Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Biblical Character of Unity

My friend asked what I thought was the biblical character of the unity we proclaim. That is a discerning question. The Church of God [Reformation Movement] has survived some 130 years because dedicated individuals followed the spirit of the commission D. S. Warner believed God gave him.

Warner wed his proclamation of personal holiness and a united church (the spoken word) with the written (published) word. During the latter 19th century, he combined preaching and publishing, and out of that 2-fold thrust evolved the Church of God Reformation Movement, the church ministry being heavily nurtured by the publishing ministry for the first 50-75 years.

Like so many, my friend and I have spent our lives wrapping ourselves around Warner’s example--volunteering--sacrificing--giving [frequently] until it hurt. I recognize the great devotion that prompted so many to pour entire lives into that message of personal holiness, Christian brotherhood, and church reformation.

Unity has always characterized our message. On the other hand, we often proclaimed more unity that we practiced. In defining the biblical character of unity, I want to be positive, but I must honestly confess we have often fallen far short in practicing that facet of our Biblical message.

Looking back, I see well meaning people with the best of intentions, sometimes functioning dysfunctionally--from beginning. Is that bad? Is it good? Or, does is rather reveal the dilemma of our humanity? I suggest Warner et Company were flawed, as was their message. Some remain among us who overly revere the writings of our pioneers.

As worthy as they were, I find then quite human. I respect them. Their published message is worth referencing. Nevertheless, they were subject to their times, and while I will accept their guidance, I will not canonize their writings. Some things, they got right, but some of their choices could be improved upon.

They did their best with what they had, which was sometimes better than we have done with what we had. Were they infallible in their behavior, their beliefs, and their applications of scripture for their times? Hindsight says they, like unnecessary baggage, sometimes brought their fallibility into our cooperative ministry, which has occasionally left our witness weaker than it should have been.

I do believe the Church of God Movement is better positioned today than ever before, to be the Reform Movement our pioneers claimed to be in the beginning. I say that, warts and all--fully cognizant of some wretched flaws that produced debacles like the downfall of Warner Press, the demise of “Vital Christianity” magazine, Church Extension, et al.

I believe the Biblical character of unity must be defined biblically, rather than doctrinally. I grew up in a congregation “where Christian experience makes you a member.” We believed we were “A United Church For a Divided World”.

Those themes are consistent with the prayer of Jesus in John 17, for his disciples to be one, as Father and Son are one. Paul defined our one hope as having one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6 NIV).

“The Church’s one foundation,“ wrote Samuel Stone, “is Jesus Christ her Lord.” Christ’s followers share a common bond in Jesus Christ. That bond is trans-denominational [some would say, non-denominational] and is NOT simply the agreement found “within” the Anderson Fellowship. Nor is it in finding doctrinal (creedal) unity, or agreement on a set of Bible doctrines.

From the time I became a Church of God pastor until today, I have shared a level of fellowship within God’s larger Church Family, everywhere I served. Warner’s 1881 withdrawal from sectism at Beaver Dam, IN inspired me. Believing he did it to openly fellowship all of God’s people, I found him ahead of his time. I liked his intent; it motivated me, and I took it seriously.

Yet, I believe Warner had unresolved issues with organization and authority--due in part to his credentials being withdrawn by the Winebrenner fellowship with whom he associated. Dare I suggest he practiced biblical unity better in launching his ministry than he did after he developed his “Come-out” theology that he adapted from the Adventists of Battle Creek through Uriah Smith. That teaching is badly flawed, but later on that.

If you know the story of G. P. Tasker‘s conflict with “Anderson” you readily understand some of the problems with the “come-out doctrine. Doug Welch chronicled the details of that story and Tasker’s recall from missionary service in India (Ahead of His Times: A life of GEORGE P. TASKER/Douglas Welch/AU Press/2001). You might also read E. A. Reardon in The Gospel Trumpet Years, by Stultz and Welch; I found him thoughtfully challenging.

Biblical unity comes through personal discipleship with Jesus rather than uniformity of doctrine, be it holiness, the church, end times, or whatever. doctrine. Our Salvation in Christ creates a common brotherhood and is our common bond.

Biblical Unity is best expressed, I believe, when we cooperate with God’s larger family by working together on His “Unfinished Mission” of taking Christ to all the world (evangelism) [cf John 3:16; Matthew 20:19-20]. That is our common mission--our primary ministry. God did not call us to become a cookie cutter church body (sometimes called denomination); He called us to become an Emergency Room in a dysfunctional world.

To refuse to come together for that purpose is to reject the primary desire of God’s own heart. From Warner’s World, I am

No comments: