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Sermons of
Rev. Orland Wolfram (1912-1987)
Pillar of Fire Church
Missionary to Guatemala

Experiences in Interdenominational Work --- incomplete


Orland Wolfram



EXPERIENCES IN INTERDENOMINATIONAL WORK


We have learned from experiences in many campaigns that when it is Interdenominational God blesses. Interdenominational capitalized for emphasis. We also learn to expect the devil to call up his extra legions against such efforts.


Christ said, "By this shall all men KNOW that ye are My disciples, that ye love one another." The Interdenominational efforts impress the people and bring God's special blessings.


I have pointed this out repeatedly in many churches both in the U.S. and in Mexico and Guatemala. The pastor would get a faraway thoughtful look and usually say, "Very Beautiful, idealistic, but difficult, very difficult, perhaps impossible."


Of course, it is difficult. It runs against the grain of selfish materialism on one hand and also against man's natural tendency to legal forms rather than really depend on the Spirit. Man wants something tangible, primitively an idol, then later at least an icon when the idol is prohibited. After that he at least wants a sect with fixed rules, doctrines all simple and regular, and visible leaders and then a large figure, Bishop, Potentate or Pope. Not many Christians want to really follow the Spirit and be taught of the Spirit even though the Bible says it is only the Spirit that can lead us into all Truth. Yes, it is difficult. There are many church members, and many Christians, few disciples, a little flock.


The Bible exhorts us repeatedly to strive to this spiritual position, strive against legalism, deny self which is enchaining whereas we can break out into the clear light of living in the Spirit and being led of the Spirit.


W.B. Godbey was one of the great Holiness evangelists of this era. and he said, "When I graduated from Theological Seminary, I was a good Methodist, but when I got sanctified, it took the Methodism out of me."


Watchman Nee, whose books you all have read, organized a series of Biblical and doctrinal concepts to present to a class of adults in Bible School. After several sessions one of the students came around full of enthusiasm, "This is the most satisfying study I have ever had. Now things at last are all falling into place in an organized way." Nee wrote later that he felt more and more aghast at what he may have created. He then repeatedly explained to the class that such rigid outlines could prove a trap that would kill their spiritual growth. It was an outline of use to him personally for a limited time and each student should alter, make changes, use, then perhaps throw away to seek the new insights as the Spirit teaches.


A Missionary to Japan put out a religious magazine in English to send back to the States, and the principle message in every issue was that one of the principle hindrances to preaching Christianity in foreign countries was the denominational divisions and heat of the quarreling. The seat of the trouble was in the denominational Bible School preparing the missionaries.


We have gone into various areas of Guatemala where it was considered dangerous, almost fatal, to preach openly. I have described previously how old Antigua was a center of old-style Catholicism and the fanaticism in control. There were reports continually of persecutions and attacks and some deaths. Still the Gospel marched ahead, but perhaps marched is not quite the word. It moved steadily, but usually secretly and quietly. Our group was usually dedicated to open air preaching, and then afterwards joining in any local meeting. The local brethren were of two minds about welcoming us. Our open air work would expose their quiet or secret meetings. Some said, "Why, that is exactly the way the Apostles preached and suffering for Christ's Name was what it took to be a Christian." But others said, "That was back in those days. Now we can proceed more cautiously and slower until there are more converts and all is quiet.. Why here we have but eight or ten Believers.


Then I spoke up, "Sabe que? Know what? We actually already have 20 or 30 Believers, but they are divided, Baptists and Pentecostals, meeting secretly, divided. It is no wonder the devil has this town. We'll never break the satanic grip until we get together."


"Oh, we could not do that. The Pentecostals believe in speaking in tongues, and we Baptists don't do that.


"Our evangelistic group," I put in, "has both, and we just agree to preach basic salvation and exalt Christ, repentance and brotherly love, and let each individual believe what he wants on some of those details, just exactly like St Paul had to say repeatedly to the people of his day.


We went ahead then, rented a place openly and started meetings. We were attacked by a rioting mob which damaged the building, but was went ahead the next night. Some of the local brethren began to say then, "This is a matter of life and death. We have to stand up for the Gospel." They came in with us from both Baptists and Pentecostals. Another night, two pastors came from adjoining towns, one Pentecostal, one Baptist, along with some of their members, and God gave us several wonderful meetings, and then the denomination superintendents heard of it and stopped it. The Baptist was called in, we heard, and ordered to cease and desist like he had committing robberies or something, and the Pentecostal pastor was put in discipline for five months, taken out of the pulpit altogether. A preacher who had been found in adultery had been put in discipline for six months. Our friend was disciplined also for another sin and crime, preaching the Gospel along with some Baptists.


To those wondering about going back into the fire, it seemed like an unbearable stab, something akin to a Judas role. We had prayed for grace to stand the threats of the unbelieving Romans, but it was something else to be deserted by one's allies. This now required more nights of wrestling in prayer for extra grace to continue.


