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

 

A proposal to create a kind of “Operations Manual” effectively moving much of the traditional work of the General Assembly to the Executive Council with the rationale of freeing up the larger body for more important spiritual business eventually failed. This proposal was hailed as an attempt to “reclaim our center” and to get back to our original vision and mission. In other words, historically the earliest Assemblies weren’t concerned with managing a global movement but came together primarily for spiritual fellowship and scriptural instruction. However, the Church of God in its earliest history was not the size and shape that it is today either. In my opinion, we should certainly endeavor to be faithful to enduring principles garnered from our formative years, both in our theology and polity. But should we attempt to slavishly pattern our Assemblies today on small meetings in the homes of local church members in the mountains more than a century ago? I’d say, probably not. What we can, and should, do is develop an understanding of ecclesiology that is non-hierarchical and lay inclusive in its essential nature. I’ll say more on this in a moment.

Of course, there are underlying issues behind each of these measures. A recurring theme was: Is this managerial minutia or ecclesiological mandates? This important question seemed to inform many of the individual items up for discussion. Personally, I think I felt a lot like one bishop, also a pastor, who, speaking in session from the General Council floor, said on one matter, “I don’t know if I agree or not but these are the kinds of questions we need to be asking.” Yes! Regardless of individual views, or even of the body’s vote, we need to be wrestling with who we are and what we’re doing. Let us pray, search the Scriptures, and reason together. The results of honestly and humbly engaging each other thusly cannot but be good. As another bishop, this one an administrator, said after the General Assembly concluded, “Well, I won some and I lost some, but I can bow to the will of the body and feel good about it.” As the New Testament Church demonstrated in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the process really does work and it works well.

At this point, please indulge me in a little opining on some troubling tendencies I think I see emerging in recent Church of God International General Assemblies. I’ll try to be brief. With the increasing and immensely helpful assistance of the role of modern technology one would perhaps not implausibly expect time for more interaction from and among the body—especially that which is often hailed as the most important body, the General Assembly, which includes registered delegates, male and female, clergy and laity, above the age of sixteen. That is not the case at all. There is a disturbing trend toward a lack of vital laity involvement. Over the last few decades we have slowly but surely decreased the length of the overall General Assembly—especially the actual General Assembly itself. Consequently, active lay involvement, especially, has been steadily minimized. An observer could hardly be blamed for thinking that really the General Assembly is only expected to automatically ratify whatever the General Council chooses to offer it. That is not how the Church of God system is supposed to work!

 

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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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