XII. The Merger: 1948-1949
During the years following the 1933 Division, the composition of the Church of God appears to have been undergoing a gradual change. Younger men, such as E.A. Straub and others, were coming in who were not part of the arguments and factions that led to the 1933 split. The positions of the two groups on doctrinal issues had never been clear-cut in the first place, and they seemed to be moving closer together in the 1940's.
1942 Feeler Attempt to Unity
The first attempt at a merger of the Salem and Stanberry groups occurred in 1942. By mutual agreement between some members of Salem and Stanberry churches, a committee of three from each group met in Des Moines. Their purpose was to consider the potential for greater cooperation between ministers and members of the two groups.
The establishment of an Advisory Committee was suggested to their respective boards, and accepted. Members of this "Unity Committee" were1:
Carl W. Carver (President Stanberry General Conference)
Stanley J. Kauer Stanberry Group
A.S. Christenson Stanberry Group
William Alexander Salem Group
K.H. Freeman Salem Group
Otto Haeber Salem Group
Efforts for unity at this time were apparently stymied.
Copyright Lawsuit Hinders Unity
As noted previously, the Salem Advocate had begun with the same volume number as that from Stanberry, but because of copyright laws had had to switch to a different numbering system.
Another issue which made friction between Stanberry and Salem happened a year or two after the 1942 merger attempt. Salem published a new Bible Home Instructor that was almost the same as that from Stanberry. A lawsuit resulted over the copyright of the Instructor which tended to dampen developing attempts at union .2
Another Try at Unity
Younger Salem ministers (such as E.A. Straub, who became one of the Twelve in 1942) convinced the older elders to have another attempt at a merger. Since Salem and Stanberry were to have their respective campmeetings on the same week in 1947, the Salem Council of Ministers asked Stanberry to appoint a committee to meet with their committee during this time in order to discuss a merger. Stanberry in the meantime had been working on the same idea.
The first meeting of the Merger Committee was therefore set on November 7, 1947. Some seven meetings were held in the next two years in the move toward merger. Members of the committee were the following3:
S.J. Kauer E.A. Straub
L.I. Rodgers K.H. Freeman
Charles E. Adams W.W. McMicken
A seventh member, and the chairman, was A.E. Lidell, who was supposedly neutral.
In 1946, previous to the Merger Committee's formation, there were plans for the purchase of property near Owosso, Michigan to establish a Church of God high school. It was planned to elect a bi-partisan (Stanberry and Salem) Board of Control for this purpose.4
Issues Discussed at the Merger
There were several issues which the Merger Committee had to iron out before the actual union could take place.
One was the issue of church government. Stanberry had only a ruling group of seven, the Executive Committee. Salem on the other hand, had the Twelve, Seventy, and Seven form of government. It appears that Stanberry was willing to go along and compromise on this point.
Stanberry had no articles of belief per se, while Salem had 38 articles of belief. The Merger Committee studied the 38 articles and accepted them as part of a union Articles of Belief in the Constitution.5
Fairview Conference of 1948 - "The Great Compromise"
The Merger Committee called for a joint ministerial meeting of the two churches, at Fairview, Oklahoma, on February 12-17, 1948. Some 61 ministers were present, not all the ones from each group, but certainly the leading ones, split about evenly between Salem and Stanberry:
William Alexander, Leo Merriam, C.L. Faubion, Archie B. Craig, Burt Ford, Rudolph Haffner, D.G. Werner, Arthur Estep, Roy B. Dailey, A.N. Dugger, L.I. Rodgers, J.A. Ojeda, Ivan Harlan, Christ Kiesz, E.A. Straub, Ennis Hawkins, A.E. Lidell, C.J. Heywood, K.H. Freeman, W.M. Olson, W.T. Bass, Reuben Moldenhauer, Philip Ojeda, Ed Severson, A. Duque, Fred Krumsick, C.F. Wirth, Emmett Samson, O.T. Whitten, R.E. Burge, S.J. Kauer, B.G. Sweet, Thomas D. Foster, A.S. Christenson, A.L. McCoy, Claude McElrath, W.T. McMicken, W.W. McMicken, Burt F. Marrs, E.D. Lippencott, R.K. Walker, E.G. Harrington, Peter Hrenyk, H.W. Munro, Charles E. Adams, Joel Ling, A.C. Turner, Curley Hayes, J.B. Brenneise, J.W. Martin, Rollo Heebsch, K.C. Walker, A.F. Dugger, Ray Benight, R.C. Moldenhauer, N.S. Marrs, Tieman DeWind, H.N. Vander Schuur, L.L. Christenson, Pedro R. Parales, Guadalupe Gonzales.
