I had the opportunity to meet Paul Jensen at the 2023 International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) annual conference, where he delivered a captivating presentation titled Discovering the Worst-Kept Secrets of My High Demand Church. He shared his journey of discovery after growing up in the Assemblies of God, the world’s largest denomination of the Pentecostal and Charismatic “Spirit Led” movement. In his talk, he revealed the little-known authoritarian cult roots of the Assemblies of God and how the church has created an official narrative that conceals its true history.
Paul is a successful entrepreneur, strategist, and communications expert who’s worked for more than 20 years in the field of global health. He’s the founder and principal of a communications consulting practice called Etalia, which specializes in helping health and science organizations enhance their communication and research dissemination efforts to reach a wider audience. Additionally, he is a sought-after ghostwriter and has written for multiple heads of state and other elected officials, a Nobel Peace Laureate, heads of UN agencies, and several international leaders in the health sciences.
Growing up in the Assemblies of God, the second-largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States with approximately three million members, Paul witnessed firsthand the controversial culture and beliefs that define this religious movement. Founded in 1914 and initially considered a fringe group by mainstream Protestant denominations, the Assemblies of God gradually gained acceptance. However, as Paul discovered, this movement’s high-demand culture and questionable history are often concealed from public scrutiny.
Controversial Beliefs of the Assemblies of God
Paul Jensen delves into several core doctrines within the Assemblies of God that are deeply ingrained in the church’s culture. These Pentecostal beliefs, which deviate from traditional Christian doctrine, include speaking in tongues as a sign of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Tongue-speak or glossolalia is perceived as a spiritual milestone and a way to draw closer to God, serving as the first evidence of spirit baptism. While speaking in tongues is only sporadically evident in early Christianity, it was adopted as a core doctrine and practice by radical evangelicals who became known as Pentecostals in the early 1900s. Followers of this movement believe that speaking in tongues traces back to the book of Acts. Paul explained that linguistic research conducted by experts in modern tongue-speaking has revealed that the phonemes used in contemporary tongue-speaking among English speakers are not derived from supernatural languages but rather resemble English phonemes. Many other Christian denominations reject speaking in tongues, believing this was a gift reserved for the early church.
Paul shares another core belief within Pentecostalism and the Assemblies of God: the belief in supernatural healing through the Holy Spirit. This belief centers around the radical power of healing physical ailments, with followers believing God can work through individuals to provide healing prayers and cast out demons. To date, there does not exist any medical evidence to corroborate claims of supernatural healing.
The history of Pentecostalism will detail persecution by mainline denominations of Christianity for their beliefs. However, Jensen explains that when he looks back at the literature, it shows a different story. While his research confirmed they did not condone Pentecostal ideas, the views they were against were extreme and outlandish. For example, these denominations were unwilling to accept people claiming to be the physical embodiment of Christ or other prophets.
Critical to the Assemblies of God movement is a belief in the imminent return of Jesus Christ in the bodily form. Paul explained there is an emphasis on the urgency that this could happen imminently, and if you have not chosen to be ‘born again’ before this happens, you will not get into heaven. Jensen found that this feeling of impending armageddon was underlying in the movement. He said this fear of the end times meant that ‘there was no long-term planning…because Christ comes back at any moment’. As a young adult, this resulted in Paul finding it difficult to think long-term or plan due to his upbringing.
New Apostolic Reformation (NAR)
The Assemblies of God are increasingly influenced by the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) network. While not doctrine, they have become a core part of the culture, Jensen explains. Due to the congregational nature of the churches, there is no filter or guidance between churches and leaders regarding the level of influence NAR has. In churches influenced by the NAR, the extreme literal interpretations of the bible and the language of biblical warfare are used to affirm the reality of a spiritual war of followers against the world, the flesh, and demons. If you’re having issues evangelizing, it could be because a demon has legal rights to oppress that area, and you would have to first defeat this demon in the spirit world. He explained the belief that a person could, ‘enter into spiritual warfare…against the territorial principality or the strongman demon who governed over this area to get a heavenly restraining order against him or get a legal decree that said he no longer had rights to oppress the people in this area.’ The core belief is that the spiritual realm is more ‘real’ than the material, as it is for eternity rather than temporal. Paul explains how NAR also teaches that heaven will come to Earth when followers make the culture of Earth mirror their culture of heaven to such a degree that Jesus will return and finish the work. Followers who helped annihilate the wicked will co-reign with Christ over this new heaven. Problematic leaders can exploit this eschatological view of the end times and the granting of power to further cult-like agendas.
