Tag Archives: A.G Kerala

SAVE THE ASSEMBLIES OF GOD IN INDIA

18 Jan

SAVE THE ASSEMBLIES OF GOD IN INDIA

Dr. Issac V. Mathew

I am writing these comments taking in to consideration a number of communications that I have been reading from various persons expressing, responding and reacting to the letter initially published by Rev. Ezekiel Joshua regarding the constitutional amendments made in the Special AGI Conference held at Chennai on 22nd and 23rd of August 2012. Among these, there are a number of letters inviting the AG people for unity and peace. A letter posted by one Mr./Rev. Andrew (no identity is revealed) in the name of the AGI appears to be an endeavour to make peace, though it is certainly a biased call, supporting only what the leaders of the AGI attempted to promote. Other letters written by persons like T. Natarajan Joseph expresses only extreme anger and personal revenge upon his adversaries.

The fact is that the great majority of us are for peace, stability and growth in the Assemblies of God in India and not for schism. But peace is never obtained by cheap means. It is costly and involves truth, justice, unselfishness and sacrifice.

I think for the past decades, the Assemblies of God in India has been functioning smoothly under the able leadership of great men of God who honoured the Scripture and who had covenanted with each other to be guided by the Constitution and Bylaws laid down by the founding fathers of this fellowship. But, now these foundations of the Assemblies of God are being destabilized by a new generation of leaders who seem to have no respect for the vision of the founding fathers who functioned under the definite direction of the Holy Spirit. In this context, I think that all members of the Assemblies of God fellowship, who are for peace, unity and progress need to seriously study the original vision of the Assemblies of God fellowship and in the light of this, evaluate the procedures and decisions of the Special General Conference held in Chennai on August 22 and 23. This must be subjected to adequate discussion and revision which is likely to restore the peace and stability that prevailed before the Special Conference held in Chennai. In fact, the decisions of the Special General Conference, proposed and promoted by the General Executive Committee of the AGI have already set in motion a lot of confusions and divisions in the local assemblies, among ministers, District councils, Regional councils and National council of the AG fellowship. The peace and unity that prevailed in the AG is now seriously disturbed.

1. The Vision of the Founding Fathers
The Assemblies of God was established in the year 1914 in Hotspring, Arkansas, USA. This was occasioned by the Pentecostal Revival during the early part of the 20th century. People who had Pentecostal experience were either expelled from the main-line churches or compelled to quit due to ridicule and discrimination. Many of those who had the Pentecostal experience gathered together for prayer, fellowship and worship as independent assemblies. As these assemblies sensed the need to have a common fellowship, the elders (pastors) and churches in the USA gathered together and after much deliberations covenanted with each other to establish a fellowship, namely, the Assemblies of God and got registered with the government.

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the founders made the following constitutional declaration which clearly states the nature of the AG fellowship and the relationship to each other:
“That we are a cooperative fellowship of Pentecostal, Spirit-baptized saints from local Pentecostal assemblies of like precious faith throughout the United States to be known as The General Council of the Assemblies of God whose purpose is neither to usurp authority over the various local assemblies, nor to deprive them of their scriptural and local rights and privileges; but to recognize and promote scriptural methods and order for worship, unity, fellowship, work, and business for God; and to disapprove unscriptural methods, doctrines, and conduct, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, ―till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ‖ (Ephesians 4:13).” (Constitution and By Laws of the General Council of the Assemblies of God in the United States of America and Selected Territories: Constitutional Declaration).

2. Assemblies of God in India
When AG was pioneered in India by missionaries, and churches established by local pastors, the South India Assemblies of God (SIAG) was registered as a society in 1951 adapting basically the same constitution and bylaws of the Assemblies of God in the USA for the Indian churches. Other regions which later developed also followed similar constitution and bylaws and got registered as societies. AG was registered as a national body in 1997 (the General Council of the Assemblies of God of India), adapting almost the same constitution and bylaws of the AG in the USA for the national context.

The constitution and bylaws adopted by the above-said bodies were adequate to guide the activities of this fellowship, maintain peace and unity, honour the rights and privileges of members, and uphold the spiritual standards envisioned by the founders. However, the AGI Conference held at Chennai on 22nd and 23rd of August 2012 has turned upside down the very foundations of the Assemblies of God, and destabilized the democratic values, opening avenues for divisions, alienation of local assemblies from the leadership, depriving affiliated churches their rights assured in the constitution and bylaws. All these further open broader avenues for corrupt church politics and dictatorship of leadership.

3. The Disputed Special General Conference of August 22, 23, Chennai
The Special General Conference called by the General Executive Committee of the Assemblies of God at Chennai on August 22 and 23 is without legal validity and the amendments made on the constitution and bylaws of the AGI/Regional Conferences/District Councils seem to undermine the original vision on the very nature of this fellowship. There are a number of issues that we need to discuss about this conference, which I describe below:

a) The Special General Conference with no Special Situation or Emergency
The Constitution and Bylaws of the AGI state (Section IX, Sub-Section 2, Page 25) that Special General Body meetings may be called by the General Executive Committee to meet any special situation or emergency that may arise affecting the AGI. But there was apparently no any special situation or emergency that had risen in the Assemblies of God at national level or regional level or district level which could necessitate convening such a special general body or amending the foundations of the constitution. In fact, the regular Conference of the AGI was scheduled for the year 2013. This could have been the appropriate occasion to amend such crucial parts of the constitution and bylaws of the Assemblies of God that has far reaching negative consequences. But quite surprisingly, it is not yet clear what compelled the AGI General Executive Committee to call such a special general conference of the AGI spending huge amounts of money and inviting unwanted hardships for members of the General Council. Though the General Executive Committee is empowered to convene Special General Conference for urgent matters, this law does not give them the right to convene a conference for unjustifiable causes. Also it must be noted here that the Constitution and bylaws that were amended in the AGI conference have never been amended by the mother church organisation of the AG in the USA. Then why such amendments were initiated in a haste by the leaders of the AGI Ex. Committee in India. Thus the Special General body meeting, which has uprooted the very foundations of the Assemblies of God fellowship in India is unjustifiable.

b) Legal Validity of the Special General Conference?
This Conference was held violating a number of constitution and bylaws of the AGI and the regulations of the Societies Act. First, the majority of the members of AGI Council have not received the conference notice at all. (All the ministers holding the current fellowship certificate of ordination and all affiliated churches of the Assemblies of God represented by one delegate are the members of the Council). Here, the rights of the constituent members of the General Council are violated. It has been reported that there are around 7000 members (no statistics available) in the AGI General Council, which includes ordained pastors (around 2000?) and affiliated churches (5000?). But quite shockingly the attendance on the first day of the Conference (August 22) was only 863 (727 ordained pastors and 136 church delegates). This means that the attendance of members to make such crucial amendments to the constitution and bylaws was insufficient–only one out of seven members attended, i.e., 1/7 or only 12%. This in no way could be regarded as a justifiable strength to make amendments to the fundamental constitution of the AGI. Also the small number of church delegates, i.e., only 136 church delegates from all over India, i.e., around 3% of the total number of member churches, an insignificant number of churches were represented in this crucial conference convened only for the sake of constitution amendment. Again, shockingly most of these 136 delegates were probationer ministers, Christian worker certificate holders and licensed ministers and not necessarily believers who are legitimately expected to represent the local congregations. The AGI General Executive Committee has in fact, failed to make certain that adequate strength of membership was there for this important conference to make decisions which has far reaching consequences for this society.

