committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

CHAPTER VIII.
GROWTH OF ORGANIZED ACTIVITIES.


      The work of winning souls and promoting their fellowship and usefulness in churches established after the New Testament pattern has always been the supreme purpose of our ministry and laity.

      During the early years of our history this was almost the only purpose. But as time passed the necessity for developing methods of church work in the way of organized activities and additional departments became clear and received increasing attention.

      These steps were always looked upon as merely means to an end, the end being that just mentioned?soul-saving and church upbuilding. It was on this ground that Winebrenner justified the organization of the first Eldership, in 1830. In his sermon on that occasion, from Acts 5:38, 39, he interpreted "counsel" and "work" to mean "the preaching and propagation of Christianity; or, in other words, the conversion of sinners, the formation of churches, and the supply of the destitute with the gospel ministry. The furtherance of this counsel and work, then, is the great ostensible object contemplated by the present meeting. . . . And for the accomplishment of this," he said, "we purpose to unite on the best and most efficient plan of co-operation."

      For the same purpose Elderships were organized in Ohio, West Pennsylvania, Indiana and Iowa, as we have seen in a preceding chapter. Then followed the organization of other Elderships from time to time, so that by 1900 the following additional names are found on the list, making eighteen Elderships in all: Michigan, organized in 1850; Illinois, 1853; Texas and Arkansas, 1857; Maryland and Virginia, 1872; Nebraska, 1875; Southern Indiana, 1881; Missouri, 1881; Kansas, 1881; West Virginia (North), 1883; Oregon and Washington, 1891; Oklahoma and Indian Territory, 1892; West Virginia (South), 1894; Arkansas (Colored), 1896.

      Several other Elderships, which were organized during these years, had lost their identity prior to 1900, either by consolidation or otherwise.

      The Maine Eldership, unlike the others, was not formed as a result of our missionary activities, but by the affiliation with us of a number of local churches of a similar faith in that state, and their organization into an Eldership in 1874. This was brought about largely through the influence of Dr. George Ross and Rev. George Sigler, of the East Pennsylvania Eldership, who visited the brethren in Maine early in 1873, and Rev. Peter Loucks, of the West Pennsylvania Eldership, who made two visits to Maine later in the same year. But the great distance of this Eldership from the rest of the General Eldership, as well as local difficulties, hindered success, and the ecclesiastical relationship ceased after a score of years.

      The German Eldership was established in 1854 to meet the needs of those who desired religious services in the German language, and for a time this end was accomplished in a fairly satisfactory manner. But it was found that a linguistic dividing line was not as serviceable a safeguard against friction as a geographical one. Besides, the gradual growth of the English language among these people had its natural effect?an effect not favorable to the future of the German organization. So the official relation of this Eldership to the General Eldership ended with an action of the latter body in 1893, at which time its organized activities had practically ceased.

      Since 1900 the Oklahoma and Indian Territory Eldership, in keeping with the geographical change, has become the Oklahoma Eldership. Oregon and Washington have been divided into two Elderships under their respective names, but the work on the Pacific coast, never very substantial, is practically extinct. The Arkansas Eldership (Colored) has become the Arkansas and Oklahoma Eldership (Colored).

      The development of the organization idea was seen not only in the establishing of annual Elderships and a General Eldership, but also in the systematizing of their work. The formation of the first Eldership was of an elementary character, and included but little more than the effecting of an organization. The development of the organization was a gradual growth. From time to time the work was divided into different departments, for the management of which appropriate boards and committees were created as the need arose, to function in the interim between the meetings of the Eldership. These subordinate organizations in the annual Elderships include a Standing Committee, to exercise ministerial discipline, provide for vacancies in appointments, and similar duties; a Board of Missions, to care for the weaker fields; a Board of Education, to have charge of the Eldership course of studies; a Board of Finance and a Board of Church Extension, for the work which these names indicate. The number of boards and committees varies in different Elderships, but those just mentioned will give an idea of the character and development of these ecclesiastical organizations. Naturally the same process of development is seen in the General Eldership. It has a Board of Publication to manage an interest which at first was an individual responsibility; a Board of Missions to control the important work which was originally promoted directly by annual Elderships; the establishing of our own publishing house made necessary the creation of a Board of Directors for its management. The General Eldership also has an Executive Board and a Board of Education.

      In addition to the changes in organization details due to the expansion of its work, the General Eldership has made other changes of importance from time to time. For example, at the session of 1896 the name was changed from "Church of God" to "Churches of God," on the ground that the singular form is a denominational application of the word "church," which is not justified by its use and meaning in the Scriptures. And at the session of 1899 the General Eldership changed the custom which had been in vogue in the Elderships of giving ministers an Annual License and adopted for general and uniform use a Life Certificate as being more in keeping with the significance of ministerial ordination.

      The period from 1875 to 1900 (the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the third quarter of our first century) is notable also for the development of organized activities other than those of the annual Elderships and the General Eldership.

      Prior to this time about the only auxiliary that the churches had was the Sunday-school. And this important branch of the churches' work took on new life and vigor through the centennial anniversary of the Sunday-school movement, in 1880, an event which was quite generally observed by all religious bodies. Sunday-school conventions also became quite popular and were held in a number of the Elderships.

      Then came the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor, originating in 1881, through the instrumentality of Rev. Francis E. Clark. It at once appealed to the forward looking ministers and laymen of the Churches of God, especially those of the younger generation. They regarded it as the best method yet proposed for the care of converts and the development of the spiritual life of the young people and the control of their religious activities. The result was the organization by our ministers of a number of Christian Endeavor societies early in the history of this movement and their multiplication through the succeeding years. This is our only young people's organization, and it has fully supplied our needs wherever it has been properly managed and supported.

