n old saying and illustration accompanied the Church of God Evangel’s report of the formation of the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America in 1948: “A mule cannot pull while he is kicking, and he cannot kick while he is pulling. Neither can any one of us.”
The idea was simple. Networked together, Pentecostals could do more to fulfill the Great Commission than working separately and against each other.
Pentecostal delegates to the annual meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals had stayed an extra day in Chicago in April 1948. Together they reasoned that just as the NAE facilitated the ministry of American Evangelicals, a similar network would benefit Pentecostal denominations and churches.
That October, nearly 200 delegates gathered for a constitutional convention in Des Moines, Iowa─home of the Open Bible Church. All Pentecostal ministers were invited to attend the meeting with voting determined by denominational membership. Independent congregations could cast one vote each in the business sessions. Altogether they represented about one million Pentecostals in North America.
Church of God delegates included past General Overseer John C. Jernigan, whom the delegates elected as chairman of the PFNA Executive Committee, and future General Overseer H. L. Chesser, whom representatives elected to the Board of Administration.
Stating clearly they had no desire to form a “super church,” delegates envisioned a network of denominations, parachurch ministries, and independent congregations as beneficial to coordinating worldwide missionary and evangelistic efforts. Not only might they “demonstrate to the world the essential unity of Spirit-baptized believers,” together they could provide resources to enable “the speedy evangelization of the world.”
Business was conducted during day sessions, and Pentecostal Holiness Church evangelist Oral Roberts led a divine healing service the third evening. Four thousand reportedly attended, and hundreds of people came forward for prayer.
Although the PFNA provided a Pentecostal network, as an all-white fellowship it reflected the racial segregation existing among churches. Over time, leaders sought to correct this situation and build racial and cultural bridges.
When the PFNA held its 1994 annual meeting in Memphis, home of the Church of God in Christ, delegates voluntarily dissolved the organization to make room for a stronger and more inclusive network. Sealed with foot washing and acts of repentance, a new organization, Pentecostal / Charismatic Churches of North America, was born. Paul L. Walker, pastor of Mount Paran Church of God, dubbed the extraordinary event “the miracle in Memphis.”
The PCCNA includes majority black denominations as well as Charismatic ministries, and a constitutional provision for co-chairs ensures diverse leadership. This network of Pentecostal and Charismatic ministries continues the conviction that together we demonstrate the unity of the Spirit and are better able to fulfill the Great Commission.
David G. Roebuck, Ph.D., is director of the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center on the Lee University campus.