Learn Lessons About Church Organizations
from the Global Church of God
or What Happens When Protecting "the Work" is More Important than Living by the Bible
During the latter half of 1998, Roderick C. Meredith and the Board members of the Global Church of God traveled to many congregations and Feast sites to assure the GCG members that there was unity at headquarters and that "the work" was going forward. Rod Meredith gave a sermon on the Sabbath of August 1 to the GCG Tulsa congregation (see The Journal, News of the Churches of God, Aug 31, 1998, p.1). In that sermon, Meredith assured his listeners that there was no takeover threatening the GCG. According to The Journal, "But liars don’t enter the Kingdom of God he said, and he’s not lying when he says that no conspiracy to remove him is afoot and that rumors people are spreading to that effect are ‘silly’." Later Meredith said: "No one has hinted such a thing [a takeover], even in the last couple or three months since we've had all these discussions. We've been in total harmony."
Yet in his November 21 "emergency letter" to GCG brethren, Rod Meredith wrote (underscoring by SN editor):
But, other men came on [Meredith appointed them] the Board and the Council—men I have now come to realize had a great deal of personal ambition and a completely different view of how we should conduct the Work of God. So trouble began to brew. For over the last year or two, some of these men have tried to "push" me into going completely off WGN—our only major television outlet in the United States! They have directly pushed for a completely different approach to doing the Work—planning to concentrate our efforts on turning inward—not striving first of all to go through the "open doors" that Christ shows Philadelphians will do. I can tell you very definitely, brethren, that this approach would destroy the Work of God as we have known it, and would slowly but surely turn us into a kind of "social club," thinking only of ourselves.... You would have to experience the atmosphere of profound disrespect, envy, jealousy and open hostility displayed in some of our Council and Board meetings to really grasp the impact of what I am talking about.
No, the GCG has not had total harmony for the last two years, they just claimed they had harmony to "protect the work." Similarly, the WCG never really had total harmony during the many years that Herbert Armstrong claimed it. People who worked at "headquarters" knew that. This writer worked at the WCG headquarters for 13 years and the GCG headquarters for two years. The leaders wanted true unity, but often would not live by the commands of Scripture which would produce it. Sometimes, headquarters brethren would seek Christ’s will above all and submit one to another to resolve disagreements, but other times, leaders did not want to go to their brother, admit their own mistakes, punish the guilty, and clear the righteous. They often picked the quickest and most convenient solution and told anyone who disagreed that they were defying "church government." They stayed unified, but it was a false unity.
What is False Unity?
Long ago, human dictatorships mastered the art of generating an apparent unity. They controlled the press and all other news media. They controlled public gatherings and speaking. Humble people with valid complaints must be quietly silenced so that others do not learn that the government is really doing something wrong. Unlikeable people or people with wrong or foolish disagreements were eliminated publicly—so people would know that it is only "yucky" people who oppose the government. Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein all used these tactics in their governments. We are not saying that church leaders of today are bad in all the ways that worldly dictators are, but their method of approaching unity is very similar: declare the organization to be in unity, never publicly talk about difficulties, and remove people who openly disagree. These leaders do not mean to do evil when they try to enforce unity—indeed they think they are "protecting the work" by not mentioning problems to the brethren.
But the result of this kind of false unity is exactly the cause of the difficulty in transition of leadership in both dictatorships and Church of God organizations. As one example, V. I. Lenin was the founder of communism in Russia. His close comrades were Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. They worked together for thousands of days. When Lenin died, did Trotsky and Stalin continue to work closely together to run the country? No, Stalin quickly seized control and Trotsky fled to Mexico, where he was later assassinated. They had differences all along which they suppressed while Lenin was alive.
Similarly, there are many differences among leaders of the Church of God that are kept suppressed for years because these men believe in the appearance of unity. (If they do not appear unified, the "sheep" might not believe that their’s is the "true church".) Numerous ministers and members have been made into "non-persons" in Church of God groups because they began to teach or practice some doctrine slightly different than their headquarters—the correctness of the doctrine was often never discussed. Members often heard that a certain minister (or member) who was in good standing last week is now marked and disfellowshipped and loyal members should not communicate with him.