But the Lord was faithful. He gave the grace, we went on with the campaign, persecution continued with more stoning, damage to the building and a few bruises on some of us, but no one was killed this campaign. The Lord seemed to intervene with some new turn each time the mob was trying to work itself up to an all-out attack.


Besides its light on denominational character, it almost gives am insight into the psychological power a church has over its members. In the time of Christ, one of the chief costs of following Christ was that it meant bearing the scorn of ones old friends and considered a traitor by his own family. In India at times, a family would hold a funeral telling everyone their son had died, if he turned Christian.


The parents of the man born blind were doubtless very happy to have him healed, but when they realized if they gave the credit to Jesus they would be excommunicated as the Greek Bible puts it, they suddenly became dumb.


It might seem strange that the lepers so wondrously healed from that gruesome disease, would go to any effort to give thanks and credit where due, until it is recalled that it might get them cast out of their church and home again just as if they were lepers.


So there were good believers who were willing to go into dangerous situations for the sake of the Gospel, but could not bear the reproach of doing so if their denomination was against it.


Riding along from one town to another, there began to pervade the air an awesome stink, and the farther we went the worse it got. Yet there was no visible reason in sight, no barnyards, only wide open spaces. Yet it grew until you'd think you would be unable to breathe and die drowning in the thickness. Then we came upon a dead horse alongside the road while six or eight vultures were FIGHTING to get INTO the carcass. Unbelievable!


Good religion based on Christ and His teachings should be just the opposite of selfish, mercenary, fighting each other for power or more members.


That was where the Christian Church went wrong in the third and fourth centuries after Christ. Although many strove to keep the humility and simplicity of the primitive church, the bishops in the larger cities such as Rome were after power, prestige and wealth, as time went on would soon stop at nothing including poisoning and slaughters.


Church denominational organizations are clearly very dangerous entities. But they have been called necessary evils. We must be careful to be firstly warned, and then guard against and preach against those carnal elements, but not the Church of Christ or any member of its Body. That is where great study, patience and prayer are required to discern and rightly divide the Word of Truth.


One of the first groups that were founded against other denominations was called the Brethren, or Plymouth Brethren. They saw the danger and possible evils and said, "Let us have no more dividing cults and denominations, but all be in one group of brethren." Good idea, except that any but a child could see they were just making one more sect, one more division.


I have seen their missionary places all over. They do a wonderful work. I have stayed on at some branched to help a while but soon find they get nervous. One learns that far from being a unifying movement, they are one of the most strict exclusive groups there is, tightly organized and rigidly controlled and disciplined. When they say they are not a denomination it is a play on words only. They are a denomination in EVERY usual sense and and meaning of the word, except they will not give a name to their group. They call themselves brethren with a small b unless someone forgets. When they buy property for a meeting place the local leading elder will buy it in his own name.


Yet their standards of conduct, dress and morals are very high, exemplary. It is no small problem when we are working in as area trying to have believers work together in Christian love for Christ and souls, to find Plymouth Brethren always apart, critical and apart, neither helping any general campaign, nor welcoming our visits.


For a while we could not solve the puzzle of denominational division, whether of selfish base or doctrinal, or organizational. BUT GOD HAS WORKED A MIRACLE, a real chain of miracles. He has spoken into hearts of too many individuals who would not be made converts to men. The Bible is too plain to guard against just that, to follow neither Apollos nor Paul, neither Peter nor James shed their blood for our salvation. We are bought with a price. We are FREE, yet love slaves to our Lord. Gradually over the years, the great body of our believers have come to see they can work in a denomination with others on good projects and in special campaigns. It takes some kind of organization to have a meeting place, run Sunday Schools, and create an environment conducive to Christian growth for both new converts, babes in Christ, and for actual children also.


How about an ecumenical church? We already have a Church, One Body. It is not chartered into one legal political organization. That concept is promoted by the devil. God wants us to live out the One Body unity, working together in brotherly love, and have for our BISHOP, in fact, the Lord Jesus.


Our local organization will have its ushers, Sunday school teachers, elders, deacons, pastors and bishops. Nine tenths of the times there is no problem. But on occasion we each must follow the Bishop of our souls, the Spirit, in helping the brethren of some other group in their campaign.


I am not here so much exhorting as to what we ought to aim for, as reporting that God has already worked this truly great miracle. The general attitude is already everywhere, both in the U.S. and Latin countries. There are of course, a few sects and cults yet, where some talented leader can make his followers believe he is God's prophet of the age. A generation ago there were many , many of those, but God has let the carnality take over and human limitations until the most fanatic followers have become disillusioned.


