Tuesday, March 15, 2016

D. S. Warner vs Evangelism

As Historian, Merle Strege described our Anderson-based Church of God (once known by many as Evening Light Saints), as believing God had appointed them to a twofold mission. He further noted their conviction of being under divine mandate to reach a world they believed had lost its way. Second but not secondary, Strege recognized their felt-mission to the Denominational System that Warner believed perpetuated divisions within the one true Body of Christ.              

Many a reader has heard someone of our fellowship testify to having “seen the church” and affirming their having “taken their stand” for the truth. We honor one man and his publication as being the root source of that truth. D. S. Warner was the man. The Gospel Trumpet was the vital publication. Warner’s itinerant ministry anchored the flagpole on which we flew our banner of holiness and unity, and Warner and his army of “Flying Ministers” pursued their quest for unity and holiness. 

The charismatic Warner led this diligent charge from about 1878 until his death 12-18-95. The summer of 1887 had seen Warner invite Enoch Byrum to buy into the magazine and manage the Grand Junction print shop. This had allowed Warner to return to his traveling ministry, while positioning Byrum to become heir-apparent to the throne —the Editor’s Desk where the buck stopped.       

Following Warner’s unexpected death, the youthful Byrum led this increasingly diverse band of disciples until 1916, when replaced in his seat of editorial power by F. G. Smith, a boyhood convert of Warner. The Byrum brothers Enoch and Noah Byrum exhibited business forte and organizational genius, aided by the volunteer workforce initiated by J. C. Fisher at Williamston. This combined group learned the publishing business and further supplemented the itinerants forming the “flying ministry.”

They pushed globally in all directions, establishing multiple preaching points, foreign and domestic. When the Chicago Missionary Home began reproducing itself elsewhere, this new trending added additional means of distributing Warner’s “pen preaching.” They also served as “in-service training centers,” playing a prelude to our current system of theological education. They now include some of our oldest settled congregational centers, such as Oakland, CA; Kansas City, MO, St. Paul, MN, St. Joseph, MI., and New York City. 

Filtering Warner’s faith was this personal-faith-in-God-through-Christ theology that came via Warner’s Anabaptist and Pietistic roots. The Wesleyan Holiness Movement resulted after certain Moravians met and witnessed zealously and earnestly to John Wesley. Warner eventually experienced this “power of God;” tied a secure knot in his rope of personal faith and linked his message with this Holiness Movement. Consequently, when John W. V. Smith wrote our Centennial history, he condensed Warner’s ministry into a vehicle that rode on a dual track (cf. The Quest for Holiness and Unity (Warner Press, 1980).

As a people, we have now ridden these twin tracks of holiness and unity for more than one-hundred thirty-five years. During that time, we have succeeded modestly well at institutionalizing our Church Movement, at the same time walking through an organizational minefield of organization while trying to discern the blessings and pitfalls of denominational organization. We have, however, failed to adequately address the third component that brought success to Warner and his peers, while giving us a voice as a Movement, and providing a reason for our existence--our raison d’etre.

Warner’s peers shared his compulsion to proclaim the gospel and they scurried about in every direction witnessing through the “flying ministry.” Believing at first that their time was limited, they rushed about in all directions burning with the fire of the anonymous Texas oilman who pushed up to the airport ticket counter, slammed his fist down and demanded a ticket. When the flustered young agent inquired “where to, Sir?” the hardy Texan declared, “Anywhere, young man, I have business everywhere!” 

The older we have grown as a Movement, the further from Warner and our roots we have moved; and the dimmer has become our vision of what drove him and his cohorts. While we search ever more frantically, if we would better understand Warner and his vision, we must once more feel the fervor that lifted him on the winds of The Spirit and carried him from nowhere to launch him everywhere. Longtime Warner Press Editor, Harold Phillips, noted this entry from Warner’s journal:

Passed by the old schoolhouse 
where I gave my heart to God (February 1865).  
Thank God for that step. 
Oh, how glad I Am it was ever my lot to become a Christian!”1

Born June 25, 1842, Warner consequently became part of that westward push beyond the Ohio Territory, five brief years after Michigan achieved statehood in 1837. Nine years earlier, the 1833 Chicago Treaty had forced the white-educated Potawatomi chief, Leopold Pokagon, to transfer several million acres of Native American ancestral grounds into the Great Lakes Expansion. That opened new highways through Detroit, Chicago and all points west, thrusting Daniel into the Westward push.

