June 11, 2017

Core Convictions of the Church of God Movement

Jeremiah 31:31, 33
2 Corinthians 3:6
Ephesians 4:3-6

In June of 1993 ministers of the Church of God gathered in an ante room, then paraded into the old tabernacle of the Church of God (Anderson, IN) campmeeting grounds to hear a message from the LORD.  The preacher that day was Barry L. Callen, Dean of Anderson University. He stood up before us, and the others who were there, tall with a graying beard and he said, "I know I look like Daniel S. Warner." (Who was a late 1800s pioneer minister of the Church of God Reformation Movement). Everyone laughed. "I also know with 1500 ministers sitting before me, it's going to take more than a similar appearance to the founder of the our movement to convince anyone of our core convictions." And with that introduction, be began his message. I was one of the ministers there that day, and I heard a Word from the LORD. The core convictions that Dr. Callen laid out for us have became mine, too.  And they still are!  This is what I heard him say.

"The LORD declared through the prophet Jeremiah that 1) He would have a new covenant, and that 2) He would have a new people. The prophecy found its complete fulfillment in the ministry of Jesus Christ and in the establishment of His body - the Church. The writings of Paul make it clear that all who come into that Church - the new covenant community - are enabled to live lives worthy of their calling and ministers of the new covenant and are charged with keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 

"Our predecessors in the Church of God Reformation Movement were some very special men and women, who dared as God's new people to take the implications of the new covenant with a new seriousness. One young minister named Daniel Sidney Warner wrote this in his journal on December 13, 1877. "The day was mild and fair. Took a walk in the woods to commune with God. Thought much about the words of God, 'I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel ... They shall be my people ...'" Then he wrote, "Amen, LORD. I am yours, forever. Fill me with Your presence, now. LORD, reveal Yourself in me. At Your feet I humbly bow to receive the holy seal."

"There the light of basic Christian truth was beginning to shine again. There was issued a radical call to live out the implications of Christ's new covenant. That day a fresh commitment was made to be God's new people, to live holy lives in a unified Church. Today we are gathered together in this beautiful sanctuary as the inheritors of a rich, religious tradition. We gather as Bible believing disciples, returning to Bible truth and moving ahead with a vision of the Church. But before we attempt to call out other Christians, who are serious about the new covenant Church and being God's people, we better make sure we know about the Church, that we have seen the Church, and that we are practicing what we know and have seen. With that in mind I declare these core convictions about the Church of God. 

The first core conviction is: God's Church is Alive.

"Despite the false fronts and lies of past and present religious leaders and all the doctrinal heresies of the centuries; despite the rise and fall of nations and government, and all the oppressive tactics of ideologies like communism and Marxism; despite the deadening effects of denominationalism, and the apathy present even in some of our own churches; despite all of the efforts of the power of darkness ... God's Church is still alive and well

"The words of Charles Naylor's hymn describe what our pioneers faced: 'The light of eventide now shines, the darkness to dispel ... for out of Babel God doth call His scattered saints in one ...' The visible church structures of that time were in the dark. They were in the wilderness. There was division and discouragement. But, there was also hope. There were still 'the glories of fair Zion' and 'the light of eventide.'

"In 1895, the year that D.S. Warner died, William D. Schell declared, "Hell never can destroy the Church." Not the Church built by our Savior. Upon the solid rock of Christ - still she stands!  The Church of God ... not a human organization, but a living organism ... brought into being by God ... alive with His living presence and His power. 

"Today governments continue to oppress, and materialism is a worldwide menace. But God's Church is alive! Today there are more nuclear warheads than ever, we seem to be losing the war on drugs, and the cults continue to grow. But the Church of God is alive and will overcome. Today denominationalism is still deadening. But through it all God has a people, a new people, who are moving ahead with their Master, moving into the future with the One who holds its outcome in His hand. 

