Sunday, May 25, 2008

Maintaining Spiritual Democracy

I'm not a health freak, but I like myself well enough to eat right, exercise occasionally, and maintain a reasonably healthy lifestyle. I like our family of faith well enough to want to see it practice reasonably healthy relationships while maintaining a vigorous lifestyle of servant ministries.
I am still muddling and meditating my way through Strege's book I Saw the Church and it occurs to me that at most (if not all) of the serious junctions in our ecclesiastical journey polity and the early come-outism show up on the screen like one of those pop-up ads we like to stay protected from on our computers.

It showed up when Stockwell challenged Warner for early control of the Gospel Trumpet, the issue was control, for the magazine was the major avenue of interpreting our message to the public. At that time, Warner was accepted as the presiding Elder. In becoming Managing Editor et al at Warner's death, E. E. Byrum inherited that position of elder interpreter. Informal consensus was the rule, but the "buck generally stoppped" wherever the Editor and/or other elder brethren "explained."

It showed up later when the Missionary Board recalled G. P. Tasker from India for his cooperative missionary ministry as well as his lack of Colonialistic attitude with the Indian Church. It showed up again when the Russell Byrum trial took place a few years later, the core of the issue being Byrum's departure from the teaching of come-outism. Editor Smith has become the interpretive Elder, but faced a growing number of people in leadership with diffeent views than Smith's insistence on come-outism and related issues. When C.E. Brown was elected Editor, he countered the tight leadership with a view of "spiritual democracy" and he acted on that view by turning over his task as Editor of approving/disapproving of credentials by handing that off to State Organizations. Again, at the core of contention was the anti-organization bias held by those in particular who held to the come-out theory.
It was the same core issue when the Ohio Brethren took Anderson College to task and tried to wrest control of the school away from President Morrison and restore the "come-out" doctrines at the school. A decade or so later, when Earl Slacum created a schism in the church, although some of Slacum's verses read differently, the song was the same: he predated those "in power", some of his views were rejected, and he became a watchman on the wall calling for a return to the earlier scheme of things--centered in the come-out theories of the church and the more tightly controlled views of that era.
Strege documents all of this in his book and I find the reviewing and refreshing. It helps me remember who I am in relation to the church to which I have given my life. It invigorates me to renew my efforts as a retired pastor, someone with a sometimes more comprehensive overview of things, to appreciate where we are in the church. Although I am sometimes troubled by things I see, I know first hand we are a more democratic body in the best sense of the word than we have ever been. That encourages ane empowers me to envision our best days ahead of us as we reach out to help heal a hurting world.
It was probably back in the mid-sixties when I sat down in the narthex of Pinehurst church in Birmingham, AL at Southern Convention with my longtime friend E. E. Wolfram. He was an Anderson Exec by then, I was a smalltime pastor that was openly opposing the building of the Warner Auditorium in Anderson. I had written two other friends, Harold Boyer and Max Gaulke, for their views on the issue, which I synthesized and used as my argument to campaign against the new building for several reasons, one of which was my view of getting the General Assembly out of Anderson for a change.
Wolfram sat me down that day at Pinehurst and shared how my editorials from the pages of the Mississippi Coordinator made the rounds among some of our national leadership. Without taking issue one way or the other, Ewald reminded me, "Wayne, there was a day when you could not have done this!" When the issue later came to a vote, I was one of 2 opposition votes against 916 affirmative votes. Ewald's point was simply that we are getting better at handling diverse views in the Church of God and no longer face a polity that practices agree or go elsewhere.
I have some non-negotiables and I dislike dissension, but I greatly encouraged by our greater openness today, our more inclusive attitudes, and our getting closer to sound biblical body language that keeps us mutually accountable to each other, without having a cooky cutter ecclesiolgy that makes us all think, act, and believe exactly the same.

Moreover, after more than fifty years in Chog Ministry I confidently assert that we are going in the right direction and that we are more nearly what we have always claimed to be than ever before in our history. And, I encourage every young pastor out there, we are not yet all that we want to be, or are going to be, but we are far more, bigger, and better than we were in our romanticized yesterday.

Peace and Grace, Wayne

1 comment:

Steve Baker said...

Great post Wayne. Very encouraging