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Rainbow Divider

My Perspective on Bro. Thomas

by Phil Enlow

Rainbow Divider

What a difference there is between a ministry of the Spirit and a ministry of the letter (2 Cor. 3:6)! It is the difference between life and death. A ministry of the letter – typically a product of human effort in some way – no matter how sincere is powerless to impart life to the hearers. At best it only imparts biblically accurate “information” whereas those who have been born of God’s Spirit can only be nourished by that Spirit. Bro. Thomas understood that and so consciously depended upon God. Life was imparted and God was glorified.

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My perspective on Bro. C. Parker Thomas necessarily involves my own background. In the providence of God, not only did I grow up in evangelical churches, my father was a minister. Thus I was of that dread breed known as “preacher’s kids”!

In my case – and by God’s grace alone – I believe that was a positive thing. My dad was a simple man of humble and genuine faith, walking faithfully in the light he had. This was demonstrated later in that he sat under Bro. Thomas’s ministry for some 30 years before being called home.

As I reached the end of my high school years my path seemed to lie in the direction of full time ministry in some form. Accordingly I enrolled in a Bible College that had a rich history. There I absorbed the usual variety of Bible, Theology, and ministry-related courses, an education designed to equip me to minister in the religious environment in which I had been raised.

I distinctly remember a growing spiritual hunger during those years. “There must be more than this. Why are the churches of today so different from those in the New Testament?” This hunger was stirred every time I heard someone preach with a real anointing or when I read of powerful revivals in other places and times. In all of this I sought on the one hand to be open to things beyond my past spiritual experience and yet on the other to remain firmly anchored to the Word of God. I’m very thankful as I look back that the Lord so faithfully steered an ignorant young man through the minefields of religious deception so prevalent in our day.

Following the years of schooling my path led to pastoral ministry – about 50 miles from the Bible Tabernacle! This was in the summer of 1968. I had no idea at the time of the things happening only 50 miles away.

On New Year’s Eve of 1968 one of the men from our church, Bro. Jen Hartman, was invited by a co-worker to visit a church in Southern Pines, North Carolina where a great revival was taking place. This was on a Tuesday evening. The following evening we had our regular midweek meeting, held “cottage-prayer-meeting” style in our living room.

Bro. Jen’s report together with copies of the Midnight Cry Messenger chronicling the visitation/revival definitely got my attention and so the following Tuesday the Hartmans and Enlows traveled to Southern Pines for the Tuesday Evening service. The atmosphere was “electric” with the Lord’s presence and the people were warm and loving. Our visit only strengthened my desire to learn all I could through reading MCMs and listening to tape recordings of some of the amazing things the church had experienced in the previous year or so.

Naturally my interest included a desire to meet the man God had used in the establishment and growth of the church. At that time Bro. Thomas and several others had recently moved to Jacksonville, Florida to begin a work there. I was enjoying his words on paper and in recordings but wanted to meet the man himself.

That opportunity came one week later. We returned once again to the Tuesday Evening service and discovered that Bro. Thomas was there, back for his first return visit. The atmosphere was even more electric, the worship joyful and exuberant. I had read many accounts of the supernatural things that had been taking place and now had the opportunity to witness an example. At some point before it was time for Bro. Thomas to minister, God gave a vision to a sister in the assembly.

Bro. Thomas had been made aware that a visiting minister – me – and a group were present so he graciously took several minutes to explain what was going on. He spoke about the fact that young people had unexpectedly begun having visions going back a year or two and how they had earnestly sought the Lord about it. He related these visions to that of Peter in Acts 10:9-16 where he went into a trance and saw the vision of a large sheet full of creatures being lowered from heaven. The visions currently being experienced were like that in that the one seeing the vision would go into a trance and both see and hear the vision playing before their eyes as if it were on a movie screen. They would then come out of it and have perfect recall of what they had seen and heard and relate it to the people.

I had no trouble at all with the idea of supernatural visions. The only issue was their source. While God can certainly give visions, so can the devil. What I saw clearly in Bro. Thomas was a man who understood this and was totally committed to truth. In reality visions had been only a small part of the many amazing things the church had been experiencing. It is a major challenge to keep one’s spiritual balance in the face of such things yet my witness was that Bro. Thomas had found grace to do so. He had fervently prayed about all of it with an intense commitment to stay anchored to the Word of God, testing everything by every means he knew.

Even as it had become evident that God was truly visiting the church in wonderful ways he knew not to let his spiritual guard down, enlisting the prayers of the people and counseling those used in these unusual ways to seek God and resist the devil in it all. I don’t remember the particulars of the vision that evening but do recall that it “rang true.” I appreciated Bro. Thomas’s effort to explain these things for our benefit and had no sense whatever that they had puffed him up with pride in any way. He remained humble and focused.

I do, however, remember the message! Remember that I had been taught to prepare and deliver sermons – seeking God, of course. What I heard that evening was no prepared sermon but a mighty river from God flowing through Bro. Thomas. The subject was “Complete in Him,” taken from Colossians 2:10. He simply began with a quickened thought and was borne along on that river until a great light had been shined on the completeness of the salvation we had received through Christ. It wasn’t a man’s ability but God’s anointing that made it so.

In process of time both the Enlows and the Hartmans moved to be part of the assembly in Southern Pines and so were in a position to enjoy the Lord’s ministry through Bro. Thomas on many occasions as he would visit – or when we would visit with the folks in Jacksonville. Still, I distinctly remember asking the Lord for the opportunity to sit directly under his ministry if that could be in His plan for me. And so, in 1972 my wife and I moved to Lake City, Florida about the time the Jacksonville church “migrated” there. I remember helping Bro. Thomas and Bro. John B. Campbell dig the footer for the church that was built there that summer. Later, in 1976, both Thomases and Enlows moved back to North Carolina.

As I listened to him preach throughout many years to come it became obvious that he was not stuck on any particular method as THE way to preach. If God quickened something ahead of time then he meditated on it and looked up scriptures that came to mind and often wrote down key thoughts and scriptures. Even then the “steering wheel” in his preaching remained firmly in the Lord’s control as he remained free to express the Lord’s present tense thoughts in his delivery. There was a genuine immediacy to the word he preached. Even when he preached on subjects he had dealt with before it remained fresh and relevant to the present need.

And yet he wasn’t afraid to trust God in those times when the Lord didn’t give him something in advance. I remember one particular service when he was visiting back in the old tabernacle in Southern Pines. He stood up to speak and remarked that he didn’t know what he was going to preach! He began to simply make general encouraging comments.

Suddenly he paused. I was on the first row in an old building that promoted “close fellowship” so I had a good look at what was happening. There was something in his expression indicating that a distinct thought had been quickened to him. In a moment he said something like, “Well, maybe I’ll comment a little.” About an hour and a half later we were all sitting there with our mouths open feeling almost as if we’d had a fire hose turned on us! There was power and clarity – and revelation. No hesitation. No reaching for thoughts or what to say next. It just flowed. God was present and speaking through a yielded vessel and we had the privilege of just drinking it up.

What a difference there is between a ministry of the Spirit and a ministry of the letter (2 Cor. 3:6)! It is the difference between life and death. A ministry of the letter – typically a product of human effort in some way – no matter how sincere is powerless to impart life to the hearers. At best it only imparts biblically accurate “information” whereas those who have been born of God’s Spirit can only be nourished by that Spirit. Bro. Thomas understood that and so consciously depended upon God. Life was imparted and God was glorified.

As I got to know Bro. Thomas over the years I came to admire many of the qualities God had so faithfully worked in Him. I would like to briefly point out a few that stuck out to me.

Bro. Thomas was a very sensitive man. As a consequence he found controversy and conflict very challenging. Every natural instinct in him would have avoided such things. Still, he was keenly aware that faithful service to God was by its very nature a warfare in the spiritual realm and that there were times and circumstances that demanded strength. And so he was led early in his ministry to specifically ask God for courage – courage to stand in battle and do the right thing. God answered his prayer. Many who saw only the courage and willingness to confront difficulties were unaware just how much grace it took but God was faithful.

And there were many challenges over the years as Satan sought by every means to attack and undermine the ministry God had committed to him. It was common for people to join us with great enthusiasm – for a time – then become offended and leave. A number of times men rose up against him in the spirit of Korah (Numbers 16:1-3). He endured seasons of criticism, slander, attempts to divide, not to mention “ministries” coming through with their pet revelations. Through it all he was enabled to keep his balance with grace and humility.

