By Murray E. Burr
Division, whether it involves a nation, people or religious organization, can be such a senseless, tragically foolish thing. To illustrate, let us study carefully the history of the division of the Kingdom of Israel in I Kings Chapter 12. Right and just were the cause and complaint of the congregation of Israel when they came to Rehoboam and said, “THY FATHER MADE OUR YOKE GRIEVOUS; NOW THEREFORE MAKE THOU THE GRIEVOUS SERVICE OF THY FATHER AND HIS HEAVY YOKE WHICH HE PUT UPON US LIGHTER AND WE WILL SERVE THEE..
Notice how senseless and silly this division among the tribes of Israel actually was. Good common horse sense, coupled with just a little humility and understanding on Rehoboam’s part, could have saved the day. Humility though, was a language that Rehoboam did not understand, because God had blinded his heart and mind. Flushed with pride and arrogance and the heady recklessness that questionable power injects into such a man, he was determined to impose his will and to utterly crush all opposition. But he failed to read aright the spirit and determination of an aroused and disillusioned people; therefore his foolish action triggered disaster.
Division in Israel could be attributed to two reasons that could very well be applicable to religious organization in our day. (1) FIRST DIVISION COMES WHEN A MAN OR GROUP OF MEN SEEK TO ARBITRARILY IMPOSE THEIR WILL UPON OTHER MEN Who DO NOT BELIEVE THEY HAVE A DIVINE OR MORAL RIGHT OR AUTHORITY TO DO SO. (2) DIVISION COMES SIMPLY BECAUSE OF A LACK OF SENSIBLE, PRACTICAL, DOWN-TO-EARTH STATESMANSHIP. As Paul scathingly wrote the Corinthians–“I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? No not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?”
Division is a grim specter that constantly haunts a religious movement. Thoughtful men know that it has haunted this Pentecostal Movement in the past and no doubt will continue to haunt it in the future. Yet if it ever comes it will be such a senseless thing–SOMETHING THAT ADMITTEDLY NOBODY WANTS. I state without hesitation, IF DIVISION EVER COMES IN THE UNITED PENTECOSTAL CHURCH IT WILL COME BECAUSE OF THE LACK OF GOOD PRACTICAL STATESMANSHIP. Sober, fair-minded men in authority should bear in mind that like Rehoboam of old, thoughtless, arrogant men, flushed with the questionable power afforded them by some political office can easily trigger disaster.
Danger signals are certainly flying for any religious organization when sincere, spiritual, mature, thoughtful men begin to feel that the time may soon come when they will have to seek freedom and justice and fellowship and the privilege of preaching their God-given convictions outside the movement. Such feelings on the part of men of this stature are storm signals that had better not go unheeded. IT IS CERTAINLY NO TIME TO CRACK THE WHIP OR TIGHTEN UP THE SCREWS. The barking dogs had better be called off. Such men have spent long hours in soul-searching. They do not frighten easily. Reform is needed and needed fast. Even a small beach-head once established outside a religious organization by a cadre of men of such caliber can act as a magnet and draw the wounded, the fearful, the disenchanted and disillusioned like a honey jar draws flies. Hungry, oppressed men are looking for warmth and fellowship and equality and recognition and the sense of belonging. Machine religion that regiments the individual making him a mere cog in a wheel is a cold thing. It may serve as a substitute until something better comes along, but it just doesn’t satisfy.
An alarm that has been blown up all out of proportion by fearful men is that honeycombed in this fellowship are those who deliberately and openly advocate split or division. PERMIT ME TO EMPHATICALLY SAY THAT THIS SIMPLY IS NOT TRUE. The thing that concerned men are yearning to see is not split or division — BUT REFORM.” The thing that disturbs men so greatly and leads to frustration and pessimism is the fact that seemingly if reform ever comes it will have to come from the grass-roots and not from the top echelons of the movement. That is why it must be admitted that any hopes of seeing actual and positive reform are less than optimistic. That such is true shows how deeply this organization has become enmeshed in religious politics. Instead of calmly and fearlessly attacking evils and abuses in the light of truth and justice and fairness as ministers of the Gospel answerable only to God, we stand back and view the matter in the light of political expediency–or how shall this affect my office or my chances of ever gaining an office? Will I ever be asked to serve on some committee again or preach in a conference or camp-meeting? If I do not play ball with the political boys will I ever be offered one of the better churches? YOU SEE, LADES AND GENTLEMEN, WE ARE FAST BECOMING MORE POLITICAL THAN SPIRITUAL. If reform does not come and this spirit and attitude is not expelled from the ranks of this organization and that soon–“THE CURSE AND BLIGHT OF GOD IS INEVITABLE.
“CAN MEN REFORM THIS MOVEMENT WITHOUT BEING DESTROYED?
