Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

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Becoming Evangelical: The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada

October 15, 2017 Articles

Pentecostals in the wider world
Womb, cradle and early nurture of my Christian life was Pentecostal. Dad, our pastor and friend, for much of my early life was the Saskatchewan District Superintendent. It was early in my emerging life of faith that as a Pentecostal I was introduced to a wider Christian and Evangelical community, and by that had my world opened from our otherwise geographically dispersed churches.

This was not any easy process. However it wasn’t so much what we believed that was a distraction, but rather how we were reported, real or attributed. Sometimes being labeled Pentecostal was akin to being slandered.

This piece recounts the emerging of our expanding ministries as Pentecostals into the wider family of Evangelicals. While this is an account of organizational developments, this also strikes close to home, as it recounts my personal journey of faith.

Post War
World War II ended, and what followed was a North American move of evangelism. Even with such evangelical impulse, this still was a time marked by denominational differences. During a period described by Canadian Church Historian Ron Kydd as one of “mutual exclusion,” Pentecostals found themselves outside of others of Evangelical faith. Roman Catholics never really knew what made us tick. Main Line Protestants, especially as their ideological shift became more pronounced, associated us with fundamentalism. Evangelicals, while knowing our core theology matched theirs, were aghast at what some regarded as heresy. Into this world broke ministries, especially capturing youth, with special energy from those returning from war zones.

In the 1940s two particular moments stirred hearts: 1) the rise of the youth ministry movement, and; 2) the simultaneous call for Evangelical solidarity. The first was a new generation of young people quite disinterested in old labels and ways, wanting a fresh and more enthusiastic way of expressing their faith. Heretofore those proponents of Evangelical unity at times felt snubbed and pushed aside. Finding foothold in the United States – as so often is the case in North America – ideas move northward. These movements of youth and feelings of need for solidarity in time caught hold and ultimately would alter the disposition of Pentecostals in Canada.

I loved our small Elim Tabernacle in Saskatoon and felt robbed when the two-week long summer Living Waters Camp came to an end. In the late 1940s Youth for Christ rallies sprouted up in the West, notably led by Hazen Argue of Winnipeg’s Calvary Temple. His cousin Bob Argue, then principal of Bethel Bible Institute in Saskatoon, set up Saturday night rallies. It is difficult to fairly estimate its impact on our Pentecostal community. Remember, we were the outliers. Thus, when the head of our Bible College led this widely popular and beloved twice-a-month service, it gave us Pentecostals an acceptable public presence, and broke us out of our insularity.

The fire of evangelism – which I argue was the core of our Pentecostal zeal – gave lift to the entire Evangelical world, and both began to see the mutual benefit of joint efforts.

United States Influences
In 1942, a group of theologically conservative Protestant denominations in the United States, finding many areas of common ground, formed the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Central in the NAE’s founding was the participation of the Assemblies of God USA (AG USA), the PAOC’s US-based collegial counterpart. The NAE’s rise in influence was critical to unity and religious liberty, and bridged the wide, and too often acrimonious tensions within the Evangelical world. Unfortunately the AG USA and NAE’s partnership was tenuous at times, as hardline cessationists in the NAE (who argued that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit ended in the fifth-century with the determining of the canon, the books of the Bible) took issue with the AG USA’s (continualists) membership.

Canadian Evangelicals did not fight such social barriers, but there was a stirring for unity, or at least for times of cooperation. It was in 1966 that Pentecostals (and more particularly the PAOC) that a pastor in Toronto brought together church leaders and formed the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC).

What is remarkable is that it was at a time when the PAOC was quite unknown let alone wanting to exert public influence. Thus it was somewhat ahead of its time that a PAOC pastor sparked the creation of a national grouping of Evangelicals. It was at a time when many Evangelicals were not sure the PAOC was Evangelical in theology, and some Pentecostals quibbled over whether Pentecostals were part of the historical evangelical tree.

This move to set in place a national Evangelical association, and its voice was Harry Faught, pastor of Danforth Gospel Temple. Faught was a personal mentor while I was a student at the University of Toronto. Faught’s skills served well in creating this national association. His Pentecostal credentials rested him solidly in the fellowship. His academic work (Dallas Theological Seminary) set him apart: in the 1960s it was exceptional for a Pentecostal pastor to have completed doctoral work. In 1968 during the World Pentecostal Fellowship at Exhibition Park in Toronto, he was publicly critical over aberrations he viewed as not Canadian Pentecostals’ heritage or practice. This dust up on the front page of a Toronto newspaper showed his courage to speak out, even when his colleagues may have seen it as a betrayal.

It was during these formative years of the 1960s that there came a collective heart resonating with Jesus’ prayer for unity. Our PAOC young people were joining interdenominational efforts. Maybe more compelling, was the growing affinity among pastors as they meet for monthly or occasional prayer times and public services.

