By Merle Strege
I have often observed and said that the Gospel Trumpet Company, publishing house of the Church of God movement, has provided its way of being together, its polity, for much of the movement’s history. Furthermore, I have stated that certain virtues are necessary for a church that has such a polity.
If I might slightly alter my metaphors here, the publications of the Gospel Trumpet Company/Warner Press have been the pot that contains the glue that has held together the rich and diverse fellowship called the Church of God movement. That glue is composed of several elements, but three in particular are the moral virtues of love, courage, and presence.
In the church we have talked a great deal of love, and I’m not about to repeat those well-known observations here. Love is the “bond of perfectness” after all, which “unites us all in Jesus.” Love is not the warm fuzzy of good fellowship, but the power of God that keeps you in the church—even with people you do not necessarily like. One of our very best songs, D. S. Warner’s “Bond of Perfectness,” amply illustrates the central importance of love in the glue that holds us together. But the Beatles were wrong; love is not all you need.
Courage is another indispensable ingredient in the glue that holds us together. A community is an extended conversation about the implications of the narratives of God, Jesus, Israel, and the church. For the community called the church this is no idle conversation, but our determined effort to discern the kind of people God is calling us to be. Since that is the case, we must have leadership possessed of the courage to tell us what it really thinks. Moreover, this leadership must be courageous enough to listen to the tiniest voice among us who also has the courage to speak. We must have courage to change and courage to recognize the good idea put forth by someone else.
While much could be said of the virtues of love and courage, I want to focus my attention on the virtue of presence. The arrival of the Trumpet reminded the saints of their community’s presence. This is crucial, for without the touch of another, without someone’s presence, our souls begin to dry. So it is that, at our moment in the movement’s history, the virtue of presence may be even more important than either love or courage (if they are separable), because to the degree that we fail to be present in each other’s lives the glue that holds us together begins to dry and crack.
The polity of the Church of God has been an extremely fragile process. It is highly relational in character and, therefore, dependent upon the presence of one another to each other. Our polity requires the mutual experiencing of one another. We trust our experience of you, as it were, and once we have experienced you we’ll let you do and say some rather astounding things. Why? Because you have been present; you have allowed your soul to be touched, and you have touched our souls.
For the first thirty-seven years of its existence, the Gospel Trumpet Company ate and lived in one another’s presence. The legacy of the practice of that virtue partially sustained the company through years of economic depression and wartime shortages. The same legacy sustained young agencies and their leaders, who also practiced the virtue of presence in the church—eating in one another’s kitchens, sleeping in one another’s homes, and staying for the whole meeting even when they were not on the program.
If the glue that holds us together has begun to dry and crack, then it only stands to reason that a renewal of the virtues of love, courage, and presence may warm that glue and restore its bonding power. But especially we need presence—the presence that cuts across administrative flow charts; a presence that flows through and across the church; a presence to one another inside the agencies and congregations in which we worship and work. A renewal of the virtue of presence will mean more “management by walking around,” not because it is a technique recommended by the latest management study but because our souls are nourished through their presence to one another in the midst of the Spirit.
Among the human soul’s unique properties is its sensitivity to the presence of another, especially through its capacity to be touched. The soul learns two reactions—the cold fear of recoil from the hostile touch and the warm extension of the soul to the one who reaches out in kinship. If we can recapture the virtue of presence, if it can permeate our work in the church, then perhaps the warmth of another’s presence will warm the glue that holds us together. Inestimably, that glue is warmed by the fire of the Presence in whom our souls take delight.
Merle Strege has worn numerous hats in the Church of God over the many years, most notably as longtime historian and Anderson University professor. Article originally published in the October 1989 issue of Vital Christianity, then in his 1993 book Tell Me Another Tale: Further Reflections on the Church of God. Republished by permission.
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