"In another generation we will be gone, this building may have collapsed in decay, our nations may be nuclear wastelands, and our church committees may be forgotten experiments. But God's family will still be celebrating ... either in this town, some other place, or around His throne in heaven. No matter what else is dead, the Church of God will be alive.

"Do not be afraid," said Jesus. "I am the first and the last. I am the living One. I was dead and, behold, I am alive for ever and ever." (Revelation 1:17-18) "I will build my Church," announced Jesus, "And the gates of hell will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)  Be sure of this" Whatever the opposition - God's Church is alive!

The second core conviction: God's Church is Holy.

"There have always been misunderstandings about church holiness. Some suppose that ministers can trace their authority directly back to Christ and His apostles, as if somehow that can guarantee our purity before God. Some say that robes, candles and rituals somehow ensure the sacredness of the sanctuary. Others presume that distance between the Christians and even the appearance of evil somehow preserves holiness. Some take comfort in having a sign in the church yard which reads, "First Church of God, Where Experience Makes You a Member." All of these are hollow approaches to holiness in and of themselves.

"God's Church is holy only when it actually exists in a given place as the living family of God. God's Church is holy only as its membership is sanctified, or in Warner's words, "Filled with Thy presence, now." Holiness has always been a central conviction of the Church of God. Our movement has been a quest for both holiness and unity. In fact, unity is only, and will be only, found in a holy church.

"Our pioneers assumed that the solution to sectism lay in the work of the Sanctifier. Warner once wrote, "you need not waste time in planning general union movements, or praying the LORD to restore the unity of His Church, until you go down under the blood and have every bone of contention and cause of division purged our of your own heart."

"I'm sure your are aware that over the years the teaching about sanctification has become muddled among us. We've reacted to preaching which has expounded the doctrine of Christian holiness a little too neatly, and have become preoccupied with related issues like dress and entertainment. We've become quick to deny that we are charismatics, or that we are Pentecostal, even though such words are biblical and represent fundamental realities in the Christian life.

"But whatever our failings and fears, we must never become silent about the call to holiness.  D. Otis Teasley's hymn must remain our clarion call. "Back to the blessed old Bible, Back to the light of its word; Be on our banners forever, 'Holiness Unto the LORD.''  Scripture is plain: "As He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves,' and "In all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ."  The Church of God is holy, as its members are sanctified and grown-up in Christ. God's Church can be, must be - holy!

The third core conviction: God's Church is One.

"Having been cleansed by the Sanctifier's fire of perfect love, our pioneers became impatient with Christians who failed to accept, and love, each other. Surely, if we have each been grafted into the living, holy body of Christ, then we are one with each other in that one body.  As Warner wrote, "O brethren, how this perfect love unites us all in Jesus!"  In the early days of our movement the call was for Christians to walk in the way of holiness, renounce the sin of sectism, and stand together. Free in Christ - together.

"Probably nothing is more central to what we are about as the Church of God Reformation Movement than the concern for Christian unity. Our hearts have been broken, because we have believed that God grieves over the factions and divisions among His people. We know that such division hinders the mission of His Church. We have emphasized that true Christian unity is a divine gift to us. We receive it. We don't contrive it.

"One key lesson we're still learning, though, is that Christian unity is both given and gained. Ephesians 4:3 assumes the gift, calling us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:13, however, points to that which must be gained, calling us to build up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith. Christian unity is both a gift and goal. Christ gives the Spirit of unity, but we who receive Him must have the will to make unity a reality.

"It is a frustrating, difficult teaching. the gift has thrilled us, but the goal has stayed just beyond our reach. It's sad to say, but we have actually refused to fellowship some our brothers and sisters, even in the holiness and evangelical churches, because they haven't understood what it is that we stand for. We have wanted so badly not to compromise the truth that sometimes we have looked to ourselves as the standard of truth. We have have a tendency to sacrifice fellowship with Christians outside our movement because we have been afraid that they will contaminate us. As one campmeeting preacher recently said, "We have wanted to be a leaven in the loaf without even being mixed in the dough." And through all this, denominations haven't disappeared. Divisions continue, sometimes among us, and sometimes even because of us.

