MODERN HISTORY OF THE CHURCHES OF GOD SEVENTH DAY OBSERVERS #19
The Organization Issue
Salem had been organized with the "Bible numbers" of 12, 7, and 70. Stanberry was not so tightly organized. It had a committee of 7. The Merger Constitution was almost a carbon copy of the Old Salem articles, and carried over the tight organization with the 12-7-70. The 'local autonomy" people did not go for this.
Organization of Meridian Group
A.H. Stith and several other staunch pork eaters voted for the merger, because they were for unity, but their revulsion to the Merger Constitution led them to break away and in effect formulate a "Back to Stanberry" movement.
"... several of the ministers and members of the former Stanberry General Conference could not accept the compromise in doctrine and practice that their church had made, forsaking the principles so dear to the members of God's Church. They had remained faithful to congregational government and other Biblical truths when the division came in 1933, they reasoned that now was no time to forsake those same principles and truths."
A meeting at Meridian, Idaho was called during the summer of 1950 which resulted in the organizing of former Stanberry churches and 36 members across the country that refused to go with the Merger. Originally called the "Bible Church of God — Seventh Day," the name was changed about 1963 to "General Council of the Churches of God — Seventh Day. " There was to be no "test of fellowship" for the group except "the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus."
Organizers of the Movement
A group of ministers from Idaho led the movement from the start. They put out a paper, The Acts, and in the first issue, March 1, 1951, stated: "We believe firmly in unify among the Brethren. However, we are convinced that such unity cannot be achieved by a set of rules imposed upon the Brethren by a majority. This is not God's Way...we cannot expect to see eye to eye upon all things, for we have not all reached the same spiritual growth. This does not mean that God rejects us. He teaches us unity through tolerance and charity or Christian love....Thus our motto is: 'Unity through tolerance and Christian love,.'…. rather than unity through force."
Clair W. Ahlborn, a former teacher at Spring Vale Academy in Owosso, Michigan, and a native to Idaho, was first editor of the Acts. But he was not a real minister and not the leader of the movement. The first officers were:
General Conference Officers
Mark Burnham, President, Meridian
Nettie Burnham; Secretary, Meridian
Arthur Estep, Vice President, Port Orchard, Washington
Edna Palmer, Treasurer, Kuna, Idaho
A.H. Stith, Meridian
Frank Williamson, Caldwell
James Kling, Nampa
Clair Ahlborn, Meridian
Luvelt Palmer, Kuna
The first camp meeting was held in late June of 1951 at Meridian. Attendance for the evening services ranged from 60 to 200, and there 39 were 250 on the last Sabbath. Those preaching were Elders:
Edgar Lippincott of Missouri
A. H. Stith of Idaho
M. W. Unzicker, Oregon
Arthur Estep, Washington
Boyd Dowers, Idaho
R.C. Glassford, California
Roy Davison, Idaho
At the 1952 camp meeting, 144-200 were present. The elders present were Harry Ford, Marion; Jack Slankard and Charlie Salkald, Iowa; Lippincott, Unzicker, Estep, Stith, Ahlborn and Burnham; Valencia, California. By July of 1952, the Church of God Publishing House, which today houses the press and college, was ready for use. Another paper, reporting church news, The Fellowship Herald, was established.
Beliefs of Meridian Group
The Acts (stands for: "Advocating Christ the Savior") magazine contains a brief statement of beliefs, which closes with the statement "We believe the true church organization taught in the Bible is local autonomy and that the Bible name for the church is THE CHURCH OF GOD. That the test of Christian fellowship is the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." Local autonomy and no test of fellowship appears to be the big difference between Meridian and Denver-Stanberry.
But the Meridians have come out with the nearest thing to a statement of belief, a "Declaration of Things Most Commonly Believed Among Us," which they stress is not a test of fellowship.
At first, most of their people ate pork; now most of them do not. Not all their young men become conscientious objectors, but the church supports the convictions of those who do. "Pentecostalism" of the "spiritual" style rather than speaking in tongues is commonly adhered to. However, Billy Watts of Springfield, Oregon apparently went overboard on this and is no longer in good graces with them.