Special attention has to be given here on the non-compliance of the Tamil Nadu District Council that quite shockingly did not invite the affiliated churches to send their elected delegates for the AGI Conference. The notice sent to the affiliated churches by the Tamil Nadu District Council on 13-06-2012 does not invite the member churches of the AGI at all to send their delegates. Rather the notice states: Eligible candidates to participate in this conference are: 1. All ordained ministers. 2 The ministers of the recognised church as its delegate.” This is a deliberate violation of not only of the constitution but also of the rights of the affiliated churches. True, a pastor could represent a church if formally decided so by the General Body of the church, but that has to be decided only by the church and not by the direction of the Executive Council of any constituent District. No District Council has ever been constitutionally empowered to give such directions as to violate the rights of the affiliated member churches of the AGI. Surprisingly, this conference notice was served in a state where the Chief Functionary of the AGI (General Superintendent) resides and is a member of the Tamil Nadu District Council. This means, the churches are already being deprived of their rights and privileges with the knowledge and consent of the AGI superintendent. In the light of these violations of the constitution of the Assemblies of God by the AGI, how can anyone honestly claim to say that this conference is legally valid? I do not understand why some justify and defend the procedures of convening this conference.

It has also been reported that some district councils in the North India Assemblies of God do not invite the affiliated churches for their conferences and have failed to invite them for AGI conference. Again, this is a violation of the rights of the churches to participate in the conferences.

It must also be mentioned here that the AGI General Executive Committee has further failed in its duty to arrange to serve a copy of the proposed amendments in regional languages and distribute it to all constituent members. The few of copies of the amendment distributed were printed only in English. The majority of the pastors in the Assemblies of God are not well-versed in English language as to understand the content of such a technical document. This has ultimately deprived the member churches of the AGI the opportunity to discuss the amendments and represent their respective church’s opinions in the Conference. Is this not a violation of the rights of the members of the AGI council? How can we still call this conference as legally valid? Did we not violate and usurp authority of the local assemblies, and deprive them of their scriptural and local rights and privileges that have been guaranteed in the constitutional declaration.

c) Will of the Chair or the Will of the Floor?
The AGI follows universally accepted parliamentary orders for the conduct of business meetings. It is quite common to discuss the amendments and decide the matter based on the majority opinion as directed in the constitution. But contrary to this practice, following the presentation of each amendment and discussion, the Chairman exerted undue pressure on the floor to get the amendments approved favouring his opinion. On certain amendments, the members were falsely impressed upon by saying that such amendments have already been made in other countries. But most of these amendments made in constitution of the AGI have never been made even in the AG of the USA, the mother church organisation. It was finally clear in this conference that it was not the will of the floor that prevailed in the conference but the will of the Chairman, giving opportunities to suspect his intentions.

Another anomaly in the conference was the role played by the Parliamentarians. Instead of maintaining impartiality and upholding the parliamentary order, some members of this official body moved to the floor and began to argue for the chairman’s view points on constitutional amendments. At one point, when some members pointed out to the parliamentarians that an important amendment was passed without the required 2/3 majority and that there must be a count of votes, they just brushed aside the request.

I think that such things do not take place even in our state legislatures or parliament. This is a total disregard for democratic values. Note that the Assemblies of God is a congregational body and we uphold democratic traditions under the guidance of the Scripture.

d) Qualification of the Members to the Executive Committee
Regarding the qualifications of members to the AGI Executive Committee, and the Regional Councils, the proposed amendment states that a candidate must be an ordained minister, in active service of the AG for at least 15 years, should have served in AGI or Regional or District council committee for at least 5 years. Candidates for the District leadership should have served for 5 years in some capacity either as a presbyter or Ex. Committee member. In addition, to these qualifications, they should have working knowledge of English. These are unjust requirements for ordained ministers to be elected. Limiting the length of service for shorter period and requiring Christian maturity and competence are essential. But these requirements laid down in the constitution provides opportunities of leadership only to a few elites who always know how to get elected and those who can cleverly play church politics. A person who has never plotted to be elected as a presbyter or committee member cannot be regarded as eligible candidate for these responsibilities. Are we moving from bad church politics to the worst corrupt politics. This is a cheap breeding ground for corrupt church politics.

