committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

 

CHAPTER XII.
DOCTRINAL AND MORAL QUESTIONS.


      A work of this kind would hardly be complete without a brief statement of the position of the Churches of God on doctrinal and moral questions, and this chapter is devoted to that purpose.

      It should be read with the reminder that it is a chapter in history, not theology. In other words, it is limited to a condensed statement of the doctrines believed, taught and practiced and the moral issues supported, without any arguments for the positions maintained. And being, therefore, merely a statement of historical facts as to our position on doctrinal and moral questions, the purpose can be served best by exact quotations from the records.

      In 1849 Winebrenner published a History of All the Religious Denominations in the United States. It is a large book of about nine hundred pages, for which the histories of the various religious bodies were written by leading men in their respective denominations. Winebrenner wrote the "History of the Church of God" for this volume, and in it he states what the Church believes. For obvious reasons his is the most valuable doctrinal statement of the early years of our history, and as the book in which it appears has long since been out of print, it is presented herewith, as a matter of historical interest and importance. Under the third heading of his history, "The Faith and Practice of the Church of God," he says:

      "The Church of God has no authoritative constitution, ritual, creed, catechism, book of discipline, or church standard, but the Bible. The Bible she believes to be the only creed, discipline, church standard, or test-book, which God ever intended his church to have. Nevertheless, it may not be inexpedient, pro bono publico, to exhibit a short manifesto, or declaration, showing her views, as to what may be called leading matters of faith, experience and practice.

      "1. She believes the Bible, or the canonical books of the Old and New Testament to be the word of God, a revelation from God to man, and the only authoritative rule of faith and practice.

      "2. She believes in one Supreme God, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that these three are co-equal and co-eternal.

      "3. She believes in the fall and depravity of man; that is to say, that man by nature is destitute of the favor and image of God.

      "4. She believes in the redemption of man through the atonement, or vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

      "5. She believes in the gift and office-work of the Holy Spirit; that is, in the enlightening, regenerating, and sanctifying influence and power of the Spirit.

      "6. She believes in the free, moral agency of man; that he has moral ability, because commanded to repent and believe, in order to be saved; and that the doctrine of unconditional election and reprobation, has no foundation in the oracles of God.

      "7. She believes that man is justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law, or by works of his own righteousness.

      "8. She believes in the necessity of regeneration or the new birth; or, in the change of man's moral nature, after the image of God, by the influence and power of the word and Spirit of God, through faith in Christ Jesus.

      "9. She believes in three positive ordinances of perpetual standing in the church, viz., Baptism, Feet-washing, and the Lord's Supper.

      "10. She believes two things essential to the validity of baptism, namely, faith and immersion; that faith should always precede immersion; and that where either is wanting, there can be no scriptural baptism.

      "11. She believes that the ordinance of feet-washing, that is, the literal washing of the saints' feet, according to the words and example of Christ, is obligatory upon all Christians, and ought to be observed by all the churches of God.

      "12. She believes that the Lord's Supper should be often administered, and to be consistent, to Christians only, in a sitting posture, and always in the evening.

      "13. She believes in the institution of the Lord's day, or Christian Sabbath, as a day of rest and religious worship.

      "14. She believes that the reading and preaching of God's word, the singing of psalms and hymns, and spiritual songs, and the offering up of prayers, are ordained of God, and ought to be regularly and devoutly observed by all the people and churches of God.

      "15. She believes in the propriety and utility of holding fast-days, experience meetings, anxious meetings, camp meetings, and other special meetings of united and protracted efforts for the edification of the church and the conversion of sinners.

      "16. She believes that the gospel ministry, Sabbath schools, education, the religious press, the Bible, missionary, temperance, and all other benevolent causes, ought to be heartily and liberally supported.

      "17. She believes that the church ought to relieve and take care of her own poor saints, superannuated ministers, widows and orphans.

      "18. She believes that the manufacture, traffic, and use of ardent spirits, as a beverage or common drink, is injurious and immoral, and ought to be abandoned.

      "19. She believes the system or institution of involuntary slavery to be impolitic and unchristian.

      "20. She believes that all civil wars are unholy and sinful, and in which the saints of the Most High ought never to participate.

      "21. She believes that civil governments are ordained of God for the general good; that Christians ought to be subject to the same in all things, except what is manifestly unscriptural; and that appeals to the law, out of the church, for justice, and the adjustments of civil rights, are not inconsistent with the principles and duties of the Christian religion. [110]

      "22. She believes in the necessity of a virtuous and holy life, and that Christ will save those only who obey him.

