Who is the Church of God?
Who is the Church of God?
Ron explained to me, when I was a guest in his home, that he is the director of a project to place communications satellites in orbit. Dick is a retired industrial manager living in the Phoenix area and active in his local church and cooperative church organizations. Jerry travels in many countries as a principal instructor for his industry and is part of a sister congregation on the other side of Phoenix. In the same church is a middle school student named Annie whom everyone recognizes will be managing something in the future. Leslie is the worship leader in an Akron area congregation in addition to her music leadership in the public school. Lisa is the worship leader in Eaton, Indiana, and a vivacious homemaker. Alfred is tall, of German heritage, and born in Paraguay; but what is so interesting about him is that he grows beautiful gardens south of Venice, Florida, and grafts fruit trees. John is a truck driver in central Mississippi, and Orville owns a trucking business in central Indiana. Jennie is a single mother and a school teacher in Anderson, Indiana. Ron is a finish carpenter and home builder in Colorado, and Jim is a coal miner in Kittanning, Pennsylvania. Mary is single and a waitress in Spokane, Washington, and Jeannette is a realtor in Charleston, West Virginia. Fred is a lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, and Lester is retired but still keeps an eye on his farmland in Missouri. When I last heard, Dale was still piloting an Airbus out of Montreal. Tim served in national government circles for several years but more recently as mayor and now on the city council in Casper, Wyoming. Brianna is in the third grade and very faithful to her home church in Indianapolis.
All of these persons are the answer to the question, “Who is the Church of God?” Borman in India, John in Nepal, James in Kenya, Victor in the Caribbean, and Maria in Costa Rica are a part of the picture, also. It is people who are the Church of God. About 235,000 live in the United States; more than twice that many are in countries outside the North American continent.
People who are a part of Church of God congregations are average and not so average, ordinary and not so ordinary, very human but with a more-than-human dimension in life—what may be called spirituality. Church of God people are a part of the broader fellowship of Protestants and are usually identified very closely with larger church groups such as the Methodists and Baptists. They are also a part of a group of churches that began in the nineteenth century known as Holiness churches, because of their emphasis on living a holy life. The Nazarene and Free Methodist Churches are examples of Holiness churches. Though often enthusiastic in the singing of hymns and choruses in worship, the Church of God is appreciative of but not a part of the Charismatic Movement.
It is the biblical concept of the church that will cause those of us who express little emotion to get emotional. It is the insight that every believer is a part of the body of Christ, the church, that turns us on (Ephesians 1:23). We have at times become ecstatic about the truth expressed in this narrative statement: “And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b). The scripture is one of those which affirm that when a person accepts Christ as Savior and Lord, God places the person in the church – one becomes a member of the body of Christ by the graceful action of God. It is the church understood as the fellowship of all believers that most excites us.
To be sure, we appreciate our tradition, the insights on holy living, and the teachings on the church as expressed by D. S. Warner and others in sermons and hymns at the end of the nineteenth century. We have human affection for persons with whom we have worshiped in local congregations and in national conventions and for the places where we have met, like the convention grounds in Anderson, Indiana. We have appreciation for colleges that have trained our pastors and lay leaders, for the publishing house that has produced periodicals and curricula, and for other cooperative endeavors to evangelize and be on mission in our world. We honor the religious heritage that is ours in the Church of God with general offices in Anderson, Indiana.
Oneness with all Believers
Most of all and most emphatically we witness to the oneness of all of the redeemed of the Lord. We affirm that everyone in Christ is a part of the church. The church which Jesus loved is all of the followers of Christ. The church that shall be presented to Christ, “without spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind- yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27), is the entire company of Jesus’ disciples through out the world. No denominational or sectarian walls divide those who are made one in Christ, in fulfillment of his prayer recorded in John 17. The credential for membership in the glorious church of God is salvation in the name of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, we preach, teach, and affirm that Bob, a dear friend with whom I attended high school, whom I had not seen for fifty years, who has had a transforming spiritual experience in a large independent congregation, is a member of the church of God. So is Vickie, a dear friend who worships with a Methodist Church. Harold, a Baptist pastor in South Carolina and one of the finest Christians I have ever known, is a part of the church of God. Don is the leader for Youth for Christ in western Africa, and I do not know what church group he is a part of, but I know he is a member of the church of God spoken of in the New Testament. My fellowship with these dear Christian brothers and sisters is complete, without restriction. In Christ nothing separates us; we honor each other and pray for each other. Praise the Lord for the marvelous and glorious fellowship of all those who have heard the Gospel, believed, and been placed by God himself in his church. The Church of God (Anderson, IN) is a movement within the broader Christian community which resists becoming a denomination.
The Name of the Church
Church of God congregations go by that name as a witness to the essential nature of the church. It is not our intent to suggest we are more Christian, more pure, more effective disciples, have a priority on God’s blessings or a franchise on his mission. It is an appropriate name for believers who worship and work together; it is a biblical name. The identification of local groups of believers with the phrase “church of God” occurs twelve times in the New Testament. For instance, Paul instructs the elders in Ephesus “to shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28). It has been stated well by John W. V. Smith:
A name is important. In a family it signifies a person’s primary relationship. In an institution it usually indicates both relationship and purpose. The name “Church of God” is more than a convenient label to put over the door of a place of worship. It is called the Church of God because it is God’s church; it belongs to him. “Church of God” is the only name applied to the church in the New Testament. One exception is found in Romans 16:16 where “churches of Christ” is used, and here the reference obviously is to ownership rather than title.
