Thursday, May 19, 2011

Church of God Overseers

From the days of Daniel S. Warner, the esteemed patriarch of The Church of God Movement (Anderson, IN Convention), we have valued God’s touch upon our lives, especially that personal, God-given sense of divine calling.

Warner first served as a pastor-evangelist among the followers of John Winebrenner. When his peers “decredentialled” him it primarily involved the following: (1) preaching the doctrine of holiness which was unacceptable among them at that time, (2) refusing to dissociate from the Holiness Association, and (3) and refusing to allow others to dictate how--what-where he could preach--under God--his biblical convictions.

God's call comes in the shape of the cross. First comes one’s vertical relationship with God. Next, it intersect with others. I like what Jesus said: love God supremely (vertical relationship); love your neighbor as yourself (horizontal relationship). Without the anointing of God, there is no real call or ministry. There comes a time in every preacher-prophet’s life when s/he must intersect with others who also recognize that call; thus, the Church and its credentialing bodies.

The Church of God has always recognized God's call into a ministry that is uni-level, not multi-tiered. It has no hierarchy leading up to Papal authority, or other human authority. Hierarchical positions of authority of Overseers, Elders, Bishops, and beyond, are all foreign to the spirit and understanding of the Church of God.

One early example that intrigued me was the case of Sebastian Michels, peer of Daniel Warner. Mr. Michels served as a part time itinerant evangelist, but never as a pastor. He served as unofficial Business Manager for the early Gospel Trumpet Company, first Campground Manager at the Grand Junction campsite, the founder of the first Children’s Home at Grand Junction, and as founder of the first Old People’s Home at South Haven, MI.

Elsewhere, I have detailed his struggle, as he wrestled over the leadership of the Children’s Home. He confessed to realizing he had invested his life’s accumulations in the Children’s Home and that with a spoken word, the Board could replace him, leave his family without, and essentially short circuit his walk with God.

Simultaneously, he was discovering a new call, the Old People’s Home. He saw it first in a dream, after which he returned home from that revival and discussed it with his wife. Believing God wanted them to do this, they turned over the Administration of the Children’s Home, purchased property in South Haven, and established the Old People’s Home as a non-profit ministry (which became their livelihood for 25 years).

That was when church leaders pushed Michels aside as a non-conformist, saying-and-believing that to be in ministry he should be “on the field preaching.” Michels never left the church and was later called “one of the best” of the pioneers, but he followed the dictates of his conscience regardless of church authority.

Sebastian may be a bit of an extreme example, for we do have our licensing committees and other denominational paraphernalia today, through which we function legally and socially as a recognized church body, and they serve us well. On the other hand, we must understand the biblical concepts of our hymnology that suggest the church of God is one body and indwelt by but One Spirit. It is divinely built, divinely ruled, and in it we all submit mutually to God.

Led by apostles, prophets, teachers et al “His purpose to fulfill,” we all stand on level ground at the foot of the cross, dwelling “in the bonds of peace.” Another song suggests “…gladly to his blessed will submissive we shall be” but “from the yokes of Babel’s lords from henceforth we are free.” We don’t kiss the toe of any Papal papa and we have no hierarchical stepladder up through the District Superintendent’s Office (or the Bishop) to the top of the pecking order.

We do speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; we sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord, and we give thanks to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus, and submit [mutually to one another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:19-21, cf NKJV). We recognize neither superiors nor inferiors.

In this context, I quote Lloyd Moritz from his January 17 Chogblog: "Regional Pastors and Overseers" is the new phrase our association came up with to better describe our current roles within the North American Church of God. This will replace the meaningless "Area Administrator" moniker that we have used for several decades and provides a more accurate reflection of the type of work we do within our respective regions. Certainly, individual RPO's will still use their official titles as designated by their state or district, but this new designation is a intended to be a general description that can used to describe us as a group."
Now, without any say-so on our part as pastors, church leaders, executives, and church laity, we find we do have unofficial “overseers” and given enough precedence they will in time become official overseers. Is it too far afield to recall ancient Israel in Egypt? The overseers set the quotas for the workers and established the routine that made the workmen slaves.

Although some defend the term overseer as “more descriptive,” it still oversteps our traditional bounds of authority, being defined in one dictionary as "a person who watches over and directs the work of others." That reeks of controlled authority. I find the dictionary description less descriptive and more offensive than either Coordinator or Administrator.

I think our friends mean well; they have our work at heart, and they are not looking for controls over us but they are setting and unacceptable and dangerous precedent. A century ago the young oil industry needed help getting established. They received tax credits, subsidies, et al. Today, 100 years later, an established oil industry is making record profits. Yet, an oil executive told congress the other day that to take away the oil subsidies was “unAmerican” although some of us argue it has become for them a form of entitlement. Overseer today will be an entitlement of control and authority tomorrow.

We do not need any Lone Rangers, although we are a voluntary Association. We are also a “Body” --Paul’s language--we are a family--interdependent rather than independent. I suggest these church leaders have overstepped their bounds and assumed a historic precedence that is contrary to our mission, our message, and our whole history, not to mention the Spirit of Christ.

From Warner’s World:
Does this mean I have a problem with being submissive? NO! Anyone who really knows me knows that I can play a good “2nd fiddle. Nonetheless, “Overseer” is a name that needs to be changed before some decide to take the same walk that D. S. Warner took at Beaver Dam, when he and five others walked out of denominationalism to work with all of God’s church everywhere

No comments: