Mr. Dennis Luker in his sermon titled "Christ is Head" suggested a peaceful separation between United Church of God and ministers who cannot or will not support and cooperate with the Council of Elders. What exactly is a peaceful separation in the Church of God? I have never seen one before. Has anyone?
In this sermon, Mr. Luker had described events in Worldwide prior to the formation of United Church of God, and he said that the ministers who wanted to keep their beliefs asked Mr. Tkach if they could have a peaceful separation, and Mr. Tkach said no. And later in the sermon, Mr. Luker suggested a peaceful separation of those who disagree with the Council of Elders and will not or cannot cooperate with and support the Council, rather than for them to stay in UCG and fight the Council. So Mr. Luker must have a pretty clear idea what a peaceful separation might be and what it might look like. But he did not elaborate.
In all the many splits in the Church of God since the death of Mr. Armstrong, and even before, I have never seen anything that could be described as a "peaceful separation" of one group of ministers and brethren coming out of an organized fellowship and organizing separately. I don't know what that means. I don't know what it would look like. I have never seen a model of that in the Church of God.
If Mr. Luker is offering that as an serious option for ministers who disagree with the Council, it would be interesting if someone could elaborate on what that would actually mean.
United Church of God has accumulated considerable assets since its formation, paid for by the tithes and offerings of many members over the years including members who might be part of a peaceful separation. Would separating ministers and brethren be able to leave with a fair share of those assets, assets which they have helped pay for?
What about copyrights? Much literature has been developed, written by writers paid out of the tithes and offerings contributed by the entire membership, including those members who would be part of a peaceful separation. Would the Council of Elders, Mr. Melvin Rhodes, and Mr. Dennis Luker be willing to say that if ministers and members separate peacefully and form a new organization (or several organizations), those organizations will be given permission to publish UCG copyrighted booklets, articles, Bible courses, and the like? Giving permission to publish those materials would cost UCG nothing, so it would seem like a reasonable accommodation. And if the Council is serious about getting a message out to the public to help do God's work, I would think they would be in favor of helping another Church of God group be successful in preaching the gospel by letting them publish the booklets, since we all serve the same God (John 4:37-38).
What about songbooks and the copyrighted songs in the songbooks? Will UCG allow groups separating peacefully use those same songs in their hymnals?
What about other assets, such as office equipment, contracts, and money balances in bank accounts? Would there be some sort of formula for sharing some of these assets with groups separating peacefully, based on the proportion of these assets paid for by those members who are separating?
Would ministers be able to freely communicate between the two groups and give advice to each other across organizations in matters of difficult decisions (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6)? Would members be allowed to visit a congregation of the other organization, especially when traveling? Would a minister in one organization be allowed to speak to a congregation of the other organization if invited by the pastor of that organization (perhaps Mr. Aaron Dean would not object to this).
What about mailing lists and subscription lists. You have two kinds. You have membership lists. But you also have the subscription list of magazine subscribers who are not members of the Church. This subscription list has been built up over the years with Reader's Digest ads and other means paid for by the entire membership, and is a valuable resource for helping to bring new members into the Church of God, as many as God may call. Would there be a sharing of this list? Perhaps UCG would not want to share the list because it might violate the privacy of the subscribers. But if a group separating peacefully starts a magazine, UCG could send a letter to the subscriber list offering the magazine and mentioning that it is published by a separately incorporated Church of God which shares the same doctrines. That would not violate subscriber privacy, and those subscribers who wish could subscribe to the magazines of both groups.
Then there is the issue of follow up for prospective members who express an interest in attending Sabbath services or baptism. If a pastor and a congregation in a particular city choose to peacefully separate, UCG may not have a pastor in that city to serve the needs of prospective members in that city. So what will UCG do when a magazine subscriber from that city writes in and wants to start attending Sabbath services? Will UCG suggest that the prospective member contact the other group, or will UCG tell the subscriber to stay home and wait until UCG has enough members in that city to start up a new congregation? This is a serious question. Prospective members are potential sons and daughters of God whom God may be calling. How can you tell them to wait and stay home if there is a pastor and a congregation in that city that is able to serve their needs and has the same doctrinal beliefs, but is separately incorporated and organized? Of course, UCG might miss the tithes and offerings of that new member. But is UCG serving God or their bank balances? Besides, in such a case an arrangement of tithe sharing could be worked out, even if it is simply an agreement of both groups that such a member could split his tithes if he wants, sending half to UCG which publishes the magazine through which he was called and half to the organization he attends with.
Of course, if there are doctrinal differences between the two groups, United Church of God may not want to send prospective members to a group that teaches different doctrines, doctrines which UCG might believe are inaccurate and potentially harmful. But why should there be differences in doctrine? The present UCG leadership has not suggested any doctrinal changes as far as I know, and I don't think the previous leadership has either. So if there is a "peaceful separation," both groups should have the same doctrines because they have the same doctrines now and neither side has proposed changes.
But then that raises another issue. What does a minister tell a prospective member about the split? Even among existing, long-time members, the question arises, why can't the ministry of the various church groups get together since we believe 99% the same things? How much more will this question come up among prospective members? What do you say to a prospective member who asks, "Why are there two groups?" Do you say, "Well, we were fighting each other over elections and balloting and who would hold office, and we could not get along in one organization, so we peacefully separated."
Maybe a group that separates that way could name itself, "Peacefully Separated Church of God." Someone should reserve that name before it is gone. (Only kidding).
Seriously, if there could be such a peaceful separation with real cooperation between the two groups, it would be a first and a milestone in Church of God relations. Of course, it would not be long before members in both groups would want to know if there was a merger coming.
Mr. Luker in his sermon indicated he was going to talk to a number of ministers and he wanted honest answers about where they stand. If peaceful separation is really an option, and not just a phrase to make the speaker sound reasonable, then maybe there should be some specifics offered about what such a separation would look like so ministers understand what their options are BEFORE telling Mr. Luker where they stand. Otherwise, a minister might be concerned that if he openly shared his heart and mind with Mr. Luker, and then asked about a peaceful separation, he might be told, "Peaceful separation? What's that?"
More to come...
Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:
A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5
The Cause of the Church's Scattered Condition, and the Solution, Chapter 5
CHURCH GOVERNMENT, Chapter 7