Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: hymns

Man-made churches of God?

John Winebrenner was a minister of the German Reformed Church in Pennsylvania who was severed from that denomination in 1828 for being too evangelical, i.e.: not Calvinistic, in his preaching. He continued preaching wherever people would hear him and in 1830 he and his followers organized the denomination now known as the Church of God, General Conference. This new Church of God had no written creed, taking the Bible as the sole guide to faith and stated that their objective was to unite all true Christians in one body.

Daniel Warner became a minister of this body in 1867. In 1877 he claimed to have an experience of entire sanctification. The Winebrenner church rejected this doctrine of perfectionism and Daniel Warner was expelled in January of 1878. He continued preaching this doctrine and found many in agreement.

In studying the 7th chapter of the book of Daniel, he calculated the time of the supremacy of the Roman Catholic church as beginning 270 A.D. and lasting 1260 years (counting a year for a day) bringing him to 1530. He was on pretty solid ground thus far, but then turning to Revelation 11:11 he came to a period of three and a half days when the witnesses of God appeared to be dead. Now reading 100 years for a day he discovered that the true witness was scheduled to revive in 1880 A.D.

Thus he organized a new Church of God in 1880 with full confidence that this was the fulfilling of Bible prophecy. I would not call Daniel Warner a charlatan, but it would appear that he was susceptible to mistaking his own wishes and imagination for the leading of the Holy Spirit. He believed that his new movement, with a twin emphasis om the restoration of the Church of God which had long been absent from the earth and on the full and entire sanctification of believers by a second work of grace after conversion.

The new church had many talented and prolific song writers, including Warner himself. Others were Andrew L. Byers, Charles W. Naylor, Benjamin H. Warrren Clara M. Brooks and many more. Most of their hymns were sound evangelistic hymns, but a few point to their distinctive doctrines. Much mention is made of the “evening light,” Warner having interpreted Zechariah 14:7 to be a prophecy that the gospel light would once again shine at the end of the age. Warner died in 1895. The church is now known as the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana.

There have been a number of schisms in that body over the past 75 years. One was the Church of God (Restoration) which was led by Daniel Layne until his death in 2011. There were many who felt the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana had drifted from its original fervency into worldliness. Layne took his inspiration from Revelation 8:1 which speaks of silence in heaven for the space of half an hour. Now taking each minute for a year, Layne concluded that the former church had become apostate in 1950 and the silence in heaven ended when he began his restoration movement in 1980.

The Church of God (Restoration) has about 20 congregations. Some in Canada are made up largely of German-speaking people who were formerly part of Mennonite denominations. These German language congregations are known as Gemeinde Gottes.

All these churches began with considerable sincerity and a fervent desire to unite the people of God. Looking back over their history it seems they have done more to divide the children of God.

God’s way is best

I watched bemused as Michelle pedalled her tricycle back in forth on the sidewalk in front of our house. Then she saw a bus coming and pedalled to the bus stop at the end of the block. After a passenger or two had dismounted or mounted the bus, she lined up beside it. When the bus began to move she did too, pedalling for all she was worth to beat the bus to the other end of the block. She never quite beat it, but she could keep up.

“She’s just a little girl trying to amuse herself,” I thought. “She knows to keep out of the way of pedestrians and she never leaves our block. But I’ve got to get my family to a place where she has something better to do than drag race with a city bus.”

January 18 of 1978 was my mother’s 70th birthday. That was also the day my Dad suffered a stroke. He lived for two more days and passed away early in the morning of the 20th. Dad had been fading away for some time; after the stroke we had known the end was near. But that knowledge didn’t insulate me from the shock of him actually being gone. That shock triggered an allergy attack.

Mom’s life had centred around visiting Dad in the nursing home, but she was a resilient person adn soon settled into the new reality in her life. Circumstances made it necessary for Dennis to stop farming. I helped him for a few weeks that spring, cleaning up around the yard and getting machinery ready for the auction sale. After the sale it seemed that we were now free to leave for a congregation where we could make our home. Mom was quite capable of looking after herself and said nothing to discourage us from leaving.

But where would we go? Congregations in Western Canada were rural and there didn’t seem to be work available anywhere near them. At least not for someone with my allergy problems. When a new congregation began to form that spring at Swanson, my hopes were aroused. Some families from Linden were moving there, as well as all the members from Hague. We looked around there in May. Swanson was west of the South Saskatchewan River. There was an irrigation district on the east side with the main crop being potatoes. My hopes began to rise.

On our way home I stopped at a potato storage plant and asked the lady in the front office if they were hiring. She said yes and handed me an application form. I took it out to the car and was going to fill it out. The first question stopped me: Do you have any allergies?

A dark cloud filled the car as we began the drive home. Then an idea popped into my mind : “Why don’t you go to St Marys, Ontario?” It was ridiculous, so far away and we didn’t know anyone there. But it seemed to bring a little glimmer of light.

