LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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THE CHURCH OF LAODICEA; SOME UNPLEASANT BACKGROUND

 

 

And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:  I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. (Revelation 3:14–16).

 

We come now to the last of the letters to the seven church of Asia. We digress from our analysis of the letter to review some recent church history, some of which some of us have lived through.

The charge of lukewarmness, being neither cold nor hot, has been the theme of many sermons for generations. In the history of the Christian Church, the message of lukewarmness often appears as movements and revivals begin to cool down and lose their motivation.

Perhaps the most passionate preaching on the Laodecian condition of lukewarmness has been carried on within the Church of God Movement at large. Our lecture today deals with that passionate preaching rather than the actual letter to the church at Laodicea. Some people in this Movement will have vivid memories of the preaching and attitudes that grew out of that preaching. Some have not experienced perhaps even the mention of this church letter. For people that are not associated with the Church of God Movement, this lecture will probably be of little value; it is an exercise in honesty.

It is a serious matter to expose the dirty linen in the history of any church, denomination, or movement. There is always the temptation to deny the past. There is always the attempt to assign blame, to criticize, and to cast doubt on the spirituality of those from the past on any side of any issue. But, honesty is always the best policy and rather than to deny, to justify; it is best just to acknowledge what happened in the past and not make the same mistakes.

So bear with me as we go over some unpleasant background of the teaching of Laodiceanism. The pitiful thing is that the passionate preaching of the past 100 years missed the entire meaning of this last letter to the churches of Asia: Laodicea.

The Church of God Movement that began about 1880 saw the Book of Revelation as the story of the biblical church throughout the gospel dispensation. This Movement saw itself pictured as the church at Philadelphia and existing under the sixth seal as seen beginning in Revelation 6:12. That Movement of largely rural and uneducated but very sincere people crossed the United States and went around the world without any supporting organization, carrying the message of holiness and the one biblical church during the first 30 years of its existence.

During the 1920s the zeal of the Movement began to decline and consolidation began to take effect through the umbrella of the General Ministerial Assembly headquartered in Anderson, IN. Along with this consolidation, certain teachings and practices of the original Movement were called into question and allowed to be modified or discontinued.

In 1933 a minister by the name of W. S. Goodnight published a book titled Chart Explanation of the Revelation: With the Opening of the Last Seal. This book was published by the Warner Press in Anderson, IN, but it is doubtful that the leadership of the Movement actually endorsed it. This book was distributed among the ministry most of whom ignored it, but a significant minority was sympathetic with the intent of the book, if not the details contained in it. Goodnight claimed that the Movement, Church of God (Anderson), was fallen and apostate and he called for another reformation, primarily from within the church. He claimed to have new light on the Book of Revelation saying that in 1930 the seventh trumpet had sounded and the seventh seal opened. He believed the changes taking place in the Movement were evidence of the Laodicean lukewarmness. Through a mathematical calculation he claimed that the seventh seal church age would come to an end in 1980 and that no one in the world would be saved after December 31, 1980. He believed that by 1980 all the saved and sanctified people would be gathered together into one organized and visible church—the Camp of the Saints. Be believed Jesus would return around June 1983, 3½ years after the closing of the seventh seal church age. He also taught that only the saved and sanctified would go to heaven at the return of Christ. Those that had only experienced justification, the first work of grace, and had not experienced sanctification were included with the ungodly and would be thrown into hell with other unbelievers.

Goodnight wrote several other booklets on various subjects of his new light. He cooperated with a man named G. W. Pendleton in publishing a holiness paper called The Seventh Trumpet. This paper was dedicated to the advancement of the understanding the Book of Revelation and the transition of prophetic time into the seventh and final seal of the Revelation. The paper is still being published by Pendleton’s daughter, Juanita Coy.

The seventh trumpet message appealed to many church of God congregations because of the changes that were taking place in the Movement and the desire of these congregations to remain true to their convictions on the many things the Movement was then abandoning. In time, many congregations left the Movement to remain independent, but yet fellowshipping with like-minded congregations in various camp meetings across the country.

As the seventh trumpet message caught on among these independent congregations, many of the radical views of Goodnight were dropped, but the vitriol directed at the Movement centered in Anderson, IN remained. In the late 1950s and early 1960s a new champion of the seventh trumpet and seventh seal by the name of Emerson Wilson emerged preaching in camp meetings and revivals across the country and calling more congregations out of the Movement. Wilson saw this seventh trumpet movement as God’s replacement for the Anderson movement. He says in his series on the Seven Trumpets,

 

Now in this 100 years there are two generations. The first generation following 1880, had these truths poured out on them. “Babylon is fallen, come out of her, my people, that ye partake not of her sins.” There has been a let down and the message has been neglected and another generation has come on.[1]

 

The 100 years he mentions is an allusion to Genesis 6:3, the 120 years of preliminary judgement before the Great Flood. In his thinking, the sixth and seventh seals were God’s preliminary judgement of the world leading to the Second Advent of Christ. Wilson said, “. . . the day of God’s wrath mentioned in the 6th chapter of Revelation is about 100 years. It began in 1880 . . .” In that 100 years there are two generations, each lasting about 50 years: The sixth seal from 1880 to 1930 and the seventh seal from 1930 to 1980. Wilson nowhere predicted the return of Christ and the end of the world.