Herbert Armstrong appointed Joseph Tkach as his successor. Tkach taught Armstrong’s doctrines for nearly 30 years, then reversed himself on many doctrines in just a few years, bewildering most of the members of the WCG (including myself at the time). In November of 1997 David Hulme signed a unity statement with other leaders of the UCG-IA and presented it to the brethren. Five months later he started his own church organization. There have been many sudden changes in leadership among the smaller "Church of God" groups—too numerous to mention here. And now, after years of "unity", Rod Meredith and the GCG Board of Directors have separated and disfellowshipped each other.
The "Church of God" pattern is much like the dictatorships: apparent unity followed by small and large "explosions" when differences erupt. Is this the way of the New Testament?
Unity in the New Testament
Most Church of God leaders would like the kind of unity that we see in the New Testament. Many people worked together cheerfully with a common purpose. There were very few "orders"given by men, and not one case where one leader said to another. "follow this order or you are fired—or out of the church."
Christ prayed that his followers might be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:11). When Christ prayed to "take this cup from me" (Mark 14:6) did the Father threaten to fire Christ if He didn’t finish the job? When Paul urged the Corinthians to all "speak the same thing", did he threaten to disfellowship anyone who didn’t speak the same thing? Or did he recognize in the same letter that the Eternal sometimes allows differences and sometimes uses them to show who is really seeking Him and who is not? "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (1Cor 11:19).
Actually, there are many cases in the New Testament where members and leaders let their differences be known. The meeting between men from Antioch and Jerusalem in Acts 15 was a doctrinal question about the need to circumcise Gentiles. It was open to all believers (v 4,22)—not just elders—all of which heard the "much disputing" (v. 7). Even after the decision was made, did they disfellowship those who did not agree? No. There were still people "in the church" of the "circumcision group" many years later (Gal 2:12; Titus 1:10, NIV). Not much later, Paul and Barnabas had an administrative dispute about whether or not to take John Mark with them (Acts 15:36-39). They never did agree, so they went their separate ways—but still regarded each other as brethren. Apparently, they did not believe that "one man" had to be in charge to make such decisions. When Paul strongly urged Apollos to come at a certain time, Apollos declined, and was not "put out of the Ministry". Even when Paul was on trial for his life, and none of the brethren stood with Him, he did not disfellowship them, but said "May it not be charged against them" (2Tim 4:16).
In Romans 14, we see an excellent example where Paul deliberately does not try to solve a problem among brethren, but teaches them not to offend each other. The issue at hand was whether or not believers should eat meat. Obviously, Paul and the other apostles knew both the Old Testament teaching on this subject, and the practices of Christ. He could have told them what was right. But he said: "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.... for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Rom 14:13,17).
We could find other examples where diversity of opinions were tolerated in the New Testament. But the ultimate example is Jesus Christ. Was He afraid to admit that his congregations did not have perfect unity? No! Revelation 2 & 3 detail differences between seven congregations in Asia Minor—some have major doctrinal problems. Every congregation was told to read the letters to every other congregation. John was told to write down the problems for millions to read! Christ did not instruct John or any other leader to disfellowship anyone for these problems. Rather, he commanded all individuals hearing these letters to repent.
If leaders of church organizations could acknowledge a diversity of views inside and outside of their organization, serious believers would study their Bibles and try to find which things were true (Acts 17:11). With the common system of false unity, it pays little to study one’s Bible because if a person does discover something that disagrees with their organization’s doctrinal statement, they will have to either reject their new knowledge or leave their organization.
The Bible mentions no secret laws or knowledge given only to leaders. The Old Testament Law—even that pertaining only to the priests—was written for everyone to read. Each person is responsible for obeying it, whether their leaders teach it or not.
What Happened to the GCG
The Global Church of God began with Rod Meredith, his wife and Don Davis as the Board of Directors. This writer was a member of the GCG board during most of 1993 and 1994 and remembers that nearly all board votes were simply a "rubber stamp" after the decision was already made by Mr. Meredith. (He usually did listen to the opinions of others, but nothing was ever decided by taking a vote.) Over the years, Mr. Meredith appointed other long-time ministers to the board, and Don Davis, then Mrs. Meredith were removed for apparently reasonable reasons—Rod Meredith voted for their removal. During the last few years, Board members Raymond McNair, Edwin Pope and Larry Salyer began to see some issues differently than Mr. Meredith and they sometimes had the votes required to make some of their decisions binding according to the corporate bylaws.