      "23. She believes in the visibility, unity, sanctity, universality, and perpetuity of the Church of God.

      "24. She believes in the personal coming and reign of Jesus Christ.

      "25. She believes in the resurrection of the dead, 'both of the just and the unjust'; that the resurrection of the just will precede the resurrection of the unjust; that the first will take place at the beginning, and the second at the end of the millennium.

      "26. She believes in the creation of new heavens and a new earth.

      "27. She believes in the immortality of the soul; in a universal and eternal judgment; and in future and everlasting rewards and punishments."

      Each of these paragraphs is followed by a number of scriptural quotations.

      Seventy-six years later, the General Eldership of our centennial year (1925), in session in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, adopted a doctrinal statement which is given herewith. It was occasioned principally by the violent attacks on the Bible which were being made by the destructive critics, commonly called modernists. It was considered an opportune time for our highest ecclesiastical body, speaking in a representative capacity for the brotherhood at large, to place itself on record with a statement embodying historical facts and expressing its present attitude in defense of the word of God. [111]

 

DOCTRINAL STATEMENT OF 1925

      "Whereas, the Bible is our only rule of faith and practice, and our profession of loyalty is that 'we earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints' [Jude 1:3]; and

      "Whereas, we are now at the end of the first century of our work as a religious body and we are about to begin the work of the second; therefore,

      "Resolved, That we consider this an opportune time for the General Eldership, as representing the brotherhood of the Churches of God in North America, to put itself on record in the following statement?a statement which we believe to be true to our historical position as recorded by John Winebrenner in 1849, in his History of Religious Denominations in the United States, and clear as to our attitude toward the modernism of the present;

      "We believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God; that the inspiration of its writers enabled them to record truth without error; and that it is our only and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice.

      "We believe in one supreme God?the Father, Son and Holy Ghost?and that they are co-equal and co-eternal.

      "We believe in the miraculous conception, the virgin birth, the vicarious sacrifice, the bodily resurrection, the triumphant ascension and the second coming of Jesus Christ. We believe in his deity?that he was, and is, God the Son as well as the Son of God.

      "We believe in the gift and work of the Holy Spirit. 

      "We believe that God made man by an original specific act of creation according to Genesis 1 :26, 27; 5:1; 9:6; Psalms 100:3; I. Corinthians 11:7; Colossian 3:10; James 3:9.

      "We believe in the fall of man, and that his only possible redemption is through the atonement of Christ.

      "We believe that man is justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law, or by works of his own righteousness.

      "We believe in the free moral agency of man, as opposed to his unconditional election or reprobation, that is, that a man must accept Jesus as his Savior, and of his own free will continue in the goodness of God to be numbered with the elect.

      "We believe that only those who have been born again by the word and Spirit, and who continue to manifest repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and to live virtuous and obedient lives will be saved.

      "We believe that the sanctification of the person (personality) is instantaneous and simultaneous with regeneration; that the sanctification of the nature, is a gradual growth in grace and truth.

      "We believe in Baptism, Feet-washing and the Lord's Supper as church ordinances.

      "We believe in Christian unity, in the Lord's Day as a time of rest and worship, and that civil governments are ordained of God.

      "We believe in the immortality of the soul (that when the believer departs from the body he is consciously at home with the Lord). 

      "We believe in the resurrection of the dead, in a judgment following the resurrection, and in everlasting rewards and punishments."

      It will be noticed that the foregoing statements are substantially the same from a doctrinal viewpoint, thus showing that our people have held fast to the faith of the fathers without wavering. A few of the paragraphs in Winebrenner's statement?from 14 to 20 inclusive?pertain to church methods and public questions, and are not included in the statement of 1925, which is strictly doctrinal. On the other hand, the latter statement emphasizes the scriptural account of man's creation and the doctrines of Christ's miraculous conception, his virgin birth and his deity, because these were the doctrines against which modernism was making its special attack.

      The Churches of God in North America have always been on the right side of every moral question and reform movement. Three outstanding examples?slavery, war, and temperance?may be cited as evidence of this fact. Our people were opposed to slavery from the beginning of their history. And at the meeting of the General Eldership in 1845, which was their first opportunity to officially express their sentiments, their representatives placed the following action on record:

 

SLAVERY

      "Whereas, it is the duty of the ministers of God to testify against sin in every form and place; therefore,

      "1. Resolved, That it is the unequivocal and decided opinion of this General Eldership of the Church of God, that the system of involuntary slavery, as it exists in the United States of North America, is a flagrant violation of the natural, inalienable and most precious rights of man, and utterly inconsistent with the spirit, laws and profession of the Christian religion.

