1 In The Beginning

Kimberly Majeski

“Colleges are necessary to fit men for the work of the devil and the business of the World. . . . They are but the devil’s playhouses” (Strege 2016, 7). These are not words flung onto the screen by an angry social media troll but are, in fact, the words of the founder and pioneer of the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), Daniel Sidney Warner, printed in The Gospel Trumpet in God’s year 1884. Strange words indeed to read as a faculty member, seated at your own desk perched in the halls of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry some one hundred and thirty years later. The above is cited in Dr. Merle Strege’s labor of love, The Desk as Altar, and these words struck me as I began my research for this article. I was so caught by Warner’s vehemence against colleges and schools of higher learning that I went to the original source, pulled that copy of The Gospel Trumpet, the original circulation connecting ministers in the fledgling Movement in the late 1800s, and read the words for myself. Warner goes onto say, in a column he entitled “The Devil’s Preacher Factory,”

It must indeed be amusing and highly pleasing to the arch fiend of hell to have professed [C]hristians lavish the Lord’s money in erecting large houses and employing a class of worldly wise spiritual fools, to gather up the most promising children of God and there drill out of them the last spark of God-life, God-power, and God-wisdom, and make them drunk on “her fornication” and polish them up for his fashionable, pompous ministration of damnation. (Warner 1884)

To be fair, it’s clear in the article that the target of Warner’s ire is seminaries, which were predominantly, in his time, dedicated to educating priests for the service of the One, Holy, Apostolic, Catholic, Church. However, one cannot miss the fervor with which Warner wrote and preached against institutionalism and notions of formal education for preachers. He goes on to state unequivocally in the column referenced above that it is not necessary to be educated to preach the Gospel. To balance the above comments, though, one must also consider sentiments he expressed elsewhere, which seemed to criticize the notion that institutions perpetuated denominationalism itself. It is compelling to note the passionate predilections of our founder regarding the importance of higher education to ministry preparation in light of the thousands of distinguished alumni of Anderson University and their dedication to the church and service to the world. Yet it is here we must begin to understand the tumultuous and refining crucible of faith and learning that is our beloved university and find new ways forward in a time fraught with pressures of its own.

I arrived on campus as a graduate student in 2000, eager to study theology with Dr. Gilbert Stafford. I grew up in the Church of God in Tennessee, and I knew only that I wanted to complete my MDiv at the school of my tradition. Anderson University was the storied place I’d heard of my whole life where so many of my mentors had studied, had life-changing experiences with God, and had often met and married their significant other. After completing my degree, I became the campus pastor and would serve in that post from 2003-2008 before transitioning to serve on the full-time faculty at the School of Theology and Christian Ministry. What I didn’t know then, but wish I had known, about the hard and beautiful complexities of living out the Gospel doing ministry in a place such as Anderson University is what I now endeavor to impart to you in this essay. I believe the following research has borne out what I am often fond of saying: Anderson University is not a perfect place, but a special place. In this special place that has now existed more than one hundred years, church and school are intricately intertwined for both good and ill, a present-day university where a church’s “open table” theology invites the troublesome blessing of renewed tension as perennial as every freshman class.

It was but one generation after Warner and on the heels of the “necktie controversy”[1] that Anderson University got its start as Anderson Bible Training School in the year 1917, as the hope and dream of J.T. Wilson and other progressive church leaders who considered the tender young place of learning, “the child of the church” (Strege 2016, 1). This understanding of “child” seems, for better or worse, to inform the relationship between the church and school in perpetuity.

In this project, as we think about the history and impact of Christian ministry on the campus of Anderson University across the last one hundred years, we must understand the complexities and tensions out of which those ministries were wrought. The Church of God, Anderson, Indiana, has struggled with questions of identity since its founding in 1880, and, much like the churches of the New Testament, the Movement has found itself embroiled in theological debate and conflicts regarding biblical interpretation for the whole of its existence. This is certainly not a criticism. This is, in fact, the nature of faith communities as generations come and go, questions over doctrine, correct practice, and orthodoxy loom, and cultural shifts and time give way to new hermeneutics, which is how we find our way. In the case of the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana, and for the purposes of this article, what we must consider is how this has affected the school caught up in the process, the “child of the church” that we now know as Anderson University.