On November 25th, the Board terminated Rod Meredith from employment at the GCG, and eventually disfellowshipped him. Their reason was Meredith’s unauthorized use of the corporate mailing list and his solicitation of the brethren for funds to be sent to his new organization, now officially named the Living Church of God.
Both Rod Meredith, and the GCG Board of Directors have written several letters explaining the correctness of their position and the error of the others. Global field ministers have written letters favoring each side of the split. By now, there are over 50 pages in circulation—too much for Servants’ News to print in a regular issue. Those interested in the letters may obtain them directly from the church organizations: The Global Church of God, PO Box 501111, San Diego, Calif 92150 and The Living Church of God, Box 501304, San Diego, Calif 92150.
The letters contain mostly truth presented from a specific point of view, but some of the presentation is designed to stir up emotion rather than deal with the facts. For example, Mr Meredith on more than one occasion identified a man recently added to the GCG board only as "a lawyer"—with no indication that he was even a GCG member. Readers had to wait for a letter from Larry Salyer to find out that the "lawyer" was Norbert Link, a GCG minister and head of its "German Work". There are other similar problems on both sides. All in all, it is rather depressing to read—are these the Christian leaders of the world?
This writer makes no effort to try to determine which side was "right" or "wrong". Each side is doing what they believe is vital to preserve "the work" as they see it. Numerous times, both Meredith and the Board refer to the GCG corporation as "the Church" (with a capital "C"). Now that Meredith is out of the GCG and now that the GCG Board has some fraction of the members that it did a month ago, we would hope that they would realize that the GCGis not "the Church", but one of many church organizations. This writer sees little chance that these problems will subside until these similar church organizations see themselves for what they are—similar church organizations!
Even though nearly all the men involved in this split worked together for years in the WCG and the GCG, the split appears now to be beyond any possible resolution. Each side is quickly adding members to their own boards and councils, and insisting that ministers either support one side or the other.
The Global Church of God added Board of Directors member Norbert Link just before Meredith left, and has since added Rex Sexton, Harold Smith and Warren Zehrung. (Raymond McNair, Edwin Pope and Larry Salyer are still on the board, bringing the total to 7). The GCG Council still has members Raymond McNair (Chairman), Jean Carion, George Meeker, David Pack (now reinstated), Edwin Pope and Larry Salyer, plus new appointees Norbert Link, Rex Sexton, Harold Smith and Warren Zehrung. Other ministers still in the Global Church of God include Eric Evans, Jack Hendren, Frank McCrady Jr. and Bill Swanson. Most of the non-ministerial headquarters employees continue to work for the GCG.
Meredith’s new Living Church of God has regional pastors consisting of: Charles Bryce, Southeastern U.S.; Lambert Greer, Northeast; John Ogwyn, South Central; Gerald Weston, North Central; Douglas Winnail, Western region. The LCG Council consists of all the above men plus Richard Ames, Dibar Apartian, Don Davis, Jeff Fall, Mario Hernandez, Carl McNair and Rod Meredith. Other "notable" former Global ministers publically aligning themselves with Meredith include: Karl Beyersdorfer, Syd Hull (South Africa), Bob Letham and Bob Storrier (Scotland), Jonathan McNair; Rod McNair (Philippines), Laurie Nyhus (Canada), Kinnear Penman (New Zealand) and Bruce Tyler (Australia).
What is the Effect of This Split?
About 70% to 80% of the ministry and brethren seemed to have joined the Living Church of God. The GCG fired all of the field ministers who would not commit to staying with them. The LCG hopes to hire most of the fired GCG ministers as funds are available. Most of the brethren seem to be going (or staying) in the same group as their local minister. This is logical, since this split is not about any significant doctrine, but about administrative decisions primarily known only to the ministry. (Some doctrinal issues were raised, one example being whether there are 3 or 5 resurrections. But since neither number appears in the Bible, and since there are several "limited" resurrections—Christ’s and the other saints (Matt 27:52)—with no standard way to count them, this and the other doctrines are hardly issues to divide a church over.)