      "2. Resolved, That we feel ourselves authorized by the highest authority, and called upon by the strongest ties and obligations, to caution our brethren in the Church of God, against supporting and countenancing, either directly or indirectly, the said iniquitous institution of involuntary slavery; and should any of our ministers or members ever become guilty of this great and crying sin, we do most earnestly and religiously recommend and advise, that all such be excommunicated, or cast out of the church, and denied the right of Christian fellowship among us."

      This attitude on what was then the greatest of all national questions was constantly kept before the people. The preachers denounced slavery from the pulpits. The congregations sang their anti-slavery sentiments from the old hymn book. The question was discussed through the church paper by the editor and contributors. The Elderships passed denunciatory resolutions from year to year. And finally, at the outbreak of the Civil War, our ministers and laymen were among the first to offer themselves for the most exacting service which a country can ask of its citizens. [115]

 

WAR

      The General Eldership of 1845 took no action on the subject of war. Winebrenner's statement of 1849 (paragraph 20), is somewhat ambiguous, due to his use of the modifying word "civil." It leaves room for an inference which was hardly intended?that other wars may be right, while "all civil wars are unholy and sinful." But any confusion which might arise as to the theory of our people on this subject is clarified by their practice. For it so happened that the first war to follow this statement was the Civil War, in which, as previously stated, our ministers and laymen were among the first to engage. And the General Eldership of 1863 (the only session of that body held during the Civil War) adopted clear and unmistakable resolutions in support of the Union cause, its armies and those who were engaged therein. Such has been the attitude of our people with reference to all the wars waged during our history, up to and including the World War. They have never taken the position of "non-resistants" or "conscientious objectors." They have always done their part in a spirit of heroism. This does not mean that they have warlike tendencies. On the contrary, like all right-thinking people they favor peace and abhor war. The General Eldership of 1925, in a strong pronouncement on world peace, said: "We are in favor of joining hands with all the great forces in America which are working for the principles that promote peace and lessen the likelihood of war." But our people believe that "civil governments are ordained of God"; that it is the right of a government to call upon its citizens for such service as may be necessary for its defense and preservation; and that it is their duty to be subject to "the powers that be."

      At the first meeting of the General Eldership (in 1845), the following position was taken on the third of the three great questions mentioned:

 

TEMPERANCE

      "1. Resolved, That we are grateful to Almighty God for his goodness in smiling upon the efforts made to promote the Temperance cause.

      "2. Resolved, That in our opinion the time has fully come, when men in every condition of life, who have the welfare of the human family at heart, should come forward and sign the pledge of TOTAL ABSTINENCE, and strive to advance the noble cause of temperance by precept and example.

      "3. Resolved, That the friends of temperance remember, that the cause in which they are engaged is a cause whose advocates and supporters are of no particular creed; that its aim is to reform the life, and fit men for the society of the good here, and, under God, for the society of the blessed hereafter; and therefore, they should take care not to 'fall out by the way,' but to join in one united effort to do something worthy of their day, which shall cause their children to rise up and call them blessed.

      "4. Resolved, That we are sorry that there are yet ministers of the gospel in this country who are so far influenced by selfishness as to refuse to give their views and influence in favor of a cause like that of temperance, which is so closely allied to that of Christianity.

      "5. Resolved, That we consider it inconsistent for professors of Christianity in any way to countenance the traffic in intoxicating drink; and especially to assist the rumseller to procure a license by signing his petition, which is nothing less than signing the death warrant of many poor inebriates.

      "6. Resolved, That we consider the traffic in intoxicating liquors as a drink, always sinful and demoralizing in its results; and that no man is entitled to membership in the Church of God who is engaged in it."

      It will be noticed that this was an advanced position for that early day, even when taken by a religious body. But it has always been consistently maintained. As the years have come and gone our people have been represented in practically every movement against the rum traffic. Their influence has been felt in the numerous temperance societies; in the moral suasion movement with its pledge-signing; in the Prohibition party; in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union; in the Anti-Saloon League. They have always opposed the license system, whether high or low; they have fought for local option, for state prohibition, and finally helped to put the Eighteenth Amendment into the Federal Constitution, and are now helping to enforce it.

      What has been said of the attitude of the Churches of God on the liquor question, applies to all other questions, local and general, involving a moral issue. Our people have always recognized the fact that the only hope for human salvation is in the preaching of the gospel as the direct mission of the church, and have devoted themselves to this as their supreme task. But they have also felt it to be their duty to oppose the agencies which hinder this work and support the organizations which promote it. And with these motives they have tried to discharge the duties of Christian citizenship.

 
 
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