As noted above with Warner’s comments regarding formal education, we must first acknowledge that our young school was born into a faith tradition in which the notion of preparation for a future purpose beyond the winning of souls is of secondary import. For many of the earliest pioneers of the Church of God, and among many in the generations that followed, there existed an “end of days” perspective and identification, one which understood the Church of God as the manifestation of God’s true church, whose primary work was to spread the message of salvation before Christ’s imminent return. Evident in their writings was a tendency to interpret New Testament scriptures literally and understand themselves to be living in what they called the “evening light.” Consider early Church of God evangelist Nora Hunter’s words penned in The Gospel Trumpet circa 1905:

These are the “last days” for soon the “night cometh” when “no man can work.’”. . . May God’s voice like a trumpet awaken us to greater activity before it is forever too late, before the awful night of gloom shall set in and we find ourselves on the outside among those who ministered not to Jesus when he was cold, naked, in prison, and hungry.

To understand the context then, in the earliest days of the Movement, there is a resistance to any sense of institution within the church. In fact, that is what they had all just “come out” from.[2] At the turn of the century, and in the early years, there was also a contingent of pastors and leaders aligned with J.T. Wilson and others who had benefited from a formal education and believed a training school was needed for our leaders. The Anderson Bible Training School was founded in 1917 while J.T. Wilson served as president of The Gospel Trumpet. Simultaneously, F.G. Smith, a former missionary to Beirut and rising star among the more conservative pastors, helped to craft and create the General Assembly, the most representative voice of the Church of God (Strege 2016, 15). Thus, a strained relationship of parent and child emerged at the outset, one in which the representative body and pastoral leadership of the church undertook the role of gatekeeper for what was to be taught and learned at the college.

In the beginning, the intent of the school was to train ministers. The scope and reach was voted upon by the General Assembly in 1918 and operated much as a spiritual education arm of The Gospel Trumpet. As the school enjoyed enrollment from Gospel Trumpet workers, and as others in the Movement began to support its cause, by 1921 the Church of God Yearbook endorsed general college preparation. While this was enormous progress, the General Assembly and the newly formed Committee on Schools and Extension kept a close eye on all the young institutions (Strege 2016, 22). The hard-won progress continued, nonetheless, and by 1925, the school had become independent of the Gospel Trumpet Publishing Company and was then known as the Anderson Bible School and Seminary (Strege 2016, 44). It was during this period that the young pastor John A. Morrison became the first president, subsequently hiring the first dean, Russell Olt. Here we begin to see school officials, administrators, and faculty step to the edges of the Movement and begin to lead the conversation. Morrison wrote a scathing article for The Gospel Trumpet attacking the Klan in 1923, just as the white supremacist group was on the rise in the Midwest, and authored another prominent piece to be included in the 1925 Church of God Yearbook on Warner himself (Strege 2016, 45).

Though it appears Morrison and Olt worked to recruit a diverse faculty, welcome minority students, and begin to add liberal arts courses steadily from 1923 on, spiritual life on campus was largely shaped by the promulgation of Church of God doctrine and values. In fact, the Anderson Bible School and Seminary won independence from the Gospel Trumpet company and came directly under the General Assembly and the Articles of Association, which provided for the appointment of a committee with the authority to make decisions regarding “doctrinal censorship” over curriculum, courses, and specific content professors taught in their classrooms (Strege 2016, 45). The General Assembly then gave oversight to faculty and students, who gathered for chapel three times a week to hear sermons from Church of God ministers. By 1928 the trustees supported Morrison’s recommendation to add “college courses,” which meant a more intentional liberal arts education beyond ministerial preparation, and he along with Olt began to expand their faculty and horizons.

The Controversies

As Strege aptly depicts in The Desk as Altar, his centennial history of Anderson University, the stock market crash that rocked the United States in 1929 left the Anderson Bible School and Seminary feeling the shock of progress and restraint. The parent in the relationship was troubled by the changes and the new ways taking hold at the school as the child was growing, changing and expressing her independence. Because of the inherent interdependence and predominant factions of traditionalists and progressives within the church and academy pushing and pulling at disparate poles, a series of controversies emerged. The first real clash and casualty of this dynamic was the bright young Professor of Theology, Russell Byrum.

