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

on my first fundamentalist hero opposing modernism part 2

This is the second installment in my series exemplifying a militant spirit within a compromising denomination. Here you will see my dad taking on the editor of the denominational paper on the subject of inerrancy, a vital topic for orthodox Christianity.

April 22, 1980

The Editor
Gospel Contact
4703 – 56 Street
Camrose, Alberta

Dear Sir:

Re. your editorial – March/April issue as to the matter of belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.

You suggest the matter of belief or disbelief in the inerrancy of the Bible as a standard of Christian orthodoxy is unnecessarily divisive and should be scrapped. You also suggest that belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is not scientifically accurate and you stress the value of personal experience with person of Christ as the primary evaluation of personal Christian faith.

In effect you are saying there should no standard as to Christian doctrine, Christian belief or Christian conduct except the vagaries of personal experience and the self qualified claims of those who may claim to be “true Christians”, whatever that may be taken to be.

What would you or anyone know of Christ except for the revelation of Christ that is made known to man in the Bible? What is to be the qualification of a “true Christian” if the standards for belief and conduct set out in the Bible are not used? Whose “experience” is to be the authority in these matters, as personal experience is a very variegated thing? Many have been known to have had deluded experiences.

What is your motivation in taking the position that belief in the inerrancy of the Bible should not be a standard of orthodoxy? Are you an apologist for some person or persons who are unorthodox, and if so, what is their relationship to yourself? What are their supposed Christian qualifications and beliefs?

As to the “scientific” accuracy of a belief in the Bible, possibly you could explain as to what “scientific” accuracy is, and in so doing you might comment on the numerous “scientifically accurate” opinions that have later been invalidated by new discoveries in various fields of learning.

Sincerely,

[signed]

T. W. D. Johnson

The doctrine of inerrancy is usually at the heart of controversies with modernism and evangelicalism. This is the crux of ‘the faith’. If we lose ground here, we lose ground everywhere. Those who waver have wavered somewhere either in their belief in the inerrant Word or in their submission to it.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on my first fundamentalist hero opposing modernism

Here is the first of the letters I promised to post. This one is from my dad to the president of the Bible Institute my mother graduated from in the early 1950s. At the time my dad wrote this letter, the Church of God in Western Canada was seriously troubled by certain liberal teachings in its schools. I do not know if any of this has been corrected in the ensuing years, I have been out of that loop for so long that I barely know the names of a few of the players anymore.

When I was younger, my dad used to represent our church as a layman during the annual meetings. He was involved with some of the other conservative men in trying to keep liberalism and charismatism out of the group. The conference was stacked against them and some pretty underhanded things were done in the meetings, as I recall.

This letter comes much later, actually during my first semester of my MDiv years at BJU. I believe my dad sent this set of letters to me a year or so later when I was taking church history with Dr. Panosian. In that class I had to write a paper on the history of the Church of God (a paper I remember staying up all night to type, literally). We were assigned our topic based on the group we came out of. I still have a set of outlines we all prepared for one another from each of our papers. Some interesting names in that group, I wonder where they all are now?

Back to the letter… You will see that the issues my dad was contending for was out and out liberalism. I am going to leave the man’s name off the letter, although those who know the situation will likely be able to figure out who it is.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

April 14, 1980

Rev. XXX XXXXXX
c/o Alberta Bible Institute
Camrose, Alberta

Dear Sir:

In April issue of “Worth Reading”, you express a profound admiration for the “great” Dr. Elton Trueblood.

That he is highly educated in the humanistic sense is beyond question. He has written several books, and as you say he has no doubt managed to master the social graces.

An analysis of his books, however, reveal that his claims to “greatness” may be open to question from a Biblical perspective. His book, Philosophy of Religion, Harper Press, gives quite a comprehensive expression of his theological views, which are anything but Biblical, orthodox, or fundamental. He arrives at his conclusions by the process of human reasoning and human reference, quoting as reference many learned but generally unorthodox thinkers and theologians, including Tillich, Archbishop Temple, Martin Buber and many other learned but unbiblical thinkers.

His conclusions are a curious, compromised mixture of truth and error, that due to his educational status and due to his highly convoluted and complex rational meanderings may appear to the unenlightened to be very profound.

Some of the conclusions he arrives at in his mental exercises are as follows. Page references from “Philosophy of Religion.”

1. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, consists in considerable part, of mythological and legendary elements. Man’s logic and “scientific” scholarship alone can sort this out of the Bible and properly qualify it. Page 4.

2. The idea of the inerrancy of the Bible is incompatible with the reality of human life and expression, from which human sources the Bible has come. Page 43.

3. Life has evolved from simple unicellular organisms. Man has evolved and descended from the lower animals. He is not a special creation of God. Pages 97-102.

