Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What Really Is Church of God - America?

First the news.

Shining Light blog has reported that Richard Thompson has resigned from UCG. The same post reports that "Church of God, Orlando, Inc." has been formed, but I have no website for that church yet. Link to that post:

Another Shining Light post reports on the resignations of Clyde Kilough, Roy Demarest, and Roger West, and reports some detail about a new Church of God, "The Church of God-West Palm Beach Incorporated", with Mr. James Cannon as president of the corporation. Other people involved include Dan Carriero treasurer, Robin Nicholls secretary, and David and Debra Jenkins and Michael Moore as directors, according to the post. I know of no website for that church yet. Link to Shining Light post:

Other blogs have also reported the resignations of Roger West, Roy Demarest and Clyde Kilough.
Link to Church of God Perspective post:
Link to COGwriter post:

What, in essence, is Church of God - America?

It is not a church or a corporation, nor does it intend to become one, according to the statements in its website. So what is it?

If you take it at face value, it is basically a voluntary association and a website that expresses the intention of a group of independent pastors to cooperate along certain agreed lines. There is no binding legal authority over the pastors I have found. It is not incorporated, and it pays no salaries to ministers, as far as I know. The group of ministers are basically making a voluntary commitment to each other to help each other and work together along certain lines. You can read the details in their website. There is a shared statement of beliefs for example, and a commitment to a Bible reading program specified in the website. The site provides a common platform for contact information and links to websites for the member pastors. It is a point of communication.

Here is a link to the site:

Here is the email address for the site:

The domain "cogamerica.org" was created 11/9/2010. The registrant and administrator of the website is Jasper Hendren in Corpus Christi, Texas. This means he has physical control of the website.

Pastors may receive, and probably do, compensation from International Ambassador Outreach. How much influence that has on the pastors, they know. But they may also receive compensation directly from the members of their congregations. There is nothing I have found in the website that indicates that pastors cannot incorporate locally if they wish, so I assume that member pastors can locally incorporate and collect tithes from their members.

Those are the tangibles. The intangible characteristics of the association depend on the intents, plans, and promises of the ministers who make up the association. They are not visible, and not fully known to everyone at this time.

It can be viewed as an organization, but probably a loosely controlled one. And if it is strongly controlled by someone, such as Mr. Leon Walker, it is only to the extent that member pastors voluntarily follow his lead.

Because it is a voluntary organization, it is also changeable. Like the proverbial glass that is half full or half empty, this can be viewed as good or bad. You can say it is flexible or you can say it is unstable. Where this leads, whether it bears good fruit or bad fruit, really depends on the intent and character of its members and leaders and to the extent they submit to Christ and Christ works through them. It can be a transitional form, one to be replaced with something a little different later. It can also be transitional for pastors and congregations, in that a local pastor may join this association now, then leave it later if the relationship is no longer needed and no longer useful.

Potentially, this might be something similar to an idea I wrote about in my post How the Church Can Be Organized. Or, it might be something else.

But one thing is clear. The pastors that make up this association no longer report or are responsible to UCG's ballot-box governance. I do not say they are not responsible to the balloting of men. Each Church of God led by a pastor can be organized with ballot-box governance, even at the local level. The pastor can organize the collection of congregations he pastors so that the elders elect him, and can remove him, by ballot, if that is how the pastor wants his congregations to be organized. He can even submit to the voting of the membership, as Church of God (Seventh Day) does. Or he can govern them from the top down, reporting directly to Christ.

I think it would be a mistake for any pastor coming out of UCG to organize a system of governance by the balloting of men and to submit to that kind of system. I hope UCG ministers are learning better.

In my book, Preaching the Gospel, I wrote a section on How Is the Church Organized. In that section, I show from scripture and with diagrams how Christ leads the Church three ways: how He leads us to salvation individually, how He leads the family through the husband, and how He leads the administrative, organized work of the Church through the ministry. In that section I show a diagram of how Christ leads the organized work of the Church.

Now, suppose the individual pastors of congregations or groups of congregations associated through COGA do not organize their groups by ballot-box like the system they are leaving but instead practice top-down government, reporting directly to Christ. And suppose they do not allow themselves to be unduly influenced by the wishes of those in IAO who may provide some of their financing, but are only influenced by their desire to do God's will and obey Christ and believe and obey the Bible. If that is the case, then I could modify my diagram from my book to represent this structure, like this:

(Click on image to enlarge)

This is just an example. Only God knows the hearts of all men, if they are serving Him or themselves. God knows who obeys Christ and who does not.

Or, if Mr. Walker is faithful to Christ, and if Christ chooses him to becomes the leader over the other pastors, you might end up with this:

Or, in a worst case situation (in my opinion), if the ministers have learned nothing from their experience in UCG with ballot-box governance, you could have this:

There are many questions not yet answered.

How does International Ambassador Outreach decide who receives funds and how much? What is their criteria? Are there doctrinal and policy requirements pastors and elders must comply with before IAO will give them support? And who runs IAO? Who decides the criteria for who will receive support and who will not? The IAO website is not clear, at least to me. There is a board. Is it just the board of directors that determines this, collectively, by voting? If so, then you have ballot-box governance over the disbursement of funds. And if those funds influence the decisions of the pastors who receive those funds, then you have at least the potential influence of the ballot-box over the pastors, if not the actual rule over them. And if Mr. Walker controls the members IAO's board, how does he do it?

Over time, if a pastor is faithful to obey Christ, the fruits of his decisions will become known. If God is working through a particular pastor, and He wants this known to the Church of God, He can bless that pastor with wisdom and intervention to make his decisions prosper. "And the LORD said to Joshua, 'This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you' " (Joshua 3:7). "So Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel had been established as a prophet of the LORD" (1 Samuel 3:19-20). In this way, God can reveal who He has chosen by the fruits, not by the balloting of men.

You have four leading men, at this writing, who lead Churches of God who are part of Church of God - America: Leon Walker, Jack Hendren, Larry Salyer, and Graemme Marshall. Suppose, just as an example (I know little about most of these men, so I am just picking a name here to illustrate the example), that Christ has chosen Mr. Marshall to lead the other men in a combined organization. Christ could make His choice known, not by the balloting of men, but by fruits. God could bless Mr. Marshall with a greater measure of wisdom, blessings, success, and good fruits, and over time those fruits would make evident whom Christ has chosen. Those who are willing to recognize the biblical way of knowing whom God has chosen would recognize the fruits and would cooperate with Mr. Marshall more and more. Or, if Christ chooses one of the other men, or someone who joins Church of God - America later, He could make His choice known the same way, by fruits, not by balloting.

There are many unanswered questions, and a great deal of change is is likely.

I would advise any pastor joining the Church of God - America association to keep his options open.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Government in the Church, Chapter 5

Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6

Church Government, Chapter 7

How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7

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