One thing that particularly blessed me was that he remained open to greater light, never supposing that he “had it all.” So many think that they are protected from error by building rigid walls around their current understanding and tradition. But what about the fellow down the street who is just as rigid in his tradition? Each thinks he is right and the other one is wrong! The reality is that we need the Lord to open His Word to us and deliver us from traditions that stop short of truth and separate us from Him who IS the truth!

One is surely vulnerable to deception who carelessly runs after every new thing but there is a blessed place where we can remain open and yet diligently weigh everything by the Word and by the Spirit. That is what I observed in Bro. Thomas.

I clearly remember a Sunday in Lake City back in the mid 70s when Bro. Thomas broke some “new ground.” A doctrinal issue (it isn’t important which one) came to his attention and rather than rejecting it out of hand he sought the Lord and looked into the Word for a period of time. Finally the day came when he felt the freedom to share it with us.

Well! I found what he said very interesting but not convincing. A number of questions arose in my mind that hadn’t been answered. I remember discussing the matter over dinner with my father who had become a part of the work by that time. The truth is that he was probably more open than I! What blesses me as I think back to that time is that Bro. Thomas simply shared his heart and let the Lord bear witness as He would. I never felt pressured to conform or to blindly embrace his convictions. He trusted God with such matters.

And so I just mostly put the matter “on the shelf” and committed it to God to show me. I wanted my own God-given convictions – and that’s exactly what Bro. Thomas wanted for those who heard him. A few weeks later he and I had a brief conversation in his office in which he made a few almost off-hand comments on that particular issue and the Lord used something he said to turn a light on. For the next 10 or 15 minutes, as I walked over to where my wife and I lived, my mind was racing as the Lord “connected the dots” for me with scripture after scripture.

Of course it was nice to feel that I was “on the same page” as Bro. Thomas in that area but even nicer to know first-hand that he wasn’t looking for blind followers! Of course he wasn’t shy about sharing his convictions yet he steadfastly depended upon God to establish convictions in others.

Was he perfect? Not even close! God in His wisdom uses flawed human beings in the work of His Kingdom. It’s a good thing too! You and I have a lot of flaws. How discouraging it would be to have a spiritual leader who lived in some high unattainable realm, and whose feet never seemed to touch the ground! But it is a great encouragement to see God use someone mightily yet to know that they are very human and daily in need of the same grace of God we are.

One thing I am perhaps uniquely positioned to share concerns Bro. Thomas’s 85th birthday, as it turned out, his last before being called home. At the time his health had almost entirely kept him at home for many months. Nevertheless a celebration was planned for a Sunday morning in the Jacksonville church. My wife and I reside in North Carolina with the assembly in Southern Pines and so while I thought it was a fine idea I truthfully had no plans to make the trip.

I believe the Lord had other plans, however, and He laid it on the heart of Bro. Jimmy Robbins to rather pointedly ask me to come and participate. Something in me sensed that it was indeed something I should do so I consented. I don’t remember the exact time frame but perhaps a couple of nights later I was awakened at around 2:30 in the morning or so, my mind racing with clear thoughts as to what I should say on the impending occasion. For something like 2 hours these thoughts were deeply impressed upon me. They were not thoughts about the past but rather about the future.

And so when the weekend arrived we headed south. I remember on Saturday afternoon sitting with Bro. Thomas and several others around a very informal feast, fellowshipping and swapping stories. Despite age and health his very down-to-earth easy-to-be-around personality showed through and we enjoyed our time there.

Sunday morning arrived and Bro. Thomas came very casually dressed and sat in an aisle seat towards the back, probably a little uncomfortable with an occasion focused on him but willing to go along with it.

Many interesting memories were recounted by family and friends as well as a representative of each of the four assemblies. It was a wonderful “look back” at the life of one of God’s servants, at times humorous and yet with many examples – some in video clips – of the power of his ministry. Time passed and it came to be a little after noon. I was entirely willing to sit it out and declare the service over and go on but Bro. Jimmy would have none of it. Somehow he had a sense that God had given me something important to say. I believe he was right.

The central thought that had been impressed upon me was that while it was right and proper to honor Bro. Thomas’s past ministry the real honor that we needed to bestow had to do with the future – after the Lord called him home. I recounted growing up in a denomination that had been founded long before by a real man of God and the various ways in which he had been honored.

