on my first fundamentalist heros discussing controversy

This will be the last installment on the contentions revealed by letters by my dad and by my uncle. The denomination in which I grew up had no sure touchstone by which to call men to account. One of their central mantras was ‘no creeds’. The end of the day sees many in that kind of persuasion having ‘no faith’. If there is no central accountability, there is nothing to measure by, and who is to say if one persons views are right or wrong. So the charming, feel-good unbelievers carry the day and infect a church group with grievous error.

These letters are personal correspondence between my uncle and my dad. The two previous letters were from my dad to officials in the denomination. My dad evidently sent copies to my uncle, who responded with the letter that follows. My dad then replied which I am posting below. I am again leaving out personal names and since these are personal letters I will add a bit of editorial comment in brackets [like this] to explain things that might not be obvious.

June 5th,1980

Dear Tom,

Thank you for your letter and the copies of the letters sent by yourself to the Editor of the Contact and to XXX XXXXX. I felt that they were well written and to the point. I have written XXXXXX on several occasions, one in response to the same article your letter was directed to, and have not received an answer. I have written XXX XXXXX several times concerning the school and with regard to one comment he made towards conservative brethren who did not go along with him. I did not receive a reply to that particular thing but he has replied to some of my concerns regarding the school.

I must share with you the information that I wrote Brother XXXXXXXX, a reply to his article in the Contact. I had just preached a sermon titled: The Holy Spirit and The Holy Word in which I declared Bible truth concerning it’s inspiration and how the Holy Spirit is received and companions us in relationship to it’s direct authority to us. I used text in II Timothy 3 where Paul speaks to Timothy words given by revelation of the Holy Spirit concerning apostacy to come. He calls Timothy’s attention to the Scriptures as “Holy” and thus a priority in direction of how to he saved and worship God in Spirit and in truth… Kingdom experience and Kingdom reality.

[The man mentioned here was a dear friend of our family, at this point in time sort of a senior statesman in the Church of God in Western Canada. He had been a pastor in the denomination and was a prolific author, championing especially amillennialism. He was a godly, saintly man, but quite loyal to the party machine.]

I pointed out to Brother XXXXXXXX the fact that Paul not only “Knew whom He believed” but what he believed and that many of his epistles to the churches were corrective of situations that existed in ethics and in doctrinal disarray. The Scripture does not just point to Christ it declares His authority and Lordship in all matters pertaining to godliness of mind, spirit and body. The idea of the power of opinions and existential discovery of truth apart from Scripture in these areas is dangerous and downright disobedient. His reply was cordial and appreciative of what I shared but he still seemed infatuated with his novel idea that the “Bible is a window not a Wall”. To me that is a term that relegates the Scripture to a “Reference book” to he used if necessary and in emergency.

I don’t believe he appreciated the fact I shared with him that God still has a witness in this matter and that He has raised up many brethren of insight and not particularly associated with the Church of God movement, although I have encounted [sic] some. Sad to say, some have already passed from the scene and are home with the Lord.

I have a distinct feeling that some of the pastors are beginning to view me with some suspicion and concern due to my conservative stand while other definitely are of like mind in many areas. Perhaps the Lord will turn some things around. It will not be without persistence and without a voice being heard. We must temper criticism with objective love declared for the Lord who bought us with so great a price and the Word He has given to be “The Faith once delivered to the Saints” of both covenant ages… that word of salvation and grace diligently heeded.

[signed]

The following letter is my dad’s reply to my uncle:

June 12, 1980

Dear XXXXX:

I appreciate your letter, and encourage you in the firm doctrinal opinions that you espouse.

I recognize that you are looked at askance by the liberal minded and compromisers among your fellow ministers in the Church of God in Western Canada. My opinion is that they constitute about 2/3 of the fellowship between them. The liberals are always moving to the left as fast as they dare, and the compromisers, who constitute a majority with whichever of the left or right wing groups they choose to vote with, are too gutless and morally weak to take a position and root out the incipient heresy and declension that infects the organization.

