Servants' News

May/June 2001

Building Effective Congregations

by Norman Edwards

Over five years ago, I finished writing How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?—a study of the Bible teaching on government. This paper showed the errors of the common hierarchical method of governing churches, but I hoped to write another paper, maybe 20 pages, covering what I had learned about organizing small local congregations. As time went by, I kept learning new things and expanding the paper. The result is the 60-page paper included with this issue. If you cannot read it all, I encourage you to look at the Table of Contents and read the sections that would most apply to your situation.

The need for new local congregations now appears to be greater than ever. Doctrinal difficulties and scandals with large church organizations are appearing frequently, both on the mainstream news and individual Internet pages. As the big churches lose credibility, the interest in home fellowships and independent congregations surges—both in the Sabbatarian community and elsewhere.

The lines of doctrinal distinction are also blurring. Books of 30 years ago used to talk about only hundreds of Christian denominations. Now, many thousands of different groups with different beliefs are on the Internet. If one does searches on traditional Church of God doctrines, one finds many groups that teach them in all different combinations. There are Sunday-observing groups that keep the Holy Days. Some Sabbath-keepers keep Christmas and Easter. Some of those groups may be Trinitarian, others not. Some believe in Heaven or Hell, others in a Resurrection. Many did not learn the truths from Church of God groups.

Most Church of God groups would like to continue the Worldwide Church of God’s mission to do a big work, and warn the world and see the end come. But today’s reality is that most people have never heard of the WCG, the world leaders HWA talked to are nearly all dead, and no Church of God group has even one tenth the media impact that the WCG did at its height. Furthermore, almost every current Church of God group has shrunk in size from what it once was.

I mailed the letter at right to a number of Church of God groups last year and received only three responses. I would think that this is a very important issue that most leaders would want to be able to explain to themselves and their members. If they are not “warning the world” now, then what are they doing? Many smaller and independent groups need to ask themselves the same questions: “What are we doing?” “What is our mission?” I have heard Sunday-keepers say that “I believe we should worship on Saturday, but I cannot find any independent Sabbath-observing congregation that preaches the gospel, helps the poor, serves in their community or does anything else where I can dedicate myself to serve God.”

Anyone who knows history must acknowledge that God has used Sunday-keepers to copy the Bible manuscripts, translate the Bible into English, produce the first exhaustive concordance, print millions of Bibles and send them throughout the world, produce nations with freedom of religion, etc. We can speculate on whether these people had God’s Spirit, but it is not our job to judge. Nevertheless, we can take a look at all that God has done and realize that Sabbath-keepers are only a part of the plan that God is working out. We can ask Him to show us how we should fit into His plan, so we can see His true purpose for us.

I would appreciate any other answers to the letter at right, or thoughts on the topics raised in this brief article.

Servants’ News, PO Box 107, Perry, Michigan, 48872-0107, USA

April 25, 2000

Dear Leader in a Hierarchical Church Organization,

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am sending this letter to Church of God leaders who are attempting to continue the work of Herbert Armstrong. If you have answers to the following questions, I will gladly publish your entire response in Servants’ News (up to 3,000 words)—even if you send a previously written article that answers these questions. After Pentecost, I intend to publish lists of groups that did and did not respond to this letter—both in Servants’ News and in The Journal.

1. Do not the members in your own church organization prove that the Eternal does not always govern from the top down? For the past 20 years of his life, Herbert Armstrong taught that any problems “at the top” of the church government would be cleaned up by God Himself. Yet, Herbert Armstrong appointed Joseph Tkach, who appointed his son, who reversed much of the truth that Herbert Armstrong taught. Herbert Armstrong’s appointees never told former WCG ministers or members which was the “right group” to join. No group has any “signs” that make it obviously “the one”: no miracles like the early apostles, no annual new-convert growth over 10%, no media outreach anything like the WCG. Your group may claim to be the only one following Herbert Armstrong correctly, but it was your ministers and members who where able to think for themselves, study the Scriptures and decide to join. They were not commanded from the “top down”, but they disobeyed the man appointed by Herbert Armstrong.

2. There are members who left the WCG, joined another WCG split-off group, then joined your group. Are not these members proof that these other split-off groups are part of the Church of God and therefore brethren? Does your group automatically rebaptize or discipline former WCG members who attended another split-off group before joining yours? Or do you welcome them with open arms? I think it is wonderful to welcome them. But if you consider people in other groups as brethren, then why don’t you encourage your members to fellowship with these brethren, share joint activities and services, etc.? Why do you continue the sectarianism that Paul spoke against? (1Cor 1:10–17; 3:1–10.) How do you explain this to the new converts that come to your group? If your group is truly and obviously doing the most significant work of God now, would not the intermixing of brethren cause more of them to see your group and begin to attend it? Or are you afraid that your members will continue to check your teaching against Scripture as they did when they left the WCG—and might see problems with your group?

3. Is it possible that Christ intended to end Herbert Armstrong’s work? Nearly every group that tries to continue his work is splitting and shrinking. HWA has been dead for 14 years—almost no teenagers remember seeing him alive; the world leaders he visited are out of office. In another 14 years, most former-WCG ministers will be retired or deceased, and most of the adults who heard HWA prophesy “these things will happen in your lifetime” during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s will be deceased.

Eternal judgment is one of the six basic doctrines (Heb 6:1–2). Paul told believers: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2Cor 5:10). He also said: “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (1Cor 11:31). I am not your judge; you do not have to answer these questions to me. But if you cannot answer these questions to your own members and the members of other groups, how will you answer Christ? It is easy for a person to think he is right when he is surrounded by people who agree with him. I know; I worked for the WCG for 18 years. It is much more difficult when one must answer questions from others who disagree. The New Testament shows Christ and His Apostles spent much time answering difficult questions from Pharisees, heretics and sometimes brethren. What will you do?

Sincerely,

Norman S. Edwards

 


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