Where We Are as a Movement

Disclaimer: This is a post about the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC). If you don’t care about the IPHC, come back another day. But as a cradle PH person, and someone who really cares about the future of the movement, I feel compelled to write this.

Joseph H. KingThe IPHC is at a crucial place. As we approach our centennial (in 2011, dating from the 1911 merger), I have to wonder, “What will the next century bring?” In darker moments, I wonder, “Will we have another century?”

Now, in case you think I’m talking about the impending rapture, think again. I’m asking if the IPHC as a movement will have another century. Will we be able to withstand the current crises that face our denomination, surmount obstacles, and emerge stronger and more committed than ever to the work of the gospel in our tradition? I’ve written about what I see as our unique contribution, with a foot in two important streams of Christianity. But fully realizing our place remains to be seen. And in some ways, we’ll have to wait until the next General Conference (in 2009) to find out how it will all play out.

Second Falcon Camp MeetingKeep in mind, as I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, I’m a layman. But with history in this church on both sides of my family, and many more friends besides, I am deeply interested in where this movement goes. And I do hope it goes, doesn’t become more monument than movement. You might think my writing this is the height of arrogance; please recognize that I’m writing with deep affection and concern. I don’t pretend to know everything, and this is just my opinion. As I said before, I’m a layman.

What, you ask, What do we have to figure out? Here, as I see it, are some central challenges to our movement. (FYI, there are exceptions to each of these. I could lay them out here but have neither the space nor the time to do so.) Okay, challenges…

  • Slowing growth. I know, we’re posting growth. We open a number of new churches every year, and our worldwide membership is growing. The seldom-told story is the impact of (a) affiliate growth and (b) church shrinkage and closures. We have affiliated with numbers of churches, probably hundreds. (Disclaimer: I have not yet done much hard research on this. I plan to. When I do, you can read it here.) Those affiliates might affiliate not only with our movement but with other likeminded movements. Their ‘membership’ does little more than pad our numbers, since they seldom contribute either money or intangible resources to the movement.
  • Accountability. More and more churches are deciding to do whatever they like, with little or no regard for church doctrine or polity. We are thumbing our nose at a lot of stuff–including biblical submission–in the name of renewal. The word ‘independent’ has become a stench for us. That’s not to say that revival doesn’t sometimes require us to cut away some of the junk we’ve idolized, to strike out when others are dragging their feet; it certainly does. But we must take great care not to think that because something is new, exciting, and causes growth that it is of God.
  • Attrition of the Young. Our movement is bleeding young people. Not just teenagers, though I think that’s probably true. But we are losing college students in droves, sometimes before they go to college, sometimes after. Take a look around the next time you go to church (if it’s a PH church, that is; chances are, if you’re between 18 and 35, it’s not). What is the median age of the congregation? How many young families–with children under 10–are there? How many “college and career” singles?
  • Dearth of Young Leaders. This is related to the last item, and it’s a Catch-22. If you don’t have young people, you won’t have young leaders. If you don’t have young leaders, you won’t have young people. Our movement has pushed young leadership off into youth ministry. The youngest, “hippest” church (arguably) has a staff almost entirely under forty. That’s not to say they’re doing everything right, but they understand the need for young leaders. In addition, that church’s network (should I pretend you don’t know who I’m talking about?) is mentoring young leaders like nobody’s business: seeking them out, investing in them (after a fashion), and supporting them in ministry. Where is that initiative on the general (or conference) level? I know a number of bright young people who have ended up in other denominations for no other reason than a lack of connectedness to leadership.
  • Doctrinal Concerns/Theological Flabbiness. We cannot ignore the present concerns about doctrine. In addition to the age-old debates about sanctification, glossalalia, and the role spiritual gifts in the local church, we now have a genuine crisis about the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Identified and encouraged by C. Peter Wagner above all, the influence of this movement on our own cannot be underestimated. Many of the principal figures have connections in our church, and Dr. Wagner’s associate, Chuck Pierce, has become a fixture at a number of quadrennial conferences and churches, as well as at workshops at General Conference, culminating in a keynote address at the most recent GC. The result has been a surge in the identification of apostolic and prophetic giftings and offices, and operation in those giftings, as well as some unusual pronouncements from various quarters. The denomination has appointed a committee to study this issue for the next GC. All that to say, our movement has devoted too little time to theological concerns since the demise of the King Memorial Lectures at Emmanuel College and the reinvention of the denomination’s magazines. The absence of a robust theological dialogue is wearing on us, I believe, fueled by the latent anti-intellectualism that has sometimes marked the Pentecostal movement as a whole and the independent charismatics in particular.

I feel certain there are other concerns I don’t know about; but this is my blog. 🙂 I believe that if we cannot address these issues in a satisfactory and timely manner, we risk our effectiveness (maybe our existence) as a movement. It won’t happen tomorrow, but we’ll gradually decrease in significance until our parts are swallowed by other, larger movements.

Does this matter? I think so. I still think the IPHC has work to do and things to say. But I think we have to recover some of what we were and jettison some of what we’ve become. By the same token, I think we have to jettison some of what we were and embrace some different paradigms.

