Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Us and Them" vs We Are One

The largest surgical procedure in the world is said to be Lansing, Michigan--where I was last Friday--92nd General Assembly of the Church of God in Michigan. Lansing means different things to different people:MSU - Spartan Country - home of Ransom Olds who founded Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1897.

Some credit Henry Ford for the first assembly line, but that honor belongs to Ransom Olds and his 1901 Olds Curved Dash. Purchased by GM in 1908, Oldsmobile’s brand moved to Detroit, relocated back to Lansing, and played a large role in the life of Metro-Lansing and mid-Michigan--until its demise.

For me, Lansing is where the Church of God in Michigan first organized as a State Organization in 1920. The Church of God in Michigan became the first state assembly in the Church of God. It has remained a leader until today and I attended to represent Dale Stultz and the Church of God Historical Society, to introduce the third volume of the Stultz-Welch trilogy, The Gospel Trumpet Years.

I also went was to see and hear my friend, Dr. James Earl Massey, the Assembly’s Guset Speaker. James is one of America’s premier preachers and as fine an example of personal excellence, academic quality, and pulpit ability as produced in the Church of God. Dr. Massey and I grew up on opposite sides of Michigan. about the same time, unknown to each other. I came from Republican white West Michigan and ”Jim” from strongly black Detroit. As peers, we intersected, bonded, and strongly appreciate each other today.

The theme of Assembly-92 centered in “connections. Dr. Massey and I illustrate that in a social manner. He grew up mentored by Dr. Raymond S. Jackson, a brilliant young man, with a very bright future as a piano prodigy. Music was his forte, but ministry became his calling. I came from a very mediocre white home with a modest future. Our mutual faith led us to fall in love with the Church of God Reformation Movement. At Lansing, we were two native sons nearing the end of our careers, both in our eighties, both deeply immersed in the experience, the importance of, and the joy of connections and “connnectedness.”

The Church of God has always been about connectedness, black and white, majority with minorities, male preachers and women preachers, connected at all levels from local to national to global. We found ourselves a united church in a divided world, where we extended the hand of fellowship to “every blood-washed one.” Unity was our forte, altho we preached it better than we practiced it. And although we had a problem with organizing--being somewhat anti-organization--we were a “family” of faith.

From our beginnings, we rallied together. We now understand that more of our early history came out of Michigan than was sometimes understood, but our first national Camp Meeting and Assembly came to Bangor, Michigan, 1883. In one of those earliest assemblies, a “brother” walked from Ohio to Bangor, some 170+ miles, to attend. Such has always been our love for one another.

As a young pastor living on a shoestring in West Texas, it was nothing for me to drive more than 140 miles to attend camp meeting, or to drive 90 miles to attend and support a revival at my neighbor-pastor’s church in Big Spring. A half-century later, I still recall the warmth and love shared with John & Julia Kolar in Big Spring, formerly of Alpena, MI.

I always called John a “Bohunk!” He thumbed his way out of Bohemia with a knapsack and comforter provided by his uncle, and emigrated to America with $9 in his pocket. Over the 45 years of my pastoral ministry, John represents a “cloud of witnesses” as spoken of in Hebrews 12.

We had to organize as we grew in number, but we have always attempted to remain biblical in our organizational principles, and I believe we have. And, we have always stood on equal ground, as at the foot of the cross. We were interrelated parts of a functioning Body of Christ, under His leadership and mind. We remain are as democratic as our American roots, but we are learning to cooperate together more effectively and efficiently, while seeking His Leadership at all times.

This has proven hard to do in a culture that has become intensely individualistic over the past half-century, selfish, narcissistic, and individualistic, almost to a degree of being politically atheistic. But, as the physical body is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” so is the church of which we are a part.

While technology makes it easy for us to become loners, Lone Rangers, individualists and even anarchists, the Bible points us to the way of bodily “connectedness”. That sense of “body” means we are interrelated and interdependent. I am partly who and what I am today because of … and here, let me throw out a few names and brag like Paul: A. F. Gray, Otto Linn, Mack and Irene Caldwell, D. S. Warner Monroe (a Canadian), or Harold Boyer, chairman of our national General Assembly for 17 years, who read my wedding vows, or Bill Hutton who “brothered” me in some tough times, and the list is endless.

Dr. Ron Duncan of Church of God Ministries has been trying to help us with this problem of authority, hierarchy, and relatedness et al. Some love Ron; some fear Ron as trying to usurp power. Having worked in several state organizations, as well as states with no paid organization, I will affirm unequivocally, that we are closer to the ideals of our Heritage (both theologically and organizationally) than we have ever been.

Michigan’s 92nd Assembly rejected the recent term of State Overseer recently adopted by our Association of State Leaders (by whatever name you know them). Dr. Bill Jones is our Michigan elected leader, now re-named STATE PASTOR. In that position, he works for us and is charged with leading (directing, managing, being CEO) of our state work, under the Board of Directors.

Bill Jones is my elected State Pastor, but first he is my personal friend, and brother. This applies to Dr. Ron Duncan and every Agency Leader in Anderson. I entered Lansing Lexington on Friday intent on unloading my 10-12 heavy cases of books, but I got unexpected help--not from the Lexington Hotel, but from the Board of Pensions of the Church of God. There was my friend Jeff Jenness, Director of the Pensions Board, and his new Associate (Jim, if I remember, a former Indy Banker, now a Ministerial Candidate). These guys were younger and stronger than me and made play out of handling my 900 pounds of books.

I hope you get my message, because it is essential to our mission in the Church of God: we can do so much more (and better) together than we can by ourselves as individuals. We are a voluntary Association, deeply interdependent. One thing we must never become is an occasional gathering of Lone Rangers. We belong to each other as surely as my arm is part of my body.

From Warner’s World,

it’s time to forsake that “us and them” mindset and return to being the Body of Believers God called us to be, and the World needs us to be …

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