4. Religious thought has evolved from polytheism (pagan religions) through monotheism (Islam, Hebrew religion), to a composite conception, the Trinitarian idea. Christianity is only one of many stages in the evolution or human development of religion. It may be a superior, or “later” stage, but it has no right to claim any exclusivity as “The Way” to God. Therefore missionary activity apart from a primarily vocational or social effort is non-essential, unjustifiable and meaningless. Pages 224-230.

5. Personal existence will continue after death, but there is no hell or condition of eternal separation from God. Page 295.

He is a universalist. All will ultimately arrive. By conclusion therefore, we must assume that he does not believe in the sacrificial atonement of Christ. Christ’s death would have value only as an example of supreme dedication to principle, even at the cost of life.

What might be called the positive elements of his philosophy are;

A. There is a personal God.

B. God is involved in a purposeful way in the ongoing of the Universe.

C. Man as a person is capable of communicating with the Divine Person, but it is implied by his other arguments that the sacrificial and mediatory offices of Christ are not essential to this.

Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law and the prophets, and that one jot or tittle would in no wise pass away until all was fulfilled, and that he that broke the least commandment and taught others to break it would be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven.

It therefore appears from the published meanderings of the Trueblood mind, that by the standards of Jesus, Trueblood can by no means be considered as a “great” man. The true gospel is hid from his mind. The apostle Paul says that if the gospel is hid, it is hid to them that are lost. Unless Trueblood has changed his beliefs and convictions greatly since the writing of his religious philosophy, he is a lost man and will never see heaven, and he will never know Christ except as the judge of all men.

His considerable association with and acceptance by the Church of God organization is an evidence of the declension and departure by the organisation and many in it from Biblical standards of theology, teaching and association.

Sincerely

[signed]

T. W. D. Johnson

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Interesting, in light of some discussions elsewhere, to see my dad use the word ‘meanderings‘!! The ‘bold’ is mine.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

on my first fundamentalist heros

I grew up in a rough oil town on the edge of the Alberta prairie. My family attended a church that is part of the Church of God in Western Canada, a branch of the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). The church was the most conservative church in our town at the time, I have no idea how it ranks today. My mother graduated from two colleges of this group (Alberta Bible Institute, Camrose, Alberta, and Warner Pacific College, Portland, Oregon.) That connection further bound our family to this body of believers.

Daniel S. Warner, a holiness preacher in the American mid-west, founded the Church of God in 1872. From this group have come such notable figures as Doug Oldham, Bill and Gloria Gaither, and other prominent Christian musicians [just a note: this is a statement of fact, not an endorsement]. The group is not charismatic, although there are connections between the Church of God and the original Azusa Street revival. The preacher who led that meeting was at some point defrocked by the Church of God, partly because of his teachings on the Holy Spirit, if I recall correctly.

Over time, like so many religious groups, the Church of God drifted from its foundations. By the time I was a teenager (1970-1975) compromise in many forms appeared within its ranks. Some of its teachers were out and out liberals in theology. One of the distinctives of the CoG is its resistance to any kind of creeds, hence they have no safe guard whatsoever on theological drift. [That is not to say that a creed by itself will prevent drift.]

During these years, my first fundamentalist hero did what he could to stem the drift in the denominational organs of our group. My second fundamentalist hero did the same. These men failed in their efforts, but their vigor and conviction instilled a fundamentalist spirit in me.

One of these men is my dad. My dad grew up on a homestead on the Alberta prairies, went to a one room school house through grade 9 and finished grade 10 by correspondence. He later took a few grade 12 courses by correspondence while working to support his young family. Through the years he has been a reader and has educated himself at least to the equivalent of a bachelors degree, by my assessment. He made his way in this world first by working on oil drilling rigs in our oil rich province, then by starting an insurance and a real estate business in our home town. (I can remember the days when he would work graveyard on the rigs, then go work in his office all day long. Sometimes customers would have to wake him up at his desk to do business.)

My dad grew up with a God-fearing Irish mother and an unsaved father. As a young man, various circumstances and the influence of two godly pastors led my dad to Christ and discipled him in the Christian walk. It was in my home church that my dad met my mother and the rest is history.

My second fundamentalist hero was my mother’s brother. My uncle grew up on a slightly more prosperous farm north of Edmonton, with a godly mother and an unsaved father. (Both of my grandfather’s professed faith in Christ late in life.) My uncle was also born again as an adult. He pursued the ministry, attending Alberta Bible Institute, my mother’s alma mater, and then serving in pastorates in each of the four western provinces of Canada for the Church of God. He went to glory after his last pastorate, suffering from brain cancer.

These men were involved sometimes separately and sometimes together in agitating for true doctrine and fidelity to the fundamentals of the faith within the Church of God. Recently, while researching something else, I ran across copies of letters from 1980. Three were written by my dad, and one by my uncle.

It did my heart good to see the words of these men who made an impression on me for their courage to stand in the face of withering criticism and opposition. They manifested the grace of God and willingness to fight for the faith which must characterize true believers.

I plan to post these letters here to give you a sense of the kind of men they are. For me they are two of my first fundamentalist heros.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3