Monday, May 18, 2015

They Laughed Out Loud


The women in my mother’s family were clearly cut from the same piece of cloth. There were eight sisters born to Tyler and Maggie O'Quinn. Three are still living: Mary Lou O'Quinn Turner, Betty O'Quinn Johns, and Mildred O'Quinn Daniels. Admittedly, I might be biased, but each was/is an attractive woman who has consistently conveyed a sense of humility with dignity.  All eight of the sisters have been known as Godly prayer warriors who could touch the throne of God. They have been faithful as servants of God, wives, mothers, church members, and neighbors. They have known and kept the faith of their mother, Maggie Harris O’Quinn.

The eight sisters also shared their father’s knack for spinning a story but with a heightened gift for building it to a climatic outburst of laughter. They laughed out loud. When they got together there was always a flood of stories about childhood pranks and missteps. I remember stories such as the one about the hen that roosted in the rafters of the kitchen properly positioned to make a deposit on the chocolate cake Grandma had made for the preacher.  The sisters had been instructed the evening before to get the hen out of the house. Rather than admit their disobedience, when they found the poop on the cake the next morning they just blended it into the icing for a little extra flavoring. In another episode two sisters felt sorry for Grandpa’s work-horse and fed it double rations of molasses and oats; the horse died.

It was the way they told the stories that made them truly special. The stories were actual events from their lives and they had learned to laugh in difficult times. They were remembering and reliving the past through the lens of humor. I suspect it was their faith that had helped them find the positive in those situations and their sense of humor that helped them reinterpret those events as modes of private entertainment. At any rate, they laughed with wild abandonment as they told the stories of their lives and I often laughed with them until my sides hurt.

The funniest of them all was my Aunt Dot, Dorothy O’Quinn Daniels. She was the one who could tell stories with a straight face even while everyone else was bursting at the seams. She also had a phenomenal gift for creating humorous events and enjoying the telling of them afterwards. My Uncle Coleman was often the target of her pranks. At various times in his life he was given to drink. During one of those seasons she would plead with him to not stay out drinking late at night lest something bad happen to her and the children. One Friday night he came home late to find her and the children spread out around the living room, each covered in “blood.” Actually, it was ketchup she had carefully applied. They each played their role as victims of violence, at least long enough to hear him sobbing out his regrets as a husband and father.

Someone should have recorded all those stories as they were told by the women who lived them. They are a legacy that is slipping away. One measurement of the character of a people is their humor, specifically what it is that they find funny and at/with whom they choose to laugh. Whenever I was with my aunts telling their stories I always came away feeling happier and cleaner. There was nothing in their humor that defiled or demeaned anyone. They each knew how to laugh at themselves and with each other just the way families should.

Friday, May 15, 2015

King David Harris -- And He Danced

David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. (2Sa 6:14 NRS)

I am a direct descendant of King David, King David Harris that is. He was my mother’s maternal grandfather. I don’t know a lot about him. When I was a child there was an old one-room shack in the lower field on my Grandparent’s farm, down by a spring and closer to the river. The shack was called “the old kitchen.” There were a couple of pear trees at the shack that seemed to be loaded every year. I absolutely loved the jam my mother would make.  In time I learned the old kitchen had once been adjacent to a beautiful two-story house King David had built for my great-grandmother, “the finest in the county.” But after he died it fell into disrepair and was eventually torn down.

As I heard it, somewhere in his life he developed a weakness for alcohol and when he was drunk he was abusive of my great-grandmother. He died apparently inebriated after a night of heavy drinking. He was by himself when he stopped at a spring for a drink of water on his way home and apparently choked to death.

Like his namesake, my great grandfather was known to shake a leg. My Dad said that he had heard that whenever King David got some spirits in him he was the best buck dancer in the region. My Dad also said that people who knew both him and my grandmother, Maggie Harris O’Quinn, said that when the Holy Spirit came on her she would dance just like her father. He died in 1921, long before I was born. But I was blessed to witness my grandmother dance under the influence of the Spirit. Well into her seventies, she could move like the lead dancer in a River Dance performance, when she felt the Power.  Someday, I shall dance with wild abandonment.

George Washington Johns - A Survivor

A Line of Survivors

George Washington Johns (1841-1913) was my Great-grandfather. He was born and died in Bachlott, Georgia. His only sojourn of which I am aware was as a soldier in the Confederate Army.  Family lore has it that he was wounded and left behind by his compatriots. They leaned him against a large tree next to a split-rail fence with expectations he would soon die.

As the story was passed down, he would state that he shot at a lot of Yankees during the war but he only knew that he hit and killed two of them. Both were killed as he leaned against that tree awaiting his own death. They were apparently scouts on a mission. When they came to the fence a short distance from where George rested. One jumped on top and over the fence and one squeezed through the space beneath the top rail. He shot the jumper first and the one caught in the fence second.

This must have happened near the end of the war when Confederate soldiers were reduced to wearing tattered uniforms because George confiscated some clothing from his dead counterparts. Later, when he reunited with his Southern troops, one of them commented, “Johns, we left you behind for dead and here you show up with a new pair of breeches and a new pair of boots.” He responded, "I’d be wearing a new coat and a new hat too, but I figured you fellas would have shot me.”

There are many ways to interpret this story. It is not the portrait of a hero, but rather one of a survivor. The Johns on my branch of the tree are known for their stubbornness; I prefer to call it steadfastness. We are not quitters; we will stay the course and finish the hard tasks of life. Others may take us for granted or abandon us for their own pleasures, but we will remain true to our commitments. We will keep on fighting when others have given up on us, or as I use to say in my youth “I am going to keep on keeping on until I can’t and then I’m going to die and go to heaven.”


Monday, August 4, 2014

Ministry Principles

I wrote the following lists of ministry principles about twenty years ago for the Church Manual of the New Covenant Church of God.

Principles of Ministry Development

*The church belongs to Jesus Christ and he desires to give direction to the ministries of the church through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

*The chief responsibility of the church is not to carry out pre-packaged programs but to jointly discover and fulfill the will of God. 

*The holy Scriptures clearly reveal God's will for the church but each congregation must discover and live out that will in its own setting.

*All believers are to be joined to the church and in the context of the church they are to discover the will of God for their lives and "work out their salvation with fear and trembling."

*Every member of the church is a voice through whom God can speak to make his will known to the congregation and therefore must be heard with discernment.

*All members of the church must work together to plan and carry out the ministries of the church.

*The primary tasks of the pastor and elders in ministry development are to (1) instruct the congregation in the truths of God's Word, (2) hold the congregation accountable for living according to God's Word, (3) "perfect the saints for works of service" by preparing them to serve others through their individual talents, (4) release the members of the church to fulfill the ministries God has called them to, and (5) oversee the entire process so that all work together for the glory of God.


Principles of Decision Making Within the Church

*All decisions are spiritual in nature and should be preceeded by prayer.

*All decisions are personal and corporate.  They will affect people in the church locally and universally.  Therefore, their impact on persons and programs should be considered.

*All decisions are theological and should be made in dialogue with the beliefs and traditions of the church.  They must be made with a focus on knowing and doing the will of God. 

*Decisions should be made by the persons directly affected by them. Direction should emerge from the persons responsible for the ministry, the workers.

*Decisions directly affecting the church as a whole should be submitted to the church  in conference for approval.

*It is the responsibility of the pastor and elders of the church to oversee all ministries and assure decisions within the church are made in harmony with the Scriptures, church tradition, denominational polity, and other programs of the church.

*The central questions to be asked are: (1) is this in harmony with the known will of God?, (2) will it contribute to the mission of the church?, (3) is this in harmony with the mission statement and other established beliefs and programs of the church?, (4) will this make our shared ministry more effective, (5) will this place an undue burden on people?



Sunday, August 3, 2014

Thoughts on Church of God Polity

The following "Thoughts" are generally collected from my series of "Thoughts" posted on Facebook. As the title indicates, they all concern issues of Church of God polity. New items are added from time to time.


Thought on the 2014 General Council: For me the most troubling item on the General Council agenda was one which attempted to divide the Supplement to the Minutes into two sections, one of which would become an “Operations Manual.” I believe a dear friend of mine who I greatly respect largely wrote this item, but I strongly disagree with him on this matter. If passed, the item would have placed the sections dealing with “State Government,” “Local Church Government,” and “Personnel” in an operations manual. The argument included a description of these items as managerial and not doctrinal in nature. Items such as the Bylaws and General Church Government would remain in the Supplement to the Minutes and continue to require General Assembly action to revise. The Items in the Operations Manual would be overseen by the Executive Council, which would be authorized to amend as needed. Should they determine a revision would significantly alter Church of God polity they would submit it to the Ordained Bishops for approval through online and snail-mail voting.