In 1933, at the last combined General Conference meeting at Stanberry, the vote on crucial matters was 30-30, with the chair ruling in favor of the party which remained at the Stanberry headquarters. At Fairview there were also 61 present, this time they were all ministers, and likewise the ministers were split evenly. As recalled by Burt Marrs, there was a vast difference as to the outcome: "In 1933 they were divided. In 1948 they were unanimous. I never before in my life saw a greater demonstration of the power of God in bringing men together. Old men wept with joy and threw their arms about the necks of others with whom they had stood at variance all these years, and plans were made for a greater work for the whole church." Many changes were made as far as polity was concerned, "but no principle was sacrificed by either group."
The future thrust of the merged church was to be determined "through its ministers who are to move in unity with a message to be formulated by these ministers."
Elders Kauer and Freeman read the proposed constitution and articles of belief into a wire recorder for typing. Heard in the background when it was played back were the strains of "Blessed Be the Tie That Binds," which must have been recorded previously. This caused the ministers assembled to weep with joy, believing the merger was a providential occurrence. The vote was unanimous to accept the new constitution.
Because of the laws under which the Stanberry group was incorporated, the earliest possible time the union of the two groups could take place was August of 1949. The Executive Boards of the two groups met and planned joint work for the final legal union which would take place at the 1949 campmeeting held at Stanberry.
In the meantime, every local congregation was urged to accept ministers recommended by either group. Campmeetings were to be held jointly, and the next quarterly paper would be combined. Tithes and offerings were to be sent to the place the member chose, until treasuries could be consolidated.
Straub: Merger Engineer
Plans for the June California state conference were made; it was to be a joint effort, as Emmett Samson (Stanberry) was working with E.A. Straub (Salem).
Straub, who may be referred to as "the engineer of the merger," exemplified the union spirit as he made it a point to work with Stanberry people. He glowingly refers to the Fairview meeting of 1948 as the "First Ministerial Conference."6
Dugger and Marrs: Hatchet Buried?
One of the key problems that the Fairview meeting had to cope with was the friction between A.N. Dugger and Burt F. Marrs. As it was probably the major reason for the division in the first place, a reconciliation between these two antagonistic figures was necessary for the merger to be successful.
Straub reports that tears came to Dugger's eyes and he got up and apologized when he heard Marrs preaching a moving sermon at Fairview. The hatchet was apparently buried.7
Shortly after the Fairview meeting, Dugger, who was then working in Oregon, wrote an Advocate article for the Stanberry group. In it he stated that he had started to work in the Advocate office at Stanberry in the summer of 1906, "and from that time to the present there has been debate, and division among us. We have not been striving together for unity, but rather debating and striving to have our own way about certain doctrines, many of which were not the great central themes of salvation." Dugger exhorted the brethren that the true church of God should be one, as John 17:11 states. He notes that at Fairview, "There was not one word that would mar our unity, or disrupt our peace. All was love." Comparing the Fairview meeting to the day of Pentecost, the ministers were with one accord and close to God. When the body as a whole unites, Dugger stated, we can know that God will manifest every gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to finish His work.8
Other articles by Dugger followed later in the year in the Stanberry Advocate, on the food question, Jew-Arab problems, and the "Great Apostasy" of the SDAs falling away from the Church of God.9
Marrs noted that those ministers opposing the merger were not at the Fairview meeting. At least twenty-seven English-speaking Stanberry ministers were not present, and neither were any of their Mexican or foreign ministers. An undetermined number of Salem ministers were missing also.