Russell Byrum and his wife, Bessie, were two of the six original faculty members of the Anderson Bible Training School in 1917. Earlier Bessie had founded a Church of God work in Syria, and Russell intended to return with her after their marriage, but their plans were upended by World War I (Strege 2016, 52). Russell and Bessie pastored a church in Boston, where Russell spent his years studying in the library at Boston Theological Seminary and involved in pastoral training programs until he was called to Anderson to become the managing editor of The Gospel Trumpet. Byrum taught theology, a course for which he wrote his own textbook, but in 1929 his way of thinking seemed to represent a challenge for more traditionalist Church of God leaders, such as F.G. Smith and others. Following a paper Byrum delivered at an Indiana State Minister’s meeting, where he challenged the “apocalyptic rhetoric of F.G. Smith and the Reformationist Party” and the notion that the Church of God was the only true church, Byrum was charged with heresy by two school trustees (Strege 2016, 69).

When reading Smith’s notes from the trial, one is struck by the flowery twirl of his penmanship and the detail with which he transcribed the events of the saga. It is impossible to read the record, or Smith’s own notes, and miss how intensely he was invested in the process. To read the back and forth the poignant questions and, yes, the witness testimony—in many cases from students—is to read the embittered battle between the conservative, traditionalist, fundamentalist, and older parties of the Church of God and the younger, more progressive voices. Though the entire fiasco was finally ruled a “misunderstanding” (Byrum trial notes 1929), the heresy trial had made a mark upon the Movement and upon what had now come to be known as Anderson College and Theological Seminary. In the wake of the trial a chasm grew ever larger between those more traditional adherents to the Church of God and those who were ready to begin questioning some of those notions that seemed not to hold in the wake of the fall of the American economy and the early years of the Great Depression. Further, a shift had taken place such that now those leaders, administrators, and professors at the Anderson College were emerging as thought leaders in the realm of theology and doctrinal matters as it related to the Church of God, and this would be a determining step for the identity of both church and school.

Acquitted of heresy charges, Russell Byrum resigned his post at the college and returned to his family construction business. He built more than 300 homes in the Anderson area, and the Byrum auditorium, which he helped his father build, is named for him and his family members, early Church of God pioneers. Russell Byrum died in 1980 at the age of 91 (Andersonian 1980).

Sadly, the Byrum heresy trial is only the beginning of resolutions taken up, complaints filed, and battles fought as some church leaders became ever more concerned about the direction of the young school. Dean Olt, who was a practicing psychologist, hypnotized a friend for a dental surgery, and it made the news wires, leading pastors from the Kentucky Assembly and in the state of Washington to call for his resignation in 1932 (Strege 2016, 75). In 1933, several prominent ministers in Ohio proposed a resolution to remove the undergraduate curriculum altogether so that the liberal arts courses would cease and the college would return to a Bible training school (Strege 2016, 79), The resolution failed, but one can only imagine how battle weary the administration and faculty must have been after those turbulent years.

Controversies would continue as Anderson College grew, and bad blood between Morrison and Smith would plague another generation. Otto F. Linn, the first Church of God pastor to earn a PhD in biblical studies, served on the faculty of Anderson College, and then later became the dean of the Pacific Bible College. Linn wrote Studies in the New Testament, and the final volume, published in 1941, criticized many of Smith’s interpretations regarding the Revelation (Strege 2016, 151). Earl Slacum, a Muncie, Indiana, pastor who was fond of F.G. Smith, read Linn’s work and referred to it as “poison.” Slacum began publishing and circulating his own paper called Watchman on the Wall, which focused on calling out the numerous apostasies he saw taking shape at Anderson College, not least of which was the fact that a new chapel construction had a split chancel, which was taken as a clear sign of sectarian influence (Strege 2016, 153).

Slacum would press on to criticize faculty and would cite students who claimed their faith was challenged in particular professors’ classes, until one faculty member left the faculty and two more were forced to stand before the Doctrinal committee in 1947 to answer charges such as “atheistic” teaching related to instructing students in the theory of evolution[3] (Strege 2016, 155).

