While we Recognize that the True Church of God is never Represented as being a Huge Congregation, at the same time, Might there be Aspects of our Cultural Methodology that if changed could have Improved the Church’s Condition?
With the stunning demise of the organization as we knew it, that existed from the decades of the 1940’s thru the early 1990’s, and with the emergence of several ‘split-off’ groups, the Church today faces more profound considerations than ever in its history. The first ramification of those developments resulting from the late era apostasy is the near total cessation of the growth dynamic once experienced.
Beginning in the 1960’s and continuing for the next two and a half decades, the Church experienced exponential growth. New congregations were being established in city after city, town after town, with the major problem then being to provide enough ministers to attend to their administrative needs. In that same interval, magazine readership increased fourteen-fold! (My first issue in 2/62 was at the 495,000 level. It later topped 7-millions!)
But growth of and by itself was not the ultimate phenomenon. Nor was significant and rapid growth something we were fully adept at handling. With it, there were seeds of division concealed within, that being left unresolved, contributed greatly to the vulnerability of the organization to collapse.
Then with all the doctrinal repudiations implanted under the ‘paradigm shift’ of the new administration, the Church experienced upheavals we never would’ve imagined. In fact, had anyone accurately predicted what was going to actually happen, no one would have believed it!
Those insiders who knew and who hired outside professional analysts beforehand were told that they should anticipate membership losses of up to a third if they were to change the fundamental doctrines on the scale they intended. That prediction apparently was regarded by them as an ‘acceptable’ attrition level. As it turned out, fewer than a third remained, after all was said and done! Another third ‘disappeared’ off the radar screens, either returning to their former religious roots or losing interest in religion altogether. A remaining third found their way out into a number of ‘splinter organizations’, as they are called, and sought to restore or retain what had been taught them in the past, which they had proved and of which they were confident.
What Actually Happened?
After coming-to, a few at least took stock of the situation, asking themselves, Why did this happen? But the majority of that segment of the membership that remained ‘faithful to the Truth’, as they saw it, never spent all that much time coming up with substantial answers. At least, not the answers they could have and should have realized. It was too easy to blame those revisionist upstarts who gained control of the ‘chief seats’, who conspired with the enemy to gain the expertise that they themselves lacked in ‘putting over’ their long-denied agenda. Most never considered that there might also be underlying causes embedded in our operational culture that made the outcome inevitable!
Perhaps we should face the matter squarely and resolve in our minds, Was the outcome what God wanted, or was His will for His Church over-powered? Was it because we created and incorporated components into our methodology or into our theological thought stream that warranted revision? Would we ever have repented of our inordinate methodology given enough time? And, if not, would those errant components contribute to our eventual organizational downfall?
We are given an answer by what we saw happen.
Well, the history is still being written even today! Much of the methodology was retained, though to varying degree depending on the particular successor organization, and what we now have are groups scattered here and there, each locked into their defensive positions, suspicious of, and in some cases contemptuous of each other. And this is the late-day legacy of the Church that regarded itself as ‘the Church of Brotherly Love”!
But, here we are. This is what we have to work with at the moment. Unless and until a real and outstanding leadership emerges onto the scene, we are left to function as best we can in our segregated and lackluster state. Not united so much by love as by organizational affiliation! Was it so in the first century? At least, in the first century we find the Church willing to extend a right hand of fellowship based on the indwelling of God’s Spirit. That isn’t so much the criteria today.
Some Primary Characteristics
One of the things that set the modern Church up for internal problems was when it began to incorporate the‘doctrine of Petrine supremacy’. Peter, it was alleged, was the chief Apostle! It was an orientation intended to justify the focus of our loyalty onto one man, a defensive posture taken as threats to our unity came along in the form of ‘dissident’ ministers, one in particular. The motivation for this can be somewhat understood, considering the loyalty challenges, as more ‘dissident’ ministries emerged and with members, dissatisfied for various reasons, following them. But, efforts to justify a preeminence of one particular ministry over all others also worked to undermine the cohesive structure of the Church in ways not evident at the time.
Originally, the primary interest was Truth. But gradually, that gave way to it being a matter of loyalty to the organization. God’s Word and Way of Life was the first consideration in the beginning years, but as the same seeds of truth began taking root in different ministries, there was a real concern that needed to be addressed: How to counter the drift on the part of ‘our’ membership toward any of these? The perfect answer was to allege that there could be only one true Work on earth at any given time! That worked to a degree at least through the late 1980’s, but when the baton supposedly was passed, we found ourselves organizationally stymied. We then found ourselves needing to repudiate those very precepts we’d just accepted, in order to challenge and counter the ‘paradigm shift’ that was being imposed upon us by the new administration.
For a time we continued on course, and for a time we saw the growth momentum of previous decades continue, but not without an increasing subordination of our Spiritual senses. 1 As doctrinal changes progressed from a trickle to a torrent, there was a threshold of unacceptability that presented itself to the membership and the ministry. We each reacted in our own way to it and in our own time. Some capitulated, some opposed and some decided to just throw up their hands and walk away!
Under the administration of the ‘doctrine of the supremacy of one man’, ministerial compliance and intellectual conformity had become obligatory. None were encouraged to think analytically. Better said, none were allowed to do so. Even before the new administration came along, the habit of deferring all decisions to one man was firmly established. Councils of Elders were stacked with compliant ‘yes men’. Had they not been, they would’ve been replaced with those who were. Under the fundamental premise that “God was leading His Church, we acquiesced to the idea that God would not allow the pastor general to make a mistake, and should he, God would correct him. We need not!
