Encouragement For the
"Stay-at-Home Church of God"
This article begins with a well-written letter representing what may be the largest group to leave the Worldwide Church of God. The article then closes with some encouragement to those who find themselves in this situation. Many of these people are nearly all alone. Some feel they are "through with organized religion." If you know someone who might benefit from this article, please share it with them.
July 15, 1996
To: United Church of God
Global Church of God
Christian Educational Ministries
Church of God International
Church of the Great God
Giving and Sharing Newsletter
From: Jim and Barbara Damiano, Members of the "Stay at Home" COG
Dear Ministers and Brethren of ours,
I finally decided to break down and write to all of you at the same time with what I feel is a representative understanding and opinion amongst the MANY of us out here in the "Stay at Home" Church of God. I have been sending individual letters to individual ministers in some of these organizations over the course of the last year and my letters have been ignored, no acknowledgment being given whatsoever. I have sent "letters to the editor" to some of the publications, one letter in one publication having been published in a greatly edited form, and the others ignored. The point of writing these letters was to try to inform you all about the thinking and understanding that prevents Barbara and me in particular, and many of the "Stay at Home" people in general (judging from the comments of those with whom I've shared the letters) from attending and becoming members of any organization which has been established since the apostasy in Worldwide began. My central purpose is to URGE you to give some thought and attention to this matter and to consider some sort of instructional response in your publications for our benefit and edification, that we might be helped to seriously deal with our current understanding, should that understanding be in error.
By your own admission, the numbers of people you may be dealing with here in the "Stay at Home" Church of God are quite substantial. By all estimates, it can be approximated that anywhere from 10,000 (conservative low estimate) to 40,000 people (moderate high estimate) are in our situation. And this does not include the numbers of God's people who remain in Worldwide due to (1) their inability to resolve some of the issues I raise, as well as (2) a distorted understanding in the area of "government". So they continue to hang on and suffer. Be aware, that this group's tithes, regular offerings, and Holy Day offerings are building and building and building in bank accounts all over the country and the world. And even if we are only talking about 10,000 people altogether, the dollar amounts that are becoming built up must be STAGGERING. The potential human resource available is STAGGERING as well.
I personally receive tapes and publications from all of the above organizations, and many other sources as well. In some of the above mentioned organization's taped sermons and literature, we in the "Stay at Home" Church of God are increasingly berated as "selfish", "hard-hearted", and even "rebellious", especially for not "seeing the light" and joining the particular organization which is the origin of the message. We are supposed to have "shopped around" the various Church of God organizations much like we were in the process of buying a car, and come to the obvious conclusion that that particular organization whose tape we are currently listening to, or publication we are currently reading, is THE one with which God is working THE MOST, and that we should take the obvious step of joining that organization by deciding the matter for ourselves based on the results of our "shopping" survey. Well, I just want to let you all know that many of us who are in this situation do not make a decision to "join" a " Church of God" like we would be shopping for a car. We are not out there evaluating what you all have to offer or observing what you are doing as a work and then deciding for ourselves where we belong and joining, thus giving our total energies and allegiance to your particular organization. Let me say, however, that your presentations and arguments making the case for membership in your particular organization are compelling and sound good. And if God left it totally up to us, then it would be a very difficult choice indeed. But that's the whole point, we don't believe God has left it up to us. We don't believe we could make that decision any more than we could have made the decision to become members of the Worldwide Church of God 26 years ago.
I think many of our friends who are with United, Global, or one of the others, know how we feel about attending services with any organization on a Sabbath or Holy Day, but they may not really understand. I am reminded of a few individuals in particular who just can't figure out what keeps us away from services and what the "big deal" is about attending. What, after all IS the big deal? I mean, despite the fact that it has been so wonderfully peaceful to not be in a turbulent cauldron of controversy with so many "brethren" these last few years, not a few of whom tend to have a rather substantial "chip on their shoulder", whose driving inner force is political gain, fueled by destroying the reputation of others while they climb their respective ladders...and despite the fact that we have been able to really ENJOY and observe the Sabbath as I believe it was meant to be enjoyed and observed. Yes, despite even those things, I sadly have to admit that the fellowship of congregating and singing and praying together in worship of God, we do sometimes miss very much. So what is the "big deal"? Why don't we just go to services already?