This item contradicts our theological heritage and, if adopted, it would have contradicted the founding vision of the Church of God. One of the foundational principles of our movement is that we follow the New Testament as our “only rule for government.” Our founders were driven to renew the Christian church through the restoration of Biblical government. They placed emphasis on love and personal conscience in the life of the church, including its government. Unfortunately, and ironically, their commitment to be guided only by Scripture led to the loss of this vision. We have interpreted the mandate to limit government to Biblical statements, i.e., we have no rules that are not specifically stated in Scripture. A proposal we both reaffirmed and ignored for decades. In my opinion this is what led to the development of a polity that is guided by pragmatism instead of the Bible. The results are an eclectic set of policies shaped by the whim of whatever seemed right in our own eyes at any given time; Scripture quotations alone are inadequate for a defined polity for a large organization. What is needed is a defined understanding of Biblical government. It is the absence of a clearly stated ecclesiology that has brought us to this point where some in leadership can now see the polity of the state/regional and local church as an issue of mere management, which is therefore not subject to the General Assembly. The “management” of the church is a theological task and not mere management as though management and administration are not to be governed by the Word of God. Rather, our position must be that whatever rules of administration we adopt they must be grounded in the Biblical patterns of government.

Finally, if this motion had passed it would have shut down the voice of the laity on the things most directly affecting them, i.e., local church government, including the rules governing membership and spiritual discipline. This is illogical an untenable. It would make more sense to me to place the sections of general church government under the control of the Ordained Bishops; with the General Assembly completely limited to an agenda set by the General Council that is after all our functioning polity. We need to move in the direction of more voice for the laity, not less.


Just a Thought: I am at the Church of God General Council meeting in Orlando. As I listened to our deliberations this morning I kept thinking of the old adage “a large ship cannot turn on a dime” and adding my on thought that this is especially true when the ship is locked into a circular motion by circular reasoning. Today, we debated a motion to amend the qualifications for ministers by adding a statement that we must “agree with and adhere to” the teachings and doctrines of the church. Someone rightly pointed out that if we adopted this wording we could no longer discuss the doctrines of the church even in a General Council meeting without fear of loosing our credentials. The “agree with” portion was dropped and the motion to “adhere to” passed with near if not total agreement. Immediately afterwards I leaned to my neighbor and whispered “I hope we all understand that we just voted to go home and start practicing footwashing in our churches.” Everyone get ready for am emphasis on “Social Obligation,” including a commitment to correct social injustices and care for the environment – the first of our Practical Commitments. I can hope, even if it is in vain. JDJ # 476

Just a Thought: Yesterday the General Council approved an agenda item that prohibited our ministers from performing weddings and civil unions under any circumstances other than the marriage of one man to one woman. It was a somewhat lengthy but well worded item that also instructed our ministers that when discussing this subject they were to do so in a manner that reflects the love of Christ. I believe it passed unanimously. There were however a couple of attempts to make minor amendments, but they failed. One motion to amend was made by my dear friend Dr. Dale Coulter who attempted to revise a clause requiring that ministers who perform such ceremonies have their credentials revoked. Dale’s substitution was to use the exact language already used in situations of adultery, which specifies that the credentials be suspended for a period not less than two years. I could feel the rejection of the amendment before he every spoke. The body liked the original motion just the way it was and resented any attempt to change it. The speeches against the change reflected more emotion than reason. By that I mean they were off topic having nothing to do with the discipline of an errant minister; instead they all focused on how we must take a firm stand against the tide of cultural acceptance of homosexual marriage. It was clear to me they had fixated on the words “revoked” and “suspended” believing the former to convey a stronger message. I sat there, literally with a headache, amused at the irony that Dale’s motion would actually make the revocation of the credentials more definitive, i.e., for a period not less than two years. In its current form, within our current polity, I believe any minister who has his or her credentials revoked for this offence could in fact have them reinstated within a matter of months if they jump through the right hoops in front of the right people. Sitting in the General Council sessions is highly frustrating for those of us with highly analytical personality types. JDJ # 477

Just a Thought: Another motion was offered to amend the General Council item forbidding our ministers from performing weddings or civil unions for gays and bigamists by adding the words “or baby dedications” to the list. Form some unknown reason the maker of the motion wanted it inserted between “weddings” and “civil unions.” As I listened to the debate my head throbbed with pain and simultaneously tingled with amusement. Most of the argument centered on “our” beliefs about baby dedications. [I will not take time to describe the debate surrounding an amendment to the amendment, which attempted to substitute the word “child” for the word “baby.” I will note that my good friend Dr. Ken Archer gave a passionate plea from Scripture that we must bless children and not punish them for the sins of their guardians.] The speakers seemed certain in what we believe; they just kept contradicting each other about what we believe. In truth, the Church of God has not defined the purpose and nature of baby/child dedications. This failed attempt to use them as a form of spiritual discipline for the unredeemed suggests we seriously need to have that discussion, but I truly fear the outcome if it is decided by our deliberative process. JDJ # 478