Mark Burnham, pastor of the Meridian church, and son in law of Arvin H. Stith (deceased), is one who says a Christian should have "a real experience with the Lord." He says he is saved and that he is working with many young people who want a "born again" experience. Burnham eats pork, and probably got his ideas from his father-in-law Stith.
Burnham reports there are at least 17 divisions of the Church of God which have come about since the initial split in 1933.
THERE ARE MANY MORE TODAY IN 2015 SINCE THE DESTRUCTION OF THE WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD - Keith Hunt
Carl Palmer, minister of the Milwaukee, Oregon Church of God, tied to Meridian, states that there is speaking to tongues in his church, but it is not emphasized. About 1/3 of the ministers speak in tongues, and the movement has been growing lately. But he does not do so.
British-Israelism at Meridian
Frank Walker quit the Merger Group in 1951 because he was against their kind of organization. Currently he is teaching at Meridian's Maranatha College.
AGAIN THIS WAS BACK IN 1973 WHEN THIS BOOK WAS WRITTEN - Keith Hunt
Walker's "Anglo-Israel" ideas have already been discussed. He estimates that 1/3 to 2/3 of the Meridian group leans in this direction. Roy Davison (now dead), who worked in Idaho for some time, was a firm believer in Anglo-Israelism. Other believers besides Walker are Claude Ellis and the Palmers.
The Church of God has long taught that the Jews will be restored to their homeland, and Armageddon will be fought by the Jews and their allies versus Russia (Gog) and their allies. The Two-Horned Beast is said to be the Holy Roman Empire, and Babylon the Catholic Church.
SECOND PART IS CORRECT; FIRST PART IS TOTALLY WRONG - Keith Hunt
Walker and his father R.K. Walker may have gotten their Anglo-Israel ideas through G. G. Rupert, whom they met in 1913-1914. Walker admits that he believes a lot with Herbert Armstrong on the question, but he differs in that he thinks the United States is Ephraim, the younger and greater nation. His 32-page pamphlet, "Hope of Israel," explains that the Ten Tribes were never amalgamated with the Jews, but continue to exist as the Celtic and Teutonic peoples of Europe and America, and elsewhere. They will remain separate until they become one nation, when the two sticks are put together (Erek. 37).
CORRECT IN ALL BUT AMERICA BEING EPHRAIM; ONLY THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH CAN FULFIL THAT PROPHECY; AND WITH THE HISTORY OF BRITAIN SHE HAS BEEN THE GREATEST FOR THE MOST LENGTH OF TIME. AMERICA DID NOT BECOME GREAT UNTIL AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR - Keith Hunt
Joseph is not dead, but he cares for his brethren (the 5 1/2 million Jews in the United States). Thus, according to Walker, the United States will defend the Jews at Armageddon against Russia, which will be a battle of Israelites versus Gentiles.
COMPLETELY WRONG; WALKER HAD LITTLE UNDERSTANDING OF BIBLE PROPHECY - Keith Hunt
Walker was speaker of the Bible Sabbath Association's radio program, "Echoes from Eden, " for eleven years, from I960 to 1971.
Meridian Not Only True Church
Both Palmer and Walker do not believe theirs is the "true church." Palmer notes that people in his church are baptized into Christ not into the Church of God. The people in the true church have their names written in heaven, and no organization exists that one must belong to in order to be a true Christian. Walker, in referring to Armstrong's later development of a tight church government, says "Any people that claim to be the only people of God, I am against, because we are all God's children." Palmer works with the Merger Group people, and has a very broad view of the Church of God.
WALKER WAS CORRECT ABOUT ARMSTRONG'S MOVE INTO BEING DICTATOR AND EXCLUSIVENESS - Keith Hunt
Differences of opinion must certainly be rife in the Meridian Group, owing to the nature of their organization. As Clair Ahlborn states, doctrinal differences, such as pork, are handled the same way the church handled them before the division of 1933, "in Christian love."