The above amendments must also be evaluated in the light of the qualifications laid down by the Assemblies of God in the USA in their bylaws:
“ ARTICLE II. ELECTION OF OFFICERS AND PRESBYTERS
Section 1. Officer: The officers of The General Council of the Assemblies of God shall be elected at its regular meetings in the manner provided in these Bylaws. They shall be ordained ministers of The General Council of the Assemblies of God and shall be persons of mature experience and ability, whose life and ministry are above question, and such qualities alone shall determine their eligibility.

The amendments made on the qualifications of candidates for Ex. Committees in India apparently manifest the lack of trust of the AGI General Executive Committee on the competence and eligibility of ordained ministers.

e) Nomination and Election
The right to nominate and elect members to the Executive Committees at national level, or regional level or district level from the beginning of the AG, whether it be district level, regional level, or national level, was that of the members of General Body. At the national level, the practice as stipulated in the original constitution was that the members of the General Council (the general body which consists of ordained ministers and delegates from churches) must nominate the candidates to the General Executive Committee during the Conference and then from this list, again they must be voted upon by the same general body. In fact, nomination and election was the right of the ordained ministers and delegates from affiliated churches. But now quite shockingly, the amendment that the AGI General Executive Committee proposed and approved by a minority vote during the AGI conference has deprived the ordained ministers and member churches their right to choose leaders. This is a treachery of the democratic practices that has been prevalent in the history of the Assemblies of God fellowship. Such practices could be found in the Roman Catholic Church. Are our leaders leading us back from the priesthood of all believers to the clergy centred hierarchy, Episcopalianism, from democratic practice where people exercise their rights to choose leaders to a system where ruling leaders deciding who must be their heirs. Is this not a mockery of democracy? Even in the Indian democracy, such violations of fundamental rights of citizens have not been heard of.

The amendment made in the AGI conference states that there should be a nomination and election committee to nominate names to the different posts in the Ex. Committee and a selection committee to approve the names. These names nominated and selected by these committees will then be presented to the General Body to be voted upon. Why this amendment? Why do you take away the right of members? Have the leaders lost trust in the wisdom of ordained ministers and church delegates? Are we not moving away from the constitutional declaration which states that the General Council of the Assemblies of God India is neither to usurp authority over the various local assemblies nor to deprive them of their spiritual and local rights and privileges. The General Executive Committee of the AGI has pressured the Conference members to violate the rights of members of the General Council by usurping the power, privileges and rights guaranteed in the constitution and bylaws. Nomination and Selection by few leaders whether at the national level, or regional level or district level will lead the AG to more confusion, nepotism, and discrimination.

Has the constitution and bylaws formulated by the founding fathers under the guidance of the Holy spirit become so obsolete that the modern leaders want to uproot the very fabric of the Assemblies of God? As stated by Mr./Rev. Andrew in his “call for prayer and unity of the Spirit” that the recommendations for such amendments were on the basis of closer alignment with biblical principles and in keeping with standard democratic principles is contrary to what has been affirmed in the constitution and bylaws of the Assemblies of God fellowship. By making these amendments in the constitution and bylaws of the Assemblies of God, the AGI has captured rights and privileges of not only the members of the AGI conference, but also encroached the rights of regional councils, district councils and local congregations. The regional councils and district councils are now expected to amend their respective constitutions according to the amendments made in the special general body of the AGI. The call for unity by leaders after creating confusions in the Assemblies of God by a total disregard for the privileges and rights of members of the AGI/Regional Councils/ District Councils by uprooting the constitutional values is unacceptable.

This is ASSEMBLIES OF GOD, a group of churches who pledged together to function as a co-operative fellowship and not a church which is owned or regulated by the whims and fancies of a group of leaders. I trust and plead that the Assemblies of God fellowship be restored to its original vision of working together as a co-operative fellowship, promoting the Kingdom of God. A reconciliation based on mutuality is what is the need of the hour and not unhealthy deviation from the original vision.

Dr. Issac V. Mathew

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