Thursday, December 5, 2013

Organization And Authority in the Church of God


The very impudence changing that is mind-boggling … to some. What was established by God must forever remain! We dare not tamper with what God brought forth, or we become like ancient Israel touching, carrying lightly the “holy things” of God.

Relocating the 2014 North American Convention from the Indiana cornfields to the Oklahoma oil-fields is producing “Richter Scale reactions” for some. For people who value the long tradition of the NAC/GA in Anderson, the upscale values of AU education, and the list could go on, and in a few instances the personal effects are cataclysmic, turning some people’s lives upside down, or inside out, as the case may be. The Movement is no longer what it once was!

While I may have slightly overstated the case, I want to introduce an idea we don’t discuss often. We are a pretty traditional people, whether we will admit it or not. We do not change easily, especially if we think we are right. J Changing NAC 2014 from Anderson to OKC offers a handle for introducing this a comment from a former colleague and friend, B. Gale Hetrick: “The fact that we refused to accept the formal processes of organization only resulted in slowing the evolution of structure” (Hetrick/Laughter Among the Trumpets/1980/105).

Movementally, we grew to adult immaturity as a reactionary movement and we still get some pretty good knee-jerks. One of our weak joints was our firm conviction of the worthlessness of organization. You can readily trace the thread of our anti-organization bias. 

Hetrick had just been called from his Kalamazoo pastorate to a position of State leadership in the Church of God in Michigan. Establishing his home in Okemos, MI (East Lansing), he found himself building on a structure some would characterize as a still-born baby or a prematurely-born fetus. He slowly nurtured that “preemie” that had not been properly planned for. C. E. Brown, future Editor in Chief but then pastor in Detroit, helped deliver that baby at Lansing South Church of God in 1920.

I call it somewhat “still born” because it was so developmentally challenged. That group of Michigan ministers made a decision and acted upon it, but before Brown knew it, he was quickly challenged by national leaders. Setting up a state organization was seen as competitive with the only working structure they had thus far allowed themselves, and that was the recently formed, still new, 1917 Ministerial Assembly.

This is not the place for a historical treatise, but it registered enough on their Richter Scale that Brown candidly confessed and rightly concluded, “We brethren in Michigan did what was, for the time, a daring thing.” He did concede that it was a birth greatly-needed. Ministers circulated freely with questionable credentials. Churches and pastors each experienced their own peculiar difficulties with times of transition. Factually, they had no mechanism with which to deal with such problems or the resulting conflict when they became too obvious to longer sweep them under the ecclesiastical rug.

The rest of it is history and today the Lansing, MI Service Center of the Church of God finds itself a highly respected coordinative and administrative agency under the able leadership of Dr. William (Bill) Jones, a devoted churchman. The Command Center he supervses details a long list of interlinking Ministries that resource each other. The Service Center is a State Government of sorts, co-equal with every other state administration, while each is also interdependent upon one another and co-equal with Chog Ministries in Anderson, which serves in the capacity of Federal Coordinator.

By 2013-14 this interlinking mesh of organizational structures is how the Church of God does business. It also reflects our attitudinal change from anti-organization to viewing organization as a means to an end, that end being the mission for which God brought us into being.

A few years back, the Program Committee of the now defunct Central States Ministers Meeting requested Church Historian Merle Strege present a paper dealing with the issue of authority in the Church of God Movement. Strege consequently presented a prepared paper he called “Managers and Sages: The Idea of Authority and the Church of God Movement.” As the elected historical authority in the church, Strege told attendees at the March 1989 Meeting this “Historian” story.

According to history, former Missionary Board Executive C. Lowry Quinn once asked F. G. Smith for some personal advice on how Smith managed to become Editor-in-Chief of the Gospel Trumpet by the young age of thirty-five. Smith’s reply was, “I got in line and I stayed in line” (Strege, Managers and Sages: The Idea of Authority and The Church of God Movement”, 1989 (worth reading if you can find it.)

As was my custom, I filed that paper, delivered in Saint Joseph in 1989. Looking back, I find Strege wrestling with this same demon that has plagued us across the years, from Warner until today. Strege offered classic instances of times when we were challenged by this problem in one way or another. It happened as early as when Enoch Byrum succeeded D. S. Warner and re-interpreted some of his pronouncements. Hetrick faced it again when asked to become the Administrator of an organization that was no organization at the time. 

This issue, like a bad penny, periodically reappears; or maybe, it just never totally disappears. Gale built the Church of God in Michigan upon the biblical concept of Jesus and the idea of servanthood. That is very different from the trap of centralized authority that F. G. Smith fell into when he asked his GA peers to pass a resolution that the Church publish only that which was in line with our standard teachings, which at that time happened to be those outlined by – guess who – F. G. Smith. It was that power grabbing that the Assembly sensed and opposed when they replaced Smith in the seat of the Editor in Chief, who was then the church’s chief spokesman.

Strege’s 21-page paper distinguishes between what he described as Managers and Sages and he used two Latin words to find the best authority: auctores and auctor. Papal authority is basically auctores and resides in the office held. Auctor is what we lift up for Jim Lyons to achieve. We elected him and gave him “an office” but as every pastor knows, Jim must earn that “authority” by how he serves the church as we work together in achieving what we believe God calls us to do as the Church of God.

We have long understood the church is the Body of Christ, inhabited by the mind of Christ. That means we are interdependent and mutually accountable. It means as we become more like Jesus (who is our maturity) we become less independent, less autonomous, less of a loosely-jointed amalgamation or association and we become a strong healthy body, lithe of limb, trim rather than obese, every member actively functioning in the same kind of good works Jesus did when upon earth.

We are a work in process and how we come together will determine our usefulness. From Warner’s World, this is