The Sad Case of COVID and the Westmore Church of God

The reality of COVID 19–instead of just a dreary recitation of statistics–came home when an outbreak took place at the Westmore Church of God in Cleveland, TN.  Things haven’t gotten any better, with the passing of two of its members.  All of this led to this message from its pastor, Kelvin Page:

 

We are members at another Church of God in Cleveland, North Cleveland.  Westmore was formed in the late 1960’s when several members of our own church left to start it. The two churches are in many ways sister churches; members from one visit the other for special occasions, and not infrequently the two trade members.  We’ve been on road trips with their senior group, including the Billy Graham museum outside of Charlotte, NC.

The sanctuary that Westmore used for many years was nice but the property was very vertical; not only was expanding it difficult but it was a nightmare for handicapped people.  They had planned for many years to move (with commendable financial planning to go with it;) however, their move coincided with the full impact of COVID in March.  After years of work their new facility was idle.

Like most of the larger churches in the area, Westmore went in with an ongoing online outreach, which proved handy when things shut down.  Going through drive-in services through April, at the end of May they resumed in-person services while formally opening their new facilities.  It should be noted that resumption of in-person services varied among the Churches of God in the area, and that includes how things like how social distancing was handled.

Westmore had several large events in June.  We went to a couple of these, wearing masks, practicing social distancing.  The last one was an event organised by the Church of God state office (diocese, if you please) on 22 June.  Westmore had made provision for a remote room where those of us who wanted to be especially careful could go and spread out away from the sanctuary proper.  We opted for that, and were led up there by one of the young people of the church.  We got up there to find ourselves in a large room with a big screen tv to watch the service, large couch in front of it…and by ourselves.  We had the best seats in the house.

They were best all around; our diligence paid off, we avoided COVID, but many of those in the sanctuary for this and other meetings didn’t fare so well.  The disease is no respecter of persons: it got Cleveland’s mayor, many of our church’s officials (the “Vatican” for the Church of God is in Cleveland) and of course many of the members.  The fallout is ongoing and it has affected many people near and dear to us.  Our own church has shut down again, going back purely online.

It’s worth stopping and asking the question Evangelicals hate more than any other: why?  It’s hard to get to the bottom of things in a country which is having a nervous breakdown, the second in my lifetime.  But at least for the benefit of my Anglican and Catholic readers, who have supported this blog with visits, I think some kind of explanation is necessary.  There are two things going on here.

The first is the sacramental nature of Pentecostal/Charismatic worship.  I don’t know of any other word to describe it.  Catholics grieve at being barred from the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, but for Pentecostals worship in churches like Westmore is a sacramental event.  It’s the special place where God’s real presence comes and dwells.  It’s not an understatement that our ministers are obsessed with our worship, and I have long lost count of the sermons on how important worship is, how we need to come together to it, and do it properly.  “Properly” can be tricky with the music wars; advocates of two styles of music and worship are as adverse to each other as TLM and Novus Ordo types.  But coupled with the convivial nature of Pentecostal churches (certainly more so than their Anglican and Catholic counterparts) Kelvin Page’s appeal to get back together again had a powerful appeal.

The second is our “no fear” culture.  I’ve talked about the theodicy issue before and won’t belabour the point, but our culture has pushed for a long time that life should be perfect and without adversity.  The church has responded with things like prosperity teaching, we like to think of ourselves as invincible.  It’s the same mentality that drives people to crowd bars.  (Bars and churches are really both houses of worship, just to different deities.)  We’ve been conditioned to believe that it won’t happen to us.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that “it” can and will happen to us.  We’re at the beginning of a bumpy ride for our country, and for Christian churches in particular.  Beyond this present plague churches are going to have to prepare themselves for a different environment.  Many of our brothers and sisters overseas have experienced this for a long time (as this missionary to the Middle East attested) and now “it” has come for us.

If they can endure to the end, why can’t we?