Burt Marrs stated in March, 1948 concerning the meeting at Fairview, "that some have already been making remarks about how one side or the other got down on their knees and crawled to the other." Marrs shames them, stating that the Devil wanted the church to be divided.10
The former opponent of Dugger publicly related: "Some have wondered whether Elder Dugger and I made it all right . . . we are brethren, and though estranged for some years, I do not hold the slightest grudge against him, and I cannot believe that he holds any against me." The Stanberry leader said he had never deliberately told any untruth about any brother during the time of separation, and if he had it was because he had been given the wrong information in the first place. "I did write hard letters which hurt the work in general. I had that fighting spirit which should not have been. For this I apologized to the brethren at Fairview and asked their forgiveness."11
Oregon's joint campmeeting was held on July 9-18, 1948 at Junction City. The campmeeting committee was composed of12:
Roy Dailey Junction City
A.N. Dugger Turner
Ed Severson Harrisburg
Also, two previously separate churches, probably in Harrisburg, Oregon, combined efforts and fifteen members were added.13
It appears that members from Washington and Idaho also attended the Oregon campmeeting. Burt Marrs was there, along with twenty other ministers, one each from Arkansas and Oklahoma, two from Missouri, and three from California. Twenty-three new converts were baptized at the meeting, which was attended by over 400 brethren.14
In August, forty-nine ministers from both groups attended a joint campmeeting held at Stanberry.15
Joint Efforts on High School and College, New Press
Besides the 1946 joint plans for the Church of God high school at Owosso, Michigan, the two groups co-operated in plans to erect a college and new press at Stanberry. Elder Burt Marrs, along with Roy Dailey and Horace Munro, led an effort for a school for training young ministers in order to have a more effective Church of God work. A new Stanberry church and publishing house were also needed, so the proposed new complex would serve all three purposes. In June of 1946, groundwork began for the new complex, but a building permit was denied until materials became more plentiful. By 1947 the cornerstone of the church section was laid. The publishing house section was sufficiently finished so that the Advocate press staff moved in shortly before the August 1948 joint campmeeting. The building was dedicated on the Sabbath before Passover, April 9, 1949.16
The college, located above the press, began classes in September, 1951. At the time it was called Midwest Theological Seminary, with Elder Burt Marrs as President of the school. Later the name of the school was changed to Midwest Bible College. At the urging of Marrs, among the first students were Benny and Betty Rosell from the Philippines.
Full support by the Church of God spurred the Stanberry building effort, as well as the one in Owosso, Michigan. A boarding high school called Spring Vale Academy opened there on September 15, 1948 with Elder S.J. Kauer acting as principal. Adjacent to the Owosso high school was a farm of 146 acres, on which the students could learn to work, as well as earn part of their tuition and board. The Board of Directors was divided between the Salem and Stanberry groups, with "neutral" A.E. Lidell as President. Elder William Alexander spoke at the dedication ceremony on September 25.
The Spring Vale project had been initiated in 1944 by Lidell, who led a group of the Michigan Church of God people in organizing the Michigan Fellowship Movement. Its purpose was to establish a christian school. In 1946, Elder Kauer joined the effort to establish a non-profit school. He was joined on the faculty by Mr. and Mrs. Clair W. Ahlborn, who was formerly a Church of God Elder in Oregon.
The Fairview meeting of 1948 heartily backed the school, feeling that a system of church schools was necessary to make organization really effective.17
May, 1949: Salem Preliminary Meeting Toward Unity
During May of 1949 a "Special Committee Meeting" for unity was held at Salem, West Virginia. They agreed on four adult Church of God periodicals:
1. The Bible Advocate of Salem would merge with the one of Stanberry, and be published at Stanberry.
2. A prophetic and evangelistic magazine, The Voice of Hope at Salem.
3. The Church of God Messenger, merging The Field Messenger and The Harvest Messenger at Salem.
4. The Spanish Advocate, El Abogado de la Biblia, would also be printed at Salem.
Further, it was agreed that the radio work would be unified under the name, "Voice of Hope," in co-operation with the magazine of the same name.
