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HISTORY

OF

THE CHURCH OF GOD.

BY JOHN WINEBRENNER, V. D. M., HARRISBURG, PA.

"Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus."--Re 14:12.


      THE prominent parts and features of this brief history of the "Church of God," in the United States may be traced and referred to under the following heads, to wit:

I. THE ORIGIN AND NAME OF THE CHURCH OF GOD.

      1. As to the origin of the Church of God, we maintain, and truth compels us to say, that she justly claims priority to all evangelical churches. Her illustrious and adorable founder is the Lord Jesus Christ. He bought her with his blood.

      Ac 20:28. Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

He founded her on the Rock.

      Mt 16:18. And I say also to thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

He first commenced her gathering.

      Mr 1:14-20. Now, after that John was put in prison Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, &c.

He continued her establishment by the ministry of the apostles, and by the dispensations of his Spirit.

      Mt 28:19. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Ghost;
      20. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen.
      Mr 16:15. And he said to them, Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
      16. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be dammed.
      Ac 2:4. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

 

      And thus he still continues to [170] carry on this building of God

      1Co 3:9. For are laborers together with God; ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.

--this New Jerusalem from above which is the mother of us all.

      Ga 4:26. But Jerusalem which is above is free, is the mother of us all.

And we may add, this, his own church or temple, he will continue to build and prosper, despite of all her adversaries; and ultimately, consummate his purposes, by bringing forth the head stone thereof with loud acclamations and shoutings of grace, grace to it.

      Zec 4:7. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain, and he shall bring forth the head-stone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace to it.

 

      It is nothing uncommon, among theological writers, to trace the origin of the Church God to Abraham, the Father of the Faithful, with whom God made a covenant nineteen hundred years before the birth of Christ. We, however, dissent from this view of the origin of the church. We believe that the Abrahamic or Jewish Church was not the same church, the New Testament the Church of God. If the same, Christ would not have said to Peter, "Upon this rock will I build my Church";

      Mt 16:18. And I say also to thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

and the Apostle would never have said, "He (Christ) hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain, (Jews and gentiles) one new man."

      Eph 2:14. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
      15. Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.

Now, if this "new man," means the Church of God, and of this there can be no rational doubt, then, without controversy, she originated under the personal ministry of Jesus Christ and his apostles.

 

      2. The name or title, Church of God, {a} is undeniably the true and proper appellation by which the New Testament church ought to be designated. This is her scriptural and appropriate name. This, and no other title, is given her by divine authority.

      Isa 62:2. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory; and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.
      Ga 1:13. For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.
      1Ti 3:15. But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

This name or title, therefore, ought to be adopted and worn to the exclusion of all others.

 

      There are those, who have pled for the use, and for the exclusive use, of some other appellations: such as the name of Christian: others for that of Disciples; and others, again, for the name Brethren, &c. But it ought to be recollected, that not one of those is a proper noun, or a patronymic, and, therefore, none of them is ever used in the Scriptures as an appellation for the church. The individual members of the church are, and may be, very properly called; but not so with regard to the church herself. We nowhere read of the "Christian Church," or of the "Disciples' Church," nor of the "Brethren's Church," &c.

      If, then, it is unscriptural to assume and wear any one of these, or any other Bible name, as a church appellation, how much more improper, unscriptural, and God dishonoring is it, to lay aside all Bible names, even the divinely appointed name, Church of God, and assume a human name: such as Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, German Reformed, Baptist, Methodist, Mennonist, Unitarian, Universalist, or something else, equally inappropriate, unscriptural, and unmeaning? [171]

      As a religious community, therefore, we claim to stand identified with, and to be a part of, the one true Church of God, of which Jesus Christ is the founder and head. {b} As such, we claim brotherhood with all the saints of God, wherever they may be found, and wish to extend the right hand of fellowship to all, without exception, "whose fellowship is with the Father and his Son the Lord Jesus Christ" [1Jo 1:3].

      But having been requested to write a brief history of the Church of God, as she exists, by that name, in the United States, we shall, accordingly, notice more particularly that religious community, or body of believers, who profess to have come out from all human and unscriptural organizations, who have fallen back upon original grounds, and who wish, therefore, to be known and called by no other distinctive name, collectively taken, than the CHURCH OF GOD. This name we assume from conscientious motives, because reason and revelation require it; and not because we wish to magnify ourselves against others, as it has been improperly and unkindly intimated by some unfriendly sectarians.

      In the year 1820, the writer of this article, settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as a minister of the German Reformed Church, and took charge of four congregations; one in the town, and three in the country. Soon after his settlement in this charge, it pleased the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls to commence a work of grace among the people, both in the town and in the country. But, as revivals of religion were new and almost unheard-of things in those days, especially among the German people of that region, this work of God failed not to excite opposition among hypocrites, false professors, and the wicked generally; just as true revivals of religion, or genuine works of grace, have very generally done. And as the members of these congregations or churches were unconverted, with few exceptions, and many grossly ignorant of the right ways of the Lord, the most violent opposition and persecution arose from that quarter, aided by not a few of the ministers of their synod. This state of things lasted for about five years, and then resulted in a separation from the German Reformed Church.