We talked it over in the following days. It was such a little glimmer of light, but it was all we had. We decided I would drive out there first, find work and a place to live, then Chris and Michelle would follow.

We packed everything we could into our little Toyota and June 1, 1978 I started the long eastward drive. There is a song in the Christian Hymnal entitled “God’s Way is Best.” The first line of the chorus goes “God’s way is best, I will not murmur, although the end I do not see.” That was my situation; I certainly did not have any idea what I would find or how things would turn out when I got where I was going. Yet it seemed that this was what God wanted me to do, and I went. As I travelled I sang that hymn off and on and found that I could remember all four verses.

I got to the St Marys area Sunday afternoon and drove down the road where the church was located and where some of the families lived.  I didn’t have the courage to stop but drove on into Stratford and found a motel for the night. As I sat in that room the question uppermost on my mind was “What on earth am I doing here?” A prayer before I went to bed settled my mind again that I was where God wanted me to be.

The next morning I drove down the road by the church and saw a farmer adjusting a piece of equipment in a field. It was Howard Nickel and he directed me to a place down the road where a house was being renovated to be the home of minister Robert Toews. I stopped there and that broke the ice. I spent the next couple days looking for work and found a job at an auto parts plant in Mitchell, on the northern edge of the congregation.

There was Bible Study Wednesday evening and I sat in the St Marys church for the first time. I wanted to ask for the hymn I had been singing on the trip to Ontario, but I couldn’t remeber the number. As I paged frantically through the book, someone else called out a number. My heart sank, but when I found the place in the hymnal it was the one I had been looking for. As we sang “God’s Way is Best,” a feeling washed over me that I had arrived where I was supposed to be.

Missionary hymns

I think the old missionary hymns leave many of us feeling a little uneasy. Those references to carrying the gospel to every dark land  – was there a deliberate inference that lands where white people dwell are more enlightened and the lands where darker skinned people dwell are in spiritual darkness? I fear that idea seemed self-evident to white people 100 to 200 years ago.

It’s not so evident today and I think we should stop singing those hymns. I don’t believe that we should stop missionary activity, but perhaps the greater need in our day is right under our noses. While Christianity has taken root on other continents, it is in danger of being uprooted in Europe and North America.

That leads me to the other concern I have with the old missionary hymns – many of them take it for granted that missionary activity can only happen in lands that are across the ocean waves.

Churches in Nigeria have taken note of the increase of unbelief, paganism and idolatry in Europe and North America and are sending out missionaries to do what we seem to have forgotten how to do. In our nearest city, Saskatoon, three Nigerian denominations have placed missionaries and are establishing congregations.

I wonder what kind of missionary hymns they sing in Nigeria?

Hazards of cross-cultural ministry

At a worship service in Québec the visiting minister rose to begin his message. He had just heard us singing in an unfamiliar language but the melody was familiar and he felt he had found a common thread to connect  with the congregation. He began by referring to several words of the English hymn he thought he had heard.  The brother who was interpreting first explained in French that the minister was referring to an English hymn, then gamely tried to express his thoughts as clearly as he could in French.

As the minister continued with his message, he kept coming back to the words of the English hymn and the interpreter valiantly tried to create something coherent out of those thoughts in French. Those of us who were bilingual smiled inwardly, others listened in respectful bafflement.

That is a common stumbling block in cross-cultural ministry. Every major language has a number of hymns that are unique to that language. Some hymns have been translated into many languages. How Great Thou Art is a Swedish hymn that is familiar to people in many other languages. A Mighty Fortress is our God originated in German and is likewise known to many people in their own language. However, differences in grammatical structure and rhythm often make it  next to impossible to create an exact translation. Thus, new songs are written in other languages, expressing more or less the same thoughts.

More hazardous yet for a preacher venturing to speak to people through an interpreter, often a completely different hymn is set to a tune that is familiar to the speaker in his native language. That is what happened in the incident mentioned above. The words of the song we had been singing bore no resemblance at all to the words that had been playing in the preacher’s mind.

Just a little reminder that in cross-cultural ministry we first need to try to understand before we try to make ourselves understood.

Food for the hungry

Back when we were living in southwestern Ontario we made the trip back to Saskatchewan every two years. The trip was 3,000km and took 3 days each way. The first two days we tried to get an early start and got our meals at fast food restaurants to save time. When we stopped for gas we would load up with pop and snacks to keep us going. By the third day, we were all tired of fast food and junk food and knew we had to stop for one real meal before we got to our destination.

We still enjoy fast food and junk food, more often than we should if truth be told. But we know that we cannot live on a diet like that. Even fast food restaurants are advertising healthier meals, with more fresh, natural ingredients and fewer additives.

But there are still far too many churches out there trying to feed their congregations with fast food spirituality. They offer contemporary music that is initially fresh and attractive but provides very little nourishment. Then they add “seeker-friendly” messages that intrigue but don’t satisfy. And they wonder how they can keep their young people from wandering off in search of the world’s amusements.