As for the ministry, it was agreed that there would be no new licenses issued until after the merger took place. Only if both groups agreed could a new minister receive a license. Ministers and laymen could hold their own belief as regards the articles of faith as long as they didn't sow discord or create a disturbance. The articles of belief were regarded not as a closed creed, but that the church was willing to accept new light.18
The Unity Committee, led by William Alexander and Burt Marrs, advised that at the joint campmeeting to be held at Stanberry, the two groups meet separately and vote on the merger. If the merger was successful, then they would meet as a whole and vote on the constitution and by-laws. It was further agreed that the first Executive Committee should have an equal number of men from Salem and Stanberry.19
Thus by August of 1949, the Merger was practically a foregone conclusion.
August, 1949 Merger at Stanberry
Joint campmeetings for the two groups were held at Stanberry, August 12-20, 1949. The proposal to merge Stanberry and Salem was put to the membership. Straub reports that Dugger tried very hard to prevent the merger, but to no avail. The final vote showed an overwhelming favor towards unity: Stanberry voted 121 to 15, and Salem 75 to 1. There was reported to be great rejoicing, now that the Church of God had finally become one again.20
Merger Constitution: Systematic Organization, 12 and 7
The Merger Constitution, as agreed upon by the 1949 Stanberry meeting, was a dramatic shift from the days when the Church of God was a loose and often disorganized association of state conferences. As the March, 1948 Advocate from Stanberry noted, "The plan of organization is more complete and systematic than any ever attempted in the Church of God."21
At the top of the new structure was an Executive Board of twelve men. They were not referred to as lifetime apostles, as had been the practice of the Salem group. They would serve for a term of six years, four new ones elected at each biennial session of the conference. Members of the new Executive Board were chosen from the ranks of credentialed ministers. Voting in the General Conference was to be by all members twenty years old and up. Officers of the Board served for two year terms and met annually, and the General Conference itself was to meet biennially.22
On the original Board of the Merger Group were the following:
C.E. Adams E.A. Straub
A.E. Lidell William Alexander
L.I. Rodgers K.H. Freeman
R.E. Burge W.W. McMicken
Archie B. Craig Otto Haeber
Ennis Hawkins Christ Kiesz
Lidell was chosen Chairman, Straub the Vice-Chairman, Haeber the Treasurer, and Adams Secretary.
Appointed by the Executive Board was an Administrative Committee of Seven, who were the chairmen of the seven general departments of the church. The original seven were:
Ministerial, B.F. Marrs
Home Missions, M.L. Bartholomew
Publishing, Ray E. Benight
Young People's, Spurgeon Tedrow
Sabbath School, C.L. Faubion
Christian Education, S.J. Kauer
Foreign Missions, A.N. Dugger
State Conferences were also to have an executive committee of seven men.
Ray Benight was chosen as editor of the combined Bible Advocates, and it was agreed
that both publishing houses would continue.
The Constitution, By-Laws and a statement of beliefs were developed by the Merger Committee and were adopted by the 1949 Stanberry meeting with only minor changes.23
Districts and Overseers
The field was to be organized into general districts, presided over by a member of the Executive Board who lived in the district. The original districts, their overseers and territory, were as follows24:
General Districts and Overseers
District No. 1 L.I. Rodgers (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming)
District No. 2 Christ Kiesz (North and South Dakota, Manitoba and Saskatchewan)
District No. 3 R.E. Burge (Montana, N. Idaho, Washington, Alberta, British Columbia)
District No. 4 E.A. Straub (California, S. Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Utah and Arizona)
District No. 5 Archie B. Craig (Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas)
District No. 6 William Alexander (Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana)
District No. 7 W.W. McMicken (Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina)
District No. 8 Ennis Hawkins (North Carolina, Vermont, Maine, Maryland, Connecticut, Virginia, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Delaware, Washington D.C., Quebec)
District No. 9 K.H. Freeman (West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario)
Instead of a council of seventy ministers, all credentialed ministers were made members of a new Ministerial Council, which was to hold regular annual meetings.
