Friday, December 30, 2011

Some Thoughts About the Church in 2012

“Church of God Ministries” resides in Anderson, Indiana--a focal point that supplements the combined Church of God preaching-publishing ministries of J.C. Fisher and D. S. Warner. Both were ordained by the General Eldership of the Church of God of North America (John Winebrenner followers), now known simply as the Church of God. However, “The Church of God Movement” occupies a multitude of places and people along a global partyline that brings health and healing to a hurting global community.

Daniel S. Warner launched in Ohio, linked with Fisher in Indiana, and relocated to Williamston, Michigan via Cardington-Bucyrus, Ohio. The Williamston Gospel Trumpet produced a “Trumpet Family“ of volunteer workers. When Fisher forsook his wife, Warner disassociated with him, and the magazine moved on with its message of unity and holiness--Grand Junction--Moundsville--Anderson.

The Church Advocate of January 10, 1877, a Winebrenner publication, noted early, that “Elder D. S. Warner is a model young man, of deep piety and superior courage and means business in the work of the ministry, and if he continues humble will make his mark in the church.” He became a successful pastor, evangelist, and missionary, but it seems safe to say that had he not joined forces with Joseph Fisher, (and Byrum), there would be no Church of God Reformation Movement as we know it.

In his centennial history of the Gospel Trumpet Company--Miracle of Survival/44, Editor Harold Phillips pointed to Warner’s role of pen-preaching, concluding that Warner “wed them into powerful instruments for the spread of the truth to which he was committed.“ That marriage of the printed word with the spoken word produced a people driven by a “flying ministry” of volunteer preachers and workers and the “Trumpet Family”--volunteers.

Working hand-in-glove with the “flying ministers” the publishing ministry created a people out of no people. They created a visible re-formation that became a publishing ministry--Gospel Trumpet Company--and an evolving church body thought of as a “last reformation.”

The Publishing House, as the driving force, created a variety of in-house curriculum materials for feeding the infant church. By extending the company outside the church, a large retail business evolved, including educational materials, greeting cards, worship folders, and a full line of books.

Enoch Byrum, successor to the Fisher-Warner ministry, soon put Amos Radabaugh on the road selling the books they published. They understood--very early--that their church ministry lacked the ability to support their publishing ministry. They resolved this by developing and selling products to the General Public - to subsidize publishing needs.

God blessed! The Company thrived, and that marriage offers the best reason I know for forging a new and contemporary publishing ministry for the 21st century. The church grew early on, but its institutional needs created changes of attitude and practice across the decades, with unfortunate results. After 116 years of movemental institutionalizing, “Vital Christianity”--former Gospel Trumpet--died, amid a restructuring church, forcing a downsized publishing ministry.

A 1971 audience at the Anderson School of Theology Lectures failed to grasp the significance of the question Franklin Miller raised: “In this closing decade of our first century as a movement, [h] ow do we see the future of the use of literature? In the last three or four years, Miller added, several large Religious bodies have found it necessary to discontinue publication of their official journals and magazines (emphasis added), some of which were in Publication for many, many decades “Projections” 11/1971).

Miller pressed his point to no avail: “What do we see in the future of the publication of VITAL CHRISTIANITY And the Church of God? How do we see the future of book publications? Are the destinies of our church’s publishing house to be determined by whatever attitude we take toward freedom of independent action and loyalty to the movement?”

Editor Phillips, added additional warnings. Editor Newell reprinted an editorial from Editor Smith from 1928, with this provocative title: “Voluntary Cooperation or Disintegration.” “Reformation Review” later reprinted that “Smith editorial” in their prototype issue--peeking into our past--without comment. That experimental issue did not make it beyond the prototype issue.

I became a pastor in 1951 and began attending our National Assemblies. There, I frequently heard criticism among my peers--even offered a few. Complaints varied, but they generally concluded that “they sell Holy Trinkets!” Many Warner Press Retail as growing rapidly, making “gobs of money,” and taking commercial advantage of the church .

Meanwhile, in the church body, Agency in-fighting existed. Salary rivalries arose. Turf wars created problems Pastors complained that the “GA” was a “waste of time!“ Some declared business meetings useless. Some business meetings were lack luster, but I never envisioned God’s business as a waste of time--yet, what did this young preacher know?

Eventually, intentional “Bible-based cooperation” replaced the practiced voluntary “disintegration.” Free-wheeling independence ruled the day. Freedom of choice--in! Passion for Publishing [the message]--out!

The Church Body lost sight of the role the Publishing House played as primary “nursemaid” for the Movement during its first 75 years. The Church of God, Anderson no longer appreciated the sacrifices of its elders, choosing to ignore the benefits for its children, youth, families, congregations, and missional outreach.

Yes, we reorganized national structures to function more efficiently, and I voted for it. That well-intentioned effort bore minimal fruit; we were already bare-bones, denominationally speaking. Hindsight says we exchanged bare-bones for an even leaner-meaner structure.

We have now lived more than 130 years, mostly because of dedicated individuals that to some degree follow the spirit of the commission D. S. Warner believed God gave him--wed the spoken-and-written word in proclaiming unity and holiness. Following Warner’s example, they wrapped themselves around that cause--volunteering --sacrificing--and giving until it hurt.

Our 20-20 rear view vision has improved significantly, but, our foresight remains overly self-centered, non-visionary, and too self-seeking.
1) We cannot fill our niche in God’s world without correcting past failures.
2) We cannot adequately fulfill our mission without wedding the passionate publishing and personal proclaiming that birthed us and created a Witnessing Body of Gospel Witnesses.
3) By itself, “Pen preaching” is not a panacea--cure-all; we need to renew Warner’s contract with God and supplement it with the proclamation and witness of individual ministers, congregations, and members.

An excerpt from Warner’s signed document, that December 13th day of 1877, says simply:
In signing my name to this solemn covenant I am aware that I bind myself to live, act, speak, think, move, sit, stand up, lie down, eat (underlined twice), drink, hear, see, feel and whatsoever I do all the days and nights of my life to do all continually and exclusively to the Glory of God.

Warner wanted nothing but what honored God; he wanted nothing in his possession or under his control but such as he could “consistently write upon ‘Holiness unto the Lord.’”

Warner’s devotion--to God--to Scripture, is what we need. We have capable congregations, more than ever. We have “Chog Ministries.” We have on-demand publishing--Reformation Publishers. We have more communication than anytime in history. Our wired online global neighborhood gives us a neighborhood network for talking to one another--sharing with each other--and a means of dialoguing with the world.

Twenty-Twelve demands better of us--our utmost best. Twenty-first century “pen preaching” supplemented by our “practice” of what we “preach” will result in renewed vision of prophetic leaders and passionate people. Joining hands and uniting in plugging into God’s promised mission of John 3:16 will produce “active First Responders” empowered by the Living Christ, authorized by God Almighty, and not somebody’s interpretation of End Times.

From Warner's World,
it is true that “a great tribulation” is taking the lives of many in these days, but it is also true that we face THE GREATEST OPPORTUNITY IN HUMAN HISTORY. What a great time this is to be alive ...

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