Thursday, October 23, 2014

Characteristically Barney. . .

Ten days before his death, Pastor Ernest Fremont Tittle informed his Evanston, IL United Methodist congregation that while Christianity brings pain it is first and foremost a religion of joy.

Dr. Tittle recalled the persecution experienced by Christians in that first century. They were poor. They were cruelly harassed. Yet, they were notably happy. By the time of the third century, Tittle concluded, a Christian could say “The church is the one thing in the world that always rejoices.”

This is something people of the Church of God Movement of Anderson, IN have always understood. Sixteen year old Barney discovered this unspeakable joy when he experienced a religious conversion in the 1880’s revivalism in southwest MI, led by Joseph Fisher, Daniel Warner and others.

As a result, he obtained his father’s permission and left home to travel in a musical ensemble with evangelist Dan Warner. Barney began by singing bass in that gospel group and that led him nation-wide into a life of musical evangelism. As a result, he served a long and fruitful life as a preacher-pastor, song evangelist, and prolific song composer. He eventually penned more than two thousand songs, spending his final years in Springfield, OH (His camp meeting cabin can be inspected in Anderson, IN where our friend Dale Stults relocted it).

Characteristic of Barney’s music was the unspeakable joy and the glory of the Christians who joined him in walking with Christ. When sung by faithful Church of God believers, Barney’s music produced a symphony of choral joy.

I never met Barney, although we grew up probably no more than five miles apart in our southwestern Michigan community. We were a few years apart, but he preceded me by perhaps for decades, although our lives overlapped each other. As a boy however, every time I attended church, his name topped numerous pages in the green hymnal from which I sang. I knew him only as the “Chief Singer,”1 but his lyrics fortified me as my life extended into the adult decades of life and ministry.

One of Barney’s hymns still much beloved is “Joy Unspeakable.” In it Barney assures me that the Grace of God’s is more than mere soft soap; it is vastly superior to the cleansing powers of that liquid I squirt into my dishwater as I wash my dishes. His inspired words remind me that

I have found His grace is all complete,
He supplieth ev’ry need;
While I sit and learn at Jesus’ feet,
I am free, yes free indeed.

It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
Full of glory, fully of glory;
It is joy unspeakable and full of glory,
O the half has never yet been told.2

 Barney Warren’s songs of joy reinforce those teachings from the Bible teach me that at the very center of God’s great universe there is a deep, abiding, and everlasting joy.

Clement of Alexandria, one of the early church fathers of ancient history may have come as close to the truth as anyone ever did when he suggested that a beautiful hymn to God is an immortal man who is being built up in righteousness, and upon whom the oracles of truth have been engraved.
            1 This title gave voice to a book by Axchie A. Bolitho, To the Chief Singer, A Brief Story of the Work and Influence of Barney E. Warren. (Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1942).

            2 B. E. Warren, “There Is Joy in the Lord,” Worship the Lord. (Anderson: Warner Press, Inc., 1989), p.616.

From Warner's World, this is

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