than linguistic necessity. Underlying the obvious linguistic advantages is a deep seated desire to be with others with whom one shares something in common.
In the religious world, denominations or non-denominations or ministry networks all create a hooks upon which some of our human identity is hung. The teachings and practices of these religious organizations shape our view of God, His Body, and to a great extent our worldview. Local churches adopt certain worship styles, polities, and theological positions simply by association. While local contexts might be varied and nuanced, if one digs deep enough the core of that local church will be tied closely to the organizational roots upon which it was founded.
I am Ordained as a minister and am appointed as a career missionary with the Assemblies of God (USA) (AG). I am happy to wear that name badge - that label! Why? I've been giving this a lot of thought lately. My history with the AG is short having only been ordained eight years ago. I spent most of my adult life with another denomination. Leaving them and becoming a part of a new family was not easy and brought major changes to my identity. However, after eight years I have come to recognize three characteristics that drew me to the Assembly of God and keeps me there.
Evangelical: by this I am not referring to evangelicalism but rather a strong commitment to the Scriptures as the inspired word of God. While I would rather see more of our churches commit to expository preaching, there is no doubt that Scripture preached, taught, and obeyed is a part of our identity. Recent efforts to reinforce our commitment to the written word of God reveals our leaderships desire that all our members engage effectively with God's word personally and corporately.
Sacramental: the AG holds two sacraments as primary - baptism and the Lord's Supper. In all transparency, I have long struggled with idea of sacraments. Not that I did not believe in practicing baptism or the Eucharist. Instead, I wrestled with how the administration of sacraments served as means of grace to the individual and the body. Recently I've come to see the sacraments as more than rituals of obedience. I've began to see how within our participation in them we are given opportunity to experience the richness of celebration with our Triune God. The AG's commitment to practicing the sacraments connects us to the larger Body of Christ.
Pentecostal: for most this is probably the most known characteristic of the AG because it holds to a doctrine of tongues being the initial physical evidence of Spirit baptism. I would argue that the AG's Pentecostalism is more than just tongues. It's a missionary zeal driven not only by the examples found in the book of Acts, but also, a belief that Holy Spirit is actively continuing His work of world evangelization in believers today. This is revealed in its sending of hundreds of global workers just like my wife and I who serve as missionaries in Uganda, East Africa.
While every local AG church places varying degrees of emphasis on each of the characteristics above, I believe each can be found among our constituents. Eight years ago I was looking for a body of believers who held these qualities (though I probably could not have articulated them). I found that in the Assembly of God and I am thankful.