People want to be fed, need to be fed. Preachers need to spend less time studying psychology and more time in deep study of the Word of God, less time trying to adapt marketing methods to evangelism and more time in prayer, less time trying to get new people into the church and more time feeding the souls of those who are already in.

That last point may seem counter-intuitive, most of us agree that churches today need to be more evangelistic in their home communities than they have been in past generations. But – the preacher is not the church, the people are. Feed the people, show them how to find solid spiritual nutrition for themselves, then let them invite others to the banquet.

“Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

Unto the hills around

Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes;
O whence for me shall my salvation come, from whence arise?
From God, the Lord, doth come my certain aid,
From God, the Lord, who heav’n and earth hath made.

He will not suffer that thy foot be moved: Safe shalt thou be.
No careless slumber shall His eyelids close, who keepeth thee.
Behold, our God, the Lord, He slumbereth ne’er,
Who keepeth Israel in His holy care.

Jehovah is Himself thy keeper true, thy changeless shade;
Jehovah thy defense on thy right hand Himself hath made.
And thee no sun by day shall ever smite;
No moon shall harm thee in the silent night.

From ev’ry evil shall He keep thy soul, from ev’ry sin;
Jehovah shall preserve thy going out, thy coming in.
Above thee watching, He whom we adore
Shall keep thee henceforth, yea, forevermore.

John Douglas Sutherland Cambell, 1877

[John D. C. Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, Chief of Clan Campbell and later 9th Duke of Argyll, was Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. His wife, Princess Caroline Louise Alberta, was the 4th daughter of Queen Victoria. She gave her name to Lake Louise in B.C. and to the province of Alberta. Queen Victoria really would have preferred for her daughter to marry a European prince, to which Mr. Campbell is reported to have quietly responded: “Madam, my forefathers were kings when the Hohenzollerns were parvenus.” Despite his aristocratic heritage, Campbell was a fervent Christian and a supporter of Dr. Barnardo’s homes for homeless children. The above poem is sung to a melody composed by Charles H. Purday.]

Sing Out!

Alf Soper was janitor of the school I attended as a boy. Once he had been a travelling repairman for a farm implement company, then the boss of some large construction projects. New he was old and content to tend the coal fired boiler that heated the two storey brick school, sweep the floors, carry out the garbage and do all the other little chores involved in cleaning and maintaining this building that was daily swarmed by more than a hundred children of all ages.

Alf Soper never married, didn’t appear to have much of a social life, yet never seemed grumpy about the shenanigans of the children. He often attended the same little Anglican Church that our family attended. He would sit on the second bench from the front on the side nearest the organ. Our family sat the second seat from the back on the opposite side, yet when a hymn was sung we could near Alf’s voice as clearly as if he was sitting beside us.

Alf was born in England and was probably of pretty much unadulterated Celtic heritage. The rest of us were not terribly good singers and were content to sing along with the organ, taking care not to be too loud lest someone hear our false notes. Not Alf. He was in his element when we sang the old hymns and not the least self conscious about letting his powerful voice be heard. And I don’t think he ever hit a false note.

Years later, we were members of a congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Ontario. There was no organ in our church, we sang a cappella in four part harmony, and most people loved to sing. A song leader would go up to the front mike, use a pitch pipe to set the correct pitch and lead the singing.

Except when Frank Adams was in church. Frank was another elderly man of Celtic ancestry, Welsh to be exact, and an amazing singer. He would sit on the fourth bench from the front and give out the number for Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah or one of his other favourites. The song leader would dutifully get up, blow the pitch, start the song – and from there on Frank would lead it. The song leader would be someone with a good voice and he had the advantage of the PA system, but he simply was no match for the power of Frank’s voice.

I’m glad no one ever told Frank that maybe he should turn down the volume a bit. He loved to sing, he was enjoying himself, and to tell the truth, we enjoyed it too.

Perhaps we take singing a bit too seriously, trying to get every note just right. If you listen to one of our church services, you will hear the voices of little children babbling along with the singing. They don’t know the words or the melody, but they joyfully blend their voices with the rest of the congregation and it does not distract at all from the beauty of the singing.

When these children get older they learn to read the words, they learn to read the music and hit the notes, but lose their childlike innocence and become self-conscious about letting their voice be heard. Most grow out of that stage, but not all.

I’m one of the self-conscious ones. I learned next to nothing about music in public school, in the church we attended when I was young, or at home. My mother loved to sing, but we never had any family singalongs because my father didn’t sing. I do my best singing in the shower, probably always will, but I enjoy it when I see others sing out with no thought of “what will people think?,

The song of Mary Magdalene

This well-known hymn was written in March of 1912 by C. Austin Miles after a scene appeared in his mind of Mary Magdalene coming to the garden early on the first day of the week. She had seen the open tomb and now she thought she was seeking His body. Then His familiar voice spoke her name.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

 

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