"The gift is still real, but the goal is still not achieved. We have learned that making visible and operational the oneness we have in our hearts is not easy. It's hard! And it's not always in line with all of our theological understandings. But we are still sure that this unity in Christ, and in the visible church, is not optional. God does will the oneness of His people.

"Some Christians are black, some are white. Some like to jump and shout, while others prefer to sit and meditate. Some tend to emphasize the insights of John Calvin, and some swear by John Wesley. Some are emotional, politically conservative and lovers of campmeetings, while others are politically liberal, and you usually find them in cathedrals or in the streets rather than in revival meetings. Some Christians honestly read a Bible verse one way and some another.

'But whatever the differences, against all human tendencies to separate, we Christians must will to be one. If we are serious about God's new covenant, then we will not be quick to think the worse of each other. We will concentrate our commitment on Jesus, and hold less tightly to our own ways. We will be more open to the whole Church of God, and less controlled by the limits of our own customs. We will be speaking to today's issues, in today's language, with the same truth and the same intensity of our pioneers.

"Christ alone is central. Jesus is always the subject. Jesus alone transcends the differences among us. He is the key to understanding His Word. Only in Him are we one, or will we ever be one - in Christ Jesus.

"Horace Mann once said, 'I have never heard anything about the resolutions of the Apostles. But I've heard a great deal about their Acts.'"  Let's put our ideal to work. Let's turn our beautiful words into unifying actions. Let's be pioneers in our own right. Let's actually 'reach our hands in fellowship to every blood washed one.' Let the prayer of Jesus be our prayer, too: 'I pray for those who will believe in Me, that all of them my be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I in You. May they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.'

The final core conviction is: God's Church is God's Church.

"We didn't found the Church of God. It found us! We don't choose the members. We embrace all who are members by God's Choice. We don't govern it with a heavy hand. We participate in it with a humble heart. We aren't the Church of God, but we are a part of it, who cares deeply about all of it.

"Since the Church of God is God's, it's my heartfelt desire that we stop thinking so denominationally. You know what I'm saying: "I'm not going there because its sponsored by the Baptists." "We can't do that because those aren't Church of God people." "you can't believer like that, because F.G. Smith or Mid-America University teaches this."

"My friends, neither the Gospel Trumpet, our theologians, nor any of our schools have ever had a corner on truth. And the great moving of the Spirit of God has never been confined to the borders of our fellowship. If we think of ourselves as the standard for God's Church, we will poison our heritage and fall away from the truth.

"In 1929 D.A. Reardon, speaking to the ministers at the Anderson Campmeeting, said, 'I believe in a clean, separate, and distinct work for God. But I also believe that we should keep the sectarian stink out of the distinction. There is such a thing,' he concluded, 'as stressing the reformation to such an extent that we cause our people to be reformation centered - reformation sectarians.'"

"The worse thing that could happen to us as a church is to become the home of our own brand of sectarianism. If we will determine to think and act like a movement, a part of God's great movement, then we will not have to spend so much time worrying about whether we're becoming a denomination. As a movement among God's people, it is our task to resist becoming a settled and ingrown crowd of Christians.

"It isn't enough to rely on our past understandings and achievements. Nor is it enough to be learning from our present church leaders, and counting on them to filter out all the obstacles before us. "Jesus is the head of His Church. God's Church is God's.

"These core convictions brought the Church of God Movement into being and continue to guide its life.  The Church of God is alive, holy, one and divinely ruled.  'O Church of God, I love the courts, Thou mother of the free; Thou blessed home of all the saved, I dwell content in thee.'

"May God help us to be on our way, toward the goal of a holy, united church for a dark, divided world. May we be encouraged by that promise, 'I will make a new covenant ... They will be my people.'  And may we be sobered by that call to live lives worthy of the calling we have received."

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