Controversies Surrounding the Founders of the Assemblies of God
Controversies surrounding the founders of the Assemblies of God and the core beliefs have also come to light. Charles Fox Parham, the founding father of modern Pentecostalism, sought to restore what he believed to be ‘real Christianity’ based on the practices described in the Book of Acts, notably the speaking in tongues. Parham gathered his followers in Topeka in 1901, where Agnes Ozman reportedly spoke in various languages, including Chinese, for three days. However, Paul Jensen’s research revealed that these claims were widely reported in Topeka newspapers. Jensen even discovered old newspaper articles and images of the scribbles on paper that were purported to be Agnes Ozman’s Chinese writing. He consulted a Chinese scholar at SUNY Binghamton University, who confirmed that the scribbles did not resemble the Chinese language.
Below is the Supposed Chinese Writing by Agnes Ozman under the Holy Spirit. This was circulated by many sources worldwide, and an official history book, released by the Assemblies of God’s in-house publisher in 2014, continues to claim that this “writing” is Chinese:
Despite this, the event was broadcast as miraculous evidence of ‘signs and wonders’ and accelerated the movement. It was the foundation for the belief in Pentecostalism and the Assemblies of God.
Furthermore, Charles Parham’s ideas and beliefs were influenced by his association with Frank Sanford, a cult leader whom the Assemblies of God credits with paving the way for the movement in Topeka. Sanford used funds from his cult to embark on a missionary journey along the coast of Africa in 1911. When one of the boats ran aground, those aboard transferred to the second boat. Knowing this boat did not have enough provisions for all on board; he kept them out to sea until people starved while he remained well-fed. When he returned to shore, he was arrested and went to federal prison. Paul Jensen looked up the newspaper reports and photos of when people came off the boat and even located a diary of one who died onboard to confirm the events.
However, as Paul explains, the Assemblies of God claims that ‘disaster struck’ out at sea and omits to tell followers about the willful imprisonment, starvation, and federal indictment due to Sanford causing death. Frank Sanford was a convicted felon who imprisoned and starved children and adults on his boats to death. However, Assemblies of God publications Sanford as a founding father. They present him as a critical figure in the movement’s history and gloss over and omit his crimes.
The Seven Mountain Mandate (7M)
A worrying aspect of the belief in the kingdom of God being here on Earth, which is critical to the New Apostolic Reformation and the Assemblies of God, is the need for power. Because of the belief that a change in the Earth’s culture needs to occur before Christ can return, followers think they have to influence and change the modern world and gain power over it to lead. Strategies such as the Seven Mountains Mandate aim to take over every segment of society, from law and government to education and the arts, as these are ‘pillars’ that make up the thoughts and behaviors of a society.
The seven spheres—or “mountains”—according to the seven mountain mandate are:
I write about the Seven Mountains Mandate in this blog. Popular in Pentecostal churches, advocates of the movement wish to ‘invade’ these spheres to transform and control society. This authoritarian movement influencing the Assemblies of God is worrying for democracy. Using this movement, cult-like leaders claiming God is speaking through them could encourage people to turn over their power and consciousness. A figure in this position could easily wield authoritarian control and commit atrocities.
In addition to his research, Paul Jensen raises awareness about high-demand religious groups such as the Assemblies of God. He has become a vocal advocate for ex-members and works to educate the public about the tactics and dangers of these organizations. In an age of misinformation, we must be careful, as this high-demand church conceals many of its controversial core beliefs to the public.