Just a Thought: For me the most troubling item on the General Council agenda was one which attempted to divide the Supplement to the Minutes into two sections, one of which would become an “Operations Manual.” This item contradicts our theological heritage and, if adopted, it would have contradicted the founding vision of the Church of God. Our founders were driven to renew the Christian church through the restoration of Biblical government. Unfortunately, and ironically, their commitment to be guided only by Scripture led to the loss of this vision. Scripture quotations alone are inadequate for a defined polity for a large organization. What is needed is a defined understanding of Biblical government. The absence of a clearly stated ecclesiology has brought us to this point where some can now see the polity of the state/regional and local church as issues of mere management, which is therefore not subject to the General Assembly. But the “management” of the church is a theological task and not mere management as though management and administration are not to be governed by the Word of God. Rather, our position must be that whatever rules of administration we adopt they must be grounded in the Biblical patterns of government. If I understand this motion correctly, if passed it would have shut down the voice of the laity on the things most directly affecting them, i.e., local church government, including the rules governing membership and spiritual discipline. This is illogical an untenable. We need to move in the direction of more voice for the laity, not less. JDJ # 479


Just a Thought: The following is a list of principles I have tried to live by as a pastor. I first wrote them over twenty years ago.

Principles of Ministry Development

*The church belongs to Jesus Christ and he desires to give direction to the ministries of the church through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

*The chief responsibility of the church is not to carry out pre-packaged programs but to jointly discover and fulfill the will of God.

*The holy Scriptures clearly reveal God's will for the church but each congregation must discover and live out that will in its own setting.

*All believers are to be joined to the church and in the context of the church they are to discover the will of God for their lives and "work out their salvation with fear and trembling."

*Every member of the church is a voice through whom God can speak to make his will known to the congregation and therefore must be heard with discernment.

*All members of the church must work together to plan and carry out the ministries of the church.

*The primary tasks of the pastor and elders in ministry development are to (1) instruct the congregation in the truths of God's Word, (2) hold the congregation accountable for living according to God's Word, (3) "perfect the saints for works of service" by preparing them to serve others through their individual talents, (4) release the members of the church to fulfill the ministries God has called them to, and (5) oversee the entire process so that all work together for the glory of God.  JDJ # 480


Just a Thought: What follows is another list of principles I wrote decades ago. As the title states, they address the processes of making decisions within the church.

Principles of Decision Making Within the Church

*All decisions are spiritual in nature and should be preceded by prayer.

*All decisions are personal and corporate.  They will affect people in the church locally and universally.  Therefore, their impact on persons and programs should be considered.

*All decisions are theological and should be made in dialogue with the beliefs and traditions of the church.  They must be made with a focus on knowing and doing the will of God.

*The persons who are directly affected by them should make decisions. Direction should emerge from the persons responsible for the ministry, the workers.

*Decisions directly affecting the church as a whole should be submitted to the church in conference for approval.

*It is the responsibility of the pastor and elders of the church to oversee all ministries and assure decisions within the church are made in harmony with the Scriptures, church tradition, denominational polity, and the other programs of the church.


*The central questions to be asked are: (1) is this in harmony with the known will of God?, (2) will it contribute to the mission of the church?, (3) is this in harmony with the mission statement and other established beliefs and programs of the church?, (4) will this make our shared ministry more effective?, (5) will this place an undue burden on people?, (6) will this build the church up in unity, strengthening the fellowship of the saints? JDJ # 481



Just a Thought: One of the great errors of the General Assembly in years past was when we adopted the wording “hierarchical government.” Historically, the church had used the term “centralized” to describe our polity. I was a young minister when there was an attempt to adopt “hierarchical” as a descriptor. Dr. Gause, the Parliamentarian of the General Council and Assembly, stepped out of that position to speak against the change. He powerfully described the difference between “hierarchical” and “centralized,” convincing the Council to reject the change. A few years later the change came back with an argument that it was needed on legal grounds, society (and the courts) knew the meaning of “hierarchical” but not of “centralized” and the change was made. But there is a difference. “Hierarchical” means rule from above or rule by the sacred (i.e., priests) and is viewed as a synonym for “Episcopal.” In this model, authority resides in the “Episcopos” or “Bishop(s)” of the church. Decisions are made from the top downward. The very statement that the General Assembly is the highest authority of the Church of God combined with the definition that the Assembly is comprised of all members sixteen years or older who wish to attend and who register contradicts the statement that we are hierarchical. “Centralized” coveys the image of order and control but also implies interconnectivity and interaction. In my opinion, this simple change in terminology solidified the transition from seeing the church organically to seeing it institutionally; ever since we have been gravitating more and more into clergy control of all aspects of the church including congregational life. It is no wonder that we lament that our people are voting with their feet; we have gagged their voice by robbing them of opportunity to speak and we have treated them like children with no authority or influence. We have forced our members into the role of spectators. JDJ # 482