Being the family historian for my generation of the Volkmann family I enjoy the Friday evening TV program, "Who Do You Think You Are?" showing how a number of celebrities researched their roots. Their thesis is that we have the DNR and thus are the product of our forebears. It is good to know where our ancesters originated, lived and what they did and believed in their lives. Of course, one might find information that is not positive. When I started this search for our family roots my mother warned me that I'd likely find information that would be better not uncovered! I think her generation was more concerned about things like that than is our generation. And we'll probably not see the unsavory side of the celebrities' families on the TV programs! This program is sponsored by Ancestry.com, the premier web site helping people trace their roots, at a cost I might add.
In my case since I have been called to vocational ministry I've had a great interest in the spiritual and ecclesiastical roots of our family. My great grandfather, Ferdinand A. Volkmann brought his family from the Pommern to Watertown, Wisconsin in 1873. He did not want his six sons to be cannon fodder for Bismarck's senseless wars to unify the German states. They were in the Protestant Pomeranian Union Church in the village of Triebs just north of Treptow near the Ost See, Baltic Sea today. They sold the family farm there which proceeds were used to purchase a farm just east of Watertown. Arriving in May by the end of that year they not only purchased a farm, but the whole family had joined the German Methodist Congregation in Watertown. The Union Church in the Pommern, though Evangelische, was apparently closer to the Methodist teaching than it was to the Lutheran Church at that time.
Our grandfather Otto was 16 years old when arriving in Wisconsin. He married well at 29 and with grandmother's inheritance they purchased a farm six miles south of Juneau west of Highway 26 on Hogsback Road. The family joined the German Methodist Church in the nearby village of Lowell after moving there. My father lived his entire life on that farm dropping out of school at 15 to become the man of the family when his father died. As an only son with three sisters it was assumed I too would take over the farm. Like my father, I too was christened and confirmed in that Lowell Methodist Church. While I would enjoy rural life God did not put in my heart a love for farming, but rather a strong sense of a call to study and teach the Word of God not unlike Ezra of old. Ezra 7:10
When I expressed to our Methodist pastor at the time that I intended to enroll in the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago he was concerned that if I went there I'd become a Baptist. His fears were realized. Because of the theological liberalism of much of the clergy in the Wisconsin Conference of the Methodist Church at that time I was part of a group who formed the Bible Baptist Church in Beaver Dam during my college years, the core of which was disaffected Methodists from Lowell and Juneau.
However, leaving the Methodist Church did not dampen my great appreciation for zeal of John Wesley, the Father of the Methodist Church. He firmly believed that Christ's atoning death was sufficient for all people, that God loves all people and is not willing that any should perish. After his heart was "strangely warmed" at a meeting on Aldersgate Street, London, May 24, 1738 he not only preached all over England, but sent circuit riders who established churches in virtually every village and town in America. The Methodist Church was the largest protestant denomination in America by the middle of the 20th century. Since then they have declined in my opinion because many of the leaders abandoned the zeal of their Biblical convictions. God was gracious in giving me my personal Aldersgate experience. Since that filling of the Holy Spirit I have never doubted the truthfulness of the gospel or the authority of the Word of God. With this conviction the empowerment of the Holy Spirit has allowed me to teach and preach with authority and boldness. One of the most powerful messages I have ever heard was, "fear God and no man". I took that to heart too.
After graduating from Moody with a diploma in pastoral ministries I transferred to Wheaton College to complete a B.A. in liberal arts in 1960. There we learned that all truth is God's truth and we have nothing to fear from honest academic inquiry. Student ministry took me to Washington D.C. where I worked for ten years and then at 35 I enrolled in Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, the Evangelical Free Church seminary in Deerfield, IL. All three of these institutions have very high academic standards with commitment to historic biblical orthodoxy. They also stress the Great Commission of Christ to make disciples of all peoples. My passion has always been to study the Scriptures and teach sound doctrine. This call has taken us to Ethiopia in mission work, working at the Seminary in Deerfield, IL and to pastoral ministry here at Green Lake and Ripon in 1985. This is not a job, but a calling to a life of ministry as long as God gives me strength.
Why do I tell something of my story as part of my blog? Because for over 25 years I have been an outspoken Evangelical in Ripon. I thank Tim Lyke and the editors of the Commonwealth for encouraging my letter writing and more recently for offering me the opportunity to do blogs through their web site. Any of you who have followed my letters over the years and my participation in classes, panel discussions and debates at Ripon College in the early years know I am an unabashed defender of the Faith. I believe the Bible is God's revealed Word, the final authority for faith and practice. I believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal second person of the Holy Trinity who was born of the Virgin Mary and lived a sinless life as fully God and fully man as affirmed in the Nicene Creed. He died as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice for the sins of all people and that those who believe in Him are saved by grace through faith alone. Good works that follow are an evidence of the genuineness one's faith not a means of salvation.
There are those who might ask, "Who do you think you are?" to speak so boldly? My story answers that question. I am a sinner saved by grace and called to proclaim the good news of God's love in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that "whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life". Have you accepted Him by faith? Now is the time as you are not promised tomorrow here, only eternity with him if you accept him here before it is too late. May God have mercy on us all.