Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: schisms

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.

The path to Christian unity

Believers today are troubled – perhaps frustrated would be a better word – by the divisions among Christians. It was certainly never God’s plan for there to be these kinds of divisions (“there should be no schism in the body” 1 Corinthians 12:25). Yet schisms have been part of Christian history since shortly after the beginning.

The history of how all these schisms came to be can be a fascinating study, perhaps even a salutary one if it would teach us to avoid such schisms in our time. But if we’re just looking to find someone to blame . . . well, that’s the problem, not the solution.

So, here are some guidelines from God’s Word to show us what iut takes to have true Christian unity.

All members of the church must be born-again, Holy Spirit-led Christians.

Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (Romans 8:9).

Baptizing babies won’t create a body of believers. Some will get converted later in life, many won’t. Child evangelism won’t do it either. Teaching innocent children to pray for salvation before God calls them leads to confusion when God does call a few years later. Reciting the sinner’s prayer won’t do it either, unless it goes much deeper than a mere recitation.

All members of the church must look to the Word of God as the source of truth

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me (John 5:39).
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isaiah 8:20).
Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation (1 Peter 1:20).
Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you (Deuteronomy 4:2).
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book (Revelation 22:18-19).

It is a common human tendency to think that I need to completely understand God’s purposes and plans. This has led to conflicting bodies of doctrine that may be intellectually satisfying, but which conflict with each other and with the Word of God. Differences in application and administration of the teachings of the Word will arise from place to place and era to era, but no room should be given to man-made doctrines.

All members must acknowledge Christ as the head of the church

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence (Colossians 1:18).
That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him . . . And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1:10 & 22).

In order for a body of believers to function, men, and women, must be placed in positions of responsibility. But there is no provision in God’s Word for a leader to exercise lordship over fellow believers. (1 Peter 5:3)

There must be genuine brotherly love among all members

Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently (1 Peter 1:22).
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye (Colossians 3:13).
Jesus [speaking of forgiving a brother] saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22).
By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another (John 13:35).

The purity of the church must be maintained

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted (Galatians 6:10).
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matthew 18:16-18).
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (Ephesians 5:11).
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).

When done according to the teachings of the Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit, actions to maintain the purity of the church will inspire confidence and trust in the brotherhood. It is when strife and sin are tolerated in a body of believers that suspicion and mistrust arise.

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