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5 thoughts on “Where We Are as a Movement”

  1. This is something that more people should be reading…and by “more” I mean the powers that be Oklahoma City. The first four points made go hand in hand. They are loosing my generation and they don’t seem to be doing anything about it. Why aren’t the leaders of the IPHC, for lack of a better term, “courting” our Emmanuel grads? Times are a changin’ and they need to take a moment and recognize thoses changes. Good post!

  2. I love the iPHC and if I could I probrably bleed iPHC. However I left because of doctrinal issues which like many of my fellow brothers and sisters could not say “oh well I’ll say I approve it but keep my mouth shut.” If the iPHC could come to say that somethings and some practices are nonessential it will go along way. I mean what of the hidden amillenialists in their ranks, oh those who could say that tongues is a normal occurence at spirit baptist but neither normative or an always occurence, and so many other things…. Oh don’t even get me going on the rapture. I love the iPHC. I am passionate about the iPHC. I can never be iPHC because of doctrinal issues. Also I am tired of how Pentecostals as a whole treat their pastors. They have alot to learn from the mainline churches.

    If the iPHC will does not become willing to participate in the discussion of theology, which has gone on since the founding of the church, the iPHC shall be like a stiff stick in the wind. If she does not bend she will break.

  3. I too am not a pastor of any PH church. Nor am I a licenced or ordained minister. I am a Christian, who grew-up in the Pentecostal Holiness Church. As such, I am very concerned with the future of the denomination. I too have seen numerous young people (myself included) leave the denomination, seeking strong, theologically sound preaching and meaningful worship (this is more than just singing the latest praise and worship songs).

    We have also left in search of places we can be discipled, and having grown in the faith, turned loose to serve in the body of Christ (There is something to be said for the older saints teaching the younger [I have been a fortunate to learn from older, more learned believers outside of the IPHC.]. Although this is an ideal biblical principle, far to often [according to my experience growing up in the IPHC] the older saints lacked the spiritual maturity, and depth of scriptural understanding for this principle to be followed.). Where there is a lack of mature, wise believers younger believers, who are mature in the faith must come to the forefront. This must be done with much humility though.

    Biblical ignorance in the IPHC today is rampant (I can speak from experience. I have visited dozens of PH churches and PH sponsored events over the past year). I believe this goes back to a misunderstanding of life in the Spirit, and his role in the life of the Christian. There is to be a wedding of Spirit and Truth. We are not to neglect the one for the other, nor to elevate one over the other. We must turn back to the study of the Word. At the same time, we must allow the Spirit of God to lead us and guide us into all truth (Jesus promised the disciples the Spirit would do that very thing). We must be sensitive to his leading, as we prepare to teach and preach. We must be sensitive to his leading during the teaching and preaching event as well.

    Getting back to the study of the Word, should revive the movement that once made such an impact on Christendom and the world. Turning back to the Spirit inspired, God breathed Word should, and I believe will aid in the reform of the IPHC’s traditions, articles of faith, and help it to evaluate current trends in its own ranks, and among other charismatics/Pentecostals (i.e., the NAR). The IPHC needs to return to evaluating current fads and trends in light of the truth of Scripture, and not simply subscribe to those fads that appear to be successful (Moses struck the rock twice when the LORD instructed him to speak to the rock. Water came forth in spite of Moses’ disobedience [Num 20:8-13]. Just because a fad is successful, doesn’t mean that it is completely in line with the teaching of Scripture. God loves his people, and extends grace to them, in spite of what they do [see Exod 34:6-7]).

    Let me close by making a plea to those young IPHCers who may come across this blog. If we leave the church, how can we expect it to change. I pray that you would stay, and that you would allow the Lord to use you as he sees fit. You may be one who the Lord uses to help reform the denomination (I have recently felt that I need to return also).

    I could say more, but that is all for now. God bless.

  4. Keith,

    I consider myself a young IPHCer. I am 34 years old and a 4th generation IPHC member. Well almost. My father has served as an IPHC pastor for over 35 years. Over the last 4 years we have attempted to try to encourage change in the denomination. Unfortunately the call for change was too much. The conference has terminated my father and our church as an IPHC church saying we are rebellious. It’s difficult to voice change when the consequence is ex-communication. Somehow the IPHC has got to develop an atmosphere where open communication can exist. God bless.

  5. I am not a member of the Pentecostal Holiness church but I am very familiar with its early history. I remain inspired by the life and scholarship of Bishop Joseph Hilary King whose story has impacted me positively in many ways. Only Bishop Charles Harrison Mason of my denomination, the Church of God in Christ has impacted me more. I am very concerned because what your denomination is experiencing is happening all over the evangelical movement, especially the Wesleyan denominations. Just as the Reformed denominations are moving back towards their roots, the Holiness folk are becoming more and more seeker friendly in order to remain relevant. Those who want nondenominational churces have a plethora of choices available to them. Those of us who wanted a clearly theologically defined church are being left out in the cold. I believe in entire sanctification. I do not see holiness-pentecostals as an appendage of the Assemblies of God and other finished work traditions. I long for a day of theologically distinct and biblically sound pentecostalism. Will that day ever get here?

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