Saturday, August 14, 2010

Where Was God?

Paraphrasing something a friend said, our uniqueness in the Church of God is found in what we teach and believe and not in our history.

Now that may offend some but I believe it is true. We spent so much time digging out the uniqueness of our history and our calling that we isolated ourselves from the greater history of what God was doing all the time.

F. G. Smith wrote a book in the early 1900's called "Revelation Explained." In it he gave his rationale for the prophetic calling of the Church of God into existence. The congregation where which I grew up is just 8 miles from the Smith’ homestead and members of his family attended our services. As the “Church of God” we were sure enough that we were right that we had little intercourse with other churches in town; they were of Babylon.

The Church Prophetic interpretation of Smith & Company gave our Movement a strong sense of destiny, strong enough to lead me into 60+ years of ministry, but it contributed to our further isolation from the larger Christian community. It fueled the doctrine of "come-outism," which only helped to further isolate us for more than two decades after Smith's book. It continues to infect us in negative ways in some quarters yet today.

The frustration I, and others, have with this approach is that our history is more deeply connected on a far greater level with what God was doing throughout the history of the church, especially into the late 1880's. I find it interesting that about the year 1560 Dietrich Philips, a Mennonite, preached a sermon of considerable merit entitled “The Church of God. It constructively reacted to the confusion and miscalculations of the Munsterite Anabaptists (also denounced by Luther) and vigorously affirmed the Apostolic church.

Jeff Frymire wrote a paper at Fuller noting the strong connection between our history and the Second Great Awakening that began at Cane Ridge, which he wrote about on his blog. Jeff suggested, and I believe him, that our own history found further expression in the revival movement of Charles Finney (D. S. Warner attended Oberlin College during Finney’s latter years and was obviously influenced by him).

These connections place us squarely in the middle of the great Holiness revival of post-war America. The movement of the Holy Spirit at Bangor 1883 was the same kind of experience that occurred at Cane Ridge, KY. The message of Holiness and Revivalism was the same message as Finney preached - all of which changed the face of America--literally.

As part of the Church of God, we were in the middle of all that--part of a larger movement, but not the center of it. God did in us, through the revival of the nineteenth century, only what he was doing in others. How exciting to be part of God’s greater movement! That is far more important to our puny existence today than trying to find a dubious interpretation of scripture to somehow fortify our existence.

As I read Patrick Nachtigal’s latest publication, Mosaic, he made me understand just how much our church family has grown, and how diverse and multicultural we are in 2010 (Mosaic, pp. 286-87). These are not code words for liberal socialism and other such political imageries, they are expressions of growth and spiritual change (Thank God! We are no longer so lily white and anglo-American).

It all means we still have unfinished business--what God was about all the time: 1) inviting people to follow Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life); 2) and, calling people to Kingdom living, under the sovereignty of The Almighty.

It could mean we have some repenting of our own to do, for getting sidetracked in peripheral issues of self-interest. When we get through repenting, perhaps we will be ready to return to the mission God launched when he sent his “only begotten” some two millennia ago …

From Warner’s World,
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