Years ago, it seemed at first the greatest block to the spread of the Gospel was Catholicism and its power over people as well as the danger it threatened to evangelical preaching. Then later, it seemed that the victory could be won if only the denominations would unite under Christ instead of selfish sheep- stealing and carnal fighting. As the years went by there has been such a wonderful victory on both fronts that I hasten to say and repeat no credit is mine, nor any other individual. God in the Old Testament repeatedly made clear the victories were to be credited only to Himself and not to any wisdom or strength of arms of men. Tens of thousands of seekers finding a spiritual experience at the feet of the Savior provided the principal victory, the evangelists God used were many representing EVERY denomination and many independents. The former strength of the Catholic Church has also bee split by inner liberal revolution.


Every special campaign and revival caused the ordinary believers to meet and work together in brotherly respect, no matter what their sectarian superintendent said or had once tried to enforce. Now most believers everywhere when asked what denomination he belongs to is apt to answer, "I am a Christian."


PRAISE THE LORD TO GOD BE THE GLORY


Here is an example from the past. There was a good woman evangelist preaching throughout Latin America who also published a very good Gospel magazine. I used the magazine and papers for some years extensively, and for a time helped at its publication center in Mexico. Although not connected with any denomination, it was essentially Baptist. Then the woman testified she had a deeper baptism in the Spirit and had an experience of speaking in tongues. Her meeting took on a great deal more fervor and larger crowds. Some of the Baptist churches turned Pentecostal under her influence. Historically many areas had in early years been primarily Holiness. Later God blessed more the revivals of the Baptist persuasions, and now finally a new great revival wave where God was using mostly the Pentecostals. The Lord is the Lord and it is up to us to keep in tune with His movings. For a time we still used their tracts and periodicals, but a jarring note was breaking in as more and more of the Pentecostals reported she was beginning to preach against them. Her new Gospel was, "Don't go along with those old Pentecostal people. Here we have the only true baptism. Theirs is either false or inadequate. Come here and seek again for we have all the gifts including discernment and casting out demons with proof.


The evangelist would pass along the line of seekers and then cry out while laying her hand on some individual, "By the gift of discernment, I see a demon as you. Demon, I demand you come out of him." The seeker would have a convulsion, and vomit all over the floor, and then be proclaimed exorcised, cast out.


Big crowds flock to such meetings. The regular Pentecostal pastors advised their people to go slowly, try the spirits, give it all time, and then see what comes of all this.


That is good counsel! There are evangelists in every movement that do a good work for the Lord. There are those whose influence is bad, and there are those who start well for a time and then with success and fame begin to hold themselves as THE prophet of God, their movement the only one, and God withdraws until all can see the carnality that has entered


In a town some distance from the center, I arrived at a church to help with some meetings and found the place in a disgraceful uproar. Two deacons were vying for predominance trying to get the congregation each under his own sway. One had shouted to the other, "I have the gift of discernment and you have demons!"


The other shouted back, "You have the Gift? Why I received the Gift of discernment in those meetings also, and I say it is you that has the demons!" With that they each took up chairs to bash at the other, the congregation arose to its collective feet as one, taking sides according to their disposition to prove by forceful persuasions of swinging chairs that his side had the spirit of Christ while the other had the spirit of the devil.


The police came to quell the rioting, while the general town population of unbelievers came to see all the broken chairs, bloody heads, and gloat over the evangelicos that preached one thing and practiced another.


It required much patient living as well as preaching to undo that scandal, but several such affairs around the country awakened the people to guard against any new movement where the leader proclaimed to be some great power.


The leader had for a time prayed for the sick in a modest and normal Christian way. but after some healings began to advertise, "If you could not be healed at other ordinary Pentecostal meetings, come here where we really have the power." Doubtless, some were healed that had not been formerly, but then some of her own family became ill, at first at what seemed not very grave ailments, but they would not go to a doctor and they died. Then the evangelist herself died also.


Should women. then preach? The calm balanced evidence is that God uses and blesses the work if dedicated women evangelists. The danger comes when with success they begin to build a movement and are not satisfied to be just evangelists. They want power, fame and exclusive recognition. The Bible says, "The woman should not usurp authority over the man." If a woman is content with taking the Gospel to the spiritually hungry, God will continue to bless. In any growing organization there should be the calm braking influence of the man to hold any official office. If she is not happy with that, it is USURPING, and soon all kinds of strange customs enter, or strange fire, fanatical tendencies and carnality.


I am now getting up into my threescore years and ten. If this page falls into the hands of any young evangelist whom God is blessing, take care against the worship and adoration of people, how they flock around to tell a public figure how wonderful he is. "How I feel the presence and power of the Lord when you come on the platform.." Such words are as dangerous as heroin shots. If you lap them up, they will be fatal. Shove them away. Steer them toward Christ alone. Tell them to praise only the Lord. Warn of the dangers of man or woman adoration, hero worship. The whole such atmosphere can be fatal both to such people and to the evangelist or religious leader.



Wby forcefu




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