The truth of the matter that you have been discussing with Mr. XXXXXXXX, and others, is that the Word illuminates and defends those who trust in the Word and are willing to be guided by it. Therefore the Bible is both a window, and a wall to these ones.

It appears to me that those who choose to compromise themselves considerably both as to doctrine and association, are rather firmly entrenched in the schools at Anderson & Portland and in Camrose, as well as in the management and distribution of the curriculum preparation for the Sunday School.

I believe that it is unrealistic to think that these situations can be turned around.

That is the major reason why my children are being educated elsewhere. The other primary reason is doctrinal emphasis. I believe that Arminianism readily lends itself to the trend to rationalistic, humanistic religious reasoning, due to its undue emphasis on the human part of the religious equation; and I believe that A-millennialism readily lends itself to a rationalizing of the Word of God and to minimizing the importance of an explicit adherence to the Word in doctrinal matters.

[These issues were bones of contention between my uncle and my dad. As a pastor in the denomination, he accepted their general theological framework. To the annoyance of many, my dad insisted on being premillennial. The CoG is fully Arminian, a church in the Wesleyan Holiness tradtion, teaching the Second Blessing of sinless perfectionism. I am not sure how much of the perfectionism my uncle would accept. In opposing the Arminianism, my dad is not asserting a Calvinist point of view. He opposed that as vigorously as he opposed Arminianism.]

I realize that there has been serious error and religious decline in many other religious organizations as well as the Arminian and A-millennial groups, but I believe that in these latter mentioned the trend is much more pervasive and pronounced.

Our primary responsibilities are first of all to God, Next to ourselves, and thirdly to our families, and after that to the Christian community. One cannot afford to sacrifice loyalty to God, to self and to family on the altar of an expedient relationship to any religious group. It just is not worth it and never can be. If we fail our God, ourselves, our families, who is able to recompense us for the loss. No man or group of men can do this.

Sincerely

[signed]

T. W. D. Johnson

A little more on the issue of ‘creedlessness’ I was reading over at the CoG website today and found this explanation of their position:

As affirmed in condensations such as “The Apostles Creed,” the Church of God holds to the teachings of historical Christianity:

* The Trinity.
* The Bible as God’s written word, only rule of faith and practice.
* The Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament.
* Salvation by faith in Jesus and His atoning death on the cross.
* The gift of the Holy Spirit to those who receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
* The return of Christ at the close of the age.
* Judgment and Eternal rewards, heaven and hell.

Orthodox Christians may hold varying opinions on secondary or peripheral doctrine. Within the Church of God there is no insistence that everyone conform their ideas on minute points.

Allowing people with honest hearts and minds to search the Scripture’s leads, with the Holy Spirit’s help to an amazing consensus. Experience has shown that formation of the great historic creeds of the church served a purpose in delineating orthodoxy from heresy. Experience has also shown that creed formation has exacerbated divisions between Christians when it was not necessary. For this reason, in the interest of unity, the Church of God Movement has shied away from the drafting of an official statement of beliefs. Such works of systematic distillation of doctrine from Scripture have severe human limitations and tend to be dated. The Movement has preferred to confine itself to the spirit-inspired Scripture, treating our own interpretations of it with humility and those of others who differ with charity.

 

The problem with avoiding the divisions caused by creeds is that anything goes. If you search through the CoG newsletters you will find numerous women pastors. I don’t have access to any of the current positions of those teaching or leading the denominational school, I doubt that it has improved much since the days that prompted these letters.

My uncle passed away with brain cancer, my dad was one voice for conservative theology in a sea of opposition. As my dad aged, he was stricken by Parkinsons disease. His involvment has been severely limited since. They were unsuccessful in their efforts, but I applaud their efforts.

One of my uncle’s sons is a pastor in this group. He has apparently not taken as conservative a stand as his dad did.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

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