The church government of Meridian Group is highly congregational; the ministers serve "at the pleasure of the membership." Elders are elected by the local congregations, and the churches determine to what extent they will cooperate with the General Council program.
There are seven Board of Directors made up of ministers and laymen. In 1971 these consisted of President Lee Roy Sticker, Vice-President Charles Ward, and Delbert Alloway, Claude Ellis, Jay Ellsworth, Jim Kling and Luvelt B. Palmer, committeemen.
Maranatha College, founded in 1963-64, has 17 students currently; [AGAIN THIS WAS 1973 - Keith Hunt] and plans are to build a new campus for expansion to 150-200 students, a rather ambitious project. David Gjesdal is director and Frank Walker and Clair Ahlborn teachers.
Extent of Meridian Group
It is rather difficult to determine just who is a part of Meridian because it is an association rather than an organization. A "Church Directory" from the 1965 Fellowship Herald lists the following churches as constituents:
California: Areata, Fresno, Lodi, Los Angeles, Olivehurst, Pico Rivera
Oregon: Coos Bay (Empire), "Harmony" (Junction City), Milwaukee, "Scravel Hill" (Jefferson)
Washington: Olympia, Port Orchard, Richland, Toppinish, Wenatchee
Idaho: Boise, Emmett, Meridian
Iowa: Cedar Rapids, Clio, Davenport, Ottumwa, Muscatine
Michigan: Detroit, Newton, Battle Creek
Missouri: Buffalo, Easton, El Dorado Springs, Ethel, Maryville, Milan
North Carolina: Farmville
Texas: Borger, Stinnett
Kansas: Pawnee Rock
Canada: Langley, Vancouver, B. C.
More recent mention of affiliates to Meridian include Elders Richard Chatfield of the Maryland Heights (St. Louis! "Remnant at Seventh Day Church of God;") William Dornberger of Huntington Beach, California; David Blanke and Sid Sikkema of Lodi, California; Billy Watts of Springfield, Oregon; R.A. Barnes of Harrisburg; Albert Keating of Harmony; David Killgore of Scravel Hill, Oregon; Claude Diiwe of Phoenix, Arizona; Arthur Estep of Washington state; and Evangelist A. O'Reggio of Washington, D. C. Even Martin Ogren of Caldwell, Idaho of the Seventh Day Church of God has been mentioned in Meridian papers.
Foreign workers mentioned by Meridian publications have been Teofilo A. Donal of Binalonan, Pangasinan, Philippines; A. A. Bryson of Jamaica; and Calvin V. Ledger of St. Vincent, West Indies.
As for numbers, it is difficult to tell, since the Meridian headquarters keeps no records and the association is loose. About 1600-1800 magazines are mailed out monthly.
Some ministers apparently do not really want any central location or publishing work at all. Barnes says he is "going along" with the Meridian group, but he believes they have gone overboard on the idea of local autonomy. "It won't work," he states. Yet he is the most esteemed minister of the Idaho group and the oldest, for he is given the privilege of giving the opening sermon at each year's camp meeting. Frank Walker is going along with them, but because of his British-Israel ideas, he has plans for doing things on his own as well.
The "Missouri Conference of the Church of God (Old Time)" was apparently organized in l951, as its 13th annual campmeeting was held at Milan, Missouri in 1964. Leaders then were Edgar Lippincott and Keith Slddens.
To be affiliated with Meridian, but incorporated separately.
For a time, the "River Road Church of God" of Eugene, Oregon associated with the Meridian Group. It originated from a division of the Radio Church of God congregation of Eugene, and was led by Elders Emil HeiebeL, and J.O. Spires. But because of their Feast Day observance, the alliance with Meridian was transitory.
AGAIN AS ALL THIS WAS WRITTEN BY NICKELS IN 1973; WE ARE SOMEWHAT OUT OF DATE; ONLY TO STATE THE MERIDIAN LOOSE ASSOCIATION IS STILL IN EXISTENCE; THEIR ACTS MAGAZINE STILL BEING PUBLISHED, WHICH I RECEIVE. AND THEIR MARANATHA BIBLE COLLEGE IS STILL IN OPERATION.