So, it is a benefit to local congregations to stay together as many are very small already. However, this manner of splitting has created a "swiss cheese effect" for both organizations. There are now major sections of the country (and the world) where they do not have any ministers or members. If they receive requests to attend services resulting from their mass-evangelism in an area where they have no corporate ministers or members, will they refer them to another organization, or will they simply tell them that there is no place to attend nearby?
It is still not clear at this time exactly how much money will be available to each group. The GCG owns all of the assets of the corporation—equipment, computers, office furniture, etc. They have efficient systems in place for magazine production mailing, subscription maintenance, field-church assistance, etc. The GCG technically owns most of the song books, sound equipment and other property in local church areas—will they ask for all of that back from the new LCG congregations? The problem is, they only need a fraction of these things for their own greatly-decreased numbers.
The GCG also still "owns" all of the debt that it had before. There are many outstanding loans to members which are now LCG members. There is a long-term lease to pay on the Headquarters building which is much larger than they need. The GCG owns all of the copyrights to The World Ahead Magazine, their booklets, their TV programs, etc. Will they have enough money to continue producing all of these at the current level? Will LCG members still write to the GCG for the old free literature, but never send the GCG another dime? Will new people who were attracted to Meredith’s telecast and magazine be willing to accept Harold Smith, the new GCG TV presenter? (Or might they like him better?) The biggest problem for the GCG will be continuing to pay the existing staff salaries, minister salaries, rental contracts, and other obligations.
The LCG, on the other hand, has very few expenses right now, and apparently substantial contributions are coming in. Unfortunately, they have no literature to offer, and no systems in place. Mr. Meredith cannot even air reruns of his old programs or reprint his old booklets—he does not own them. Writings and systems that were set up over a period of years cannot be redone in days, especially with nearly all different employees. It would seem beneficial to both groups if the LCG would pay some reasonable amount to the GCG for some of the equipment they no longer need, and for the right to use some of the literature, programs, internal systems, etc. The LCG could purchase these things that they are familiar with more cheaply than they could redevelop them on their own, and the GCG probably needs the money. But practical cooperation of this type does not seem to be on the minds of any of the leaders.
Before the split occurred, Meredith was trying to spend more money on evangelism, and the Board was trying to be financially more conservative in order to assure the long-term continuance of the organization. Now, it appears that both groups are much further away from meeting these goals than they were before the split. The split was a major setback for the preaching of the Gospel and for the local brethren. Now, the LCGhas money but little literature or capability to send it; the GCG has the literature and capability, but not enough money. Would not it have been better for either side to "give in" to the other and take the issue to the Eternal in prayer and ask Him to restore whom He wants?
Would it be a sin to have the local congregations vote on paper for the leadership they wanted, rather than forcing them to vote with their feet and wallets for one split or the other? Are the politics of church splits somehow superior to the politics of fair elections? The only thing that this split helped was the ego of the leaders.
Why Did This Happen?
This writer believes it is most important that all "Church of God" believers understand why this has happened. Nearly all of the various "Church of God" groups are continuing to get smaller and smaller. They are splitting faster than they are growing. After each split, there are more people who leave all of the "Church of God" groups for good. Each of these groups believes that it is the main instrument of God to warn the world and preach the Gospel before the "end" comes. But because these leaders have such a strong belief that "they are doing the Work" and that they must do whatever necessary to "protect their Work", they continue to operate in the same way. Yet, these actions are putting these groups in the position where they may be unable to effectively evangelize at all.
Can you imagine the bewilderment of a new convert who has just begun attending the Global Church of God as the result of their TV program? Maybe they attended the Feast for the first time this year, and heard the concluding remark of Meredith’s Last Great Day video sermon: "Thank you for supporting the Global Church of God." Now, the same man is asking them to leave the Global Church of God and pay no attention to his former heads of ministry (Salyer), editorial (McNair), and finance (Pope). Similarly, these men are writing to this new member asking them to pay no attention to Meredith, the former Presiding Evangelist of the GCG.
