Jolted By Scandal In Their Church, Members Pray
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Representatives of the Assemblies of God, opening their six-day council today, anxiously but informally talked and prayed over the downfall of a celebrated member, former TV minister Jim Bakker.
The meeting began with many members gathering to pray in their special, ecstatic way.
″Oh God, Oh God,″ they chanted, often raising their hands heavenward. ″My heart is full of gratitude and praise.″ The English words were interspersed with the speaking in tongues characteristic of this Pentecostal church.
Both around the prayer room in an exhibit hall and elsewhere at the Myriad Convention Center, the Bakker affair was a common topic.
Bakker left his lavish PTL network in March, confessing to a tryst with a church secretary. In May, the Assemblies revoked his ministerial credentials for adultery and alleged homosexual acts.
The misdeeds ″have created turmoil, dismay, misunderstanding and pain in the body of Christ,″ the 2.1 million-member denomination’s executives said then. ″We are deeply saddened, ashamed and repentant before God.″
A call for church-wide prayer and ″heart-searching confession″ and repentance went out, along with relevant Scriptural passages, and such praying remained the prelude of the meeting here at the Myriad Convention Center.
″Crisis situations can produce a positive response in people,″ said the Rev. Rollin Carlson of Everett, Wash.
″All of us agree this is a crisis situation. It’s a loud, clear call for deeper introspection of all ministers. Soul-searching is the order of the day, and that’s healthy.″
Carlson, member of a 10-member resolutions committee, said the Bakker case didn’t figure in any of about 30 resolutions, which had to be submitted 30 days in advance, but it could come up in other ways. ″My guess is it will not,″ he said.
However, the denomination’s general superintendent, the Rev. G. Raymond Carlson of Springfield, Mo., where the denomination is based, is to make a statement about the case Friday.
Another reminder of it will be in the scheduled presence of Assemblies clergyman and TV personality Jimmy Swaggart, who pressed the charges against Bakker.
″It’s been a time of embarassment and humiliation for us,″ superintendent Carlson said, ″but out of it could come some good fallout of self-cleansing and examining of our priorities as individuals.
″We’ll come out of it better and stronger.″
He said the immediate impact on Christianity generally has been hurtful, ″but over the long haul the churches in general will be stronger, purified and cleansed.″
The denomination, a Pentecostal body embracing gifts of the Holy Spirit - divine healing and speaking in unknown tongues - has become the fastest growing among major American Protestant churches.
It now ranks l0th among them, growing 2.19 percent in the latest annual figures, while most larger denominations’ membership declined except for Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists, both up about 1 percent.
Most old-line denominations long shunned the healings and tongues-speaking phenomena, but they have been influenced by them in recent years, called by a different name, ″charismatic″ renewal.
More than 15,000 people are expected to attend the council, about 700 of them voting delegates, pastors and laity, the rest young people and visitors. The meeting runs through Tuesday.
As a suggestion for the thoughts and the prayers of the church representative s here, a Bible passage from Psalm 51 has been cited by leaders:
″Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love, according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. ...
″Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. ... Restore to me the joy of thy salvation.″