These are just a few examples of controversies as time and space will not permit the naming of all of them. In the 1950s, administrators and faculty members who came under fire for their political views were suspected of socialism (Strege 2016, 146). By the 1970s, matters of sex and sexual ethics began to dominate the conversations in mainstream America, and so the topics found their way into the classrooms of Anderson College. Not only were professors engaging the topics of the culture with their students, the students were engaging each other, as Andersonian articles frequently ran on such topics as homosexuality and pregnancy outside of marriage, and students debated matters among themselves[4] (Strege 2016). In 1980, the “Open Letter” controversy occurred when a pastor from South Carolina sent a letter to then President Robert Reardon concerning the complaints received regarding the “moral drift” at the college, particularly what was perceived as a disregard for the Bible and a moral neutrality on sexual relationships. For Pastor Leroy Oesch, the critical issue at hand was biblical inerrancy over biblical infallibility; to that end, Oesch had taken care to photocopy pages from New Testament textbooks highlighting the critical study of Scripture and images from sociology textbooks on human sexuality. As in the past, the conflict made its way to the General Assembly and the wider church (Strege 2016, 289).

It was perhaps the “Open Letter” conflict that finally persuaded college leaders to find vocabulary for their own identity and for their role as it related to the church. As President Robert Reardon was aware, there were deep divisions in the Church of God, and Anderson College was still in need of financial support and affiliation with its founding church. In order to address these mounting issues and the appointed committee’s particular concerns, Reardon and the administration published a statement called “Anderson College: In Partnership with the Church,” written by Barry Callen, then dean of the School of Theology (Strege 2016, 294). Here, Reardon articulated the purpose of the church-related school of higher learning, in which “curricular design and community life combine the honesty and rigor of academic inquiry and the perspectives and mission emerging from biblical revelation” (Reardon 1981).

Ministry and Identity 

Despite all the battles between parent and child across the tattered past, one truth remained in this dysfunctional relationship: one party never totally abandoned the other. Beleaguered administrators and faculty pressed on, students continued to enroll, churches still sent their young adults to study at Anderson, and the dream of a Christian liberal arts university for the building up of the Church and the good of the world continued to endure. What is more, amidst all the years of conflict, ministry continued to grow and flourish on the campus at Anderson, and young women and men grew in their academic discovery and Christian faith and carried the hope of the Gospel to their homes, communities, and around the globe. Yet, there are particular distinctives, unique attributes that our first president drew upon to illustrate our devotion to and shared heritage with our founding church that will sound familiar to contemporary students today: required chapel, required Bible courses, and special religious services each semester to enrich student spiritual life (Strege 2016, 169). In the earliest years, the curriculum itself was ministry preparation, and students would gather three times each week for chapel worship services. The women’s clubs (Camarada and Arete Pep), men’s clubs (Boosters and Sachem), and other social clubs began to appear in the 1930s, and musical ensembles traveled and shared their gifts with the wider church. Early issues of The Andersonian featured written sermons composed by students and intended to stimulate thoughtful reflection. Though it is clear from early campus handbooks that students remained under the watchful eyes and care of deans Russell Olt and Amy Lopez, they enjoyed an enriching and full spiritual experience while on campus, finding service opportunities with organizations such as the ecumenical Student Volunteer Movement (Strege 2016, 50). It seems a clear shift in the campus community consciousness took place with the onset of World War II and the campus arrival of Professor Candace Stone, who was appointed chair of the Department of Social Sciences.

Dr. Stone’s distinguished record of accomplishment at Anderson College includes launching a Model UN program for high school students and introducing an International Relations club, affiliated with the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace, which became a favorite among the student body, bringing “real-world” issues to table discussions on campus (Strege 2016, 148). Additionally, Stone organized the Anderson College Friendship Organization to underwrite international travel for twenty Anderson students into post-war Germany. Stone subsequently organized a second trip, sponsored by the Church of God and the World Council of Churches, to devastated regions of Europe, believing that as followers of Christ, we must accept a portion of the responsibility for the horrors of the Holocaust (Strege 2016, 148). In 1956, students from Professor Stone’s International Relations Club traveled to Alabama during the Montgomery bus boycott and invited nonviolent resistance leaders they met to Anderson to speak. Rev. Howard Vines and Rosa Parks traveled to Anderson for special services hosted by the School of Theology students and the International Relations Committee as well as Central Christian Church.

