Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

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Pentecostals in the Wider World

November 30, 2019 Articles

Womb, cradle and early nurture of my Christian life was Pentecostal. Dad, our pastor and friend, for much of my early life was “bishop” of our small and scattered churches in Saskatchewan.

It was early in my emerging life of faith that as a Pentecostal I was introduced to the Evangelical community, and by that, was opened to a wider Christian world. This was not any easy process as our identity at times was viewed by others as less than orthodox. However, it wasn’t so much what we believed that was a distraction, but rather how we were reported, real or attributed.

In this chapter, my task is to recount the emerging of our expanding ministries as Pentecostals into the wider family of Evangelicals. This I happily do for not only is it part of our Canadian story, it also is descriptive of my journey of faith.

Post War

World War II ended, and with its returning younger men and women from the fields of battle, in part, triggered a move of the North American church to be more strategically engaged in evangelism. Pentecostals quite secluded by anomalies of faith and spiritual ecstasy, were often outside of others of Evangelical faith. Roman Catholics never really knew what made us tick. Mainline Protestants, especially as their liberal shift became more pronounced, regarded us as uninformed and fundamentalistic. Evangelicals, while knowing our core theology matched theirs, were aghast at what some regarded as heresy. Yet it was into this world that the Spirit broke new and complementary ministries.

In the 1940s two particular moments stirred hearts: youth ministries and a call for fellowship among Evangelicals. 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. Secondly was a move of cooperation among Evangelicals who were felt snubbed and at times pushed aside by the older Protestant networks. Finding foothold in the United States – as so often is the case in North America – the idea of Evangelicals working together moved northward. These movements of youth and feelings of need for solidarity in time caught hold and changed 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’s difficult to fairly estimate its impact on our Pentecostal community. But recall 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.

It began south of the border

In 1942 Evangelicals in the United States – Protestants who formed theologically conservative churches and denominations – bruised by their treatment over issues such as radio access, formed the National Association of Evangelicals. Central in its founding was the participation of the Assemblies of God, the PAOC’s American counterpart.  The NAE’s rise in influence as critical to unity and religious liberty, bridged the wide and too often acrimonious tensions within the Evangelical world. A gap made wider by a hardline taken by Evangelical cessationists (who viewed that charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit ended in the fifth century with the determining of the canon, the books of the Bible).

Canadian Evangelicals didn’t fight such social barriers but there was a stirring for unity, or at least for times of cooperation. It was in 1964 that a Pentecostal 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 and with no apparent interest in wanting to exert public influence. Ahead of its time, a PAOC pastor sparked the creation of a national grouping of Evangelicals. It was at a time when many Evangelicals weren’t sure we were Evangelical in theology, and some Pentecostals quibbled over whether Pentecostals were even part of the historical evangelical tree.

This move, to set in place a national Evangelical association and voice, was Harry Faught, pastor of Danforth Gospel Temple. Faught was a personal mentor while I studied at the University of Toronto. Faught’s skills served well in creating this national association. His Pentecostal credentials rested him solidly in the fellowship. In 1958 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 even more compelling, was the growing affinity among pastors as they met 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 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.

EFC 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. As president of the EFC from 1983 to 1997, it was evident to me that without the PAOC membership – which soon was to become the largest Evangelical denomination in Canada – the EFC simply would not have gained traction, and 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 in the early 1980s, Rev Charles Yates, General Secretary of the PAOC was drawn in at a time of administrative weakness 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 office my father, C.H. Stiller who as General Secretary Treasure had built) where I was challenged to accept the call from the EFC to give full time service. During a series of events, prayer and counseling by Harry Faught, I found myself in 1983 leading this national association.

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 he be accepted among some who felt strongly that some of our doctrine was edging on heresy? In short, could a Pentecostal lead its national body? To my surprise, the opposite was true. Those years were a highlight in 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.

I recall a senior PAOC leader wondered 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 for a unity that 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 Ken Birch and David Wells – who then was General Superintendent – who both served as chair of the EFC executive and others from our Fellowship who assisted in a variety of ways. 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 primary source in defining its Evangelical theology. However, the PAOC’s substantial role helped to create and sustain 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 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 to the daily 100 Huntley program, the visible ministry of Crossroads Christian Communications.

His contribution was marked by boldness, enthusiasm, a love for our spiritual wellbeing and a lack of fear in breaking 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 can characterize church groups. While as with other denominations, we too can be afflicted by a silo mentality, our theology located in first century Spirit empowerment helps us see our calling as infecting the entire Christian world with a theology and practice located in the person and work of the Holy Spirit.

To the World

PAOC missionaries like their homeland colleagues had a role in bridging the Evangelical divide. In Latin America, Canadians Howard and Katherine Kerr, while in Argentina, helped lift 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, so obvious it was quite impossible to ignore. What is striking is the widespread effect this had on the area. Historian Rodney Stark, for example, notes that 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.

As the World spins

In looking back as this century of our PAOC church history, our understanding of the Holy Spirit has and continues to keep us from being stuck in our smaller worlds, moving us out onto landscapes of his interest and activities. Jesus’ promise that the Spirit would lead his disciples out from Jerusalem to widening circles of impact and influence, was more than a description of geography. I expect that this essential factor in our makeup will continue to move us into new places of loving service and witness.