As with so many movements a denomination had arisen to conserve and promote both his memory and his beliefs and practices. Churches had been named after him as well as a college. In process of time boundaries of doctrine and tradition had been erected that effectively walled off the movement from other genuine believers. (As a matter of fact one point in their doctrinal statement had walled me out and God had in part used that to bring me into this work.)

I recalled for the audience how many times Bro. Thomas had warned about this very thing and how easy it is for any work to become a monument to the past building walls around something God may have indeed done – but in the process shutting out further light. All you have to do is to look around and it should be obvious that no one has all the light there is! I recalled how often we had heard Bro. Thomas quote Prov. 4:18 which says, “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” (KJV).

As I said earlier, I had seen him demonstrate his own openness to greater light. It is not that we go beyond the Bible but rather that we truly understand what is in it, particularly as the Lord reveals it in ways that are relevant to God’s purpose at the time and to our need. The Israelites had God’s promises regarding the land, yet still needed not only the Lord’s presence with them but real instruction about how to cross the Jordan, conquer Jericho, etc. We too need that same presence of our Head, Jesus Christ, to walk with us and shine the light on the truth in the Word that we need at any given time. Often that involves deeper understanding than we have had before that time.

The Lord had given me the illustration of a relay race. In a typical relay race there are four runners who share the distance, each one running his or her particular “leg” of the overall race. In many ways the kingdom of God is like that. Each God-given ministry is intended by God to serve their generation, be called home, and leave the following generation to carry on. But carry on what?

The first runner in a relay race carries a wooden stick called a “baton” which must be handed off to the second runner within a prescribed space – and so on. How foolish it would be to treat the race as if the first leg were all there was and then to build a monument or a museum to the great race that had been run, perhaps with photos, stories, video clips, and even with the baton itself on display!

And yet that is pretty much what has happened in many religious movements. How easily do they become mere monuments to the past and in so doing reject the present tense leadership of the only Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. Another common saying of Bro. Thomas over the years summed up very simply what is needed: “Seek God and do what He says.”

Another possible course of action after a founder has passed on would be to relegate the past to the past and simply start a new race with a different vision totally disconnected from what has gone before. That isn’t right either! In a relay race if the second runner fails to secure the baton according to the rules the entire team is disqualified. The race we are part of isn’t run within the span of one lifetime. It needs to stay connected and yet move forward.

I pointed out that if the Lord tarried there would be areas where we could expect the Lord to give greater light than we had known and we would need to walk in that light. By the same token if my generation passes off the scene the same would hold true for the generation to follow. Failure in this area is why movements die spiritually. It truly isn’t about any of US but about HIM and His purpose.

How often had we all heard Bro. Thomas emphasize the truth in Isa. 42:16 – “And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

I said toward the end of my remarks that I could think of no greater dishonor that we could do to Bro. Thomas than to fall into the very traps he had so often warned us of and somehow seek to preserve a movement that looked back to him and his ministry. On the other hand I could think of no greater honor that we could bestow upon him than to move ahead in the same spirit in which he had walked, looking to Christ the Head, and walking in the light He gives us until that day He returns, however short or long a time that may be.

Had I waited to say such things after Bro. Thomas had been called home there might well have been many negative reactions. Such is our nature. Most of us are “settlers” by nature when God’s kingdom calls us to live as “pilgrims.”

But God had ordered the occasion. I hadn’t even planned to go. Then God woke me up and very clearly and forcefully impressed these thoughts on my heart and mind. But the real key to what God had in mind is that Bro. Thomas was there to hear them!

Those sitting near him bore clear witness that he was in agreement with the things I was saying, nodding his head and saying, “Amen.” After the service as I paused where he sat to greet him he thanked me for the things I had said. Of course, I can’t take any credit but I am very thankful that the Lord Himself was so clearly present, orchestrating events, preparing us for what was to come.

This was in April of 2004. In August, Bro. Thomas passed into the presence of the Lord. We too will follow him in our time but may we be faithful during our earthly “race” as he was. It truly is just a part of a “relay race” and we will all share in the prize on that day.

It was a great privilege to know Bro. Thomas. It is also a great privilege to do as he so often told us: “Seek God and do what He says.”

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