While the support of professors and the cultivation of a safe and open environment to express ideas and doubts are necessary for the growth and development of adulthood, the leadership displayed by Anderson students in areas of justice and social change across the years should not be lost on readers. For instance, students collected funds to provide blankets for refugees in the Algerian war for independence. In 1961 as the Peace Corps was launched, Anderson college students were some of the first volunteers accepted into the program (Strege 2016, 224).

Perhaps one of the greatest results to date of the combined efforts between national church leaders and Anderson faculty and student leadership is what we now know as Tri-S. Reardon’s vision for the endeavor was to incorporate the program, then known as “Student Sumner Service,” into the overall educational experience and to serve the communities the students visited (Strege 2016, 226). This time-honored cross-cultural immersion and servant leadership program has become one of the “distinctives” of the Anderson experience. Within a decade of the establishment of the Tri-S program, over 1,000 students had participated (Strege 2016, 224).

In 1965, students Stoney Cook and Richard Freer traveled to Selma, Alabama, to stand with civil rights protestors. Upon their return, they met with President Reardon, and the stories of their experiences were so compelling that he announced a Freedom March in support of human rights for every American citizen following chapel on March 18 (Strege 2016, 231-32). Some 800 members of the campus community along with other neighbors walked from the corner of Eighth and College to the foot of the courthouse. This is not to say there were not those who were vehemently opposed to Reardon’s actions and the students and faculty who marched (Strege 2016, 231-32). Strege estimates that at least 200 students joined an alternative prayer service objecting to the march (Strege 2016, 233). Following the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and in response to the mounting civil rights issues of the day, Reardon and trustees worked to appropriate funds to recruit African American students and faculty as well as develop courses on Black history and culture (Strege 2016, 236). To the great benefit of the college, in 1969 Rev. James Earl Massey, pastor of Metropolitan Church of God in Detroit, was appointed as the first Campus Pastor (Strege 2016, 236).

In 1969, the war-weary campus was caught in the fray of the varied passionate politics of students. While President Reardon and Rev. Massey held steady, the students again stepped forward to show the way. On October 15, during a national student moratorium to protest the war in Vietnam, students and Admissions Director James Edwards planted a “tree of life” in the valley. In a beautiful display of their commitment to the work of peace, students laid the shovels aside, and both those who opposed and who supported the war came together, hands in the dirt, scooping out the earth to bare fresh soil in which to plant peace (Strege 2016, 246-47).

While Dr. Massey understood his role as campus minister as “promote[ing] a specific religious emphasis in campus life,” the hallmarks named by Morrison were still the avenues for spiritual development at Anderson (Andersonian 1971). Also of note is that from the very beginning, the campus pastor worked with students and faculty on a spiritual life committee to help determine programming, select campus themes, and plan emphasis weeks. Dr. Massey was succeeded by Pastor Don Collins, and it was under Don Collins’s leadership that Campus Ministries took on a new life on campus and a new role in the surrounding community. During his tenure, Collins developed a wide range of volunteer teams led by students with opportunities to serve in prisons and nursing homes and to tutor at-risk children after school (Strege 2016, 305).Collins introduced Vision/Revision Week, through which students could express and explore their spirituality and expanded the opportunities for student-led ministry initiatives. In 1978, just as Dr. Marie Strong, beloved professor of Bible and sponsor of Christianity in Action, retired, Collins arrived on campus, thereby ensuring that Campus Ministries was able to fill in the gap and broaden the scope of student-led ministries.