No exclusive claim is made to the biblical name by the Church of God (Anderson, IN). More than two hundred groups in the United States use some form of the name. At least two are much larger fellowships: The Church of God (Cleveland, TN), which is a Pentecostal group, and Church of God in Christ, and 8.5 million member African-American Pentecostal denomination. We join these groups in witnessing to the appropriateness of the name Church of God. (Since each of these groups has developed differing styles of worship and church government, both they and we have labored in some geographical areas to place names in publicity which will inform persons of the nature of our local fellowships so that guests are not embarrassed or disappointed.) By way of explanation: The Pentecostal church groups began around the beginning of this century with the Azusa (CA) Revival, and the Charismatic Movement began in the fifties. The names of the groups are sometimes used interchangeably; both believe that speaking in tongues is a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and tend to have exuberant participation in worship services. The Church of God (Anderson, IN), along with other Holiness churches, teaches that the principal witness of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a moral and spiritual life. Worship services are joyful but often nearer to the pattern of the Baptist or conservative Methodist churches, for instance.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Pastors are principal teachers in the Church of God, and they encourage believes to live the Spirit-filled life. The Spirit-filled life is the result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11b). Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples (John 16) and instructed them that the Holy Spirit would come on them and provide power to be his witnesses in all parts of the world. (Acts 1:8). The experience of the Spirit-filled life, often called sanctification, begins when the individual Christian opens his or her life to the full work of God’s Spirit in a conscious act of the will. From that point on there is a growth in the Spirit, called by some “progressive sanctification.” The believer’s experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit may be viewed from these perspectives:
Cleansing: The Holy Spirit cleanses the attitudes, mindset, habits, and spirit of the believer for the purpose of setting apart the believer for God’s use.
Consecration: Consecration is the act of the believer; having accepted forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life, persons offer themselves to be fully blessed and used by God (Romans 12:1-2)
Calling: The calling is the task(s) which the believer accepts in the life of the church to evangelize and serve the world. The calling is part of the gifts to the believer which uniquely equip the person for service in the church and the world.
Convincing Evidence: The most convincing evidence of the Spirit-filled life is holiness- convincing both to the believer and to others who observe the believer’s life.
The experience of the Spirit-filled life is expressed by hymnist Charles W. Naylor:
In me now reveal Thy glory,
Let Thy might be ever shown;
Keep me from the world’s defilement,
Sacred for Thyself alone.
Walk into a Church of God
Many people walk into Church of God congregations on Sunday morning and report they find the type of worship and supportive fellowship for which they have been looking for years. The Church of God is growing in the United States and at a faster pace in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. When you walk into a Church of God congregation, you will find Christians who believe in the unity of all Christians and seek to live a holy life, as already stated. In addition you will find persons who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and participate in a fellowship that generally has these characteristics:
1. Church of God people are experiential; they talk and sing about how they have experienced God in their lives, how they have been saved from sin, about being healed of emotional and physical illnesses, and the richness of their fellowship.
2. Church of God people study their Bibles. They have no written creed that defines their beliefs but search the scriptures in worship and in classes to discover the truths of the Gospel.
3. Church of God people are concerned about outreach; they want to see their friends and family accept Christ as Savior and worship God with them; they also want to invite persons whom they do not know to meet with them and learn more about God’s good news for their lives.
4. Church of God people hope in the Lord; limited hope is placed in political parties and interest groups. Often involved in social movements that seek to ease suffering and provide opportunity for a full life, they believe that human institutions are inadequate to meet the desperate social and spiritual needs of all people.
5. Church of God people lift up the servant role as the Christian ideal; the image of Christians as conquerors, who rule over others with vengeance and have material advantages, is a foreign concept to the Church of God. They echo the words of Jesus, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).
6. Church of God people enjoy worship services, serving the Lord, ministering to the people’s needs, and being together. You will know it is an immature group if joy in the Lord is not present in the fellowship. They take to heart the admonition of the Apostle Paul:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4)
A Circle of Love
During a convention in Big Sandy, Montana a lovely lady, who had suffered abuse as a child, and many failures as a adult, confessed she at last believed God could love her, accepted forgiveness in Christ and became a part of God’s church.
Joyce, another friend, told us that her daddy was eighty nine years old and had been in a church building only one time, for her wedding years ago. She went to Louisville to help him make plans for his and her mother’s funerals and burials. Joyce ask the local Church of God pastor to come by and at the end of a conversation her dad accepted Christ as Savior. He is in the church!
One of my grandchildren received Christ as Savior a while back. She is in the church of God. Eight teenagers in Arizona were baptized in a Jacuzzi. They are all in the church. Pastors and lay leaders will encourage every one of these new believers to identify with a local fellowship of believers for worship, ministry, and fellowship. A Christian experience makes one a member of God’s church, but it is essential that the membership be affirmed by identification with a local congregation.
A gospel songwriter many years ago expressed well the spirit of the unity of God’s people:
I care not what church you belong to,
Just as long as for God you may stand.
If your heart today is as my heart,
You’re my brother, so give me your hand.
Bill Gaither is a part of the Church of God (Anderson, IN) and he has had all of God’s church singing for years, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God!” My friends Ray McCutcheon and Lloyd Larson have written another song about the church:
We’re building a circle of love,
We’ll start with you and me.
We’re building a circle of love,
Come join God’s family!
Well, that is who we are. We are God’s family, a circle of love. It is God’s church! We would love to have you worship with us any time in one of our congregations. Please come by.
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We are located at 1295 2nd Ave East, Eureka, MT
Mailing: Po Box 347 Eureka, MT 59917