Wilson is cautious not to condemn the Anderson Movement by name, but he used loosely veiled statements that were understood by most of his listeners, such as this from chapter 35 of his book on the Seven Trumpets titled “An Image To The Beast”:

 

When the thing got so human (that is when the Methodist organization got so human) out of it came a bunch of people. They said we cannot take it any longer. It is just a human work. So, out they came. One group called themselves Nazarenes, and Wesleyan Methodists, and then the Pilgrim Holiness came also, that was good, but they turned right around and built an image again. . . . The very minute they built an image and started the wheels of human machinery running, the power of God moved out. It works individually or collectively. If you go to governing your own experience and make up your own mind, the power of God will just move on. If we, as a people, begin to turn the wheels of human machinery and have our own government God will just go get a people that will let him be the head. Now this is a hard statement but I am going to make it. I do not know any movement that is exempt from this. I do not know any movement that has not built an image. Now if you know of any, tell me about it after the service. The trouble of it is, people are still deceived, even right in the Church of God movement, people are deceived.[2]

 

Wilson then dips into his personal experience with the Anderson Movement.

 

The law of God never got me, the by-laws got me. Come on. I made it crystal clear that they did not have any Bible against me. The man made by-laws got me. Let’s face facts. The ministry can back off the Word, disregard, refuse to preach it, refuse to live by it, decorate themselves like Jezebels, and then what will they tell you. “You ought to have enough of the love of God to line up with them.” You can cross the Word of God, you can cross the teachings of the Word, the very doctrines that were the backbone of the Church of God reformation, and still be a good brother, but if you break one of their human by-laws you are going out. So what is governing them? Let’s get awakened. When some church government begins to speak other than God’s Word and then has enough human machinery back of it to enforce that thing; that is an image. The second definition of an image is when they have got their own mark of recognition. It is an image. The true mark of the Church of God is the blood. We reach our hand in fellowship to every blood washed one. Whenever we begin to get any mark of recognition other than the blood, we are building an image. F. G. Smith tried to tell them that 20 years ago. Somebody said what do you mean, some other mark beside an image? All right, this image put the mark on people that you cannot buy or sell unless you have got the mark. What is it? the mark of recognition among the ministry. In religious work, you do not buy and sell cheese, you sell the Gospel. But you cannot preach for that organization unless you have got their mark. The first charge they had on me was because I let men preach for me that was not in the year book. Another mark creeping up there. Blood is the mark and I will still stand on it. It is pretty sad right around the Church of God when a Church of God preacher makes a statement that the blood is the mark and you only get one amen. Some places you go a woman has to have a knot of hair on the back of her head; that is the mark. Other places you have got to have the necktie off; that is a mark. Nothing but images, the blood is the mark. People today are not guided by the Word of God, but guided by the teaching of their organization.[3]

 

Within this new independent movement, criticizing the Anderson Movement was popular and seen as an important part of the seventh trumpet message. It became a standard part of its teaching on the Revelation and particularly the lukewarmness as seen in the church of Laodicea.

By 1980 the seventh trumpet message was becoming threadbare and people were beginning to lose interest in Revelation preaching so that by the turn of the century Revelation preaching had ceased among many of the various fellowships.

While identifying Laodicea with the Anderson Movement may have had a purpose, that purpose was short-lived. In reality, the lukewarmness was not limited to just a Movement, it is a condition that can effect, and has effected, the Christian church throughout history. The six conditions seen in the previous letters to the churches of Asia are very much alive today, and we must stand watch against them, but lukewarmness is the insidious sneak-thief of spirituality in the church today.

History is history and when it is part of our own background, it can be quite distasteful if not embarrassing. The Church of God is not the only movement that has used the Book of Revelation as a weapon or as the article justifying its existence.

It is deplorable that abuse has been carried on in the name of preaching the truth or new light on truth, especially from the Revelation of which there are varied and sometimes proprietary interpretations. Most of the teaching we just discussed was done in a sincere attempt to find and teach the truth to be found in the Book of Revelation—even if somewhat misguided at times.

Having said this, we wish to put the past behind us without further considering the rubble left behind.

Our next lecture will study the letter to the church at Laodicea.



[1] Wilson, Emerson,  The Sounding of the Seven Trumpets,  New-Ark Church of God: Newark, OH,  1963,  pg. 124.

[2] Ibid, pg 149.

[3] Ibid, ppg 149 and 150.