      About the year 1825, more extensive and glorious revivals of religion commenced in different towns and neighborhoods, to wit: Harrisburg, Shiremanstown. Lisborn, Mechanicsburg, Churchtown, New Cumberland, Linglestown, Middletown, Millerstown, Lebanon, Lancaster, Shippensburg, Elizabethtown, Mount Joy, Marietta, and other places. In these glorious revivals, hundreds were happily converted to God. As a natural consequence, these conversions led, in different places, to the organization of churches. And, as the views of the writer of this article, had undergone a material change, as to church ordinances and the organization of churches, he united with other in adopting the apostolic plan, as taught in the New Testament, and established free, and independent churches, consisting of believers or Christians only, without any human name, or creed, or laws, &c.

      From among the young converts, in these newly planted churches, it pleased God to raise up several able men, to take upon them the solemn and responsible office of the gospel ministry. These ministering brethren, with a few other great and good men with similar views and kindred spirits, labored and co-operated with each other for a few years, without any regular system of co-operation; but, finally, they agreed to hold a meeting for the purpose of adopting a regular system of co-operation.

      In October, 1830, they met together for this purpose, pursuant to public notice, in the Union Bethel, at Harrisburg, and organized the meeting by appointing John Winebrenner of Harrisburg, speaker; and John Eliot, of Lancaster, clerk.

      After spending the morning session in solemn prayer and deliberations, the meeting was adjourned till two o'clock, P.M., when a sermon was preached before the meeting by the speaker, of which the following is a brief sketch. [172]

      Text--"And now, I say to you, refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, if will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."-- Ac 5:38, 39.

      By the "counsel and work," spoken of in this passage, is meant 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; that is, by adopting such a plan of co-operation, that will most happily subserve the cause of God in promoting.

      1st. The conversion of sinners;
      2dly. The establishment of churches, upon the New Testament plan; and
      3dly. The supplying of the destitute with the preaching of the gospel.

      I. The conversion of sinners is the paramount object contemplated by the preaching of the gospel.

      By "sinners," are meant persons in a carnal or natural state, and who have transgressed the law of God.

      By the conversion of sinners, is to be understood, such a moral change of the heart and life, as the Scriptures uniformly require and declare indispensably necessary to prepare them for heaven.

      This great and benevolent end is usually affected by the preaching of the gospel. Hence Christ has ordained the ministry; and those who are entrusted with this sacred office, ought to consider it their greatest duty to labor for the conversion of sinners. This is the first part of the "counsel of God." This, therefore, we have in view; of it, may we never lose sight, and in it, may we never tire.

      II. To establish and build up churches on the New Testament plan is another primary part of this "counsel and work"; and a further object that we have in view.

      A church signifies a religious society, or a given number of Christian united together by mutual consent, for the worship of God according to the Scriptures.

      Agreeably to the New Testament, churches should be formed,--

      1. Of Christians or believers only (Ac 2:41 5:13);

      2. Without a sectarian or human name (Isa 62:2);

      3. With no creed and discipline but the Bible (Ps 19:7 Mt 28:20 Ac 2:42 2Jo 1:9);

      4. Subject to no extrinsic or foreign jurisdiction (Heb 13:17 Ga 5:1); and,

      5. Governed by their own officers, chosen by a majority of the members of each individual church (Ac 6:3 20:28).

      To accomplish all this will require another great reformation. But, under God, it can be achieved.

      III. To supply destitute places with regular preaching, is another great and necessary part of the "counsel and work" of God, and for the accomplishment of this, we purpose to unite on the best and most efficient plan of co-operation.

      After sermon, the business meeting was called to order, and after some further consultation, it was agreed, as the unanimous sense of the meeting.

      1st. That there is but one true church, namely: the Church of God.

      2dly. That it is the bounden duty of all God's people to belong to her, and none else.

      3dly. That it is "lawful and right" to associate together for the purpose of co-operation in the cause of God.

      4thly. That we agree to hold an eldership annually for this purpose, consisting of teaching and ruling elders of the Church of God.

      The Teaching elders present, then subscribed their names, namely: Andrew Miller, John Winebrenner, John Elliot, John Walborn, David Maxwell and James Richards.

      Thus originated the Church of God, properly and distinctively so called, in the United States of America; and thus, also, originated the first eldership.


      {a} Some writers derive the word Church from the Greek Kuriake; Saxon, Cyrc, or Ciric; Scottish Kirk; German Kirche, from the ancient German verb Kieren, to elect, to choose out, and is of the same import with the Greek verb ekkalein, to call out; and whence the word Ekklesia is derived, and primarily denotes an assembly of men called together on the authority of the supreme power.
      {b} We admit, that there are more or less Christians, or converted persons, among the different sects and denominations; but we regret that the most of them have no preference for Bible names, and the right ways of the Lord; or, if they have, that they lack moral courage to show it.

 
 
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