Sunday, January 21, 2018

Some Thoughts on Reformation

In 1996, I retired from pastoral ministry with the people denominated Church of God, Anderson. My wife had already retired in 1992 following her 17-year-stint in the fast food industry. By 1996 we had together served the church forty-five years, nine churches in seven states. 

Simultaneous with my retirement came the demise of the Gospel Trumpet publication (Vital Christianity, One Voice) after 115 years. She and I grew up as children of this theologically conservative evangelical holiness Movement that was part of the fractured family of Wesleyan holiness denominations, each with its own family history of “coming out” from the National Holiness Association resulting from the transitioning ministry of John/Charles Wesley within Anglicanism to outside of Anglicanism.

D. S. Warner had followed his wife in claiming the experience of sanctification as a so-called “second blessing”. He followed what he believed the voice of God leading him into a further reformation in which he flew under a flag of Christian unity and personal holiness of life style. John W. V. Smith recorded the first century of Warner’s followers in his significant centennial volume The Quest for Holiness and Unity, (Warner Press/1880).

Across the past twenty-one years, I have watched this self-identified Reformation Movement with increasing interest as it wrestled with its own identity crisis. It is far too early to attempt an assessment, but I remain an interested observer of the resulting transition. I have discussed facets of it with numerous peers; I have listened to the ground swell of a new generation of “reformers”, some saying the Reformation has denominationalized, others complaining the reformation is dead.

From all directions has come a repetitious phrase, “It is neither moving nor reforming.” Accompanying this has been a demand for renewal, reassessment, and reform. Some view the scene without hope and others have moved on with their own version of reformation, leaving us with their epitaph of heresy. My lifespan of ninety years at some level of involvement gives me what I believe is a reasonably accurate understanding of our “family history”. It is enough for me to know that I am no more than scratching the surface here.

Having said that, as I see it there are yet several alternatives and I would like to suggest three options:
                             (1) a dead reformation;
                                                                         (2) a lost denomination;
                                                                                                                                  (3) a reforming  Movement.
Our one-hundred thirty-eight years of Movemental history (1880-2018) evidences considerable soul searching throughout those years and a shift in our teaching and theological emphases.

Warner was struggling with his eschatology and Christ’s Second Coming. Believing at first that Christ’s coming was imminent; he took a hardline position against denominationalism and organization. Denominationalism belonged to Babylon and the Spirit of the Beast. He theoretically stepped outside of organized denominations and insisted that all Christians “come-out” upon receiving his “light on the church.”

There is strong evidence Warner was reevaluating his views regarding Christ’s return in his lifetime. Admittedly, many of us have transitioned and do not fully agree with Warner’s original views, nor did our pioneers all agree. Consequently, there are splinters out there, like the Evening Light folk of Guthrie, OK, the Restoration folk at Greenville, OH, and the Seventh Trumpet Movement of Lawton, OK, who fervently believe we have wandered from “ the truth” back into Babylonian pastures and rejoined the heretical herd of organized religion (denominations). Most of these folk want little to do with Anderson after about 1912-14 and they consider C. W. Naylor (et al), an outright heretic for challenging/changing Warner’s teaching.

 The obvious conclusion is “Anderson is a dead reformation!” They will pay the highest price possible for any and all pre-1912/14 original Warner Press Publications. Thereafter holds little, or no, value.

A second option is being bandied about, especially among Anderson adherents who are not well-grounded historically and fail to understand the various theological threads in our history. Space does not allow for a full discussion of this issue, but changes in our emphasis from reformation to institutionalization is obvious. Quite obvious is the fact that institutionalization has taken place.

Equally obvious is the truth that we do not know yet what to do with it and how to relate it with a proper interconnectedness. (Pictured left is Camp Meeting 1955, Grand Junction, MI).

We are today strongly institutionalized. We have our national/global church guided by Church of God Ministries (better known as Chog Ministries) (with considerable dissension and under current). We have a growing compliment of State Organizations and I have been a satisfied participant within the Church of God in Michigan for several decades. In addition; we have our self-governing body of local congregations whose interconnectedness we still struggle to understand and/or facilitate.

Much of the discussion today revolves around whether or not we as an institution constitute a “denomination” and there are strong opinions both pro and con. For those who believe we have simply assimilated back into the “denominational” world of what they perceive essentially as “Babylon”, the conclusion is obvious: we are neither moving nor reforming; we are a lost denomination in need of reviving.

There is a growing group today of older generations and new generation youngs who recognize that our emphasis/teachings have shifted from the harshness of Warner’s anti-Babylon come-outism originally espoused. There are increasing numbers of folk who believe today that it is okay to “tweak” those original teachings, that Warner, Fisher, et al did not necessarily have THE FINAL WORD on God’s Word, that not all the “final word” resides in Greenville, Ohio or Guthrie, OK. There are Spirit-led people around the Anderson Movement yet today who experience our teachings (Church of God Anderson, if you will) as more accurately reflecting the Reformation, Restoration, Renewal principles Warner, Fisher et al attempted to facilitate.   

Reformation is not a Movement headquartered in Anderson, IN; reformation is an ongoing refining process that has existed throughout the history of the church. The Church went through centuries of DARK AGES but Luther et company was not the first protest-ant reformation. There has been a process of refining in process from the days of Peter, James, John, and Paul. You find evidence of it through the centuries in what are today recognized as defining theological statements and historical creeds. You meet people like Peter Waldo, John Hus, Wycliffe , Luther, and Menno Simons. I am personally challenged by the likes of Balthasar Hubmaier and the later Lutheran Pietists, not to mention, John Wesley, Barton Stone, D. S. Warner et al.

Ordained in March 1952 in Dallas, TX, I have remained in this ministry, not because we were the biggest or even the best, but because it was herein that I found as full a biblical expression of God’s ONE CHURCH being facilitated as I could find anywhere. It called me to a high level of piety (holiness). It calls me yet today to the source of that message—Jesus being the reason for our (my) quest for unity and holiness. Consequently, I have discovered I have fellowship with “every blood washed one”. That today is global. It reaches from Argentina to St. Petersburg, Russia. It stretches across Africa and reaches into the Middle East. Moreover, not every Facebook friend carries a label of “Church of God, Anderson”.

In fact; it leaves me in the same boat that John Winebrenner found himself in when he got so excited about his “walk with Jesus” that he took the liberty (in Christ) of cooperating with certain Methodist preachers (of all people) to conduct  revival services. For that behavior, Winebrenner’s German Reformed brethren dis-fellowshipped him and it was among Winebrenner’s followship that D. S. Warner found light on the church by the grace of God.

We will NEVER FIND UNITY in our theologizing. The Anderson Church of God will never find its ultimate embodiment of God’s truth by trying to be distinctive so everyone else can enjoy our distinctiveness. WE WILL FIND UNITY by finding fellow followers of Jesus and uniting with them in purposeful cooperation and together working intentionally to tell the story of Jesus, then enlist and disciple everyone we can win to Jesus.

While you speculate your dead and lost reformations, I mean to go right on - intentionally enlisted in an already ongoing “Movement of Reform” - aka Reformation Movement.


BJ Blake said...

What I struggle with is "reformation movement" implies that all others are wrong, plus the attitude that if someone comes to believe as "we" do why don't they join "us" which implies that "we" are the only church and our organization (ministers, boards, etc.) are the only basis of authority and relationship.

The emphasis on entire sanctification as a second work of grace has also remained a dividing line for me. I've met people who claim sanctification but evidence no spiritual life at all. I'm not talking about someone continuing to live in sin, but someone who is just dead; no compassion, rigid, angry, isolated from the body of believers (there in body, but having no part in it).

I'm looking for another unity.

Wayne said...

In "reformation movement" I find the liberty/freedom, Bobby, to be part of a bigger, more far-reaching, fellowship and unity of purpose. Sanctification always posed the same problem for me. I don't reject it today but I do allow that God is not confined to a certain number of "works" and I believe he has a comprehensive expectation of us that includes "sanctification, however many trips to the altar of dedication that it takes.