It was the second day of the 53rd General Council of the Assemblies of God (AG), and Noel Roberts was having an unhappy lunch in the makeshift food court at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. He had resigned himself to paying $5 for a hotdog.
"You have to eat," he shrugged.
Something else was bothering Roberts, 65, pastor of Bethel Temple Assembly of God in Jacksonville. The biennial council, held August 4-7, had drawn a record number of people—more than 3,600 delegates and an additional 25,000 visitors. But during the thunderous opening worship service the night before, something had been missing.
"I have not heard a message in tongues. When I joined the AG in 1974, it was not uncommon," said Roberts.
That speaking in tongues was absent from the AG's national policy meeting would surprise many who might assume that the largest predominantly white Pentecostal fellowship in the U.S. embraces the practice heartily. It was also ironic, given one measure up for debate later in the week.
The South Texas AG District Council had sent a resolution—"Reaffirmation of Pentecostal Distinctive: The Initial Physical Evidence of Holy Spirit Baptism"—to the council. The resolution noted that the Assemblies were formed on "several biblical Pentecostal distinctives, not the least of which is the belief that the initial physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in other tongues."
It went on to say that in recent years, the practice "has come under certain scrutiny." The resolution called on the council to reaffirm the doctrine and "continue to require our credentialed ministers to not only have the aforementioned Pentecostal experience in their own lives, but [to] actively preach and teach this ...