Sunday, July 19, 2009

Questing For Holiness and Unity

Did you ever meet someone addicted to lugging a heavy suitcase filled with their favorite luggage? You wonder how they force their fingers to stay tightly curled around the handle of that attractive suitcase they continue to carry.

Everywhere they go, morning, noon, and night; they carry their burden. In the dining room, the bedroom, from the boardroom to the bathroom; whether on board ship or a business flight abroad--the circumstances vary but never change.Whatever you find them doing, at whatever time of day, you find them carrying their beautiful piece of luggage filled with highly treasured items.

After reading THE QUEST FOR HOLINESS AND UNITY, second edition of Dr. John W. V. Smith’s Centennial History of the Church of God by Dr. Merle Strege, I felt I had met such a person.

Dr. Strege produced a well done re-write of John W.V. Smith’s centennial history, THE QUEST FOR HOLINESS & UNITY. In addition, he reviewed the years since the 1980 Centennial, giving us what is extolled as “The Definitive History of the Church of God Movement” - 1880-2009.

I have long considered Dr. Strege a friend, as well as a fellow alumnus of WPC in Portland, OR. I value his informed views and eagerly awaited this revised 2nd edition of the man whose student I was when he first began his teaching career at Pacific Bible College (JWV Smith).

The Church of God, its faith and practice, has been my life. I was born into a Church of God Reformation Movement home. I attended Grand Junction Camp Meetings as an infant, adolescent and teen. Members of the Smith family (siblings of Dr. F. G. Smith, and others) attended the church that nurtured me.

Decades later, I am still in the Church of God as a matter of decision rather than because of my birth or education. I believe in the Church of God (Anderson), and its core values. It has been my family for many decades and it has been the life-giving faith that brought me this far.

As a young pastor in a mission church, young military parishioners (and others) almost begged me to enter the military chaplaincy. Earlier, I had turned down an opportunity to pastor a Presbyterian Church in the west, and receive a free seminary education. Later, I turned down other opportunities from other denominations--I believed in our message of a united church for a divided world. Those were costly choices that became part of a satisfying ministry.

However--especially after reading Dr. Strege’s updated history--I have to confess that I was somewhat disappointed with his “semi-historical post script.” His three indicators (3 signs of hope) I found worthy but less than informed. The book will pass as a definitive history for a seminary textbook on our history, but you may be sure young seminarians (as well as others) will ask many questions that Dr. Strege could have answered more explicitly. In doing so, he might have better served the church.

Don’t misunderstand me; I value my two editions of THE QUEST (Smith/Strege) as much as any two books I own. They inform me--well. However, they reinforce for me the question of the Old Testament prophet, “how long halt ye between two opinions?”

From the earliest days, unity has been at the core of our values. We built on a message of a united church for a divided world. Smith’s Centennial history recalled that Robert Reardon offered a positive statement about our identity issue in 1979. It stated “God is calling his church to the altar of holiness and to the task of reflecting to the world the saving and unifying fruits of divine love. In the service of this divine call, we recognize that God has chosen to use this particular movement within the Church. We are humbled by this.“

Smith added a last paragraph from Reardon: “It is our conviction that God increasingly is leading all Christians to this challenge of holiness and unity. We feel ourselves especially called to proclaim these essentials of church life, to pray for them, to work toward them, and, most of all, to model them so that the church which is seen by the world will be an effective representative of Christ. Such is the challenge and opportunity confronting the Church of God movement in its second century of ministry” (Smith/446).

Strege goes so far as to describe us as an “extended conversation,” what W.B. Gaillie called “an essentially contested concept”--about the church. Most of the “stress points” in the life of the Church of God, Anderson is this contested concept of the church.

Underlying the heresy trial of R.R. Byrum, the Open Letter controversy of 1980, and the current conversations regarding autonomy and accountability is a continuing rumble of dissatisfaction because we do not enforce the “church historic” interpretation of Daniel-Revelation.

It expressed itself in 1924 when G.P. Tasker was fired by the Missionary Board because his practice of ministry challenged the church-historic view. It was at the core of the Byrum trial. It resulted in the departure of O.F. Linn from Anderson, to WPC. It was at the core of Pastor’s Fellowship being “a more conservative group” that upholds “our standards.”

As I see it, we talk about symptoms but seldom get down to core issues. We need not--must not--compromise God’s truth, but we must better understand one another, accept differing views as possibly valid, and practice the unity God intends for all of His Church.
From Warner’s World, Wayne

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