But then, that was followed by an appointment of a successor that was in itself a huge mistake. Some few knew it was a mistake from the onset, but were discouraged from speaking out by the culture of the time. After all,it was believed, God will correct it. And, as the mistake became obvious to an increasing number of members over time, we expected, God will correct it. But, He didn’t. The new administration, as it neared its decade mark, had repudiated nearly every essential doctrine that made the Church of God what it was. We each were put in a position of having to make a choice, one that was not pleasant!
Being the heir of a number of Church publications from relatives and friends, including several old Envoys 2 covering a number of years, one can’t help but reflect on the massive number of members we have burned through. The Envoys presented the best face of the Church and colleges in its best years. All those multiple hundreds of happy young student faces, all those esteemed scholars, administrators and teachers! And these represented but a fraction of the membership. How many of them never made it to full maturity? So many were spun-off over the years, so few remain! Those who loved God’s Church can’t help but lament what was lost, and pine for what could have been, had we been faithful to our calling as ‘pillars and grounds of the truth’, (I Timothy 3:15), had we really been the Church of Brotherly Love.
As a result of surrendering our personal responsibilities to a hierarchy of men, and subordinating ourselves to another intermediary than our True Intermediary, we became dulled and separated from the condition of having our senses exercised, to where we were unable to fulfill our true spiritual stewardship. Of this, we can’t assign all the blame onto others. We were personally complicit as well!
Walking BY Faith
We have to appreciate the courage of those who stepped out in faith, particularly the ministry, who gave up so much by way of personal prestige and security. Of members, less was required. In many cases with members, it was business as usual, attending a similar congregation as before, just with different principals to look to. The setback killed our momentum, especially at first. But in the process somehow, our outreach desire lost its relevance or the appeal it once had, both among us and with the world. We, for a time at least, faced a period of negative momentum in which we were reluctant to evangelize.Making disciples became much harder than it had been for so long. Inspired individuals it seems are not as inspiring.
And, too often, of those few who present themselves as the successor to the original Pastor General, far too many are repressive prima donnas, with equally meager results to show for all their self-elevation.
So, the Church of God today is largely made up of the remnant of the parent organization’s faithful. Nearly all congregations (where they still exist) are a mere shadow of their former selves. We are left to continue what work we can with just ‘the residue’ of our former membership base.
What we need to ask ourselves, is that a situation we should be content with? Are we content to just survive with what we have, or are we still obligated to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel’ just as before?
Granted, we were dealt a set-back. Our remnant more resembles a ‘Gideon’s Army’ situation. But what are we to make of the present condition?
We can’t turn the clock back. But if we could, and if we knew what was coming upon us, who would have acted differently? Knowing what we know today, how would we and how should we have acted? This is what we should have the answer to. Only when we do have this answer are we in a position to repent of what caused our demise. And, if we don’t have the answer, what prevents it from happening again?
What was wrong in the 1980’s? What caused God to allow (or cause) what happened in His Church? I don’t believe for one minute that God’s will was overpowered in all of this. We were tested in ways we wouldn’t have imagined, nor has our testing ended. The question is, have we learned all of what He intended we learn from the experience?
As we plunge toward the climax of this age, with the world changing in ways we never would have predicted, what is required of us? What today makes a ‘good and faithful servant’? After all, if we are to hear this assessment of ourselves at our Final Reward Session, we must actually BE good and faithful servants.
The Remnant of Her Seed
Despite our diminished condition, despite our advancing years, we are in the company of some who’ll be the most exemplary individuals of all time. We read of a sorely tried congregation in Revelation 12:17. God’s end-time remnant will become the focal interest of the enraged Dragon! This is a reality we all need to keep in mind. As Daniel 12:10 shows, the purpose for the Saints exposure to these trials is to purify and refine them to a state of greater competence for the millennial Kingdom.
Another faulty characteristic of the Church of the modern era was its regard for those whom God called out. Shepherds were often deficient and poor stewards of their charges, as we read of in Ezekiel chapter 34: What is disturbing is the similarity of their regard for those whom God brought into a knowledge of His Truth in these ‘latter days’. “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3: Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. 4: The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. 5: And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. 6: My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. 7: Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; 8: As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; 9: Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; 10: Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. 11: For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. 12: As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.”
The good shepherds make extraordinary effort on behalf of the individual sheep who may have wandered off. Read of that example in Matthew 18 and Luke 15. Read also Jeremiah 23.
We like to identify just the ‘professional ministry’ as being the ones who are the object of this negative job evaluation. But,as we read in I Timothy 3:15, we too are stewards of the Truth as it impacts the Church of the Living God. We are the ‘pillars and grounds of the Truth’! So, do we want to follow their bad examples?
Is this passage in Ezekiel 34 (and it continues for several more verses) an assessment of the various exclusivist ‘ministries’ today which each in their own way seek to re-create those former conditions?
Is verse 12 above indicative of a calling back together of all those who God is still working with as the final days of this world approaches? What will the self-elevated types do when this happens?
We are told to go into all the world and preach the gospel. We are charged, that if we love Him, we are to demonstrate that by feeding His sheep. (John 21:15-17) This is our minimum duty.
“So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10) Profit doesn’t come as a result of only minimal effort!
Where does that leave us with respect to being active participants in doing the Work of God, using the Talents He has invested in us, each contributing in our various skill areas? If we attend only to our basic minimum duty, we risk being an ‘unprofitable servant’. Not a particularly commendable state.
1 Hebrews 5:14 “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
2 The annual yearbook of Ambassador College, with photos of all students, faculty, and facilities of up to three campuses: Pasadena, CA, Big Sandy, TX and Bricket Wood, England.