CHURCH MERGER AND GROWTH
C. E. Kirkwood
I must confess that the thought of merger has arisen in my mind several times during past years. It's popular; hardly a year passes that we don't read that two denominations have merged. It's intriguing; who knows just where it could lead us and just what it would do for us? It's comforting; for could it not free us from many of our problems, headaches and heartaches? It's sobering, for it could create problems of a different nature and perhaps far more dangerous and painful than any we now have.
POTENTIAL ADVANTAGES IN A SOUND - SPIRIT CREATED AND DIRECTED MERGER:-
I heard Miss Ruth Parson, Missionary and Bible teacher of note, tell of the farmer who lived on the Mason-Dixon line during the days of the Civil War. He was concerned about preserving his property and his friends both in the North and South. He found it most difficult to decide on which side he belonged. Tradition has it that he purchased a BLUE COAT and GREY TROUSERS feeling it would provide him with the utmost of safety. The obituary column stated he was shot both in the heart and lower part of his anatomy. I feel like this about our "NEW" name - People are not sure just where to place us - in the I.F.C.A. or in the DENOMINATIONAL CAMP. I sometimes believe that BOTH are shying away from us. A name more generally known and accepted might aid us to some extent in our outreach and work of Evangelism and Church Extension.
A merger, if possible, that would bring us into an already flourishing existing Church group that was sound in doctrine, know what they believed, and the exact type of Church government that felt was God’s will for them, and with a more perfect system of supplying their pulpits, would free us from the cumbersome and time-consuming task of attempting to legislate these things. Our annual meetings are not as instructive, inspiring and productive as many would like them to be. The very nature of the business at hand prohibits this. Have you ever thought of attending an annual meeting without having to deal with these weighty matters?
The matter of a school of higher learning, dedicated to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and meeting all our requirements for such an institution, provided for us, through a merger, without the heavy expenditure required and other problems of administration, student recruitment etc., does sound appealing. (I am not sure if such a paradise exists). It is apparent to some that after eighteen years our own School does not have all the confidence, loyalty, allegiance or support needed. There are serious reservations by many of our most loyal and dedicated membership, both laity and clergy, that the Bible Fellowship Church, as it is presently constituted, can support a four-year BIBLE COLLEGE, or even a three-year Bible School program. I have the deepest respect and admiration for those who are working at present and have in past years worked in our School, and if Berean would ever fail it could well be that it will not be in the class rooms in Allentown but in the pulpit and pews of the Bible Fellowship Church. The task of carrying out the Great Commission is binding upon us. It is becoming more and more of an expensive operation. It appears to me that at present FIFTY missionaries taxes us to our capacity. Sad to say, some of these were brought to us because we had the money at the time but not recruits for missionary work. The cost of missions is getting to the place where it is resulting in a crisis. Could a sound merger be a source of help in getting this job done? If it could, it has great potential.
There is a parochial spirit in our midst, Our origin, our ever present problems, the long period of transition, all have served to dim our vision to some extent of the world about us with its deep needs. Those who belong to Jesus Christ are members of His Body, identified in Scriptures as the Church of Jesus Christ. The People of God exist IN and FOR the sake of the world. This intent means they have an obligation to speak to men of God through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the message we must bear. We must never permit ourselves to be polluted or diverted. While we have steadfastly striven to maintain the purity demanded of us, I feel that at times we have unconsciously permitted ourselves to be diverted. If a merger were possible that would bring us into full and complete obedience to the task of bearing an effective witness, it would be most helpful.
POSSIBLE HINDRANCES TO A MERGER:
I am not listing them in the order of importance or priority. I rather point them out to you in the order that comes to mind.
There is a great power of CUSTOM, PRECEDENT and TRADITION in the Bible Fellowship Church. I have felt that at times these rival the Lordship of Christ. I believe they affect every particle of practice within the group. A merger that would require or even result In abandoning certain traditions and established methods of operation could well be a mountain which many of our constituency could not overcome. If some of our folks encounter difficulty distinguishing between INSPIRATION and INTERPRETATION others have as much of a problem distinguishing between orthodoxy and methodology. This would create serious problems in any proposed merger.