While Tri-S, Campus Ministries, and Chapel/Convocation exposed students to the world around them, the needs of their community, and the issues facing the day, small-group Bible studies in the residence halls and student-led worship services flourished into the next era of campus life. New partnerships were established such as the AU-East Africa initiative led by Scott Martin and Stuart Erny in the early 2000s, which worked to connect campus ministries students in Anderson with needs in East Africa through education, events, and Tri-S trips. Students launched new campus ministries teams like Neighbors to serve the practical needs of the people who live in the neighborhood around campus; over the last decade, they’ve cleaned gutters, built ramps for neighbors with accessibility needs, and gutted and renovated bathroom stalls for those in our community in need.

Even as students enjoyed more freedom in expression and leadership in planning for spiritual life experiences on campus, angst regarding required chapel and its content has always been and continues to be a matter of contention. Reading across scores of Andersonian articles, this former campus pastor was comforted to note that my tenure was not the first to face less-than-favorable feedback from time to time regarding chapel programming. It was also reassuring to note that all those who held the post hosted forums, talkbacks, and venues for dialogue. It should also be said that campus pastors and administrators continue to receive a fair amount of input from church leaders and parents who feel strongly about this speaker or that topic to which students are exposed. There are also church leaders who have expressed feelings of exasperation that Anderson has now taken the place of the church in “over-programming” to the point that students lack time to participate in local congregational life. So even while there are new campus ministries teams and lots of new programming, chapel has been reduced from three times per week to two and the meeting time has moved from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. to now 11a.m. Much has changed, and much remains.

Perhaps what this article can do is state anew what the research bears out. Over the course of 100-plus years of this turbulent and faithful relationship, parent and child, church and university have fiercely loved and fiercely fought. One must recognize, however, that the child has matured into an adult, full functioning and informed by her parental roots. The relationship is and has been messy and beautiful, troubled and loving. The foundations of this Movement, the belief of an open table and open fellowship, both inform and complicate the work. Because of our unquestionable loyalty to our founding church, Anderson University welcomes students no matter what their faith, or lack thereof, into a community that is undeniably Christian and Church of God. We must understand, then, the difficulty and opportunity inherent in doing ministry and life in a community in which there is nothing where it can be said, “This we all believe” (see The Heart of the Church of God Teaching Tradition, Barry Callen and Cliff Sanders).

In keeping with Anderson’s commitment to the church, students at the school are required to attend chapel, take a course in Bible, and spiritual emphasis weeks are offered each semester for students to explore their faith more deeply. In keeping with the commitment of the church to the school, the church supports the school financially, prayerfully, and faithfully by sending a fresh crop of students every fall. As we read the record, what seems painfully obvious is that while this relationship is troubled, it has always been intact. There will never be a time when it is appropriate for faculty to lay down the responsibility to honor God with their minds and to retreat from venturing into the world of thoughts and ideas, and they will always be challenged to engage students on the issues of our times where students must navigate the world. There will never be a time when the church will not seek to know that these questions are being confronted from a biblical perspective. To the credit of our church and school leaders across the good times and bad of the last one hundred years, it seems that, like any normal family, they may have their internal spats, but they stay in the room, work through the hard stuff, and find a way through.

Anderson University is not a perfect place, but it is a special place. It is a place where talks of peace echo across the valley as the leaves turn golden. It’s a place where generations of alumni gather to tell stories of college life in Old Main. It’s a sacred space where we gather for prayer when planes rocket through the World Trade Center. It’s a place that is home of the Ravens and Mocha Joe’s. It’s a place where we wrestle with topics of Christian ethics and volunteer for anti-trafficking work in our community and around the globe. It’s a place where we sing out loud and true the never-ending love of God.

  1. The “necktie controversy” is a debate among early Church of God pioneers; more conservative adherents believed men wearing neckties was flashy and worldly. Those who would be considered more progressive thought neckties a non-issue.
  2. Early Church of God pioneers referred to themselves as come-outers because they had come out of the sectarian institutions of denominationalism to embrace God’s one, true church.
  3. As cited in Strege (2016), issues of the Andersonian were published on March 20, 1980; March 27, 1980; April 17, 1980; and April 24, 1980.
  4. See Andersonian 2, no. 1, September 9, 1947, https://cdm15705.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15705coll56/id/30/rec/3 and Andersonian 4, no. 8, November 2, 1949, https://cdm15705.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15705coll56/id/482/rec/1.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

In The Beginning by Kimberly Majeski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book