Sunday, December 6, 2015

Trimming the Branches

On Defending the Faith:

I remember, when I was growing up in Keene, Texas, we had camp meeting every summer there on the campus of Southwestern Union College. Since I lived there, I went to all the meetings in the Primary tent, the Junior Tent and the Earliteen Meeting when they set it up at the new Science Building. I didn't go for a few years during my agnostic period, but I came back in the last year of high school and in college.  One of the annual features of camp meeting was always the delegation from The Shepherd's Rods, an Adventist offshoot that had set up shop down in Waco.

Every year they'd show up at the entrances of the Leiske-Pultar pavilion. Benjamen Roden and his bunch would meet all the grownups and pass out tracts about how the Holy Spirit is a woman and all sorts of odd sorts of "new light" that they was a' passin' out at the entrance to the main meetings.  You might know these guys by their later names - the "Branch" and the "Branch Davidians".  A guy I went to Valley Grande Academy with and later to college with, Carlos Garza used to wage guerrilla warfare with these guys every summer at camp meeting. "Cosmos" as he was called by his friends used to subscribe to every SDA offshoot's newsletters and free pamphlets. His sneaky plan was to keep as much of that stuff out of the hands of innocent Adventist church members. He kept them all in a big box that he called his Heretical Literature Library.

A bunch of us used to wait till they got set up at the doors to the main camp meeting sessions and then go down and engage these guys in big long debates and pretend we were interested. By the time they realized we weren't about to join up, everybody had got safely out of the meeting unmolested. Years letter, I was living again in Keene after a brief career as an SDA school teacher, that was ended at the hands of a Head Elder in and Eastern New Mexico church that was teaching Brimsmead Sabbath School Lessons. I made the mistake of disagreeing with him when he told me the church did better without a pastor. I told him, "Brother this church needs a pastor as badly as any I've ever seen." As the man was a big deal in the Texico Conference, that was pretty much the end of my teaching career.

So I'd been working at a residential treatment center we'd started up in Keene, much to the horror of some of the locals, when a bulletin came on television one day about a hostage crisis in Waco at the Branch Davidian compound. Days later we watched in horror as David Koresh, aka Vernon Howell III set fire to a building full of men, women and children. Later, we moved to Tyler, Texas where Mr. Howell tried to do some recruiting at one point. They wisely punted the young man out the door. His brief tenure at Tyler, however, got the church some bomb threats during the Waco Branch Davidian hostage crisis.

The devil has always attacked God's people by creating division among them. So we should not be surprised at the amount of attacks by ex-Adventists and even current but disgruntled Adventists on the church. It's no secret that there are some divisions in the church. The big kerfuffle at the last GC over women's ordination which wasn't really about women's ordination but about who makes the decision on women's ordination - the GC or the Divisions. Leave it to the devil to create an argument over power disguised as an argument over Bible truth. We've been treated to Conference presidents banning evangelists from speaking in their churches, what seems like dozens of independent ministries sniping at each other and the church as a whole. Academies are being closed and sold off every day it seems. Conference committees fights over financial issues. Every time you turn around somebody is creating a new branch or offshoot. How do we keep the church pruned so she doesn't get dragged down or over-balanced by all that unproductive dead weight, especially at a time when, if you search "Seventh-Day Adventist" on Youtube, you'll find that the first 20 pages of results are 90% anti-Adventist videos? The devil hates us, but I'm here to tell you, we are often our own worst enemy.

What's an Adventist man to do?  

He gets busy.  In Titus 3:9 we're advised to "...avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain." Jesus came to Israel at a time when the Pharisees and Saducees were fighting it out for supremacy. The Jewish "law" had become so oppressive and complicated that Jesus ' message pared the whole thing down to just two commandments: love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Even his disciples came from different factions of Judaism. There were Zealots, some of John's disciples, a couple of Jewish Nationalists, some simple fishermen and a tax collector. It was a diverse group to say the least. What was Jesus' solution for pulling this diverse group into a united front?  He sent them out to work the little towns and villages of Judea. And they still broke up when Jesus was taken by the Sanhedrin. 

God's church has always holds together best when it was busy looking for lost sheep. A drywall contractor up in Berrien Springs, who had observed Adventists for years, once observed that, "Adventists are like manure. You spread 'em out over a large area and they do a lot of good, but pile 'em up in one place and pretty soon they start to stink."

You want to keep your church busy guys. Find something for your church to do. Crank up the Dorcas society into high gear. Get a very active Pathfinder program up and running. Get a school started up. Build a food pantry. Get a disaster relief team going. A busy church is working for Jesus. Church members, busy thinking about what they can do for Christ and don't have time to bicker.

In these days, anyone who is tearing down the church and dividing the saints isn't working for Christ. He or she is working for the adversary. That doesn't mean we agree blindly with everything our leaders do. It may mean we argue among ourselves a bit, but we never NEVER forget who we serve nor that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. It's time the men of the church stood up and insisted that our congregations remember that always. We should be the voice of kindness and civility, love and peace-making. And we should never be afraid to stand up to those who would tear down our beloved churches.

We don't need sermons on church unity. We need more things for the church members to do together for Christ. The busier the church, the more united the church. We respond to doing things. 

Talking about unity? Not so much.

© 2015 by Tom King