 

J. Robert Ashcroft’s Remarkable Warning from 1957 about Secularism, Statism, and Paganism — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

This Week in AG History — July 14, 1957 By Darrin J. Rodgers Originally published on AG News, 16 July 2020 Sixty-three years ago, J. Robert Ashcroft delivered a remarkable address that encouraged the Assemblies of God to invest in Christian higher education. Pentecostals must train the next generation of “thinkers and doers,” he surmised, […]

via J. Robert Ashcroft’s Remarkable Warning from 1957 about Secularism, Statism, and Paganism — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

Jonathan Merritt is Out of His League Fooling With an Anglican

Anne Carlson Kennedy’s post didn’t sit too well with him, and he responded as follows:

From top to bottom, this “essay” is a mess. The giant, unbroken paragraphs are a slog to read, and the grammar errors and made up words (what is “Tragical” exactly?) are impossible to ignore. But the worst part, perhaps, is that you couldn’t even get the premise right. I didn’t argue that “Evangelicals deserve to be cancelled.” I wrote a piece explaining how a movement sparked by evangelicals is coming for them. Which is why you weren’t able to actually quote me saying such a thing. If you’re going to use words in public–and particularly if those words are going to be weighted down with such bald self-righteousness–I would suggest that, at a minimum, you do not use those words to bear false witness against others. Unlike LGBTQ relationships, lying is one of the big 10. Do better.

But she is not to be outdone:

So, first of all, I am the Director of Better. If anyone can do better, it’s me. Rest your mind on that score. Second of all, I feel that if you have to go after the quality of my writing, it must be because I upset you in some way. Third, “tragical” is a word much loved by those who read girly books like Anne of Green Gables. Of course, it’s not the sort of term one would use in most online “spaces,” but I have carved out my own niche here, mostly full of people who don’t mind a little wordiness. It’s not for everyone, if it were, that would ruin it.

Anglican blogs and websites tend towards the extended monologue (verbose) with the vocabulary that follows.  That’s probably why (in addition to my background) I’ve gravitated towards the Anglican/Episcopal world for the last score or so, and why my Pentecostal and Evangelical friends find me mystifying and ignore me whenever they get the chance.  When going online for instruction, I promised my students that I would be as rambling and incomprehensible online as I am in person, and I plan to make good on that promise.

Merritt has picked the wrong person to characterise as a blindly triumphalistic evangelical.  She and her husband Matt have paid the culture war price in their own church, having gone up against a malicious opponent.  She’s also good (as the above quote will attest) at the Anglican Put-Down, responding to which (as any street evangelist who will level with you will attest) is nearly impossible.

I’ve recently pointed out the Anglican/Episcopal world’s elevated demographics in this country, and how it’s inappropriate for them to go down the CRT path.  In this case, however, it pays off: Merritt’s out of his league in taking on this reader of Anne of Green Gables.

Don’t Like White Privilege? Quit Your Job!

That’s Bernard Goldberg’s sensible suggestion:

Here’s the idea: Every white corporate CEO who thinks racism is ingrained in our culture, every white journalist who thinks racism has infected every facet of American life, every politician who thinks this is a fundamentally racist country — all of them should voluntarily give up their jobs, on one condition: that they be replaced by qualified African Americans.

I’ve said it before: if you want to make an American really vein-bulging mad, tell him or her the obvious.  If you look at the comments, and see the virulent reaction to this idea, you’ll see what I mean.

Renunciation of any kind is an impossible sell in this country.  Much of the fault for this, beyond ordinary human nature, can be laid at the feet of Protestant Christianity in general and Evangelical Christianity in particular, who have taught that renunciation is unnecessary, even though it’s a central part of Jesus’ message.

This reaction mirrors a more polite form of this debate I had last summer with a prep schoolmate about a piece he wrote entitled “Renouncing Privilege.”  I actually put forth the idea that renunciation meant what it said, and his reply was as follows:

Many of the students were, and probably still are wealthy, still privileged. I would not try to make the point that the young men became followers of Gandhi, just that they recognized an abusive power that they had the means to abolish and voted accordingly.