      In addition to these things there are two other events in the development of our organized activities during this period which are of far-reaching influence in our work as a religious body. The first was the establishing of Findlay College, in 1882; and the second was the inaugurating of our foreign missionary enterprise, in 1896. These subjects, because of their special importance, are left for consideration in succeeding chapters.

      These different lines of organized effort naturally required and received a great deal of attention on the part of the brotherhood. But the real end, for the attainment of which they were but the means, was never lost sight of. Missionary evangelism was continued, and, while a good many church projects failed, in many other places the efforts produced gratifying results.

      Missionary work was carried on in Nebraska, Michigan, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Indian Territory, and to a limited extent on the Pacific coast. The best known missionaries were Daniel Blakely, C. S. Bolton, G. T. Bell, J. W. Riddle, D. S. Summit, J. F. Schoch, D. Keplinger, J. C. Forncrook, J. Garrigus, A. Wilson, E. M. Kirkpatrick, J. C. Caswell, C. H. Ballinger and H. W. Allen. R. H. Bolton traveled extensively as a general worker and collector of missionary funds. These brethren reported many conversions on their fields of labor, the organization of a creditable number of churches in new places and the erection of some houses of worship.

      While these missionary operations were in progress on the frontier, aggressive work was continued in the older Elderships. Of the ministers who held prominent places during these years the following are mentioned: C. H. Forney, George Sigler, D. A. L. Laverty, A. H. Long, A. Swartz, C. Price, J. M. Carvell, B. F. Beck, D. S. Shoop, M. M. Foose and J. W. Deshong, in East Pennsylvania; S. Spurrier and G. W. Seilhammer in Maryland; John Hickernell, Jacob M. Domer, Peter Loucks and R. L. Byrnes in West Pennsylvania; N. M. Anderson in West Virginia; G. W. Wilson, H. W. Oliver, J. M. Cassell, T. Koogle, W. P. Small, J. R. H. Latchaw, and J. W. Aukerman in Ohio; I. W. Markley and W. W. Lovett in Indiana; Geo. Sandoe, M. S. Newcomer, I. S. Richmond, W. B. Allen, W. I. Berkstresser, J. Bernard and O. B. Huston in Illinois; J. S. Miller, C. S. Wilson, A. Hollems, J. C. Kepford, A. C. Garner, J. Lininger, J. M. Klein and L. F. Chamberlin in Iowa.

      These brethren, with their no less worthy but less widely known fellow ministers, adorned the years of their activity with a spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice in keeping with their "high calling of God in Christ Jesus" [Philippians 3:14]. And they were not without reward in the visible results of their labors. Many hundreds of souls were saved and added unto the churches. Spirituality was cultivated. Material interests were improved. Better systems were introduced for the support of the ministry. Greater impetus was given to the movement to secure parsonages. Many new church-houses were built and others were remodeled to better adapt them to the plans of aggressive church and Sunday-school work.

      The celebration of our semi-centennial during this period created a fresh interest and contributed something toward the advancement of the cause. This was in 1880, fifty years after the organization of the first Eldership. The anniversary was observed with appropriate services in the churches and numerous articles appeared in The Church Advocate on our history, doctrine and polity.

      The spiritual welfare of the freedmen has claimed the attention of our people to a limited extent ever since the Civil War, but with only meager results. For many years we have had a few colored churches within the territory and under the jurisdiction of the East Pennsylvania Eldership. They have struggled along faithfully without the encouragement of substantial growth. They are at this time under the pastoral care of Rev. W. J. Winfield, S. T. B., the best qualified man of his race, intellectually, that these churches have ever had. In 1896, following a few years of missionary work among the colored people of the western part of Arkansas the General Eldership established The Arkansas Eldership of the Churches of God (Colored). This official action naturally gave a more general interest to this department of work. It is now The Arkansas and Oklahoma Eldership (Colored). And while here, as in the East, no great success has been attained, the efforts put forth have at least been significant of our sympathetic attitude toward the colored race.

      During these years missionaries of the southwest in the employ of the Board of Missions of the General Eldership did considerable work among the Indians in the territory bearing their name, resulting in a good many conversions. A few churches were organized, while other converts affiliated with white churches already established.

      Another movement of more than ordinary significance, which had its inception at the close of this period, was the beginning of missionary work among foreigners in western Pennsylvania. During the early part of 1896 a number of persons of Slavic nationality were converted in an evangelistic meeting held by the church of God at Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania. These converts were devoted and zealous, and anxious to carry the glad news to others of their people. Under the direction of the pastor, S. G. Yahn, a mission was started in another part of the town and a deep interest was created. Two brothers among the converts, John and Jacob Luchansky, were men of more than ordinary talent and soon developed into capable preachers of the gospel message. A number of others, in the course of time, also became effective speakers. They were all filled with the missionary spirit and anxious that the rest of their people might come into possession of the salvation which they had found. As a result the work spread to other localities in western Pennsylvania and over into Ohio, so that we now have missions in a number of industrial centers. Those who returned to their homeland carried the truth with them and scattered the seed. There has been the time of growth and the season of fruit-bearing has come. We now have several hundred members in Czecho-Slovakia and Hungary, fairly well organized for aggressive work.

 
 
The Reformed Reader Home Page 


Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved