3rd Time’s a Charm? **(see footnote at bottom)
“And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here [am] I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child.” (I Samuel 3:8)
A day or two ago as I was contemplating writing this blog post, I assumed I’d open it with sort of a disclaimer saying that it deals with matters of internal Assemblies of God policies and proposals that would be boring to non-Assemblies of God people. I was going to recommend that non-AG people skip it. BUT, upon further reflections, I realized that while many of you may NOT be all that interested about internal Assemblies of God matters, there are principles and parallels that you WILL be able to relate to. In this post, I’m largely exploring the issue of MERGERS and whether you think mergers are mostly good, mostly bad, or are you indifferent about mergers, or do you have mixed feelings about them.
I received an e-mail from the Assemblies of God national office a few days ago stating that the Executive Presbytery believes we should begin the process of merging three of our most important educational institutions. They are Central Bible College, Evangel University, and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, all located in Springfield, Missouri. (Springfield, Missouri is also where the national headquarters of the General Council of the Assemblies of God - that’s our formal, official name - is located.)
This is not the first time such a merger has been proposed. The news release stated that the merger was first talked about in 1977. I was at Central Bible College at the time, and I honestly don’t remember that. (My friend Ed Duddy, also a CBC student at the time says he DOES remember such a merger being talked about in those days.) I have a feeling the merger was loosely considered at the time, but I don’t think there was any formal proposal forthcoming. As I recall, the first formal and serious proposal of a merger came forth in 1989. All Assemblies of God ministers and churches in America received booklets from the headquarters detailing the proposal and advocating it. In 1989. they wanted to merge FOUR schools: the three I mention above AND Berean College of the Assemblies of God. Berean was the undergraduate level correspondence training program for ministers and prospective ministers. In ‘89, it was proposed that all four schools merge into one institution known as “Assemblies of God University”. The AG leaders made a strong pitch, but it went down in flames.
The opinion of the majority of AG ministers at that time was that each school had its own mission, philosophy and flavor. Central Bible College was founded in 1922 for the “training of ministers and missionaries”. There were some distinguished alumni of CBC including David Wilkerson of “The Cross and The Switchblade” fame. Other (more controversial) alumni included Finis Dake, author of the study notes in the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible and sensational independent Pentecostal healing evangelist R.W. Shambauch. Evangel (originally Evangel College) was founded in 1955 as “a college of the arts and sciences”. The AG deliberately avoided using the term “liberal arts college” although that’s exactly what it was and is. Some in the Assemblies feared Evangel as being “liberal” and counter to the mission of our organization's Bible colleges. Others felt that having an institution of higher learning which would train teachers, engineers, scientists, counselors, and others was a wonderful idea. Academics were often looked down upon in the Pentecostal movement. Many believed that the more educated and academic a person became, the more ungodly such a person would also become. Graduate education tended to be seen as suspect. Seminaries, derided as “cemeteries”, were seen as bastions of cerebral pride which “kept out the Holy Spirit”. Thus, ministers who were educated beyond the Bachelor’s degree level had often been looked at with suspicion. It was with a certain amount of fear and trembling that the Assemblies of God officially began a seminary in 1971. Knowing that the name “seminary” would likely go over like a lead balloon, the school was originally called, “Assemblies of God Graduate School” and for its first twenty years or so, occupied one floor of the Assemblies of God headquarters complex.
Sometime after 1989, Berean College of the Assemblies of God was merged with International Correspondence Institute. (ICI had been primarily a correspondence school offering Bible courses to laymen while Berean focused on those training for professional ministry.) The new school was known as Global University, and even offered (and still offers) several Master’s degree programs. The AG hierarchy has no longer desired merging the correspondence education (now featuring many on-line and video courses) into the other schools.
In 2005, the issue of merging Central Bible College, Evangel University, and Assemblies of God Theological Seminary was put back on the table. As in 1989, slick literature promoting the merger as well as other changes in the Assemblies of God was put forth. One got the feeling the leadership believed the merger’s time had come, and that it would be better received than it was in 1989. In fact, I’d say the proposal WAS better received. Even so, there was a strong vocal opposition to the merger in certain quarters. Dr. Opal Reddin, the very sweet and very spiritual but highly outspoken and opinionated “Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Central Bible College” wasn’t shy in her public opposition to the merger. Reddin was also highly critical of what she saw as the Assemblies of God leadership’s lapse into downplaying our “Pentecostal distinctives” and wanting to be more like other evangelicals. The popularity of Saddleback Church’s Rick Warren (a Southern Baptist) in Assemblies of God circles deeply disturbed her. I did not always agree with Dr. Reddin, but she’s a Professor I thoroughly enjoyed sitting under at Central Bible College and that I highly respected. We exchanged a few e-mails at that time. I fully supported her stance that Central Bible College remain as its own entity and that the schools not be merged. In 2005, the proposal came a LOT closer to passing but once again did not make it.
