I was startled recently when an online friend expressed his disbelief in autonomy in the Church of God ministry. I recently spent some time re-reading A. L. Byers’ BIRTH OF A REFORMATION, wanting to get a better feel of notions D.S. Warner might have had on the subject.
Although still processing, here are a few early comments regarding our church polity. On page 15 Byers commented on his title--BIRTH OF A REFORMATION--suggesting, “to use an appellation in keeping with the idea of universal Christian brotherhood.” That tells me Byers viewed Warner (D.S.) as having an inclusive perspective that would be in conflict with a self-centered myopia.
Down the page, Byers further noted the church as having “no creed but the Scriptures and “no government but that administered by the Holy Spirit”. I find those two concepts incongruous, ie, conflicting and at opposite poles.
On page 21 Byers affirms Warner’s views in four areas regarding the church:
1) divine spiritual life;
2) obey all Scripture;
3) open attitude toward further truth;
4) “placing no barrier that would exclude anyone who might be a Christian.”
I note his heavy emphasis upon scriptural authority, with an inclusive view toward others that tends to exclude a dictatorial, self-centered insistence.
On page 24 Byers points again to Holy Spirit control in the organization and government of the church. I view this as assuming a plurality of views and not just one person’s views (group consensus vs. one leader). He also added “no test of fellowship other than true Christianity possessed in the heart.” This suggests we use no test of fellowship beyond each other’s personal confession of personal experience-or-relationship with Christ.
On page 51 Byers reveals Warner persuaded by Winebrenner on several familiar points, and adds “washing of feet” in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper. I believe Warner’s ministry from the beginning offered “an attitude” of inclusiveness that precluded the narcissistic “Do as I please” attitude that prevails in our culture today.
On pages 53-54 Byers quotes from C. H. Forney (History of the Churches of God) as helping shape Warner’s ecclesiology (teachings regarding the church). Speaking of Winebrenner, Dr. Forney writes, “he adopted the apostolic plan, as taught in the New Testament, and established spiritual, free, and independent churches, consisting of believers or Christians only, without any human name or creed or ordinances or laws’ … Fellowship between these ‘free and independent’ units there would be, but no higher organization as then recognized by Winebrenner which could limit the powers of the local church ... In his broad platform he saw a basis of the union of all Christians and churches. And so the imperative duty of cultivating union between all believers was strongly urged.”
Unquestionably, we have a historical tradition of congregations that recognize no presiding Bishop, Conference, or Synod over them; we are each self-governed. No one writes our creed for us, or dictates how much we send the conference. Our polity is grass-roots government, local control.
Having said that, one of our strongest tenets is our dependence upon the Bible. It is our manual, our counsel, our book of rules, an inspired book. That alone locks us into a "relational" theology, if covenant is too strong a word for some. We’ve all heard the church preached as the BODY of Christ, under the mind of Christ, which gives scriptural substance to our mutual relationship under the Head, who is Christ.
Our autonomy is not to be understood in the thinking of the day, for if we follow our long-term teachings, we are a "body" (Bill Gaither calls us the family of God). The Church of God, Anderson has retrogressed to the level of the narcissistic society in which it exists. We are all become our own bosses--anarchists. As such, we are a very lawless people (local versus "Anderson"). To use a common driving illustration: we prefer to use our fuzzbusters to outfox the speed cops.
That identifies our national problem today in the Church of God. We know no authority but our own, but whatever happened to the mind of Christ. Perhaps this will draw some comment; I hope so. Perhaps I will need to further elaborate. There is much more to be said, but if we can but recognize our relational status, there will not be a lot more need of overly heated discussion.
From Warner’s World, I am walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com