A new concept, as defined in Article III, Section 3 of the Merger Constitution, stated that "The essential doctrines to be taught by this organization shall be set forth by the Ministerial Council of the Church." Thus, the ministers, and not the General Conference, would decide whether or not to credential ministers. Doctrines would be decided by the ministers, not the laymen. The tone of the Merger Group placed the control of the church squarely on the shoulders of the ministers. When the Ministerial Council was discussing doctrinal points, "any spirit of contention or strife will be declared out of order," and doctrinal points passed by a 3/4 majority would be placed in the church Articles of Belief.
It was further noted that Sabbath Schools should be presided over by a minister, and should not be the scene of debate.25
The main reason for the division in the first place, the debate of doctrinal issues, was thought to be solved by the Merger Constitution.
The first issue of the combined Bible Advocate came out on October 3, 1949. It had a front page picture of the new Executive Board, with the caption, "United We Stand!" Ray Benight of Oregon was now editor elect, with A.S. Christenson as assistant editor. The Salem edition had been issued every two weeks, but the new paper began as a weekly, just about doubling the circulation. A youth paper, The Christian Youth Herald-Gospel Call was printed at Salem. The children's papers, The Sabbath School Missionary, and The Golden Gems, were printed at Stanberry.
Headquarters Moved to Denver
In order to placate both the Salem people and the Stanberry people, it was agreed to move the headquarters of the Merger Group, and location of the Executive Committee board meetings, to Denver, Colorado. The college and press were to continue to be in Stanberry. However, in early 1973, the press and General Conference headquarters moved to a new building just outside of Denver. Stanberry, however, remained the location of the college until the later 1970's when ministerial training was transferred to Denver.
Going Along With the Merger
Although Dugger had striven to block the merger, he appeared for a time to go along with the move. He wrote an Advocate article in November, 1949 entitled "Let Us Finish The Work," and had another article supporting unity, "Unity, Power and Victory," in the June 1948 issue.26
He and others, who did not really approve of the whole idea, went along with the merger for a time.
Significance of the Merger - From Eyes of an Independent
The strong organization of the Merger Group proved to be a point of dissension by many. Charles Monroe, who wrote "A Synoptic History of the Churches of God in the Latter Days," (Facts of Our Faith, January, 1969, pages 12-25) has voiced the view of an independent Church of God member who did not agree with the Merger of 1949.
Monroe states that after the merger, the Stanberry remnant had actually lost ground, the membership had declined during the years due to the division. Ironically, some 89 years after the "Schism of 1860," the Church of God made the same mistake the Adventists did, in adopting a "centralized system of government," with twelve board members and seven department heads, a ministerial council and district overseers.
The real causes of the schisms of 1860 and 1933, according to Monroe, were "personality and church government." He noted "The first step away from the faith of Jesus in the early days of this Gospel Age was the path of wrong government. The simple eldership in the local church, soon [gave way to] . . . a presiding elder, and later a president, then a bishop over several congregations, and then we know the results - the apostasy."
Some churches refused to go along with the Merger Group; these "free" churches of God, Monroe stated, were seeking to recapture the true Biblical church, in both worship and government. They voluntarily co-operate in joint projects, and do not have a headquarters machinery, which was a waste of money. Their sole purpose is to preach the gospel, and Christ is their only authority.
Thus, Monroe related, "the merger did not unite all of the Church of God. This great disappointment brought additional division, and it even 'mothered' more independent congregations." The hopes engendered at the 1949 Merger were soon to be dashed forever. The phrase, "we are not divided," from the song, "Onward, Christian Soldiers," was to be an illusory and impossible goal to achieve for the Church of God (Seventh Day). W
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