In a way I was a little surprised to see the proposal come up again, but in another I was not. The Assemblies has its big, national convention every other year, in the “odd” years. In almost thirty years of serving as an Assemblies of God minister, I have never attended a General Council. They’re usually in the midwest, far west, or in the south. This year’s is in Phoenix. This year the merger will be voted upon once again...for the 3rd time. A strong argument in this proposal is the economy; also the elimination of duplication of services. Apparently, there has also been a slight drop in Bible college enrollments.
This next part may get even more confusing, but Central Bible College and the others are NOT the only colleges and universities in the Assemblies of God. The distinction of the Springfield, Missouri schools is that they are owned by the national organization. They are like WCBS channel 2 in New York and WBZ channel 4 in Boston- owned and operated by the CBS network. Most CBS stations are “affiliates” but the network does not actually OWN them. We have a number of “affiliated” colleges and universities. Their Board members are Assemblies of God and probably 99% of their faculties are Assemblies of God. Ironically, there is a very strong Bible College in Massachusetts of all places. It’s Zion Bible College in Haverhill. For decades, Zion was located in Rhode Island. Through a generous donor, it was able to buy the beautiful former Bradford College facility and move there just a few years ago. CBC was always seen as a much more academic school than Zion and Zion was seen as a much more spiritual school. In recent years, Zion has been growing and improving in every way and although I hate to use the word, it’s giving serious “competition” to Central Bible College.
This time, I’m really not sure how I feel about the merger. There’s so much going on in my own life and situation that I don’t have the luxury of giving too much thought or energy to this issue. Were I going to Phoenix this summer I don’t know how I’d vote. It’s possible I would vote for the merger. Except for a name change or name changes and elimination of duplication of services, I don’t think there’d be any REAL changes in the schools for at least a couple of years. I honestly don’t know which is best- merger or non merger. Really, the best thing is whatever is healthiest for all three schools and whatever will be of the most help to them.
Through the years, I’ve watched mergers of all sorts. Some have been good and some have been not so good. My father lamented the day the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles police force (called “Inspectors”) was merged with the Mass. State Police. The State Police were dominant in that merger. This was done by Republican Governor Bill Weld in the early 1990s. Dad felt it would weaken the Registry and its mission. I think it did. If my Dad knew there are now “civilians” giving the driving tests, for instance, he’d turn over in his grave!
The MetroWest Daily News (formerly the Middlesex News) merged with the weekly Framingham TAB. The TAB had more of a tabloid look and format, and was a completely different paper with a largely different approach. The current Framingham TAB is a broadsheet which looks exactly like the Daily News. It’s just a weekly version of the Daily News, and I frankly don’t see why they keep it up. Chrysler merged with American Motors in the late 1980s- mainly to get the Jeep brand. I think Chrysler did a lot for Jeep’s sales and image, and that was a good merger. In 1991, Natick’s Leonard Morse Hospital merged with Framingham Union Hospital to become MetroWest Medical Center. At the time, Leonard Morse was the better hospital of the two. Today, Framingham Union, officially the “Framingham Union campus” is the better facility of the two. Leonard Morse has tended to focus more on certain specialties. Natick residents were devastated when they dropped obstetrics, so now babies can not longer be “born in Natick”, for instance. Experts said there was no way that BOTH hospitals could have survived without a merger. I’m just kind of ambivalent about whether that merger was good or bad. In New England, we’ve seen loads of bank mergers. We now have far fewer bank brands than we did twenty years ago. I think overall the bank mergers have not been good.
So, will the merger of the Assemblies of God schools take place and will it be a good thing? It will be interesting to watch.
What do YOU think of mergers?
** From THE PHRASE FINDER: “The belief that the third time something is attempted is more likely to succeed than the previous two attempts.”
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