There is another matter most disturbing which could make a merger most difficult, the practice of seeking to hold most tenaciously any job, position or task assigned to us. It is evident at the Board end Committee level and in our actions in resenting questions or even constructive criticism. There is something about our structure that defies explanation but manifests itself in this complete possessiveness that comes over us after having certain responsibilities entrusted to us for any length of time. This is a matter that could well be the topic for a paper or thorough study by more competent people. It could be the result in the Conference Body not assuming their own responsibilities and thus creating this. This exists not only in our Fellowship. One of the outstanding Missionary Statesman of this period tells me it exists in many of our Missionary Boards (even the so-called Faith Boards). It hinders the merging of certain missionary societies and efforts that could free much-seeded men and money from administration work. The problem confronting these societies is who is going back to the field and who is going to be the new head, which office, headquarters, etc, will stay open? For a merger to be successful every job and position must be laid on the line, with utmost honesty and sincerity. This may not be possible for some of us.
Our unique and most distinctive doctrinal and church government and separation position creates the most formidable obstacle to merger. This is something we may be proud of and not state with shame.
Our strong convictions and stand on separation could well be a barrier for any proposed merger. Our stand on Secret-Oath-Bound societies - our areas of Christian liberty - our Requirement for every applicant for membership to be baptized - all would limit us.
Some of you disturb me no little by continuously moaning about our lack of growth and pointing to other Churches and telling us how they have grown and put us to shame - YET - many of these churches accept members of the Masonic order - and take the position if the applicant for membership is satisfied with his baptism - as both time and mode - they are.
YET - you are the fellows that are the first to demand that we place such restrictions on our members - YET - you continuously praise these other bodies???
Merger with any Presbyterian Church is not possible as long as we maintain the Biblical position of believers' baptism.
The unique distinction of the Baptist Church is not its position on the baptism of the believer but its concept of the church with local autonomy. The G. A. R. B. or even Conservative Baptist might welcome us though it is extremely doubtful that there is any such desire on our part.
Now for the Christian and Missionary Alliance: though we have been closely associated with this group over the years, perhaps less today than in our history, merger seems most remote, I am not sure that the Alliance know what they believe and where they are going. Though there are some that feel this is so of us, so might be the basis of a merger. To my mind, merger with the C & M A would only add to our problems and create more confusion.
The Evangelical Free Church - during my days as District Superintendent they did make rather vague overtures. Their origin in the Scandinavian Tongue has left a mark upon them that does limit their effectiveness in some areas. Their liberal view of baptism would create a hazard to many of us.
I will not mention other groups, many larger, others even smaller. If God would raise up some leader who could gather several of these groups together into an effective witness, he would be most welcome.
Some of the mergers completed in past years have been nothing more than two weak and struggling groups combining to become one weak and struggling group. Other mergers have been nothing more than a strong, large denomination taking over a smaller one. I am not sure this is a merger in the fullest extent of its meaning. There have been mergers which have taken place and are taking place where they take a new name but each maintain their own distinctiveness, etc. What this accomplishes is more than I can explain.
That we have not grown as we desire or should is evident to all. There most be reasons why this is so. It should be our sincere desire to ascertain the causes and remove them. It is my own candid opinion that merger is not the solution to growth. I feel our course is to seek Spirit-filled men for our pulpits. We must train our people and lead them into the fulness of God. We must learn HOW to get them to work in the sense that Evangelism in Depth does.
We must stop answering questions our people are not asking and get to the crux of the matter.
I shall close with these final observations made after being closely associated with the Bible Fellowship Church nearly thirty years:
One danger to which we are most vulnerable if determined to go it alone is that of becoming a hot bed and center for the "EXTREME RIGHT", the "JOHN BIRCH SOCIETY" and the APOLITICAL CONSERVATIVES." This is due to the smallness of our size and the ease in which many can become active in our church. This action will limit our usefulness and restrict normal, healthy growth.
Would it not be well for US to create a Committee of Mergers and search for other denominations of a similar doctrinal position and discuss a possible merger?
Is there not hidden advantage in declaring our Doctrinal, Church Government and other practices? Are we not entirely different in not our doctrine but our relationships to each other?
Why don't we declare an official position on the N.A.E. and the American Council of Christian Churches? Have we ever gone on record, in writing, of our position on the National Council of Churches? Might it not be time that we did?