Servants' News

Sept/Oct 2001

Answers to “Hierarchical Leader” Letter

On April 25, 2000, I sent 34 letters to leaders, ministers and members of various hierarchical Church of God groups (letter is on page 8). I promised to print any reply letters I received (up to 3,000 words), and in this issue I am keeping that promise. The purpose is very serious. The life’s work of many people is at stake. Even if you have thoroughly studied and made your choice of congregation attendance, I believe the issues in this article are vital to understand, to help others whom you almost certainly know are facing the same issues.

The Worldwide Church of God taught the Sabbath and many other true doctrines to many people scattered around the globe. The WCG did this claiming to be “the one true church” that God was using. While that doctrine was wrong, it did not hamper the growth of the WCG because almost none of its members had any knowledge of other groups with similar teachings.

Today, that no longer works. New people searching for God quite frequently come in contact with more than one of the Church of God groups’ evangelistic efforts. Those who search the Internet will come into contact with many groups. When they find multiple groups each claiming to be “the main one” God is using, they realize that something is wrong.

Historically, most of the groups that split off from the WCG and claimed they were the only true group never grew significantly (e.g. the Church of God, The Eternal in 1974). Most either just maintained their size, or dwindled down and disappeared.

It is just too difficult to convince a new person that a group of a few hundred—even a few thousand—people is God’s “Work” on earth.

On the other side, the Church of God International has represented itself as one of many groups serving God’s people. It baptized thousands of people and grew for many years. It would be many times its size if it had not lost so many members due to the personal difficulties of its former leader. Nevertheless, many of the people who split off from it formed other groups, some of which have continued for decades.

If the Bible knowledge and life experience of the members of the hierarchical Church of God groups is to be used, they must eventually face the reality of what God is clearly doing today. Many hierarchical groups hope that something will happen so that they will be recognized as “the one” by most of the CoG brethren, and then they will all come flocking in their door. But that is not happening.

WCG Breakup Similar to Others in History

These leaders need to realize that what has happened with the breakup of the WCG is not new in history. There are hundreds of religious denominations today, and thousands of fragments of groups that were once much bigger. A great many major Christian movements that occurred throughout history still have a few adherents who still say “that was the time when God was working” and we are “holding fast” to their teaching. These fragments frequently are not growing or serving others.

Indeed there are many scriptures where Christians are commanded to “hold fast” to the teaching that they have (1Th 5:21; 2Ti 1:13; Titus 1:9; Heb 4:14; 10:23; Rev 2:13,25; 3:3,11). However, holding on to what one has, does not mean that one stops actively doing the work that Christ says His followers would do (Matt 24:46; 25:14–30; 28:19–20; Luke 12:37–43; Rom 2:13; 1Cor 9:16; Jms 2:18; Rev 2:19). These verses show that the believers who will “reign with Christ” are those who are actively doing His work when He returns.

The fact that Church of God groups have a greater biblical understanding than many other Christian groups does not make them any less susceptible to the problems that have plagued Christian groups and denominations throughout history. Many groups have thought they had preached the Gospel to the world, and that they just need to wait for prophecy to be fulfilled and “the end” to come. Those groups usually either made big changes or died out slowly.

Almost all Christian movements start with a leader who wants to teach and who is willing to debate almost anyone who will listen. Later the leader helps to train others who also teach with zeal. This expansion process may continue a short or a long time. But eventually the group begins to focus on what has already been done. They are sure they are right, so there is no need to answer other’s questions. They begin to think that if someone won’t accept their truth the way they teach it, that “God isn’t calling them”. They do not realize that people have new questions which they are failing to answer. And so when there is little interest in their message, they stop training ministry and evangelists to teach their message—and the decline goes further.

It is interesting to note that only one leader of a group responded to my letter—and that was a very small group. None of the other leaders responded or even had somebody respond on their behalf. If they had clear answers for these questions and had numerous well-trained helpers, one would think that they could have asked almost anyone to answer. If they were really concerned about the many people who have left their organizations for independent groups, they would be anxious to prove that they are right. One would think that the hierarchical leaders would love to have their writings published unaltered in an independent paper. (I would like them to publish my articles in their papers!)

As it happened, most of the answers I received were from non-ministers who took it upon themselves to answer. That is wonderful to see. Years ago, most people in the WCG would not dare write to a publication outside their own group and answer questions without the WCG’s approval. While nearly all of these people still support their hierarchical organization, their inner strength to stand up and defend what they believe even when their own leaders do not is good. That strength will probably outlast their organization. If their organization collapses or if they leave it some years from now, they will probably not be afraid to stand up and represent God directly.

