The Church of God:
Who Are We?
Who Are We?
To use a metaphor from Doug Welch, I grew up as a leaf on a tree called the Church of God Reformation Movement. Now in the final phase of my earthly sojourn, I tend to reflect on who I am in lieu of how I have spent my life.
I have devoted my entire life (more than half a century in church ministry) to the Family of Faith gathered around the theological vision and ministry of D. S. Warner, but who are we? I have studied Warner’s life. I have confidently proclaimed the vision of his followers, but what is that vision--really?
As I grow in understanding the varying nuances in the swishing currents of our history, I find strength in our message. At the same time, I occasionally wonder how we held together as long as we have. We are a diverse people, like it or not.
Take George P. Tasker for example. I admire this man I met at Pacific Bible College on his return to America from India. As a matter of record, G.P. Tasker went to India as a missionary and our Missionary Board recalled him in 1924.
He stayed on as an independent missionary, outside the “Anderson” umbrella. He returned stateside to retire, fully accepted by the Anderson church. His recall by the Board came essentially because he preached in denominational churches and cooperated with a denominationalism our Board officially considered as “Babylon.”
This conflicted with “official theology” of that era, although we are “non-creedal.” The conflict is even more pronounced in 2008. Doug Welch and Merle Strege have discussed this story (Welch/ Ahead of His Times, A Life of George P. Tasker/Strege, I Saw the Church). I find such stories incongruous with Warner’s quest for holiness and unity (and our general practice).
The forming of our first congregation resulted at Beaver Dam, IN when D. S. Warner literally stepped “outside” of denominationalism to fellowship all “blood washed believers,” followed by five others. A few decades later, our Missionary Board recalled Tasker because he cooperated with denominational Christians. He complemented them rather than competing with them, rather than insisting they “come-out” as we commonly practiced then.
What happened was this: our prevailing “official” theological interpretation of the church isolated us from the larger Church. It effectively closed us off from denominationalism and it left us as more of a “protest movement” than “reformation”.
That action declared “join us” or be part of the harlot of Babylon. It denied the unity Jesus spoke of in John 17. It denied the body language of Paul (I Cor. 12) and the new perspective Paul found in oneness in Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-21). Never mind that Warner himself had aligned with the General Eldership founded by John Winebrenner and that Winebrenner had been “decredentialled” by the Reformed Church for cooperating in evangelistic endeavors with area holiness Methodist preachers.
Part of the problem is that Warner later discovered the Adventist teaching of Uriah Smith of Battle Creek, MI. He adapted Adventist interpretation to fit his thinking and proclaimed “us” as the “Evening Light Reformation.” F. G. Smith wrote extensively about that “last reformation” (probably 22 editions) and Tasker’s missionary endeavors in India conflicted with the last-final reformation teaching. Some pastors would not financially support such a missionary effort.
So, where are we today and who are we? While we grapple with issues of congregationalism, accountability, et al, we need to “honestly listen to one another and discuss” how best to interpret the Book of Revelation and how we will relate to the Christian Church-at-large.
We need an ecclesiology that is structured “in Christ” rather than in harmony with somebody’s interpretation. When C. E. Brown became the Editor of the Gospel Trumpet magazine, he developed a sound historical approach to interpreting the church; and in effect he replaced F. G. Smith’s last reformation theology with sounder scholarship.
Incongruity results when many of us continue to venerate C. E. Brown’s writings, but some still fervently insist on teaching the older "last reformation come-out-ism” of F. G. Smith et al--without seeing the inconsistency of their faith and practice. I, for one, would like for us to take a cue from Dr. Jeannette Flynn who keynoted the recent 2008 Pastor’s Fellowship.
Using 2 Cor. 4:7-16, she shared “four pieces of truth to hold to.” They were: (1) God’s sovereignty is never overcome by temporal powers; (2) our focus must be on the things that cannot be shaken; (3) we should be people of Hope and point to solutions rather than the problems; and, (4) God‘s Resource Treasury is real.
She introduced her message with the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s. That event blew 220 square miles of earth 12 miles into the atmosphere. It created a sterile environment for God knows how long. Yet, 3 years later 90% of that sterile environment was restored--an unexpected but real miracle of nature.
We have issues before us today capable of volcanic eruption. We are earthen vessels, but we need not lose heart. If we will keep our focus on the things that are unshakeable, the power of God at work within us is capable of creating the miracle needed to enable us to listen to each other, hear one another, and complete the mission God launched when he sent Christ to journey from Bethlehem to Calvary.
That was the source of the power of the early church and that was God's major mission. It is also our major mission and we need once more to tap into it as the Church of God. Therein, we will find both our mission and our message. Grace and peace,