Monday, October 01, 2012

Prelude to Merger (1950s/60s): Black and Drury

The review reaches chapters 14-15 today from Bob Black and Keith Drury's, The Story of the Wesleyan ChurchSo far it's been:

Chaps 1-2  About Wesley and the origins of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in abolitionism
Chaps 3-4  About its activist early days that were low church, pro-women (and anti- some other things)
Chaps 5-6  The post-Civil War let down, when the best and brightest returned to the Methodists
Chaps 7-8  Birth of Pilgrim Holiness Church
Chapter 9   Multiple Ministries
Chapters 10-11 Roaring Holiness 20s
Chapters 12-13 Institutional Solidification (30s/40s)

Now chapters 14 and 15 on the 1950s and 60s:
Chapter 14
As I look at this chapter, I see two major things that were going on the 50s.  The first were the struggles of both denominations with legalism.  There were those in both churches that didn't believe a Christian should own a TV (hellovision) or a wedding ring.  There were those who treated divorce like an unpardonable sin--even if your spouse left you (innocent party) and remarried, even if you had biblical grounds for divorce (e.g., an affair), you could never remarry until your first spouse died.

My parents always felt that one set of my grandparents wouldn't visit our house for several years because they thought we were hiding a television in our stereo. I've even heard the idea that a divorced and remarried person would ideally divorce his/her second spouse because in God's eyes you're married to the first person you have sex with.

(This view is problematic for more than one reason. First, Deuteronomy 24 actually prohibits a person from returning to a first spouse after you've divorced them.  More importantly, this "ontological" view of sex, where the act itself is what marries you in unbreakable glue, simply doesn't match the way the NT talks about sex.  For example, Paul would never have wanted someone to marry the prostitute of 1 Corinthians 6 if she were the first person you had sex with.

Sexual sin is like other sins.  You repent of the act and move on. In my opinion, any view of divorce that sees it as something like an unpardonable sin implicitly slaps Christ in the face and says, well, his death is strong enough to atone for the sin but it's not powerful enough to restore you.)

Most of those groups would leave the denomination in the lead up to the merger.  The Allegheny Conference in Pennsylvania, the New York Pilgrims, a significant number of churches in Tennessee would leave.  I had one relative tell my father he was in danger of hell if he stayed with the Wesleyans in the merger. These sentiments seem so obviously foolish today, it makes you wonder what about us will make Christians of the future shake their heads.

The second thing going on were improvements in the organizations.  The Wesleyan Methodists would move their HQ to Marion after a fire in NY.  Then in 1965, a tornado people here in town still talk about would destroy that relatively new building.  The fact that the WMs rebuilt almost guaranteed it would end up as the merged HQ.  This was unfortunate, since the Pilgrim HQ in Indy was much better located for access to the airport and to be an international hub.  Unsurprisingly, the WC moved its HQ back to Indianapolis in 1987, less than twenty years later.  Indiana Wesleyan bought the old HQ and uses it as office space to this day.

There were major improvements in children's and youth ministry.  We started having youth camps.  The denomination became associated with Asbury Seminary.  What would later become Oklahoma Wesleyan was moved to its current location in Bartlesville.  (Russ Gunsalus' grandfather is mentioned here for his foresight on how they could have merged even more schools at that time--something they rejected at the time but would eventually end up doing). Skyline Wesleyan was founded also at this time, which would become the largest Wesleyan church.

Chapter 15
This was the lead up to merger chapter.  It almost happened in 59, but the separatist groups in the Wesleyan Methodist Church caused it to come up one vote shy.  In another one of those smart political moves, in the 1966 conference that voted for merger, the conference voted to remove the vote of some of these conferences for not following the rules of the denomination prior to voting on merger.  Of course most of them didn't even come, I guess.

Another wise decision was not to make some of the most contentious decisions until after the merger had already taken place.  What colleges would be closed and merged? (Frankfort would be closed in the early 70s)  What would be the boundaries of the new districts?  Where would the new HQ be located?

Also in 1966, the Reformed Baptist Alliance from Canada merged with the Wesleyan Methodist Church, just prior to the merger with the Pilgrims. Despite the name, they were a holiness denomination who had been the first group to ordain a woman in Canada (1901).  They were granted two exceptions from Wesleyan Methodist polity.  They only practiced immersion and had a more restrictive position on divorce.  (Anybody know if they still have these exceptions?)  Their greatest contribution was Bethany Bible College (now Kingswood).

Both voted for merger, which would happen in 1968.

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