While some of the people who answered letters spoke very negatively of me, one only has to think back to the time when most of us were in a church organization and thought negatively of those who left. They believe they are doing the right thing and do not want to see someone speaking against it. In some ways, these letters are like the words of “peace talks” during a war. Each side may feel like they are being destroyed by the other, but many of the problems are based on misunderstanding. In other cases, problems are real and need to be solved.

Independent Congregations Need Much Improvement

I am not saying that the dissolving of church organizations into independent congregations would suddenly solve all of our problems. Most independent groups have a very long way to go to become stable, local, congregations using a variety of spiritual gifts as well as being bastions of truth, doers of good deeds and teachers of many. Independent groups still need a lot of practice working with others and patiently helping them through their mistakes and weaknesses. We need to realize that we have mistakes and weaknesses.

Top-down Civil Government Anyone?

Has anyone ever wondered why God allowed the USA to become the most prosperous nation ever, when its Constitution clearly makes “We the People” the highest authority in government? If “top down” is God’s way for human governments, then should not monarchies or dictatorships be the most prosperous? Why was the Worldwide Church of God headquartered in a nation with the “wrong government”? Why did it not move to Cuba where it could be under a “biblically correct” hierarchy? Would God have blessed their choosing the right form of civil government and corrected Castro from the “top down” if he caused trouble for the church? Or is Proverbs 29:2 the most important?

While the USA government has many problems, the WCG and the rest of us still seem to like its results better than any other government.

But there is a lot of hope. Alan Ruth posted my Starting a Local Congregation article on his website (www.biblestudy.org). While I was writing this article, I received a call from a person who believes God has inspired him to become a minister to people who do not go to Church in Rhode Island. He was well aware of the Sabbatarian history of Rhode Island, and was learning from a great variety of Sabbatarian groups. He does not plan to form an organization or go to a seminary, but simply to teach. He already has a number of people interested. He is not the first I have spoken with like this.

I believe that strong, independent, local, non-denominational, unincorporated congregations were the mainstay of first century Christianity and that when reestablished today, they can be a powerful tool in God’s hands.

Who Received the Letter

The letter was sent to the 34 people and offices listed below. I sent it to heads of organizations, and then usually to a few others within an organization. The reason I did this was to hopefully increase the response. It has been my experience that a letter to a leader frequently gets filed somewhere and forgotten, but when someone else in the office or the organization also receives the letter and talks about it, there is a better chance that it will be answered. When I did not have the name of someone else who worked at the office, I sometimes sent a letter directly to the church office.

As it turned out, I actually received more answers from “lower level” people than leaders. When I published the letter in Servants’ News, I received several more responses which I hope to print in the next issue.

In alphabetical order by church name, here are the groups that received the letter. Only the names in red responded:

Church of God
David Hulme, Brian Orchard, Steve Falk (letter to office)

The Church of God, Inc.
Ronald Weinland

Church of God Evangelistic Assoc.
David J. Smith

Church of God In Truth
James Russell

Church of God, A Christian Fellowship
Frank McCrady II, Larry R Salyer (letter to the office)

Church of God, Orlando
Robert Elliott

Church of God’s Faithful
Robert Ardis

Church of the Great God
John Ritenbaugh

Church Outreach Ministries
Robert Roenspies

God’s Church the Very Elect
Colin Sutcliffe

Living Church of God
Karl Beyersdorfer, Val Burgett, Ben Falkner, Carl McNair, George Meeker, Jr., Roderick Meredith, John Ogwyn, Wayne Pyle, (letter to office)

Restored Church of God
Don Tiger, David Pack, (letter to office)

Philadelphia Church of God
Gerald Flurry, Wayne Turgeon, (letter to office)

United Church of God—IA
Fred Kellers, Leslie McCullough, Melvin Rhodes (wife wrote).

 

[Note: I did not send any letters to the Church of God International, The Church of God Outreach Ministries, Christian Educational Ministries, United Christian Ministries and other groups that, from my experience, openly accept and often work with other Church of God groups.]

— Norman Edwards

The following letters are the replies received, reproduced in full as promised.

Bob Ardis, Head of the Church of God’s Faithful

L. Wayne Pyle, a Living Church of God Member

Diane Rhodes, wife of UCG-IA Minister


The original letter that was sent out:

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

 

The following letters are the replies received, reproduced in full as promised.

Bob Ardis, Head of the Church of God’s Faithful

L. Wayne Pyle, a Living Church of God Member

Diane Rhodes, wife of UCG-IA Minister


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