Somehow, it fits today’s mood: the opening salvo of Robeck’s “Emerging Magisterium?”

In the course of life as a Pentecostal theologian, sometimes I find myself having a day where I just need to sit down to read something by Mel Robeck. Something like this:Cecil M. Robeck, Jr.

When the Second Vatican Council approved Dei Verbum as the official position of the Roman Catholic Church, it reflected this same basic position. Certain doctrines were clearly understood as best being described by the term Tradition, that is, they were viewed as part of the original Apostolic Tradition, now interpreted by the magisterium, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, and viewed as the Word of God. As such, they were to be accepted and obeyed by the faithful.

It is my intention to show that in recent years the Assemblies of God has increasingly, but on the whole unknowingly, adopted this same position. Its executive officers, the General Presbytery, and the Doctrinal Purity Commission have become the magisterium, and together they have essentially removed the discussion of certain doctrines from the general fellowship. By exploring the development of the doctrines that govern the relationship between the reception of the baptism in the Spirit and speaking in tongues as the “initial physical evidence” of that baptism I hope to show how they are now viewed by this magisterium as part of what may now be described as the Tradition, meaning that they stand at the very heart of the gospel itself.

Members of this group now offer the only authentic or official interpretation of that Tradition. They claim to be servants of the Word of God, passing on to the present generation what they themselves have “received.” They believe that they are aided by the Holy Spirit and are merely guarding the deposit of faith. Those who continue to ask questions regarding that authentic interpretation, or who engage in unauthorized hermeneutical debates on the subject, are systematically being silenced. The ministers of the Assemblies of God are expected to accept, without further question or discussion, the authentic interpretation now given to this Tradition by members of the magisterium. This authentic interpretation has become tantamount to the Word of God.

from Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., “An Emerging Magisterium?: The Case of the Assemblies of God” in Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 25.2 (Fall 2003): 164-215.

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4 thoughts on “Somehow, it fits today’s mood: the opening salvo of Robeck’s “Emerging Magisterium?”

  1. brianfulthorp 19 May 2010 at 11:05 am Reply

    this is exactly what is going on. if you happen to have a link to this or a pdf file of it, would you mind sending me a copy via email? thanks. Good blog too!

  2. Stephen 19 May 2010 at 3:25 pm Reply

    As much as I sympathize with Robeck (as quite a few young Pentecostals of course would), I still come back to the question that haunts Pentecostal theologians today: If not initial evidence, what is it that is distinctively Pentecostal?

    If initial evidence were the “deposit of faith,” then the AG “magisterium” would, I think, be wholly justified in defending it with all the resources they could muster. If not, then something else must be put in its place. I don’t know that any of the proposals on offer have done that just yet: E.g., Macchia’s approach in Baptized by the Spirit is great, but will its portrayal of Spirit baptism unite Pentecostals globally and inter-denominationally in the same way that initial evidence currently unites most (many?) classical Pentecostals? Perhaps.

    It’s not that we need a firm definition to exist as a “people,” but it would be nice to know “who I am” as a Pentecostal who doesn’t hold to tongues as initial evidence and who is no longer firmly planted within classical Pentecostalism. If we don’t have some “deposit of faith” from our tradition, then what kind of tradition are we? Should we just blend into the background of the “church catholic” as people who might speak in tongues on occasion? I don’t think that that will do justice to the significance of our tradition.

    So I can understand the significance of initial evidence for people who see classical Pentecostalism as their version of Pentecostal identity. Our response to Robeck’s observation will have to be both constructive and unifying. Maybe Macchia has it right, maybe not.

    (By the way, Josh sent me the link to this blog, and I’m glad that he did. I’m not sure that I’ve seen a web forum where young Pentecostals were discussing issues at the level at which you guys have begun to do so here.)

    • Dave Mowers 19 May 2010 at 10:31 pm Reply

      Stephen, I think you hit it right on the head with your opening question. It’s similar to a question I’ve asked a number of times in the last couple of years: what’s the advantage of being in a classical Pentecostal denomination instead of being (for instance) a charismatic Anglican or Methodist? It seems like in those venues, you might get all of the dynamic experience of the Spirit alongside a bit more openness to engaging with the larger Christian tradition. (Not to say that folks in Episcopal or Methodist environments are any more aware of much of the Tradition than Pentecostal folks are – but I suspect you catch my drift).

      I guess I typically have like Don Dayton’s proposal that the four-fold gospel represents the center of Pentecostal distinctiveness rather than Macchia’s proposal in Baptized in the Spirit, but I don’t have enough awareness of what global Pentecostalism looks like on the ground outside of North America to know whether that proposal would be any more successful at uniting global Pentecostalism than Macchia’s proposal might be.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, and your props at the end. Oh no, now there’s expectations for us to live up to! šŸ™‚

  3. Aaron McGuire 16 June 2010 at 11:33 am Reply

    Fascinating quote. He must have caught wind of our local situation. Otherwise, it’s happening elsewhere (do you know if it is?). I understand this quote in light of the “local situation” and so the initial physical evidence debate doesn’t come immediately to mind – it seems more an issue of bibliology. However, if we are “pentecostal” to the degree of understanding and operation that Peter and the other 120 were “pentecostal”, I can’t help but think of Joel 2:2 which seems to be dealing with merely a democritization of the Spirit to prophesy, dream, perform Jericho marches, and so on. Amos Yong really emphasizes this whole “spirit poured out on your sons and daughters” thing – I wonder what he would say to this issue. Maybe he has already spoken. My last thought is this – our understanding, more specifically, an AG understanding of the pentecostal identity, is based on exegetical work subsequent to the initial movement and apart from other pentecostal movements. The word “oneness” comes to mind.
    Thanks for posting this!
    Also, Yong’s The Spirit Poured Out on All Flesh is a great discussion on pentecostals’ identities.

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