Thursday, July 3, 2008

2008 NAC is not 1883

I began attending NAC (Anderson Camp Meeting) 1952. Counting loosely, my wife says I have not missed more than 2-3 at most (you can count them on one hand). I realized as far back as the mid-60s that I no longer needed to attend NAC; I had everything I needed in the FtW-Dallas Metroplex.

I was back in seminary after 15 years on the field. I led a small but successful and growing upscale suburban church. The Metroplex offered every caliber of church consultant I could imagine to need, the people that “Anderson” called in for special occasions. However, I believed in my church family. Every June I made my annual pilgrimage to MI to help my children maintain my roots, and we attended GA & Camp Meeting.

I’m no longer actively pastoring, I vote absentee ballot--miss the discussions, good and bad--but my mate and I spent our 2008 pilgrimage in the Reformation Publishers book nook, fellowshipping, enriching our own souls and contributing wherever we could.

In one of our earlier years we had no money to go. We went only after enduring a WesTex hail storm (softball size). We were driving our Studebaker to the house with my friend Russ Harlow announcing on radio KGKL “no bad weather,” while we experienced hailstones caving in our windshield.

When I called our Insurance Adjuster, he came out, counted the dents and damage. We collected 50 cents a dent. Then, he said: “Leave the car out in the sun. It will pull out most of the dentst” (it did!!!) We collected $181.50 and had our travel money for Anderson.

That has been the story of our lives, but NAC is no longer what it was. On occasion, we were there en mass--40,000. WE Reed once laughed and told Jim/Helen Curtis about the large lady in his office just ahead of them. She plopped herself down on the couch and said, “Lawsy, Mr. Reed, this humanity is getting to me.” She meant the Midwest humidity. Reed, still laughing, agreed “this humanity is getting to me.” Such was life at NAC!

Fast forward to 2008 and Jim Edwards welcomed us, reminding us that we have “always done things together.” The first NAC (1883) was microscopic compared to what it became--a few flying ministers, families, and friends, gathering for worship, dialogue, and “futuring.” That same year Sebastian Michels ran the Dining Hall out of his own pocket. From then until the mid-or-late 60s GT Co/Warner Press owned the grounds and picked up the short-fall for ongoing encampments.

FINALLY, the church (GMA/later GA) assumed some ownership, and accepted some accountability, other than just “bossing” it. That became the primary responsibility of the Executive Council (now Chog Ministries) who administered interim business between annual conventions.

I find much need for improvement of Convention Week, but experience suggests--with some certainty--that the current discussions on the NAC, CONGREGATIONALISM, etc are NOT attempts to manage from a monolithic top. Church of God Ministries (a structure we put in place in 1996) is soliciting better support and participation from the church (but it is like trying to corral a herd of grazing cows, or wandering sheep). They are seeking our discussion, our cooperation, and our accountability, while they try to do what we have designed for them.

That accountability is mutual, at all levels, like a marriage; it is mutual submission of two equals (Eph. 5:22). It is up to us to talk to one another--listen to one another--mutually decide who we are and what we are going to do--and do it.

Technically, we began as a form of Presbytery (eldership), with few permanent congregations. The buck stopped at Warner’s desk. That transferred to EE Byrum, the succeeding Editor and to F. G. Smith.

S-l-o-w-l-y we changed from a “flying ministry” (itinerant-traveling) to “permanent congregations.” Although F.G. Smith defined us as “charismatic polity” in practice, but he was hurt when resistance built against his come-out theology and the Assembly replaced him as Editor in Chief and rejected HM Riggle as his successor--too much samo-samo.

The GA turned a corner by electing CE Brown, a historian. Brown rooted us in history rather than as an exclusive “last reformation.” The church continued to reject Smith’s come-outism of Revelation et al as “standard Church of God teaching.” Today, only a minority pursue that theology.

Our struggle with our anti-organization bias (and autonomy) are not new, but we continue to “find our way” with our congregational polity. We are still seeking better ways of expressing our quest for holiness and unity, but too many have not yet realized their own need to think through the process and be more biblical (than biased).

The consumerism of our culture pushes each of us toward autonomy--self-seeking without accountability. Those still espousing “come-out theology” and exalting the “The Last Reformation” are especially suspicious of organization and anything that smells to them like sectism (denominationalism).

For the most part, the Anderson Church of God is looking (not always actively) for ways to compliment and cooperate with God’s larger church, as opposed to separating from, and castigating them as “Babylon.”

Congregational polity (government) guides who we are and how we cooperate in completing our mission--both biblically and as taught by our best theological minds. NAC has greatly evolved over 125 years, and it should continue to change. Either we minister to the culture--as the people of God--or we forget the whole affair.

Lloyd Moritz offered one proposal (see his Chog Blog) for adjusting our annual meeting, one I find offering some real possibilities. It is up to us to “find the answer.“ The role of NAC is changing, as are our relationships and means of communication. Who and what we become, no longer depends upon D. S. Warner and Company.

We may be guided by our early pioneers, but the ball is in our court, whether you attend or abstain the NAC. They were then; we are now, and God is looking to us to step up to the plate and bat for Him.

This is not 1880; it is 2008! We may, or may not hit a homerun, but let us forward the work that has been done. Let us be His People. Let us stay under His leadership. Let us cooperate with, and complement, any and all that seek Kingdom purposes. Let our only competing be in erasing the Kingdom of Satan. May we fulfill the task(s) He has for us in 2008.

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