The other day, I was foraging through some old papers in my garage and I ran across a blue 3 ½ X 8 card with a note on it. I had written that note more than 35 years ago, when I pastored two churches for the WCG in Oklahoma. The note read: “Mr. Crosslin meets Mr. Ogan – visit with him. 10 AM at the Quo Vadis. Sunday.” “Mr. Crosslin” was Clyde Crosslin, a deacon in the Tulsa church. “Mr. Ogan” was a deacon in the Ponca City Church. If memory serves, the Quo Vadis was a restaurant either in Ponca City or Tulsa, or somewhere in between. Apparently I was getting the two deacons together for a pow-wow of some sort.
On the back of the card was another note: “Mrs. Daughtee: appendicitis. Monty.” I think I spelled her name wrong, but the note was to remind me to ask for prayer for her. I’m not sure who “Monty” was.
I pastored those churches from May 1969 to somewhere in 1971, before being called back to Pasadena to work on Tomorrow’s World magazine. I have many fond memories of those two congregations and the wonderful people who populated them. Sadly, after so many years, I can only remember a handful of names from that period. But I remember the “Oakie” spirit. (They even gave me an “Honorary Okie” pin.) I also recall the last sermon I gave in Tulsa, before I left to come to Pasadena. I told them that each pastor they had was like a chapter in the book that will be the chronicle of the Tulsa Church. Each is different. Each makes a unique contribution to the spiritual growth of that congregation. Before me, the Tulsa Church was pastored by Jon Hill, Dave Antion, Richard Prince and John Mitchell. After me came Jim Redus. Since then I’ve lost track. I had heard that the Tulsa and Ponca City congregations had, following the larger pattern, broken up into smaller groups.
Mel Turner was my assistant in Oklahoma. I believe his brother Jim is now a pastor in one of the Churches of God. I don’t know what became of Mel. Clyde Crosslin died, and I don’t know what happened to the various elders, deacons and members in those two great congregations. I hope all of their members, one way or another, are still in relationship with God. Pastors come and go, church organizations are formed, then they break up, but God is ever the same and his requirements don’t change.
The past exists in nothing but memory, and even then, only in fragments. Some people are better at recalling details than others. I’m not good at it. I think in impressions and in big picture images, not in detail. My friends Dave Antion and Wayne Cole are much better than I at pulling back details. I rely on them as auxiliary memories.
Old age is a time of reflection. We wonder what our life meant, and what, if anything, it still means. We question whether or not we ever did anything worthwhile with it. Personally, I am still driven by the idea that I must bear fruit for the Kingdom. Jesus said to his disciples: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” (John 15:16). I often ask myself, “Did I bear any fruit?” and “If I did, did it remain?” It’s a sobering question.
The Credentials Issue
Most ministers at one time or another have had someone question their credentials. That’s not unusual. Jesus himself experienced it (Matthew 11:28). The apostle Paul experienced it too. People want to see credentials, diplomas, certificates, letters of recommendation and authorizations. Paul wrote: “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (II Corinthians 3:1-3 NIV).
As ministers, the only real credential we have is the fruit we bear in people’s lives. It is Jesus’ will that whatever fruit we produced should remain. If we prayed for someone and they were healed, then the fact of that healing remains. If we taught someone and they learned more than they had known before, that knowledge remains. If we corrected someone and they repented, then the fruit of repentance remains. If we helped a marriage, comforted the bereaved, visited and prayed for the sick, ministered to the widows and the orphans in their times of affliction, or inspired someone to seek after God, then we have born the kind of fruit Jesus wanted us to bear.
The Other Side of the Coin
What of the flip side of that coin? What of all the bad advice we distributed? What of the false teaching we taught (albeit in ignorance)? What of our injustices, inequities, and favoritisms? What of the times we made decisions concerning someone’s life on a political, rather than a Biblical, basis? What of the many times we neglected our wives and children to “do the Work”? And what of our personal sins?
Of these things we must repent. We must seek to replace wrong teaching with truth. If we have an opportunity to apologize, or to make restitution, we must do so. Sometimes we went too far, and there’s no restoring the damage. Sometimes we needlessly broke up marriages or put the wrong people together in marriage. The damage from those decisions was often deep and profound. There’s no fixing it in this life. There is only repentance and sorrow. We ignorantly operated on the basis of false assumptions.
Paul, as Saul, had relentlessly persecuted the Church. He held the garments of those who were stoning to death innocents. He, like today’s terrorists, had a murderous religious spirit. Then he had his road to Damascus experience. After that, he realized that he could not restore life to those who had been murdered. He understood, to the depths of his being, that what he had done he had done to Christ himself. So Paul committed the rest of his life to saving lives, not taking them. In his three missionary journeys, Paul raised up churches all over the Roman Empire. He got the pump primed for centuries of growth in the Gentile Church. (Of course the quality of that growth is another story!)
And God himself will have to take care of the lives Paul, as Saul, damaged.
The point is: Paul’s present ministry was a way of making restitution for past damage done. He who had persecuted the Church now built the Church. He, who had persecuted Christians along with his fellow Jews, now received persecution from the Jews along with the Christians. Instead of preaching against Christ with other Jews, he now preached Christ to “the Jew first…”
While Saul had once consented to the death of Christians, he now raised some from the dead. When he had once “made people sick,” he now prayed for, and saw, their healing.
Every minister who ever passed through the Worldwide Church of God produced a mixed bag of fruit – some good, some rotten. The good fruit, hopefully, will remain. The rotten will be discarded – or disregarded and forgiven. To my knowledge, no minister I knew ever taught error knowingly, or gave bad advice maliciously. When we did it, we did it in ignorance. If Jesus could forgive ignorance – “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do” – then why can’t we?
Rather than allow roots of bitterness to form and spring up, strangling the spiritual life out of us, why not simply forgive, forget and move on? Perhaps the “times of this ignorance” God will “wink at.”
In the meantime, so long as we who were, or are, ministers, have life and breath, we are called to bear fruit. It doesn’t matter which denomination of the Church we are with, or not with, we are still called to meet people at their points of real need. We must be “about our Father’s business.” In some situations, we will find ourselves “casting pearls.” In others, fruit will unexpectedly spring up. If we do the right thing, accidentally or on purpose, often enough, something good is bound to happen sooner or later. We therefore live in hope.