The thing that has disturbed this simple writer so deeply is the fact that I question the possibility of anyone being able to reform this movement without being destroyed…. We boast that ours is a democratic Organization, yet practically every safeguard to maintain a democracy and avoid a dictatorship has been neglected. We have no built-in system of checks and balances to guard against selfish power cliques. The Sovereign, autonomous church offered the best and strongest of all safeguards but they are fast being taken over by centralized power. Any bill of rights that we have is a very nebulous affair. This will come as a shock to many, “But we have been almost completely stripped (technically, at least) of all freedom of speech and freedom to write.” It is a proven fact of history that freedoms once lost are seldom if ever regained; and power once gained is never relinquished freely.
Imagine if you will a manufacturer building a fine automobile yet refusing to supply any spare parts or write a manual on repair. Don’t think me foolish, but again imagine if you will an automobile reaching out and crushing and destroying the mechanics when they try to get near enough to diagnose the trouble or make repairs. Surely there is a striking parallel here. We have provided absolutely no place for self-diagnosis, or self-analysis; neither will we tolerate self-criticism.
“WHAT ARE THE OBJECTIVES OF THIS ORGANIZATION?
Just what are the objectives of this organization? Are they the same as they were in 1914 when E. N. Bell and Howard A. Goss organized the Assemblies of God? Are they the same as they were in March 1919 when the Pentecostal Assemblies of Louisiana was organized in DeQuincy? Are they the same as they were in 1946 when the merger was enacted and the United Pentecostal Church was born? ARE THOSE OBJECTIVES STILL To evangelize the world? To maintain a clean ministry? To promote holiness and separation from the world and sin? To guard the freedom and liberty of both churches and ministry? To maintain the status of the sovereign church? To guard spirituality and spiritual gifts and ministries, shouting, etc.? To guard fundamental doctrine and truth from the encroachment of error? To perfect a spotless bride for the Lord’s soon coming? To maintain an equal Brotherhood among the ministry?
Or has the emphasis shifted? Have the objectives of this organization become–To build an all-encompassing political machine where individuality is ruthlessly crushed to the earth? To build a modern religious tower of Babel taller than all those around us and make a name for ourselves? To become a full-fledged denomination with all its carnal trappings, such as ivy-covered institutions, brick and mortar, and cultured men of the cloth?
To regiment the ministry and subjugate the local churches? To substitute political or official ministries for spiritual ministries? To ape the world (and the worldly denominations around us bearing the name Evangelical) in dress, in demeanor, in programs, in conduct and in carnal, worldly promotions? To install complete centralized control over every facet of the church? To install completely the Hierarchy or Episcopal system of church government with its graduated series of rulers or Pastors over Pastors? To gain worldly acclaim and prestige and merge with the Ecumenical Movement?
My very soul and spirit and body cry out for the warmth and simplicity and freedom of old-time brush-arbor Pentecost–where brethren were equal and their spirits were free; where government was simple and voting rare; where spirituality was fervent and faith was high; where men and women lived holy; where Hell was preached hot and Heaven cheap at any cost; where the Gifts of the Spirit operated unfettered and men and women trusted God for their healing; where “politics” was unknown, but calluses on both knees and elbows were well known from long hours of soul travail; where pay was small but rewards were great; where noble, spiritual men of God feared nothing but to miss the will of God. If something is not done soon, regimented, over-centralized, machine religion will rob us of these blessings.
If only our official brethren everywhere could realize that NOBODY WANTS DIVISION; NOBODY WANTS TO BREAK FELLOWSHIP; that men are only seeking justice and fairness and at least a chance to live and breathe and obey God and our conscience without being cut down or constantly ridiculed. We have been warned that IT’S COLD OUT THERE. Please believe me when I say that it has been cold where some of us have been standing for the last few years. This simple writer has had his motives questioned, his character dissected and his mentality psychoanalyzed, BUT NEVER HAS ANYONE ATTEMPTED TO ANSWER THE ISSUES we feel are vital to God’s continued blessings on our lives and work. I cannot believe, brethren, that we now operate on the theory THAT IT IS EASER TO DESTROY THE MAN THAN TO ANSWER THE TRUTH OF HIS MESSAGE.
We have proved our loyalty to this movement in the past; GIVE us A CHANCE TO PROVE IT IN THE FUTURE. Roll back the move toward over centralization. Many Pastors as well as laymen are fearful as to the future of the local church and would like to either disaffiliate or incorporate their churches. Repeal the existing restrictions on the local church in the manual and with one stroke one of the greatest fears as well as bones of contention would be eliminated. Who would want to disaffiliate their churches if all the restrictions were removed? AND AFTER ALL, BRETHREN, DOES THIS ORGANIZATION WANT THE LOCAL CHURCHES, THAT IS TO OWN THEM OUTRIGHT, OR DOES THE ORGANIZATION WANT THE WHOLEHEARTED COOPERATION OF THE LOCAL CHURCHES? It seems to me that cooperation with friendship and harmony and goodwill is so much better than coercion with its accompanying ill-will.
Repeal any existing by-laws prohibiting freedom of speech and freedom to write. That does not mean to give license to slander anyone or to speak against a fundamental doctrine, but to free the ministry to preach their God given convictions.
Search out all the galling, grinding things that make the ministry fearful and uncertain, and eliminate them. Stand up and challenge us. Say to us, “We do not want your local churches and neither do we want to restrict you in any way from obeying God. We only want your whole-hearted cooperation.” LET’S GET TOGETHER NOW AND EVANGELIZE THE WORLD.
Unless the REHOBOAM’S ARE RESTRAINED, DIVISION CAN COME TO THIS MOVEMENT. Remove the fears that are haunting the ministry and missionary giving can be doubled in a year. Brethren, give us a Solomon. PLEASE DON’T DIVIDE THE BABY.
Editor’s Note: Word has just reached the Editor that he has been dropped from fellowship with the United Pentecostal Church.
WHEN ORGANIZATIONS KILL MEN
BY ELDER JOHN BRADLEY LAMBETH-PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL
“We the people…”–these are the opening words of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, which is a relinquishment of individual rights in exchange for collective power and protection.
Fundamental law principles affirm that every constitution, every charter of any organization formed is evidence of the birth of a mystical yet ever real entity. It is to the eyes of a casual beholder a fiction of law, a by-product of legislative/judiciary process, yet of an undeniable existence in the factual world.
The masters of Old World law and forefathers of modern day European law systems–the Roman Empire lawmakers–were fascinated with this aspect of law. According to the old masters, just as a fetus legally becomes a person/citizen at birth, with rights and eventual obligations, so does a collective group of persons with a determined purpose become an independent, autonomous incorporation. After the incorporation is formed (birthed), no single individual can extinguish its existence. Only a collective majority (a very dangerous concept) can decide its eventual demise/death.
Without doubt, even the early church recognized the absolute need for some form of organized corporation. On the other hand, the Apostles exercised great care not to exceed past a loose framework of an organization with very limited powers. The basic doctrine outlined in chapter 15 of Acts as a test of fellowship and the “lot system” of Acts, chapter 1, as an election method (with the Holy Ghost as an active participant), made the New Testament church most distinctive!
Often, this is where the sincere purpose of united objectives is shipwrecked. Scrutiny must be exercised by the “founding mothers” of any “organization” at the moment of conception. Even the attempt of granting only (pseudo?) “limited” power to the “baby” can, in later years, be a source of profound regret as the Frankenstein facial features emerge from behind the baby face of seemingly innocent purpose and intent.
Extreme caution is called for as we struggle to find efficient means of fulfilling our commission. Understandably, alone, we cannot reach the lost world, nor can we maintain the purity of the Holy Doctrine. On the other hand, the fear of isolation and avoidance of the same cannot be the justification of turning a blind eye to obvious abuses of the created monster.
Living in a country with strong roots in Roman Law has been an enlightening experience. During my teenage years, the father of one of my friends told me the harrowing story of his life of horror. He was affiliated (!) with the “wrong” political party during the Brazilian military revolution. The crackdown on dissenters of the coup was merciless, yet most subtle. One cold winter day, a military captain knocked on their door informing the wife that her husband was “dead.”
“Not so–“, she answered, and continued, “he is asleep in the bedroom.”
The officer answered: “The military committee did not kill him physically; he was legally killed.”
It did not take the family long to find out the morbid meaning of his words. ALL records of that man’s existence were wiped out by orders of the military organization. He became a nobody! He could not legally work; his children suddenly became bastards; his wife was “single” again and free to marry; he had no retirement rights. He was “murdered” by an organization.
Many of us have met men “murdered” at the altar of a majority vote of some obscure committee, not unlike Stephen of the book of Acts. Mercy and forgiveness will always be overwhelmed and engulfed by the collective votes of political maneuvering.
Modern law studies have taken the legal debate of this organized “living” entity one step further. Jurists now reveal a trend of opinion that “organizations” are capable of committing crimes; heretofore, only physical individuals had that capability. A recent example is the Exxon oil spill in Alaska. The Exxon corporation was charged with an environmental violation/offense of law, although the actual damage was caused by a ship captain! Even God, Himself, has issued indictments against collective bodies. The harsh truth, however, is that before the judgement throne, man will stand by himself, answering for collective sins.
I wonder how many men will stand condemned before the judgement throne for casting only a single stone/ vote/word during the collective “hip-hip-hurray” of an induced witch-hunt against sincere ideals of truthful men of God.
And those that did not cast stones-how can they stand with coats wadded at their feet, knowing the wrongfulness of the acts of their brothers, and excusing the destroyed and defeated as regretful “victims” of the system? How can they do it?
Truthfully, these created monsters will never commit suicide, nor is it likely that the minority vote will ever overcome the powers that be…. But, there is a way out for the truly sincere-on the road to Damascus!
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY APOSTOLIC STANDARD, JUNE 1998, PAGES 11,12,3,4. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.