Friday, January 7, 2011

Why Sabbath Ruling Now?

United Church of God Council of Elders has issued a statement that Church members are not to operate a business, including a day-care business, on the Sabbath. This ruling came about because of a controversy over a Church family in Chile who operated a day-care center that was open certain days of the year on part of the Sabbath. This controversy became a contributing cause of the split in UCG. A link to that statement in an "Inside United: Realtime" blog post is below:

The ruling is consistent with past teachings of UCG, and in my opinion, it is the correct ruling.

But of course, it raises a question, why now? Before this ruling, UCG had published a document that implied that it was permissible for this particular family to let their business stay open on part of the Sabbath on certain days of the year. That document became a cause (not the only or principle cause) of division that has mushroomed and led to a large number of resignations and removals from the UCG ministry. Had this ruling been issued earlier, it might have helped calm things down.

Only members of the Council and administration of UCG can answer why this ruling was made at this time and not earlier. I can think of two possible reasons. One might be that the loss of ministers, members, and income has been greater than the Council desired and they want to stop the loss, and to do that they need to refute charges that they are going liberal on the Sabbath doctrine. But the other explanation is that they WANTED the division all along. That is, the original Sabbath paper that fed the division in the Church was INTENDED to sow division. By publishing that paper, which made it appear that the Church was watering down the Sabbath doctrine, they put questions in the minds of both ministers and members on this issue. This led to members questioning their ministers about that document, and ministers were forced to take a stand. Many of them were critical of that paper and gave the Council and administration the excuse to remove them on grounds of rebellion against or criticism of headquarters, or to pressure them into resigning.

Why would the Council and administration want UCG ministers to resign?

Next May 15-16 will be elections by the General Conference of Elders. The ministers who have resigned or been removed are the same ones that likely would have voted against Council members and their proposals. So the whole Sabbath controversy could simply have been engineered, or magnified, to manipulate voting results. It helped to force opposition votes out of the GCE, guaranteeing that the Council and its supporters can retain control through the next election. If so, this is a case where the mechanics of the STRUCTURE of governance, which UCG has long maintained "doesn't matter", has directly contributed to the division of the Church.

In other words, the Council could have engineered this whole division of the Church to manipulate the next ballot to their favor. They may not care if UCG is smaller as long as they can retain power.

In a December 23 letter addressed to members and ministers in UCG published in the "Inside United: Realtime" blog, Mr. Melvin Rhodes and Mr. Dennis Luker state that they think the crisis in UCG is nearing its end. This seems to be a kind of victory statement, after about 140 opposition ministers have resigned or been removed. Link below:

Then, in a later post from UCG, they issued their ruling on the Sabbath. Link below:

It is as if they said, ok, we have pushed the ministers out we wanted to get rid of, and now we are satisfied, so we will go back to the old Sabbath ruling and you ministers who are still with us are welcome to stay.

In fairness, even if the above interpretation is accurate, that does not mean that the Council members are doing this for selfish, personal reasons. It could be that they believe this is best for the Church in the long run. They may feel that the ministers who are leaving UCG would have been a divisive influence if they had stayed. Or they may feel that the agenda they want to advance in the Church of God is the best for the membership and that the "old guard" ministers would have been a drag on the advancement of that agenda. Each individual member of the Council and administration knows his own reasons, and God knows the hearts of all men better than they know their own selves. But whether for personal selfish reasons or for "the long-term good of the Church", the Council may have simply wanted certain ministers out of UCG, and if so, they have accomplished their purpose.

I do not know the exact number of ministers UCG had before the split. Vote totals in past elections on the issue of the move to Dallas suggest around 510-520 voting ministers, maybe more ministers in total if several choose not to vote (because they know it is wrong). About 140 ministers (including local elders as well as pastors) have resigned or been removed from the UCG ministry. Bob Thiel in his COGwriter blog reported that UCG has lost 143+ ministers and elders, using UCG Current Crisis post as a source. I counted 141 names, but I might have missed a few. Links are below:
COGwriter post:
UCG Current Crisis post:

In any case, 140 ministers out of about 500-520 represents more than a quarter of the entire UCG ministry and probably far more than half of all voting elders who would have voted against Council members and Council agenda items in the next election of the GCE.

But the division may be more serious than that. John Carmack in the Church of God Perspective blog has published an estimate that about 60% of the ministry has left, and I think he means the PAID ministry, the full-time pastors. This means that the loss of ministers is far greater proportionally among full-time paid pastors than among the local elders. A loss of more than half of full-time pastors represents a serious blow to the ability of UCG to care for their members. Link to John Carmack's post below:

Besides customary accusations against those ministers who have left, much of the December 23 letter from Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Luker is an iteration of the advantages of staying in UCG and a reassurance to the members that despite the losses, UCG will be able to take care of them. But there are a few statements I want to comment on.

Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Luker state that they believe as much now as they believed 15 years ago that God led the formation of UCG in Indianapolis, and by this I think they are saying that God led the formation of UCG as an organization with ballot-box governance. I disagree. I think the fruits show that that ballot-box governance is not good, and while God through Jesus Christ allowed it He did not lead it. It was a mistake made by human beings, a mistake God allowed, and a mistake that Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Luker are still making and have not yet learned from.

Why do they think that because they made that decision that Christ led that decision? Does God allow mistakes to be made or not?

Later, they say they must be prepared to humbly learn from their mistakes, but I guess they are only referring to certain kinds of mistakes, not mistakes about governance. So far, they have not been prepared to learn from that mistake. They maintain as their founding belief and conviction that in a multitude of counselors there is safety. But there is not safety in a multitude of counselors when you get rid of counselors who disagree with you and use fear tactics to silence those who remain, which appears to have been the case. They state that their system of governance (by ballot box) gives them the tools to do God's will. Again I disagree. Their system of governance is a hindrance, not a help, to doing God's will. Ballot-box governance promotes division. It hinders the preaching of the gospel to the world because I think God will not bless a group that preaches one thing to the public (the removal of this world's democracies by the top-down government of Christ when He returns) but practices another thing (democracy) in its own organization.

Finally, they state that the General Conference of Elders (the whole ministry) remains in place to promote stability in the Church. I will let you think about that one.

In other news, Joel Meeker has written a letter to Mr. Rhodes explaining why he is declining to accept a seat on the Council of Elders. A link to UCG Current Crisis post that gives a link to Mr. Meeker's letter is below:

In this letter, Mr. Meeker states that he signed a Council Code of Ethics document in 1998 in which he agrees to uphold the consensus of the Council when he is a member. He cannot now uphold such consensus with a clear conscience when the Council violates the letter and spirit of the UCG governing documents. I think this shows the danger of signing agreements to support the decisions of men. We made a commitment at baptism to obey God - that should be sufficient.

Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA) has been organized, and appears to be a large group being formed. Here is a link to its website:

In the home page for the site is a link for a Sabbath services webcast January 8 at 2:30 pm Eastern time, so members across the country can listen in.

There is also a good FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page that explains that it replaces Church of God - America, which was a temporary organization. Link:

The temporary board of directors of COGWA is made up of Michael Hanisko, Ken Giese, Greg Sargent, Roger West, and George Evans. The temporary leadership team includes Jim Franks, Doug Horchak, Clyde Kilough, David Register, and Richard Thompson.

COGWA is hosting a conference in Louisville, KY January 9 through 11 (next Sunday through Tuesday) to make more permanent arrangements. UCG Current Crisis blog published an announcement from COGWA, link here:

COGwriter has reported that the recent holy days offerings in UCG were down from 3.7% to 8%, depending on the particular day, while attendance was down 1.7% to 3.3%. This information comes from the December 2010 issue of United News. These holy day figures are actually better than I expected. Of course, both income and membership must be down much more than that now. But if John Carmack's figure of 60% of the paid ministry leaving UCG is correct, the present UCG may be saving so much money on salaries that it can afford a large drop in income. Link to COGwriter post:

UCG has published a link to a video that tries to answer questions and there is a transcript of the video. Link here:

John Carmack has a post with a link to a map that shows the location of those ministers who have left UCG. Link to the Church of God Perspective post:

UCG Current Crisis has published a post with a link to a pdf document from COGWA giving the timeline of their recent efforts to organize. This is to refute charges from UCG (see December 23 letter) that ministers have behaved in an unethical fashion in organizing a different Church group while in the employment of UCG. The authors of this document are: Jim Franks, Doug Horchak, David Johnson, Clyde Kilough, Richard Pinelli, David Register, Richard Thompson, and Lyle Welty. Link:

UCG has invited UCG ministers to a conference January 31 and February 1 (Monday and Tuesday) in Eastgate, Ohio. Link:

Apparently UCG congregations in South Africa are separating from UCG. UCG Current Crisis blog published a post in which is a letter from several South African pastors to Mr. Rhodes in reply to a letter from Mr. Rhodes in which he says that he and Victor Kubik will be visiting South Africa over the next two weekends. In this letter, the South African ministers say, in effect, that because UCG has cut off the subsidy for their congregations, removed their names from the UCG website, and not answered their inquiries, that Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Kubik are free to try to contact UCG members and arrange to meet with them at some location they may arrange, but they will not be welcome at the regular meeting places for the South African congregations. Link to that post:

Most of the organizational efforts of those leaving UCG have been temporary. The upcoming conference in Louisville will be an attempt to create large, permanent organization for those leaving UCG. How the governance will be organized is unknown, but I feel sure it will be another version of ballot-box governance. There is no leader who has the standing in the eyes of the members and other leaders to take charge without balloting. No doubt there will be changes though. There will be an effort to learn lessons from the split of UCG by tweaking the rules. My guess is that there will be a governing Council elected by the ministry, but that the seats will be permanent. That is, once elected, you're on the board for life. That would eliminate what may have been a cause for division in UCG, that is, the Council dividing the Church to push ministers out whom they fear would vote them out of office if they have the chance.

But that will not permanently solve the problem.

Not all ministers who are leaving UCG will want to be part of this new group. Probably most of those who have resigned or been removed will want to be. They have burned their bridges behind them. But there will be a few that cannot accept the new arrangement, and they will have to be independent or gather in smaller groupings. Those smaller groups may have top-down government or ballot-box governance. But the large group, Church of God, a Worldwide Association, will probably be governed by the ballot-box.

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


Richard said...

I can think of some other reasons for the delay in posting the Sabbath ruling.

UCG leaders have been awfully busy "putting out fires" in local congregations, as my pastor put it last Sabbath. Perhaps too busy to come together on this topic.

Or it could be that UCG leaders have been a few steps behind in their actions throughout this whole mess. Slow in responding to Latin America, slow in calling a ministerial meeting (why wait until the end of January?), etc. said...

That is very possible.

Anonymous said...

On the Sabbath ruling you say:-

“Had this ruling been issued earlier, it might have helped calm things down” and go on to suggest “the Council could have engineered this whole division of the Church to manipulate the next ballot to their favor.”

How about a different scenario.

The whole Sabbath problem was highlighted by those that have since left UCG, and they continually implied ‘watering down’ of doctrine.

The family concerned had appealed to the council of elders for a decision. Doctrinal matters are handled by the doctrinal committee, who make their recommendations to the council of elders.

The Doctrinal Committee’s chairman was Jim Franks. Others on the committee included Mike Blackwell. The doctrinal committee took months to come to a decision.

Jim Franks resigned from COE early December, leaving Mike Blackwell to give an update report to the council, in December, before he too resigned. Then it was less than a month after these events that the doctrinal committee, without Jim Franks and Mike Blackwell, gave their decision finding against the Chilean family.

Who would gain by the perceived ‘doctrinal eroding’ that was being implied while the doctrinal committee were ‘looking at’ the issue? Why the new organization, COGWA, who would gain members worried about the potential change in doctrine.

Why would Jim Franks maybe be slow in coming to a decision – well Jim Franks is on the Temporary Leadership team of the new COGWA.

I rest my case.

Lee Ann said...

What is the matter with all of you? I continue to be shocked at the carnality of people in God's church. I am part of a small group where we worship- plain and simple. We are not concerned about who runs what, who says what, what "doctrinal paper" is written, what "group" a minister speaks to. It is silliness such as that that has helped bring the UCG to the mess it is in now. We are here to serve, not bicker about who's in charge. You all are simply helping to fulfill Bible prophecy-the scattering of God's people. said...

There is certainly a lot of carnality in God's Church, both among lay members and among the ministry, and that is a big reason for the scattered condition of the Church of God.

"Worship" is more than attending services, singing hymns and saying "Amen" to the opening and closing prayer, and fellowshipping. True worship of God is more than encouraging each other and serving the brethren in physical ways. It includes all those things, but it also includes a concern about doctrine and about who says what. It includes a desire for leaders who faithfully teach doctrine according to the Bible. That is why we left Worldwide after it went into apostasy.

Jesus Christ is concerned about doctrinal integrity and we wants us to be concerned about it also. He wants us to have spiritual discernment about the ministry which leads us so we can avoid those who would lead us wrongly. Notice what He said to the church of Ephesus: "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary" (Revelation 2:2-3). Then, after rebuking them because they left their first love, He praises them again, "But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Revelation 2:6). Then He rebukes the church in Pergamos for tolerating wrong doctrine: "But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth" (Revelation 2:14-16). Christ also said that His followers would flee from those who offer the Church wrong teaching, saying they will flee from the voice of "strangers". "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:1-5).

The apostle John also wrote, "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 9-11).

"Therefore 'Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.' 'I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty' " (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). said...

True worship of God also includes living by every word of God (Matthew 4:4), including God's commands to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:35-40) and to warn those stumbling to disaster (Proverbs 24:11-12). This means preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to a nation that desperately needs a warning before the tribulation comes and it is too late. Living by every word of God includes living by God's teaching on government in the Church. My concern about UCG is that it cannot be effective in preaching the gospel to the world and giving the nations the warning they need because it is not practicing what it preaches - it practices the ways of this world, including governance by ballot-box, while trying to preach the good news that Christ will return to get rid of this world's systems of government.

I also see a direct connection between the divisions in UCG and the kind of governance it has. I think that in UCG, governance by balloting is directly contributing to the division that exists. It is as if God is allowing this to happen to teach that governance by ballot box produces bad fruit.

If you are attending a small Church of God where there is peace and unity and where the ministry is faithfully teaching all of God's truth from the Bible, you are fortunate. But I do not think you are fortunate if the members of the Church you attend are not doing any effective work of preaching the gospel to the public and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, at least in proportion to its size.