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75th Church of God International General Assembly: Historic Encounters, Hints of What Lies Ahead

 

The 2014 Assembly schedule allowed only four hours on Friday afternoon for any involvement of General Assembly delegates. Even this all-too-brief time was dominated by bishops rehashing arguments on their pet positions that they’d already made earlier in the week. In spite of repeated appeals to allow ample time for others, this inconsiderate and unconscionable action continued unabated. My wife and I saw one sister near us go to a light and a microphone to speak at least two or three times without ever being allowed the floor because the time limits had been used up by bishops before her. Once again, that is not how the Church of God system is supposed to work!

Another concern of mine is that the entire process of the Church of God International General Assembly is male dominated. One sister, a credentialed minister attending General Assembly for the first time this session, told me that she’d never before fully realized the significance of the current Church of God policy of not allowing women to be bishops. Something about seeing all of those men bunched together down on the General Council floor with the women scattered around the edges on the other side of the short curtained barrier drives home the dividing wall between us. Having Rev. Barnett preach to the General Assembly probably speaks volumes about the fervent desire of the Church of God to find ways to include female ministers at the highest levels. I wholeheartedly applaud this action. However, such measures must not minimize our continuing commitment to free our women to serve without imposing unfair restrictions.

Finally, the international and racial composition of the General Council and the General Assembly are clearly disparate. With the vast majority of Church of God membership and constituency being outside of the USA, non-white, and female, it is glaringly apparent that only about 10% of the General Assembly is international. The racial ratio is some better because of American bishops of African or Latino ancestry but still lopsided. Clearly the attendance and participation of the Church of God International General Assembly doesn’t reflect the reality of its global membership and constituency. But it should!

An authentically Pentecostal ecclesiology affirms the divine calling and employs the spiritual gifts of all the members of the body, and the whole body is better off because of it.

The grand theme of this Assembly echoes in our ears: “We are One”! What we see with our eyes is that white, male, American bishops dominate the Church of God. In my opinion, we have become too hierarchical and too exclusive. Laity, women, and internationals—an admittedly clumsy way of referring to non-US Church of God folks—are being intolerably marginalized. I suggest that a radical return to a good solid biblical theology of the Church is in rapid order. The Christian Church is an inclusive body. The Body of Christ exists as one body with many members. In Christ unity and diversity exist in perfect harmony. If the Church is to be a faithful sign and foretaste of the Kingdom to come and of its eternal verities, then it should reflect those dynamics here and now. We’re not there yet, true enough; but, we should be already on the way and therefore participating in the spiritual union made possible by the Spirit of the age to come in the present time.

 

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Category: Church History, Summer 2014

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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