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A recent issue of the Wall Street Journal features an article about the phenomenal growth of the Assemblies of God: "Heavenly Gifts: Preaching a Gospel of Acquisitiveness, A Showy Sect Prospers."
Eluding the hellfire and smoke surrounding his pulpit, the Rev. Tommy Barnett waves goodbye. With a hearty "Hallelujah," he soars straight toward heaven and out of sight.
The abrupt flight of this Pentecostal Peter Paa in a gray suit brings gasps from many of the 6,500 faithful at Phoenix First Assembly. Joining in the extravaganza are a $500,000 special effects system, 200-member choir and 25-piece orchestra. It's a finale fit for the mecca where one of Mr. Barnett's assistant pastors studies how to make such miracles happen: Bally's casino in Las Vegas...
[Rev. Barnett] packs the pews with such special effects as his recent flight toward heaven on hidden wires, cranking up a chain saw and toppling a tree to make a point in another sermon, the biggest Fourth of July fireworks display in town and a Christmas service with a rented elephant, kangaroo, and zebra ...
The article asserts that the Assemblies of God, recently embarrassed by the sex scandals of two of their most prominent ministers, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, have experienced a spectacular recovery, have now grown to roughly four million members- exceeding both the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches in size-and have set a goal of founding 5,000 new churches during the 1990s.