February 19, 2018

The Truth of the Historic Vision of the Church of God

Gilbert Stafford, a 20th century Christian theologian, preacher and teacher, asks a critical question: "Are we genuinely committed to the historic vision of what it means to be the church that is pleasing to God?"  The context in which he poses this question is as a part of the Church of God (Anderson, IN) Reformation Movement at the beginning of the 21st century, heading into a post-denominational Christian church era in America and wondering if the Church of God Movement, which is founded on the strong belief that denominations are not biblical, will be able to survive the transition. Without a denominational-organizational structure, what will prop up the Movement and assure that it will continue to exist after more than one hundred and twenty-five years? He comes to the conclusion, and rightly so, that only as the truth of its historic vision is lifted up, celebrated and lived out will the Movement continue on into the future.

What Dr. Stafford is talking about is what he calls a "visionary connectedness," which has been given to the Church of God Movement as a witness to the world and the Christian church of an expression of the one, universal church, by the power of the Holy Spirit according to the teaching of the New Testament. He makes it clear that our responsibility as a particular part of God's church is to faithfully preach, teach and practice the truth of its historic vision and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

From the beginning of the Church of God Reformation Movement, founded in the Midwest region of the United States in the early 1880s, there has been a visionary connectedness of God's people, who believe that they have been called to live out the implications of Christ's New Covenant. Theirs was a fresh commitment to be God's new people, living holy lives in a unified church. And so is our commitment! We are connected as the inheritors of a rich, religious tradition, as Bible believing disciples who are returning to Bible truth and moving ahead with a historic vision of the church. The church we see is the Church of God. It is alive, holy, one, and belongs to God.*

Despite the deadening effects of denominationalism, and the apathy of many, even in our own churches, God's church is still alive and well. The Church of God is not a human organization, but a living organism which has been brought into being by God and is alive with His living presence and power. Whatever the opposition, God's church is alive. (Mathew 16:18) 

God's church is also a holy church. It is a church which only exists in a given place as the living family of God. Holiness has always been a central conviction of the Church of God. Scripture is plain: "As He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves," and "In all things grow up into Him who the Head, that is , Christ." The Church of God is holy as its members are sanctified and grown-up in Christ.

Since we have been grafted into the living, holy body of Christ, we are one with each other in that one body. The perfect love of God unites us ALL in Jesus. The Church of God becomes impatient with Christians who refuse to accept and love each other. To walk in the way of holiness is to renounce the sin of sectism and stand together for the truth as it is in Jesus. We are free in Christ - together.

Finally, God's church belongs to God. We didn't found the Church of God; it found us. We don't choose its 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. 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. Christ, and Christ alone, is the Head of His church. God's church has always been, is now, and will always be God's church.

This is the church we see. The truth of its historic vision is the truth which has brought the Church of God into existence and will continue to guide its life. The Church of God - alive, holy, one, divinely ruled ... May God help us to be on our way, toward the goal of a holy, unified church for a dark and divided world.


* These characteristics of the Church of God were first heard by the ministers of the General Assembly during the Anderson Campmeeting in 1993 in a sermon preached by Barry L. Callen entitled "Core Convictions of the Church of God." (I've shared the entire text of that sermon in an earlier blog post by the same title.) I was one of the ministers there that day.

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