"If Christian leaders get along like this, why should I be a Christian?" the new convert might ask. "They are not preaching any greatly differing doctrines. Furthermore, I met people at the Feast who also attend yet other Sabbath-keeping congregations that teach nearly the same thing. Why do they discourage me from fellowshipping with them?"
The "Church of God" organizations of today have no good answers to these questions. If they realized their similarity in doctrine, and realized that they were simply degenerating into the factions that Paul condemned (1Cor 1 & 3), then they would tell their new believers that there are many groups who teach the same basic truths. But these leaders are still working with the mentality of years ago, when the WCG was the only group known to them that preached these doctrines, and when they could tell members that they had to "like it" or "leave the one true Church". Most leaders believe that "running the work" at the top is the highest priority, even if it means proclaiming great things about "the work" that they know are not true, and lying about problems so the members will not find out.
Church Organizations, In Bible?
Does God work through Church Organizations? Does the Bible say anything about church organizations? Do Peter or Paul ever talk about spending "church money", building a church building, or administering "church policy"? No. The Bible uses the term ekklesia sometimes for all believers and sometimes for believers in a specific geographic location. The term used for an organization of some brethren with distinct leaders or doctrines is called a "faction" or "sect" (hairesis). Christians were considered a "sect" of the Jews by some, but "sects" within the Church were condemned in the New Testament (see 1Cor 11:19; Gal 5:20; 2 Pet. 2:1 NRSV of NASB; all other uses of hairesis:Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5; 24:14; 26:5; 28:22).
People claim that in this modern age corporations are necessary to preach the Gospel, but that is not so. The first century Church could have incorporated, but they did not. The Romans had corporations, some of which paid workers and bought and sold merchandise throughout the empire. But Christ and his apostles were not interested in that. They were teaching about a way of life, not about an organization to join or an administration to set up.
Today, as soon as people with common goals get together to form a "church group", they usually want to form a corporation and set up a governing structure for it—sometimes before they have one service or do one good work in Christ’s name. They believe they need a corporation for at least these reasons:
1. To make contributions tax deductible.
2. To collect money in a central place to purchase things and to pay men to preach the Gospel and feed the flock.
3. To allow the organization to continue on after the death of its current leader(s)—also called "perpetuity"
4. To limit the liability of those running the corporation—if the corporation goes bankrupt or injures people, the personal wealth of the corporate leaders is protected (unless it can be proved that the board was negligent or broke laws).
At first glance, these might seem like good things. But if we look at these items in detail and see what has happened with the GCG, LCG and other church groups, we find a number of things that would work much better without corporations.
1. Tax deductibility and tax exemption are possible without a corporation. As an example the Bible Sabbath Association is not a corporation, but has "tax exempt status". According to IRS publication 557, churches are tax exempt without applying for any such status. The details of these matters exceed the scope of this article, but actual practice shows that a variety of small groups are tax deductible without incorporation.
2. Collecting money in a central place to do a big work sounds like a great idea until someone with different ideas gets control of a corporation and uses its assets for his own purpose. A court appointed receiver spent WCG funds his way in 1979—corporations are creations of the state so states have the right to investigate them. (The Constitution protects churches, not church corporations. The WCG case was not ended on constitutional merit, but by a California law passed preventing the Attorney General from investigating church corporations.) After Mr. Armstrong’s death, Joseph Tkach Sr & Jr were able to use the assets of the WCG corporation to proclaim many doctrines nearly opposite to those that Armstrong taught. Similarly, Rod Meredith lost to the GCG board all of the assets that he built up, even though he and a high percentage of GCG members would have preferred to keep them.
Corporations also separate writings from those who want to use them. The WCG eventually stopped printing all of Armstrong’s writings, and challenged in court those who wanted to print them. David Hulme wrote a TV program script before joining the UCG-IA, then UCG-IA spent the money to produce it. Therefore, the script belongs to Hulme but the produced video belongs to the UCG-IA. Hulme, having left that group, is not allowed to use it—he will have to produce it again. The UCG-IA will not use a video by someone no longer in their corporation. After hundreds of hours of work and many thousands of dollars, neither group is close to airing their first TV program. Lastly, the GCG will probably prevent Meredith (LCG) from using his own writings. None of these things would have happened if those writings would have been placed in the public domain. Anyone could have access to the writings without any court fights. Yes, it would be possible that other groups could take these public domain writings and use them to promote their own church group and doctrines. But cannot we rejoice that Christ is preached, even if it is out of selfish ambition? (Phil 1:16-18.) Is it not good that at least the KJV Bible is public domain, and no-one can stop anyone from printing it!
