50 Years

50 Years

Yesterday, 02/12/2012, I attended a 50th year anniversary for the Birmingham, AL church of Grace Communion International, http://www.gci.org/.  CGI used to be known as the Worldwide Church of God, when I first knew it, and before that, the Radio Church of God…  The Radio Church of God was a big thing at one time, on the forefront of new technology….  The Radio….  Imagine a church today being called, The Internet Church of God, and people all over the world listening to the internet videos of an authoritative and charismatic preacher….  Radio then, was what internet is now…..

I have mentioned some of my personal life in previous writings, so I will hopefully not dwell on the personal matters too much this time…  I feel it is necessary to mention, however, that when visiting the 50th anniversary celebration of the Birmingham, AL, WCG (there is/was also one in Birmingham UK) that many memories were reactivated.  Some say you can’t go back, perhaps to your old high school friends you grew up with, but I say one can go back…  After all, God Himself can go backwards and forwards in time, and due to his image in us, we also can go at least backwards in time as we reminisce our past.

I was a naive teenager when I arrived in Birmingham, AL, in 1967, just after and during the civil rights movement.  I was straight off the farm… I still knew how to drive a tractor, take care of cattle and hogs, and such stuff as that…  I came to Birmingham, a city perhaps as Joan Baez would sing, of diamonds and rust… to attend Samford University.  Folk music was my favorite type of music.  I listened to it on my portable radio, like I did listen to this Herbert Armstrong, and his son, Garner Ted Armstrong fellows, as well as other “religious” fellows of other opinions….   Nothing rang a bell in my heart as a teenager like the radio broadcasts of the Worldwide Church of God, and the singing of Joan Baez, and other folk musicians…  It was food to my soul….

I feel I was called into fellowship with the people in this church, mainly through some of the young people I met in it, a few of which I saw again at this 50th anniversary… We were young… We were naive, now we are old, less naive, but still naive, to think I suppose, that everything will be OK, if we just love one another…  We were young together, now we are old together… Most of us have moved on from that organization by now…. Some have remained allegiant to hierarchical organizations, and Sabbitarian  organizations, and some of us, like me, still believe in Peace and Nonviolence….  I personally have moved on from hierarchy, thinking it is best for the Kingdom of God to be exhibited in serving under, not over, others, and moved on from literal Sabbitarianism, now believing that Today is the day of our rest, and coming to Jesus Christ for our rest is the fulfillment of this one of the 10 commandments….  But hold to my dreams of Peace, Nonviolence, and Social Justice…. After all, even if we have been called into a cult, a cult is not all wrong….  Or, maybe it is…. Maybe according to orthodox apologetics, we should bow down to civil governments and serve them whith our whole heart….

It just so happens that I am reminded of an article, “Lessons from Vietnam”, by Bill Lane, which was reprinted in the March 2012 magazine, “Sojourners”, http://sojo.net/, which by the way, is celebrating their 40th year in existence.  The original article was printed in 1973, a little after my youthful first flush of naiveté’….  I quote:

“I have been subject so long to a Christian leadership that has spoken of living by faith, of the cost of discipleship, of how hard it is to follow Christ, of never being ashamed of the gospel, of taking up one’s cross. I have listened to scores of challenging preachers and teachers talk about Christ asking for all of a person’s allegiance.

Now I understand that all of this talk, which I took so seriously, has amounted to nothing more than a clearing of the throat and a shuffling of papers. The church has spiritualized out of existence the demands that Jesus made so concrete and immediate. When the crisis comes, the real message of the Christian establishment emerges: Do what you have to do to get by. Keep peace with the powers and forces that rule this nation. Don’t get involved. Maintain respectability. Be conformed to this world.

One of the deepest scars from this war for me is this: I will never again be able to bring to the church my child-like trust, my boyish zeal, my naive teachability.  I have been stunned into silence and disbelief by the precision with which my Christian brothers and sisters and leaders have affirmed not only the authority of the state to rule (which I also accept), but the unquestionable morality of government policy.

Bill Lane was a contributing editor to The Post American, the precursor to Sojourners, when this article appeared.”

The above is more music to my soul… Like diamonds and rust…. I hear those words from the past; I still believe them, I still experience them as I attempt to share my still radical, after all these years, beliefs in Peace and Nonviolence, disfellowshipped  for such foolishness and naiveté’ even today by “religious” organizations and parachurch ministries…

But I think one can go back, go back to one’s roots, to commune, to love, to hug, those who have shared the same journey in life, however right, however wrong, and renew our commitment to suffer for what is lacking in Jesus as we fulfill it through our own suffering…  It is the way….. To suffer, to return to historic Christian roots, pre Constantine, roots of Peace with God and man the early Christians suffered and died for, now nearly 2,000 years ago….

I would say, don’t listen to the Powers and what they say about going to war with other nations… e.g. Iran and such fellows….. These Powers have lied before….

Did that make you mad?


John Cooper


About jcooperforpeace
Spiritual Director, Spirituality of Inner Peace

One Response to 50 Years

  1. phil says:

    John, Enjoyed your post,
    As a person called to prophecy, I can find many things to criticize in the MODERN US church (e.g. conforming to this world, as Lane says, is a big problem for us), but our affirming “… the unquestionable morality of government policy.” doesn’t seem to be one of them right now. Well, possibly it might be for a few groups, but not for the evangelicals that I know. In fact, I find most southern evangelicals to violate the spirit of Romans 13.
    So, I assume Mr Lane was thinking of a different group of Christians.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: