Sunday, January 9, 2011

Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA)

Many X-UCG ministers are meeting in Louisville, KY today through Tuesday to organize a permanent Church of God fellowship for most ministers leaving UCG. That Church has already been organized, temporarily, as Church of God, a Worldwide Association. Here is a link to their website:

The stated purpose of the conference is to approve a short-term temporary administrative and governance structure and to lay the foundation for a process that will be used to build a permanent administrative and governance structure over the next several months.

How will this new organization be governed? I have no doubt it will be governed via the ballot-box, just as UCG has been. This is Indianapolis 1995 all over again, organized and run by many of the same ministers who helped organize UCG. But the details will change. They will seek to learn from mistakes and to learn from 15 years of experience in governance by voting, experience they did not have in 1995. They will try to make changes in the details of the rules to prevent politics from dividing the Church as it has done with UCG in the last six months (or several years, depending on how you figure it). But they have not yet learned from their big mistake, using voting to select leaders at all.

The reason I think they will set up governance by ballot box is that there is no one leader who has the standing to take charge and lead without confirmation by voting. None of the main leaders of those leaving UCG, not Leon Walker, not Clyde Kilough, not Larry Salyer, not Jim Franks, not anyone you can name has the authority to govern from the top down in the eyes of the other ministers. So they will have to use voting to select a board, or a council, or a leader.

There are two ways those leaving UCG could organize. One is to organize as a loose, cooperative association of small independent groups. The association would have no authority over the pastors and small groups but would provide a forum for mutual cooperation. How would the small groups be governed if the association has no authority over them? It would be up to the pastors individually to decide how they would organize their local fellowships. Some might organize with local voting, letting themselves be elected by local elders or even by the membership. Others might govern from the top down, reporting to Christ or reporting to another pastor who reports to Christ. Over time, God could bless the one He has chosen and will make known who that is by the fruits, and others could join him. So you could start out with small groups ruled from the top down, no voting, and over time those groups could combine under the leader who is bearing the fruits of God's blessing.

The other way is to organize as a large fellowship from the beginning that will include most of the ministers leaving UCG. In that case, governance would have to be by ballot box as in UCG.

There may have been an attempt by some to organize the first way. That may be what COGA was intended to be. But now, the ministers are trying to organize one large group, not many smaller groups. Why? It may be that they quickly saw that members would not readily support small groups, but are more likely to support a large group. So this decision may be driven by the desire to have as many members as possible.

The COGA route may not have been working to attract members. UCG members are not willing, many of them, to leave a large well-established UCG to go to a small, ineffective group that is loosely associated with a collection of other small groups.

So the January 9-11 meetings are for the purpose of organizing a large, stable, strong COG that members coming out of UCG can take seriously. But to do that they will have to use ballot-box governance again. For them, organizing out of a meeting this way, there is no other option. There just isn't time to wait for fruits to show whom God has chosen to lead all the other ministers, and there is no one with the stature and prestige to lead from the beginning.

But there will be differences in details. As I speculated in my last post, one difference may be the term of office of a board member. It may be that voting decisions by the general ministry to vote a man into office as a board member will be permanent, and that board members will be elected "for life" and not have to face being removed from office in a future election. But while this may help to solve the one problem of the potential for a board to drive ministers out of the organization to avoid being voted out of office by those ministers, it will not solve the main problem with ballot-box governance.

The examples in God's word teach that He shows whom he has chosen for office in the Church of God by appointment, by fruits, or by both, but not by the voting of men. You either follow those chosen by men or those chosen by God. The leaders of UCG are those who are chosen by men. The leaders of COGWA, if they organize under ballot-box governance, will be those chosen by men.

The problem with letting men chose the leaders, by voting, is that those men who vote are not best qualified to know who should lead. They do not know the hearts of men. God must choose, not man.

The leaders of UCG who have caused this division were the very leaders chosen by the voting of men, showing that the collective ministry does NOT have the wisdom to know who to vote for.

Voting to select leaders has been likened to the principle of getting counsel and advice (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). But there is a difference. Counsel and advice does not carry authority. A leader can consider the advice, but it is still his decision whether to follow it or not, and sometimes the advice and counsel of the majority can be bad. Look at the examples of David, when he rejected the advice of the man who told him to slay Saul (1 Samuel 26:7-12), or when he rejected the advice of his men when they advised him not to rescue some of the people of Israel from the Philistines (1 Samuel 23:1-5). David was right to reject that advice and follow God. David had a faithfulness and a spiritual discernment that his advisors did not have, which is why God chose him (1 Samuel 16:1, Acts 13:22). Men observe what they see, and even Samuel, a righteous man of God (Jeremiah 15:1) and a prophet of God (1 Samuel 3:19-20) would have chosen someone other than David (1 Samuel 16:4-7). If Samuel was not qualified to choose the leader, how can 150 or 500 voting ministers be qualified to choose a leader? God must choose the leader, and He does not do that by the voting of men.

I have no objection to voting or polling to get opinions before a leader makes a decision. What I object to is giving the majority the power to force its will on the minority as happens when you give authority to a process of voting.

So we are likely to have two groups now, the original UCG made smaller and the new COGWA. If John Carmack's estimate is correct that 60% of the paid ministry has left UCG (see my last post), then UCG will save about half or more of the money they have been spending on minister's salaries. Add to that the savings of not supporting the poor Latin American congregations, and UCG may be able to do very well financially even on diminished tithe income. While 60% of the paid ministers are leaving, much less than 60% of the UCG members are leaving, at least in the beginning. However, more members may leave when they realize they will be pastored by less-experienced men who have been unpaid, part-time, local elders.

COGWA will have most of the paid ministers leaving UCG, but proportionally fewer members to support them. I think they can get by if they are frugal, but will not have much extra income for preaching the gospel to the world.

I think over time, COGWA will grow in membership while UCG will shrink somewhat. The experienced, full-time paid ministry in COGWA will simply be able to better serve the needs of the members, and members will see that. But COGWA will not have the income to do much of a work of preaching the gospel to the world.

Then, after the dust settles, we will see something that we have often seen in COG organizations. The leaders of each organization will boast about how much unity they have. That is, the leaders of UCG will then tell the brethren that there is wonderful unity now in United Church of God, and the leaders of COGWA will tell their members that they are now blessed with wonderful unity and peace in COGWA.

I wrote about this in my book, Preaching the Gospel. Here is a quote from the section titled "Church Government" in chapter 7:

"Is God's Church divided? Yes, it is. That is a fact. God's Church is divided into many pieces. And all the time that the division and a competitive, hostile, unloving attitude exists between the pieces, many pieces boast how much unity that particular piece has with itself! A small piece of a divided Church will say, 'What wonderful unity and harmony we had at our last ministerial conference'. That piece has 'unity', that is, until that piece divides into still smaller pieces. Then each of the smaller pieces can also boast that it has such wonderful unity within itself.

"But is there unity between the pieces? Is there unity of the whole? Not now. Not with most of the pieces. Not until different groups and organizations begin to show at least a minimum of respect and esteem for one another.

"I think we need to understand that unity within a Church of God organization is not real unity if that organization is hostile to other Church of God organizations that teach and practice the same doctrines from the Bible. Unity within one piece is not unity in the Church. Some ministers want members to identify with the 'piece' they are in, but that is wrong. Our identity is with God and with Christ and with the WHOLE body of Christ, every man or woman who has the Spirit of God. Obviously some members and ministers have fallen under the influence of serious doctrinal errors, but if a person has the Holy Spirit, that person is still a member of the Church that we should identify with, and we should help them correct their errors. Competitiveness is not going to correct anything. Some speakers like to use props. I can imagine a speaker bringing his own piece of pottery to the podium, showing the audience how beautiful and unified it is, then smashing the pottery next to the podium and holding up one of the larger pieces and saying, 'See what unity this one piece has with itself. There are absolutely no cracks or divisions in this one piece. What a perfect example to show that God's one true Church is not divided.' "

See links below for the source of this quote.

What I wrote above came true in United Church of God. They used to boast of unity, and they have put the world "united" in their name. And now they have just split. And the "unity" that will seem to exist from now on in UCG will not last. It cannot last. The same process of voting that has contributed to this split will work its magic to create disunity over time in what is left of UCG. The Council may seem unified now, but over time, maybe another 15 years, new divisions will develop, even among those who are on the same side now. It is built-in to the system.

And the same disunity will develop in COGWA if they organize under ballot-box governance.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5

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


MTCOGSM said...

"Is God's Church divided? Yes, it is. That is a fact. God's Church is divided into many pieces."

Are you really meaning that the COG is DIVIDED or just scattered?
Christ said a house divided cannot stand, yet He said His Church would exist thru time to His return, didn't He?
Just a question I had when reading your post.

The Editor said...

The Church of God is divided, but not completely. It is divided to a degree. But it is more than just scattered. When the Church of God was scattered after the murder of Stephen, there is no indication there were disputes and disagreements and infighting within the Church of God (Acts 8:1-4). Today, the Church of God is scattered, but it is also divided, not completely, but to a large degree. We all still have the same goal, to overcome sin, to do God's work and serve him, and to be in the kingdom. But the different organizations and fellowships have different ideas about doctrine and different ideas about what it means to do God's work. All agree that doing the work must include feeding the flock. But, as an example, not all agree that the Church should be preaching the gospel to the world. Some think that is over, and some think we should still be doing it. So you might have one fellowship that feeds the flock and preaches the gospel to the world (such as Living Church of God), and another fellowship that primarily only feeds the flock and does little or nothing to preach the gospel to the public (Church of the Great God being a possible example).

In the meantime, leaders of different groups attack and criticize leaders of other groups. They seldom ask the brethren to pray for the leaders of other groups. They seldom or never share copyrights for booklets. They seldom cooperate, sharing resources, TV studio facilities, advice and counsel. Instead, they attack each other and compete for the tithes and offerings of the membership. That is a lot worse than just being scattered. That is being divided.

We are never completely divided as long as the Holy Spirit dwells in us and Christ is our head. If the Holy Spirit does not dwell in us, then we are not really part of the Church. If Holy Spirit dwells in us, we respond to Christ as our head, but because we are human and imperfect, our obedience to Christ is not perfect, so we sin and we fight with each other. Some obey Christ more than others. The more we obey Christ, the more united we are, but the more we disobey Him, the more divided we are. There are some organizations that have a degree of unity within themselves, but are divided from other groups. The blame for that division is not always equal between two groups, but it only takes one group to create division with another. It is those who practice the way of division who will fall, not those who seek unity first with God and then with the brethren but who are divided from other groups because of the wrong actions of those other groups. said...

A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:23-26). But it may take time for it to fall. The United States is an example. There is a degree of division in this country and in the congress, and that division is helping to bring the United States down. But the division is not complete, and neither is our downfall yet complete.

It is the division in the Church of God that contributes to our lack of effectiveness in doing God's work. Were this division to increase to the point of complete division, we also would surely fall in time, but Christ will not allow that. He will sharply correct us, even in the great tribulation if necessary, before the Church could become extinct due to division and infighting. There will come a time when the power of the Church is completely shattered (Daniel 12:7). There will come a time when many in the Church of God will "fall" (Daniel 11:33-35). But the Church will not become completely extinct.

Notice how Paul asks the question, is Christ divided? (1 Corinthians 1:13). He asks the question this way because, in fact, the Corinthian Church of God WAS divided (1 Corinthians 1:11). Paul posed the question, is Christ divided, as a rebuke to the Corinthians for their state of being divided, not completely, but to a degree. By the time of John's writing in 3 John 9-10, division in the Church of God had increased to the point where some were being put out of the Church of God unjustly and some would not even accept the apostle John.

To answer Paul's question, is Christ divided, Christ Himself is never divided, and He never leads His Church into division, but we ourselves can be divided to the degree that we do not follow where Christ leads.

MTCOGSM said...

"Christ Himself is never divided, and He never leads His Church into division, but we ourselves can be divided to the degree that we do not follow where Christ leads."
Author, this is basically where I was going with my question. Paul gave the example in 1Cor.12 that the COG is compared to the human body. once a member is severed from the body, it is no longer part of the body and will die, unless re-attached and nutured back to health. (Rom.9-11) when Christ said to those who are lukewarm of Laodicea that they would be spewed out--they are no longer in the body but have to repent in order to come back in--if there is no repentance then there will be no forgiveness--then those would remain no longer of the body.
Paul also indicated that there was some carnality at work in Corinth, which was probably creating the problems there--but I think it is possible that many of those were not really of the body, therefore not the true COG. for them to be seperated would hardly qualify for the COG itself to be divided. Would the same situation not apply today?

The editor said...

Yes, it is possible.

But a question is, can one who has God's Holy Spirit cause division?

My understanding is that there is a very clear distinction between those who are converted and therefore are part of the true Church of God, and those who are not. That distinction is the presence of God's Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11). Now, while some may have God's Spirit more fully than others, or it may be more active in their lives and they may be more responsive to God's Spirit than others, you either have it or you don't. If you have God's Spirit dwelling in your mind, then you are a Christian, you are converted, and you are part of the true Church of God, the body of Christ. Yet, we know we are not perfect and we still sin. So can that include causing division?

Paul describes, speaking in the first person of his own struggles against sin, the conflict between our human nature and God's nature even in a converted member of the Church (Romans 7:14-24). He says, speaking in the present tense, "but the evil I will not to do, that I practice" (verse 19). He also says, "I am carnal" (verse 14). So even after Paul was converted, he described himself as carnal and said that he practiced evil. Those are strong words.

Could the evil a converted man may practice include causing division? Is it just other types of sin that a true Christian might commit, but not division? That is a question.

Though there was division in the Corinthian Church of God, I get the impression from Paul's letters to them that he still considered them converted and part of the Church, but was working with them, helping them to overcome their sins which they had even while converted.

Then there is the account of a conflict between Paul and Barnabas over Mark that caused them to go separate ways for a time, in Acts Acts 15:36-41. "Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another" (verse 39). This, on a small scale, sounds like the kind of division we might see in the Churches of God today, where division becomes so sharp between ministers over one issue or another that they separate from each other into different organizations. Yet Paul apparently was later reconciled with Mark and probably Barnabas (2 Timothy 4:11).

I am sure that there are some who are causing division who are not converted. But maybe not all. Perhaps I am being too optimistic, but I think that many who are causing division to a degree are converted, but weakly. They have God's Spirit, but they are not responding to God as much as they should. They have faults Christ is correcting them for, but they are still in the Church. Most of the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 are rebuked for their faults, yet they are still part of the Church.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I read this in your comment;"But a question is, can one who has God's Holy Spirit cause division?"
I think a simple answer to this question can be--did HWA have the Holy Spirit? I think he did but his understanding-(before corrected) divided a lot of people over the D&R issue, and also over counting for Pentecost.