Maybe that’s why they’re howling to remove Gandhi’s statue…

What can Pentecostals learn from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism? — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

This Week in AG History — June 3, 1944 By Darrin J. Rodgers Originally published on AG News, 04 June 2020 What can Pentecostals learn from John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism? Wesley, an Anglican priest in England, helped to lay the foundation for large segments of the evangelical and Pentecostal movements. Despite living […]

via What can Pentecostals learn from John Wesley, the founder of Methodism? — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

When Churches and Good Causes Are Hijacked — Stand Firm

When I was a callow student at Duke University, the verdicts from the Greensboro Killings state trial came in November 1980. Five Klansmen were acquitted of murdering four Communist Party members and an additional man during a protest a year earlier. I considered the result unjust and therefore joined a campus protest rally.But the speeches…

via When Churches and Good Causes Are Hijacked — Stand Firm

The Spiritual Legacy of Camp Meetings: From the Scottish Covenanters to the Assemblies of God — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

This Week in AG History — May 29, 1937 By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg Originally published on AG News, 28 May 2020 If you attended meetings in the years of the early Pentecostal movement, you might remember a summer church event that included sawdust floors, crude benches, tents, and open tabernacles. Those early tents and brush […]

via The Spiritual Legacy of Camp Meetings: From the Scottish Covenanters to the Assemblies of God — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

The Relationship Between the Giving of the Law and Pentecost

A neglected topic taken up by Bossuet in his Elevations on the Mysteries:

When God wanted to give Moses the law on Mount Sinai, we read four important things. He descended to the sound of thunder and trumpets. The whole mountain seemed on fire, and one could see a flame break out in a cloud of smoke. God engraved the Decalogue on two stone tablets. He pronounced the other articles of the law in an intelligible voice, which was heard by all the people.

To publish the Gospel law, he renewed these four things, but in a much more excellent way. The work began with a great noise: but it was neither the violence of thunder, nor the sound of trumpets, as we hear in a fight; the noise which God sent was like that of an impetuous wind, which represented the Holy Spirit; and who, without being terrible or threatening, filled the whole house, and called all of Jerusalem to the beautiful spectacle which God was going to give them. We saw a fire, but pure and smoke-free, which did not appear from afar to frighten the disciples, but whose innocent flame, without burning them or singeing their hair, rested on their heads. This fire penetrated inside, and by this means the law of the Gospel was gently imprinted, not in insensible stones, but in a heart composed of flesh, and softened by grace. There was a word, which multiplied admirably. In place on Mount Sinai God spoke one language, and one people; in the evangelical publication which was to bring together in one all the peoples of the universe in the faith of Jesus Christ and the knowledge of God, in a single speech we heard all languages, and each people heard their own. So Jesus established his law much differently than Moses. Let us believe, hope, love, and the law will be in our hearts. Let us prepare inner ears for him, simple attention, a gentle fear which ends in love.

The giving of the law as a “figure” of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is something that has gotten neglected as the practice of type/antitype has gone out of fashion in Christian circles.  It should not: such a hermeneutic shows that the Old Testament and the sacred history of the Jews was the preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ.

Evangelism is not Optional: Christians will either Evangelize or Apostatize — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

This Week in AG History — May 23, 1954 By Darrin J. Rodgers Originally published on AG News, 21 May 2020 Could there be a task that is more important or more daunting than the evangelization of the world? James Stewart, in a 1954 Pentecostal Evangel article, challenged readers to creatively and proactively fulfill the […]

via Evangelism is not Optional: Christians will either Evangelize or Apostatize — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

The Ambassador Airplanes: How the Assemblies of God Became Involved in Missionary Aviation — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center

This Week in AG History — May 13, 1950 By Glenn W. Gohr Originally published on AG News, 14 May 2020 Did you know that the Assemblies of God owned two passenger planes just after World War II that carried Assemblies of God missionaries overseas? Following World War II, commercial flights were not readily available, […]

via The Ambassador Airplanes: How the Assemblies of God Became Involved in Missionary Aviation — Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center