Well, to put those issues into perspective for ourselves once again, I have to say that the "big deal" has to do with our personal relationship to God, and what, in that personal relationship we have with Him, pleases or does not please Him. That's our big deal, and has always been. There is no other issue for us in this question. Unfortunately, it seems that this is very difficult for many people to understand. It's only after many multiple and varied arguments from every angle conceivable, which people use to try to convince us that we should indeed join the "Church of their choice", and having us respond with the same old "broken-record" response ("It's what pleases or displeases God that makes the difference to us as to what we do") that finally they either hear what we are saying, or go off in desperation mumbling to themselves because they have chosen to not hear or understand.
Perhaps it's largely our fault for not explaining it better. I mean these people are relatively intelligent, and we tried to make our presented reason clear. It was numerous conversations over periods of many weeks and months, as we reiterated the same conceptual objection over and over that I think some may finally have gotten it. Out of the blue, someone called me a few weeks ago and told me that I should be willing to drive the 50 miles or so and get down to Portsmouth on the Sabbath. I told him:
"We should love to but we are very concerned that God would not want us to be members of and formally involved in this manner with any organization's worship service on His Sabbath or Holy Day and we just would not feel right doing so unless He made it unmistakably clear to us that He actually did approve that we attend with that organization."
He then mentioned that "I was needed" in that I was an Ambassador graduate and that my experience in the local Church could be utilized in Portsmouth, to which I replied:
"I understand, but I am very concerned that it would not be God's will that I do so, and I believe that God is perfectly capable of guiding us clearly to do so if it were His will, as He has guided us so many times in the past events of our lives, small and great. After all, He absolutely, unmistakably, and miraculously guided us to the Worldwide Church of God over 26 years ago, guided us miraculously in so very many events and trials in those 26 years, finally miraculously guided us OUT of the WCG, and guides us with wonderful and miraculous acts of His love to this very day."
He then brought up the fact that I was missing many great messages, to which I replied:
"I agree, and I do miss those live sermons, some of which are truly inspiring, but the most important thing in my mind with respect to this issue is that God want me to attend with, worship with, and become a member of this group, and I believe that He is most able to unambiguously point us in that clear direction."
After this, he hit me with the fact that I should fellowship with all the people down there and that it was not good to be alone, so I should indeed come, to which I said:
"I understand, and believe me, we do get lonely at times, but the heart of the matter is whether God would be pleased or displeased if I were to do this thing, and frankly He hasn't let us know yet. In all the miracles He has done for us even since we've left WCG, He has yet to address this question about membership in or even visiting with any Church organization. We are waiting on Him for His guidance in this matter just like He has given in the past drawing us to and ultimately away from the WCG and in many other matters of life."
To which he said......to which I replied....etc., etc., etc. And so it has been with him who has joined one of the current Church of God organizations, and with many others who just don't seem to hear what I am saying.
Perhaps I should have used other approaches or analogies to better explain ourselves, like the following:
· In my 25 years in the Worldwide Church of God, it was like I was "married" and then spent the last few years of the marriage in increasing misery and torture. The inevitable divorce was very bitter and ugly and it hurt very much. Frankly, I wouldn't be very quick to remarry, and when I did, I'd want to be VERY sure of what I was doing. I'd want God to be leading and guiding both of us and to be a part of everything related to this new marriage. Why, even in real life, my wife and I dated for three years, then became engaged for a period of one more year before we actually did marry. I take long-term commitment VERY seriously.
· For those of us who are converted, Church organizations and their governmental structures have no authority or legitimacy over us except it be ordained and commissioned by God. That is, unless that organization's existence, work, purpose, and organizational hierarchy is definitely approved by God (as Worldwide under Mr. HWA was), then I feel I have no justification for voluntarily "joining" and placing myself under that government. "I am not my own, but am bought with a price ..." The style of government which the organization practices is irrelevant with respect to this question.