His 1865 conversion transformed his fun-loving skepticism into serious-minded discipleship.2 simultaneously he joined the 195th Ohio Infantry regiment as a substitute for his older, married brother. Fortunately, the war’s end freed him to return home, but the nation he went to serve remained in disarray.

The former schoolmaster, now a discharged veteran and young Christian, postponed his marriage to Frances Stocking, needing to reflect upon the life he and Frances would share. He determined to pursue his formal education, selecting Oberlin College. Throughout Warner’s life he repeatedly reflected the character of a man of strong opinion, deep feeling, and one that made decisive choices; not unlike the formidable Oberlin President, Charles G. Finney.

Near Warner’s home, Oberlin also served as a seedbed for social change; especially for women and blacks. It also provided a center for holiness led by Finney, the patron saint of American revivalism then in his last years as President of Oberlin. Daniel openly accepted women and blacks both as social equals and as leaders, but he resisted Finney’s holiness teachings for a decade.

In the eight years following Warner’s Oberlin experience, he preached 1,241 sermons, won 508 converts, and rose quickly among his peers within the Church of God Eldership of North America. Eventually, he found himself a thirty-one year old widower en route to Nebraska’s frontier mission fields--a tribute to his success as an evangelist. Existing in poverty and hardship, Daniel proved a hearty but successful missionary - church planter.

Following his earlier conversion at the Cogswell School revival, he joined the newer, frontier denomination newly-founded by John Winebrenner. Winebrenner, unlike Warner, had already pastored four German Reformed congregations when he experienced Christ personally. Like Warner, however, he became an ardent revivalist. In this new-found zeal, Winebrenner sought and secured help from neighboring Methodist preachers who helped him evangelize their community.

This collaboration prompted Winebrenner’s eventual expulsion for “preaching experience.” With his friend, Philip Otterbein, Winebrenner began sponsoring reforms for personal behavior and pastoral practice, opposed by a majority of Reformed Churchmen. These so-called “New measures” and Winebrenner’s continued resistance led to his inevitable exit from the Reformed Church.

While Lutherans held to their rigid equating of the sacraments with salvation, Reformed influences moved from heart-felt religion to legalistic dogma. Thus, the Winebrennarian-Otterbein reform measures renewed the pietistic practices described earlier by Jacob Spener in his 1675 “Pia Desideria.”

Spener openly called for bible study in small groups, the priesthood of believers, practical and personal faith, loving relationships rather than argument, reforms in theological education, and spiritual preaching. Renewal of practical, bible-based faith formed the benchmark of Pietism and became foundational to the Anabapatist stepchildren of the Reformation and the Wesleyan revivals. This personal walk with God appealed to young Dan Warner.

Warner then spent ten years in successful evangelistic ministry before experiencing a total metamorphosis. At first, he blamed this new doctrine of sanctification on a man’s insanity. After scrutinizing it in the lives of the people he knew best—his wife and family--Warner relented and sought the experience. Midway through 1877, Daniel confessed, “I am resting on the promises of God to my entire sanctification.”3

Now preaching both salvation and sanctification, Warner utilized an additional gift he had discovered--pen preaching. This launched him into a new orbit of influence, submitting magazine articles, helping edit another magazine, publishing books, and writing poetry and music. He now journeyed on a highway that carried him from Rome City and Indianapolis, IN., to Cardington and Bucyrus, Ohio, to Williamston and Grand Junction, MI. The Grand Junction years proved Warner a viable publisher, with a vigorous preaching ministry, and the leading role model for a potentially dynamic reformation.