If local congregations took care of their own needs, arranged for their own halls, paid their own ministers if necessary, bought their own equipment, and sponsored their own gospel preaching efforts, the entire "Church of God" picture would be so much more stable. Local groups could continue serving new converts and long-time believers no matter what happened to the various national organizations. They could use teaching materials and associate with brethren from several or all organizations, rather than just one. Actually, national organizations that are not really serving the brethren would simply disappear—few individuals or local groups would send money to a national organization that was not producing something of value.
But how can any nation-wide work be done unless a large group of people send their money to one place? Christ certainly knows how to do it! Modern technology has made small operations possible. There are numerous Sabbatarian publications today, some very good ones are produced by one congregation or just a few people. There are dozens of tape ministries. Ron Dart’s radio program has tremendous coverage—and many of his stations are paid for by individuals or small groups. Yes, even a high-quality television program is being produced with no full-time people by UCG-IA minister Howard Davis in Oregon. (see article on page 11).
How would anyone even recognize national or worldwide church leaders unless they are the head of a large corporation? Remember that Herbert Armstrong’s followers stayed with him through the WCG, to the HWA Corporation Sole based in Arizona, back to the WCG, and then left to a variety of "HWA-following" organizations when the WCG repudiated his writings. Those who liked Ron Dart went with him from the CGI to CEM; those who liked GTA went with him from the CGI to the ICG. Most of Meredith’s followers followed him from the GCG to the LCG. People will stay with a leader they support in spite of corporations.
There is no doubt that without strong central leadership, some local congregations would experience the disharmony associated with self-serving local leaders. But it is much better for a few individual congregations to have this trouble, than it is for entire groups of churches to have it when a headquarters goes awry.
3. The ability of a church corporation to continue on after its founder dies is not always a good thing. Those who rise in corporations tend to be those who do whatever they are told. Often, they do not make good leaders. Or, rely upon the advice of someone with a completely different orientation than the founders. Not one leader in the New Testament ever named a successor, even though some knew they were about to die! How much better off would the WCG brethren have been if various TV, printed media and other resources were each owned by different responsible individuals? Each would have been able to decide how to continue to use the resources to teach what they believed to be right, rather than allow one person to channel all of these resources to his own ends. Furthermore, locally self-supporting congregations would refuse to send money to or read literature from national organizations that they believed to be preaching heresy.
4. Does anyone believe that Paul or the other apostles were worried about "limited liability"? Were they concerned that they might lose their personal fortunes because someone sued them for what they were preaching? Of course not. They knew that they could be killed almost at any time for what they were preaching. They had faith that the Eternal would provide their needs. Do church leaders today need to be legally protected from lawsuits? Or are the courts of the land sometimes the place where the Eternal chooses to send his servants to witness to governments and leaders? The apostle Paul spent several years as a prisoner due to false charges (Acts chapters 22-28).
This writer believes it should be obvious to anyone that neither the LCG, the GCG, nor any other "CG" is anywhere close to doing a "work" like Herbert Armstrong did. After reading the rest of this issue and the next Servants’ News issue, we think you will see why the Eternal does not want the "work" of Herbert Armstrong repeated.
We need to realize that no man or organization either is or owns the Work of God. Christ’s Body is the Church and He is in charge of the Work. He certainly has worked with individuals who were members or leaders in corporations. But if He is not now emphasizing that kind of work, it is the duty of all believers to find out how He is working. Christ can get the attention of the world in a few minutes with a few miracles. Will he grant those miracles to men who will "do anything" to protect their view of "their work" in spite of its impact on the brethren? Or will He grant miracles to those who live the way that He says to live, even though doing so means working in small groups with an atmosphere of true brotherly love, but with little money and only a little strength?
—Norman S. Edwards
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