Underlying these shifts was a profound sense that Protestants in the mainline churches were showing signs of shifting from historical biblical orthodoxy. This, along with the desire for fellowship was sufficient evidence that it was time the smaller Canadian denominations and churches bridged fellowship, identity and cooperation. Our laity also felt these currents, often resulting in ministries that gave Pentecostals a greater sense of belonging.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and Its Role
The story of the EFC was greatly shaped by the PAOC, from its genesis, ongoing leadership, and ideas and funding. This part of the story is central to the telling of the PAOC and its spirit of cooperation. For it is into this association – churches, denominations agency, movements and individuals – that our fellowship entered with varying levels of concern and participation. However it needs to be noted that without the PAOC membership – which soon was to become the largest Evangelical denomination in Canada – the EFC simply would not have gained traction, it would not have been able to articulate a voice, nor present itself as a viable representative of Canadian Evangelicals.

Harry Faught started it. His relationships, vision, personal piety, integrity and dignified public presence brought many together. A couple of decades later, the fledgling network struggled for lack national chairmanship, senior staff and funding. Rev. Charles Yates, General Secretary of the PAOC was drawn in at a critical time, and by his careful management and trusting presence, brought the organization back to a place where its general council decided to launch out and seek a new mandate with full-time staff.

It was at a meeting at the PAOC National Office on Overlea Blvd (the national office my father, C.H. Stiller who as General Secretary/Treasure had built), where I was challenged to accept the call to give full-time service in leading the EFC. During a series of events, prayer and counseling by Harry Faught, I found myself in 1983 leading this national organization.

The question I, and many asked, was: could an ordained minister of the PAOC be accepted by others in the wider Evangelical family? And could that Pentecostal pastor be accepted among some who felt strongly that some of our doctrine was edging on heresy? Could such a Pentecostal lead this national, multi-denominational body? Indeed such was my suspicion, but in fact, the opposite was true. Those years were the sweetest of my life, a period in which I felt backed by every part of the wider family. I never have had a moment or encounter when an Evangelical criticized me because of my Pentecostal heritage and belonging.

What I saw surprised me. I recall midway through my tenure in EFC, a senior PAOC leader questioned if our Pentecostal churches would see any benefit in having membership in the EFC. What transpired was that churches joined as members, enabling EFC financially. I was emboldened as many of our churches, pastors and boards saw belonging to EFC as a public voice of faith not for their benefit but rather they saw, that unity would bring about a more consistent and persuasive Christian voice to the public.

It was through the coming years that many of our provincial and national leaders gave energy and voice to the various elements of the EFC. This included the likes of Ken Birch, and David Wells (among others). The latter served as chair of the EFC National Executive, even whilst simultaneously serving as PAOC General Superintendent. This is not to say that our denomination viewed themselves as part of the Evangelical community only through EFC. Nor was the EFC the PAOC’s only source of defining Evangelical theology. However, EFC’s role was to act as a helpful marker, identifying the PAOC role as creating and sustaining the Evangelical witness in Canada.

“One of Our Own”
Honourable mention must go to one particular member of our PAOC family who stands out, giving evidence of the heart and spirit of freedom embedded in our history, theology and experience. That is David Mainse. In 1964, while visiting my father at the national office, dad said, “I want to introduce you to a young man who you will soon be hearing about.” That was Mainse.

In time his life took on a larger-than-life role, in his television ministry which morphed from a weekly half hour program, Direction, to the daily 100 Huntley program, the visible ministry of Crossroads Communications.

His contribution was marked by boldness, enthusiasm, a love for our spiritual wellbeing, unafraid to break out into new relationships. In many ways his spirit and vision spoke of the essential nature of our fellowship. This willingness to fellowship with those from other communions, who confess Christ, broke down natural religious and cultural barriers that characterize much of our church groups. His contribution was marked, and his continued presence will be missed.

To the World
PAOC missionaries filled a major role, and it was in Latin America that Canadians Howard and Katherine Kerr (serving in Argentina) were part of lifting the entire region in faith. In 1954 evangelist Tommy Hicks was invited to speak at a series of public meetings in Buenos Aires, Argentina organized by Pentecostals. In time the campaign moved to the 110,000-seat Huracán Football Stadium. In two months some 3 million attended with 300,000 public confessions of faith. This event changed the nature of the church in Argentina and opened the door for wider changes in Latin America. The “Catholic continent” was thereafter increasingly opened to a new and vital message of faith, with demonstrations so obvious it was quite impossible to ignore. What is striking is the widespread effect this had on the area. For example in all of Latin America in 1960 there were only 4,093 priesthood candidates in Catholic seminaries: that jumped to 20,239 by 2011. In the unfolding of their faith and witness, Canadians missionaries were instrumental in seeing this spiritual tide lift all boats.

The nurture of my Pentecostal world gave me freedom and indeed hunger to find spiritual life in wider worlds than it could offer, and with acceptance that God was at work in worlds beyond and even unknown to us. For me it was the ideal spiritual family in which my faith became defined and was set loose.

Brian C Stiller
2017