· My membership in the WCG was like having been inducted by the President of the United States (God) into the United States Army (The Church of God) and having been assigned to a particular unit (WCG) within the Army. Over the course of time, even though our unit totally fragmented, fractured, and ultimately disbanded itself because many in the unit:
(1) abandoned their positions,
(2) decided to do other things and went AWOL
(3) followed the treasonous leadership of the unit who decided to join the enemy or otherwise disregarded the original orders they were given by the President of the United States who was their ultimate command-er-in-chief.
I still do not consider myself free to decide when to join another unit, and which unit to join until I receive updated orders from my Commander-in-Chief, even though I am essentially a soldier without a unit in which to function.
· If I cannot be sure GOD started these other organizations (United, Global, CGI, CEM) as I was confident that God started the organization under Mr. HWA, how can I be confident God wants me to be a part of them? I maintain that the only way I can have any assurance is that God must show us as He did in the past. Can we decide for ourselves that we are now too grown-up and mature for such guidance from God? That we don't need God's intervention, and so can decide this matter on our own? My God is the same God who called me and miraculously and unambiguously guided me to WCG 26 years ago.
· Going to services on a Sabbath or a Holy Day with its attendant singing together, worshiping together, giving of offerings to that organization in recognition of God's involvement in their work, and praying together along with the congregation, ie. participating in every way and yet not becoming a member is akin, to my way of thinking, as would be "sleeping around" with a number of sexual partners without giving those partners any solid commitment. Intercourse of this nature without a marital commitment is "fornication" and "whoredom" to me. And without a clear choice for a mate being evident in my mind, such intercourse with each of these individuals would be totally inappropriate. This analogy is not very far fetched when one considers that God often described Israel's involvement with the pagan religions around them in this manner.
And this last explanation is very important:
· I feel that if I attend a worship service on a Sabbath with an organization, it is an implicit admission on my part that God IS working through that organization, because after all, we as an organization are communing with God in worship via that Sabbath service. But if I admit that fact by my participation, then I would feel OBLIGED to join that organization and support it fully. However, given that there are multiple organizations with whom God could now be working (UCG, GCG etc..) How could I unilaterally make that determination? Only God could tell me if He were working with one or many organizations, and if with many, which of those He would want me to commit myself to and fully support, ie. become a member of. We could not be divided in our commitment, could we? I don't think that's how God has ever wanted us to be with our commitment to His work.
So these kinds of explanations go on and on, trying to get people to understand that it really comes down to God's will, pleasing God, and the direction that God leads. We never seemed to have any problem with God's leadership in the many matters related to our membership in WCG years ago, and in the many personal needs of our lives in the years we were in WCG. Why should it be so strange to believe that we need to await God's hand in these times, and in so important a matter as "which of the organizations He wants us to worship with on the Sabbath and to officially have a part in by becoming a member thus giving them our wholehearted support"?
Funny, I wrote heartfelt letters to Mr. Waterhouse, Mr. Franks, and Mr. Hulme (of United) and to Mr. Meredith (of Global), all of whom I respect very highly. I know they received the letters, but sadly have neglected to answer or even acknowledge them. And it has been over a year now. In those letters, I asked for help for myself and my wife, and for the many thousands of us in similar circumstances scattered literally all over the world. I simply wanted these learned and experienced men to help Barbara and me, and the 10 to 40 thousands of those like us, with the issues of conscience I have raised. The fact that I have had no acknowledgment or response indicates to me that perhaps the issues I raise cannot be answered. In which case, the only logical and prudent course of action for us is to do exactly what we are currently doing, waiting on God to show us His will in the matter. These ministers and organizations thus have no basis upon which to condemn our reluctance in joining with their organizations by calling us "selfish" or "rebellious". Unless or until they can present some clear and definitive doctrinal and Biblically sound reasoning on the matter, perhaps they should reserve judgment.
Jim and Barbara Damiano, Members SAH-COG (New Hampshire)
Dear Jim and Barbara,
Your assessment of the problems with the various Sabbath-keeping groups is very good. My guess is that over 50,000 people have left the WCG and have not joined any particular splinter group. This does represent a great pool of human resourcesmany people who know much Biblical truth and could be teaching it to others. I am sure that some church organizations look at it as a pool of potential tithe-payers, but we find no Biblical example of seeking members just for their money.
