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75th Church of God International General Assembly: Historic Encounters, Hints of What Lies Ahead

 

For me, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Church of God is beautifully diverse. The church is diverse in age, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, languages, culture, and so on. Yet this diversity doesn’t diminish but rather dramatizes the unity of the saints. Of course, derivate of our Trinitarian doctrine is an understanding that God delights in unity in diversity. (A few months ago during a chapel service at Pentecostal Theological Seminary the Holy Spirit spoke to and through me that God sees diversity in terms of beauty. Why is creation so diverse? Why do we have so many kinds and colors of flowers? Why is that even snowflakes and stars are all different? We could go on and on with such questions. In my spirit I believe there is one answer to them all: God creates diversity because for God diversity is beauty—especially diversity in unity.) A diverse church delights God!

A diverse church delights God!

One of the greatest components of this particular Assembly was an effort to bring theological substance to the setting. Each day Church of God scholars addressed the General Council at length and in depth on important topics such as the pre-millennial second coming of Christ (R. Hollis Gause), the dangers of the doctrine of unconditional eternal security (French Arrington), and the inspiration and authority of the Bible (Steven Jack Land). Of course, each session began with Bible reading and prayer from a very diverse group of pastors, missionaries, administrators, and others. Yet these doctrinal devotions raised the bar to a new and notable level for such a gathering too often dominated by less heavenly business.

However, everything was not so encouraging and uplifting. Two items relating to marriage attracted a great deal of attention. There was energetic debate over allowing ministerial applicants with previous marriages ending in divorce to be accepted for credentialing. Again, there was a ruling denouncing same-sex marriage and prohibiting credentialed ministers from performing such ceremonies or Church of God facilities from being utilized for such purposes. One bishop, a good friend and a first-rate scholar, told a group of us over lunch of his concern that the former may suggest we’re caving in to a culture of divorce while the latter may suggest we haven’t grappled substantively enough with a biblical and theological view of human beings created in God’s image and of human sexuality. (I must admit it was interesting to hear a Mennonite Church USA guest at the table tell of his own movement’s efforts to address these same issues.)

My friend has legitimate points. Not in lieu of but alongside of his concerns I might add my impression that our ecclesial tradition has tended to be hard to the point of being harsh on victims of divorce and is now trying to find that delicate line where mercy and truth meet and righteousness and peace kiss. Accordingly, the decision of the Church of God International General Assembly this session maintained strict guidelines regarding marital status for ministerial applicants while opening up compassionate avenues for case-by-case applications. Refreshingly, some denominational leaders with well-known reputations for strict ethics led the way in this attempt at better faithfulness in this area.

 

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Category: Church History, Summer 2014

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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