Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Random Thoughts on Our Mission

Warner and wife Tamzen shown at right.

I was a rooky pastor when reading Harold Phillips 1953 editorial in Vital Christianity describing the Church of God Anderson as the fastest growing Church Body in America. He acknowledged a changing trend in Sunday school attendance and wondered if was prophetic of a downtrend in church growth. Bingo! BULLS EYE!

A few years later, E. E. Wolfram chided us at preachers meetings over our poor batting average. He ran the Yearbook Office and understood that we needed an average of 38 members to win one convert to Christ. Using that formula today, it would seem to take--well, I don‘t even want to go there.

Two factors hinder us today, that especially concern me. One is our self-identity. The other is the bias that tilted us toward being “anti-organization” and “anti-denominational.” Neither is without biblical basis. The church is, I believe, a spiritual organism, and found wherever “two or three” are gathered in Christ‘s name. The church is more than a merely human organization (institution), and extends beyond the place where I happen to meet with the church.

To fulfill its commission, the church needs to organize to the best of its ability and fulfill that biblical commission as best able. On one hand, when we organize around doctrines, creeds, and organizations in ways that close others out of Christ’s family circle, we sin. On the other hand, a denomination functioning as a closed fellowship, is as sinful as replacing “church joining” with experiencing spiritual transformation (John 3:3).

Confusion with these two issues allowed us as a Movement to grow up as a spiritual adult-child. This left us an immature Movement trying to cope with being developmentally challenged. We have overcome some of our organizational bias. On the other hand, we have more than enough denominational paraphernalia to do all the wonderful works that many denominations do, and we experience blessed fellowship. We nonetheless, lack maturity and self-understanding for fulfilling our adult role as a Faith Family that is responsible for procreating children into the Kingdom of God.

Since D. S. Warner was our spiritual mentor, I value his ministry model. During his first ten years of ministry, he was a successful pastor-missionary, and especially known for his gifted evangelistic efforts. I see this expressed when his Winebrennarian Eldership commissioned him to go to Nebraska Territory as a missionary church planter. He and his new bride suffered in this effort, but they proved faithful and he succeeded both in winning converts and in planting new churches in that pioneer region.

When I follow his early writings in the Church Advocate. I see him holding successful revivals, and establishing congregations. I see him totally engaged in transforming the culture in which he lived and individual he confronted. I am reminded of this every time I drive through the village of Neptune, Ohio, on highway 33.

There, I pass a small Winebrennarian Church where Warner long ago held a successful revival that birthed that village church. It reminds me that passionate evangelism characterized Warner’s ministry wherever he went. At Grand Junction, one of his early decisions was to enlist young Enoch Byrum as Manager-Editor of the Gospel Trumpet. That freed him to depart on a ten month evangelistic crusade across the Southland.

Imbued with this same vigor, the growing Trumpet Family worked feverishly enthusiastically preparing and packaging tons of tracts, books and multi-language literature for shipment around the globe. The Book of Noah details the day by day efforts of those volunteers team of publishers, intent on sharing the message of Warner and his cohorts and fulfilling their Biblical mandate.

Warner took delight in joining G. T. Clayton aboard the Floating Bethel as Clayton’s transformed barge offered entre into villages and hamlets up and down the Ohio River. Clayton & company proclaimed the gospel, and sang their way into the hearts of people, as they planted congregations up and down that valley. It remain a vibrant center of proclamation to this day.

I. K. Mast was another visionary. He had his own version of Clayton’s “Floating Bethel,” touring other water ways. J. H. Rupert went to England and made unique use of a horse-drawn Gospel Wagon for distributing literature.

Warner floated numerous schemes for evangelizing the country, always planning and plotting, always searching avenues for achieving his objective. And always, he needed assistance for evangelizing the country, organization was merely means to an end.

On multiple occasions Warner wrestled with concepts of a traveling train car, or Gospel Trumpet Train for carrying a ministry team, even a traveling press for publishing en route. He envisioned touring the country preaching, publishing and distributing gospel literature.

Through the years, other visionaries have tried to rally us (dear brother W. E. Reed would have challenged us to win “one million“ souls). Ahh, but I fear we are too deeply mired in the status quo and have lost sight of where we were going. We thought restructuring would make us more efficient, better organized, lean and mean. However, our purposeful vision had evaporated. As a result, we cut loose our first newly-elected General Director (too far out) and found one more in tune with our Movemental mood.

Since then, Dr. Duncan, bless his heart, has done a good job, trying to rally his troops, but many view him as too “denominational,” too hierarchical, to out of step with where we are out in the trenches. Well! For one thing, we have followed cultural individualism until we have lost our biblical sense of “Body” or “family” (to use Gaither’s term for it). So, we’ve become a bunch of Lone Rangers traveling with out sidekick Tonto---mostly because we are SCARED TO DEATH of organization and denominationalism …

This needs a fresh start to develop further …….Madison Park Church, Anderson, IN.

From Warner’s World,
let’s see if we’ve kicked any sacred cows, riled any critics, or found any encouragers before taking another go at it while ...
walking with warner.blogspot.com

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