Warner waxed eloquent when he wrote his verse “Throwing Ink at the devil:”

. . .At a point where two lightning tracks lay crossing,
Northward, southward, east, and west,
God has planted there a Campbell mortar firing ink at satan’s crest. . .4

The lightning tracks reference the rail junction pictured on the left, in the rural community of Grand Junction, MI. It had two strong assets but existed without modern conveniences of any kind: (1) the strong evangelistic ministry of Joseph Fisher supported it, assisted by his supportive body of area believers and (2) a launch pad from which he could fire  his gospel missiles global-wide. Southern Michigan promised cheap fuel to fire his printing presses and offered a rail junction that made shipments of evangelistic literature possible on a global basis, often free and sometimes by the ton. 

Catalysts like S. Michels and J.C. Fisher paved the way for relocating to Grand Junction in 1886. Forests provided cheap wood. The new Kalamazoo-South Haven railroad provided the “two lightning tracks,” by intersecting the north-south Pere Marquette line from Grand Rapids at Grand Junction!      

By 1893, thirty-five adult workers and five children formed a skilled work force that became the voluntary historic “Trumpet Family.” By August 1895, Noah Byrum reported 7,500 Trumpets printing weekly, 3,000 paying customers in North America, 1,500 Trumpets distributed free to the poor and 850 weekly copies of the German Evangeliums Posauna, mostly distributed free (Trumpet/8-22-1895). Noting the shipments of literature sent abroad by the ton, Gale Hetrick concluded this “people who identified themselves with the publishing work had one goal: to get the word out” (Laughter Among the Trumpets/27, emphasis added).

Warner maintained his strenuous preaching pace until 1890 when declining health slowed him to a more studied pace. G. T. Clayton exemplified the feverish pace of Warner’s itinerant evangelism by traveling up and down the Ohio River from Pittsburg, preaching and planting churches wherever his refurbished Floating Bethel could dock. C. B. Mast led a similar venture. Warner dreamed of creating a gospel train for transporting a mobile publishing plant nationwide, but he never found sufficient support.

It doesn’t take very much smarts to know that you cannot know where you are going unless you know where you have been. I dare suggest we hardly know where we are today as a Movement because we so inadequately understand where we have been and what was our destination. Jim Lyons summarized it succinctly when he sent this tweet: “Knowing from where you came, where you are, and to what destination you are headed is key to knowing who you are, defining what you do.

Professor Smith rightfully capsulized our quest for a meaningful message in holiness and unity, but I have long considered our pursuit of Warner’s practice as utterly lacking when it comes to strategizing how to share the love of Jesus with an increasingly hostile world. Warner and his peers were driven by what I suggest is a third component that naturally accompanies holiness and unity. While we were so obsessed with being a “Reformation Movement church,” we simply failed to recognize that the further from Warner we grew in years, the more we lost his “sense” of urgency and passion to share God's love with the unchurched.

Some anguish with our loss of “denominational distinctives” while also  viewing “missional” churches and other so-designated churches as substandard to be avoided. Others are doing all they know to return our focus back toward Jesus and the mission of the cross as expressed in Luke 4:16-18 and elsewhere while trying to overcome the apathy and social disintegration restricting our message and hindering our mission today.   

If I understand anything at all about Warner, it is that he was not only gung ho for holiness and unity but he was for giving his best effort to reach the greatest number of people in the shortest time possible, using every means available.

I’m not sure we can say that today as a Movement. 
From walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com 
this is Warner’s World.


Marlin Jaynes said...

Excellent article.

Anonymous said...

I had read previously that only a minority of the church still follow and believe FG Smith/Lilly McCutchens beliefs on the Revelation message. I am kind of new to your blog and would like to ask, if this is the case, what is being currently taught as regarding the Revelation message? It had been the church historical 'roadmap' for the church. Is there another 'book' published that speaks of the message that has been or is being taught?