Friday, June 14, 2013

Losing Our Leaders

Today I received a thoughtful email from a reader who enjoyed my post on the late Kenneth E. Jones.  It got me to thinking.  I lament the fact that, in our inevitable change as time continues, the Church of God (Anderson) is losing her statesmen.  As we as a church group age we are exposed to the larger evangelical world around us; that's not necessarily a bad thing.  However, there is something to be said for leaders (elected or informal) who helped us craft our identity.  Kenneth E. Jones was one of them.  I fear that with the passing of Arlo Newell we may have seen the last of our statesmen in one respect.

Though fallible men D. S. Warner, the Byers brothers, E. E. Byrum, F. G. Smith, H. M. Riggle, C. E. Brown (pictured right) and W. Dale Oldham, etc. gave us something.  They gave us cohesion; they gave us a common heritage and identity.  Today we're more apt to look to Francis Chan than a national leader (again, elected or informal).    As the years pass we leave our Church of God subculture and amalgamate into the larger evangelical world.  We lose something.

I'm not arguing that we didn't need to leave behind some of the teachings of influential leaders of old; I'm simply saying that we lose our story as we grow.  Again, it's inevitable.  But let's at least acknowledge the passing.

It reminds me of an event that happened some years ago as I searched for F. G. Smith's grave at Maplewood Cemetery.  It took a bit of doing; his grave was, frankly, forgettable and nondescript.  I had an epiphany as I stood there and looked at the ground.  The Anderson campground was bustling with folks there for the annual National Convention.  I was standing—alone—at the graveside of a man who, at his zenith, was the most powerful leader in the Church of God.   The message hit me: Life goes on.

I'm not saying authoritarian leadership or the church-historical method of interpreting the books of Daniel and Revelation are preferable.  But I am here to acknowledge the passing of our sense of purpose and mission.