We agree that there is a lot of confusion due to many similar groups claiming to be the "right one." It seems all are trying to woo Ambassador College graduates, "Elders," "Deacons" and other "stable members." Yet, very few of them are willing to answer hard questions such as those in your letter. But how can they answer them?
Most of these groups are seeking to build an organization much like the one Herbert Armstrong built. They want their members to be loyal to their organization. Yet, we must ask the obvious question: If loyalty to an organization is so important, why did the Eternal let the WCG do an "about face" on so many of its doctrines? Why did He make it necessary, apparently, for so many faithful brethren to leave what they were taught was the one true church?
Your letter mentions that you did not have any problems with the WCG leadership years ago. My personal experience was similar. But back then, I (and probably you) did not ask any tough doctrinal questions like you are doing now. Not everyone had such an easy experience in the WCG. Many thousands of members were disfellowshipped for simply asking questions or even lesser things. Others suffered greatly due to the misuse of power. (Ipersonally know a couple who were assured by a counseling minister that they should marry after only two dates. Why? After their marriage they found out that their minister had a bet with another minister on who would perform the most weddings. This false foundation caused them trouble for many years.)
Nevertheless, a lot of truth was taught to a lot of people in the Worldwide Church of God. You believe you were miraculously put there. So do I and so do many others. But if there is anything that we can learn from the WCG breakup, it is that we were far too dependent on the organization, and not on our Savior, the Head of the EkklesiaHis Body of believers. While your analogy of being married to the WCG certainly fits the way many of us felt (myself included), it is not Biblical.
A big part of the reason we considered the WCG the "one true Church" was because we did not know of any other Sabbath-keeping groups where the Eternal might be workingthough very few of us ever looked. We thought we were called into the WCG to "pay, pray, stay and obey 'til its time to flee away." We thought the organization and its leaders were responsible for "doing the work." We failed to note the scriptures that say "every man" is given spiritual gifts (Rom 12:5-8, 1Cor 12:4-7, 1Pet 4:10). We should have been thinking of ourselves as the bride of our Messiah and looking to His written and spoken word for leadership. It is this organizational dependence that caused so many people to have so much hurt when the WCG broke up.
But if we look at the early Jerusalem church, we see that groups are sometimes broken up so more work can be done. At first, the Jerusalem brethren were "continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart..." (Acts 2:46). But later, a persecution arose and all the brethren, except the apostles had to leave Jerusalem. "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4).
We agree with you in that we should seek to serve where the Eternal wants you to serve and not to just "try out churches" until you find one to your liking. We believe that asking Him to show us His will for our lives should be the main way of determining where we will fellowship. But He does not always answer these requests right away. It is possible that the group with which you will fellowshipping on the Sabbath has not formed yet. Maybe He is waiting for you to be ready to help start it!
However, you should not feel "promiscuous" by attending Sabbath services with a variety of groups. As a matter of fact, we are commanded in 1 Corinthians 1 and 3 not to align ourself with some specific teacher. Furthermore, we see that both our Messiah and Paul traveled to and spoke in numerous synagogues. Sometimes they were well-received and sometimes they were thrown out. But they were probably "members" of only one, if any. And they did not worry about "lending their support" by attending a synagogue whose members did not accept the Messiah. We are commanded to attend Sabbath services so we can fellowship with other brethren of like mind (Heb 10:25), not to demonstrate our alignment for a human organization.
1 Corinthians 3 goes on to show that each man (not each group or each minister) will receive a reward based on the work that he does. If we are to be a light to the world, we cannot hide under a bushel (Matt 5:15). If we have learned truth and have the ability to teach it to others, we cannot "bury it in the sand" (Matt 25:14-30).
When some people are faced with the fact that they might be responsible to do more than just serve in a physical way, their initial reaction is "I cannot do that, I do not have any ministerial training." The answer is "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). Ministerial training did not seem to make much difference when the test came upon the WCG. Thousands of members studied their Bibles then left the WCG before their ministers did. Some ministers refused to make doctrinal commitments until a paycheck was assured. When it comes to bearing spiritual fruit, organizations are nothingour Savior is everything. If there is any doubt in your mind, please read every word of these verses of John 15:1-8:
1 I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. 8 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
Norman S. Edwards
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