Wade Horton was one of those larger-than-life figures in the Church of God. He was prominent in World Missions, served as a State Overseer, and as General Overseer from 1962 to 66 and again from 1974 to76. He actually spent a total of 14 years on the Executive Committee of the Church. When I entered the ministry (1973) he was the champion of holiness, the leading “conservative” in the rising battle over the “practical” teachings of the church. I admired him for the passion and clarity with which he preached. Later, my respect increased when he returned to a local church pastorate after his tenure on the Executive Committee ended in 1976 rather than maneuver into a plush political appointment.
In 1984 I moved to Cleveland to serve as Minister of Education at the Westmore Church of God where Brother Horton’s son David was serving as Minister of Music. Shortly thereafter Brother Horton entered full retirement and moved back to Cleveland. A brief time later his other son, Wade, died suddenly. It was during that period of grief I made a couple of pastoral visits to his home and had my only conversations with the giant of our faith.
We were sitting in his living room the day before his son’s funeral when Brother Horton began to speak of his concerns for the Church of God. “They’re going to destroy us. They’re after three things: holiness, the tithe, and our government. They’re after holiness now, watering down the teachings. If they get that they will go after the tithe of tithes next and cripple the church. Then they will go after our centralized government. They won’t stop until they have destroyed the Church.” I didn’t ask who “they” were and he didn’t say. My impression was that he viewed them as misguided rather than malevolent, misguided but destructive none-the-less.
I have thought often about that brief conversation. The General Assembly did re-write the Practical Commitments in a way that maintained their essence but ultimately diminished their influence. Most Church of God members have no idea what we teach about the Christian life. Holiness is no longer central to our shared identity. Last year, the General Assembly set in motion the reduction of local church support for the denomination by one third, forcing major restructuring and redirection in coming years. And, as he predicted, centralized government is now openly being challenged by some.
As Wade Horton sat on his couch grieving the death of his namesake he also grieved the pending death of the church he had loved and served for decades, the church that had been for him the church of God. In his convictions the church of God could not exist without holiness, church order, and shared mission. While I may not agree with him on the particulars, I am convinced Wade H. Horton understood well the patterns and pitfalls set before our movement. His question remains, will the Church of God be the church of God or will we disintegrate into some lose affiliation of congregations void of a passion for world evangelization? To this I add another, has the desire to be the church of God already died and if so have we not already ceased to be the church?