Why We Are Still Church of God: A Rich Heritage (Part 2)
This a continuation of our series of why we are still a part of the Church of God tradition and the 2nd part to a previous post concerning the heritage of the movement. At the conclusion of that post, I stated that I believe that the Church of God is the product of many traditions, which have all come together to inform the movement and form it into what it is today. I now wish to focus on each of those three traditions in greater depth, followed by a brief comment on the missional heritage of the Church of God.
Obviously the Church of God is a Protestant denomination. In highlighting this aspect of our heritage, I do not wish for it to be understood as attack on Roman Catholic Church, but only as a recognition of those aspects of our heritage which we have received from the Reformation. In this area, there are three specific fundamentals which the Church of God has carried on. First, the Church of God is fully in step with the recognition of justification by faith alone. There is no amount of works that we can do that will merit the grace and mercy of God; we only receive divine grace because of our faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Second, the Church of God is a movement which rightly affirms sola scripture, scripture alone. In all matters of faith and practice, the Holy Bible is the final word in all aspects. All other sources of theology (including reason, experience, and church tradition) are secondary to the eternal Word of God. Third, the Church of God practices the belief of the priesthood of all believers. Every Christian who has been saved by God’s grace is now in direct communion with the Godhead and is in no need of any intermediary outside of Christ himself. This belief has only been strengthened by the pentecostal outpouring, which states that every believer can be empowered by God for ministry and as a conduit of prophetic gifting. There are not two tiers of saints.
The Church of God is also a tradition found in the strain of Wesleyan and Holiness movements. Again, in this area, I wish to emphasize three key aspects. Firstly, from John Wesley, the Church of God has received a recognition of the need for evangelical outreach. Wesley had a strong understanding of evangelism and the need for the church to reach out to the surrounding world with the life changing message of the gospel. Secondly, with all due respect to my more Reformed friends, Wesley also passed down to us an understanding of the free will of humanity. Wesley responded to the prevalent Calvinism of his day with two key theological points: humanity has freedom to choose or reject the mercy of God and Christians have the ability to obtain true, inward assurance of their salvation. Both of these key points are still well received by those in our denomination. Finally, from its beginning, the Church of God has been a movement with convictions that Christians should live a holy life. Though our understanding of what holiness exactly is has shifted over the past few decades, the message still remains the same: the church is called to a life of holiness and distinction from the world. It is at this point however, that I believe I should note that there should be a great difference between us being distinct from the world and us being utterly separated from the world, a topic that I hope to cover in the near future.
The Church of God was also founded upon the principle of Pentecost. A group of mountain fold from southwestern North Carolina got together in the closing days of the 19th century in order to worship in the tradition of the holiness movement, getting free from the politics and creedalism that had engulfed of the churches in their area. Through this movement, the Holy Spirit was poured out, manifested by speaking in tongues and other gifts and workings of the Holy Spirit. What is most amazing though, is that these men and women chose to actually do what they should do after being Spirit empowered: they chose to spread to word to others. It is under the power of Pentecost that this small band of mountain men and women grew into a fully established Pentecostal movement in the course of just a few years. The Church of God still rightly emphasizes the distinctives of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, divine healing, the gifts of the spirit, and the Spirit’s empowerment for Christian witness.
Finally, I believe there are many elements to the Church of God’s story which show that the denomination is a missional movement. While the missional conversation has really only taken place over the last two decades, there are a few elements of the missional church that can be found within the early history of the Church of God. First, there was an early understanding of the need for cultural contextualization, especially within the missionary work of the church. In the course of 100 years, the Church of God gained 6 million members oversees, expressly through the efforts of men and women taking the gospel to others and presenting it to them in terms that were relevant to that particular people group. Second, the history of the church shows a strong desire to reach the unbelieving world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This intense passion for the world around them is well exepmlified by this great quote from the minutes of the first General Assembly of the Church of God:
After a consideration of the ripened fields and open doors for evangelism this year, strong men wept and said they were not only willing but really anxious to go.
All of these factors make me proud to be part of this movement, and make me hopeful for our future. I believe that we can best more forward by looking behind to see from where we have come and being faithful to the traditions of our church, while being very careful not to become entrenched in the traditionalism that every church faces. In merely 100 years, the Church of God has been an effective agent for reaching the world with the Gospel, and I am in no way convinced that those days must be behind us. I believe that through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, we can once again recover our missional mandate and move forward to ministry in this new post-modern, post-Christian age.