We're currently in the middle of a series at Community Church of God called BELIEF: What We Believe. We're tackling topics foundational to our faith in Christ. While a necessary series for many because of their backgrounds (there are lots of people new to the Church of God and her history, which is both beautiful and admittedly challenging to talk about), it is also a necessary series because if Christians call ourselves "believers," it's important to be able to confess what we believe and WHY we believe it.
After an initial message answering the question "Why Does It Matter?", the subsequent weeks are built around five non-negotiables of our faith heritage in the Church of God. Where did that number come from? When I started prepping for this message series, I compiled an abundance of topics on which I felt inclined to preach and teach, but then remembered I'd recently read an article from CHOG General Director Jim Lyon in the May MOVE Newsletter which helped me narrow the field. He shared the story of asking the Church of God Ministries Council to individually and privately write down what they understood the five theological non-negotiables of the Church of God to be. The next day, after completing their assignment, the Council returned their answers, and Lyon said, "the independent and individual replies were virtually seamless, a voice of unity and allegiance to defining truths shared in common." Lyon explained his request of five items this way: "I imagined that five would be enough to take the pulse of the Movement, that I had five fingers and could easily remember an idea attached to each, and that only the Holy Spirit could narrow the theological funnel so precisely."
I agreed with his assessment, and privately also wondered if those five things alone could descriptively paint a picture of the Church of God, this tribe I've come to love so much. Could I preach these five non-negotiables with equal passion and insight, and both inform God's people of His purposes for us and challenge them to grow in their faith? Challenge accepted.
Thus far, three weeks in, I am both enjoying the series for its important reminders to me, a child who has grown up in this Movement, and the focused study it requires of me to prepare well to explain concepts that, in my experience, the Church has not always taught faithfully or sufficiently. I was raised and taught by powerful preachers who were solid Bible teachers and lovers of God, many of whom helped me cut my teeth on Church of God truths. But as I have matured, I hear less about our non-negotiables and lots more about a lot of other things that, while important to a life of faith, do not provide the anchors or answers we need for bigger questions.
In week one, we began our discussion with none other than Jesus. He is THE Subject. The message title is not only a reflection of an emerging voice of our Movement to solidify and singularize our focus, but it is also the only jumping off point for an authentic discussion about faith in God, the central hub around which all things in our faith experience are connected. Then this past Sunday, I dared to tackle the issue of holiness and sanctification. I say "dared" because holiness is largely the place where much of my confidence in our "tribe" is anchored but also where my personal assurance has sometimes wavered . For those who have been raised in a holiness tradition, you may understand that better than others. Because my experience with sanctification didn't look or sound like that of others from whom I learned and was taught and with whom I studied and grew in seminary, I wasn't even sure it was real, let alone that I understood it well. Were it not specifically for Drs. Gilbert Stafford and Barry Callen and their words of confidence in me and their affirmation of the Spirit at work in me at a critical time in my ongoing faith development, I might still be wondering.
In the weeks to come, we'll finish the series with discussions about Unity, The Great Commandment and the sacredness of Scripture. I'm excited and challenged by the opportunity and tremendous responsibility to communicate God's Word effectively in this series. I now truly understand why one of the Church's great treasures, Dr. James Earl Massey, the "Prince of Preachers," called the task of delivering the Word to God's people a "burdensome joy!"
Many in our congregation and friends alike have asked what I'm reading, how I am studying to talk about such challenging topics. I have pored over so many references on my shelves curated during 15 years of ministry. (I confess that the Holiness message was particularly daunting for me, and I probably "over-nerded" in preparation!) I thought I might list some of those resources (beyond Scripture and much prayer) that I'm utilizing which are helpful in this task. While this is by no means comprehensive, it is a compilation of valuable gems that are aiding me in "rightly dividing the Word of God." Here is a short, non-exhaustive list:
Many of these references are books that Church of God pastors or students in the licensing and ordination process may already own; several are still made available by Warner Press. I recommend them ALL! Were it not for the work of these great theological minds and faithful servants of God, I would be at a loss.
If you'd read this far, a few requests: 1) I'd love to hear what gem I may be missing from this list. I'm a student at heart, always ready to read and learn more; 2) I'd love to know you'll be praying for me as I work to finish this series -- the prayers of God's people are buoyant!; and 3) I'd love to dialogue about any of these non-negotiables with anyone. I welcome a conversation over coffee if you live close, a phone call or FaceTime if you're a bit further, or emails or comments to which I can thoughtfully respond.
Lastly, for those of you responsible to challenge God's people regularly with the truth of His Word and our application of it, STAY CHALLENGED YOURSELVES. Stagnant lives are not a well from which to draw water that people will enjoy drinking to quench their thirst. If you're going to teach, be teachable. If you're going to lead, be also a follower. Most of all, listen well. God is always speaking to His people; He may just say something in a way that will surprise you, so don't expect Him to speak the same way twice!
Jesus follower. Wife. Mom. Daughter. Friend. Pastor. Learner.