About a year ago I reported that a split was beginning in United Church of God. The formation of a permanent governance structure for COGWA completes that split. There are now two Churches of God governed by the ballot box where there was just one before. Whatever the causes of the split, it was not disagreement about using balloting to choose leaders. The ministers of both groups agree that ballot-box governance is a good thing. As in cell-division, both groups inherit that common characteristic.
The split started when Leon Walker was fired by UCG because he would not cancel a trip to meet with the Council and the Council was not willing to wait till the end of his trip, though Mr. Walker had already met with representatives of the Council (Roy Holladay and Victor Kubik) and Jason Lovelady in Hawkins, Texas on June 15, 2010 to discuss the matters of concern.
The permanent governance structure of Church of God, a Worldwide Association was chosen by a vote of 138 to 10 of votes cast by elders choosing to vote. The option to nominate candidates for the board by the paid ministry and elect them by all elders passed by a vote of 82 to 66 over the option to have all elders nominate the candidates and to have board members selected by random drawing. This was a fairly close vote. Almost half of the ministry favored final selection by random drawing.
What I find more interesting is that ten elders did not agree with the proposal with either option. That makes me curious about what they had hoped for or what kind of governance structure they wanted.
If anyone in COGWA has not made a committed decision in his mind to permanently go with COGWA because he has been waiting to see how COGWA will be governed, he needs wait no longer. The actual balloting to select leaders must take place, but the structure is finalized. Most members and ministers can make their final decision on that basis. They may need time to seek God's will to know what to do next and prepare, but they now have the facts about COGWA's governance structure.
Now that the smoke has cleared in a sense, there is a greater need to explain the causes of the split. A split like this, with both groups having the same doctrines and the same basic ballot-box structure of governance, cries out for a better explanation than has been given by either side. And I predict there will be a certain restlessness among members until that explanation comes out.
Why did the split happen?
Is UCG really planning to liberalize and water-down doctrine? What is the real reason for the proposed move to Dallas, and what is the real reason why half the ministry apposed it?
COGWA governance structure is basically the same as UCG's governance structure. Some details have changed. Elections are not so frequent. The governing board is a bit smaller and the president is a bit more powerful. So what? In the context of this major split, so what? These are minor details. The basic structure is the same in both organizations. Ministers elect a board which chooses a president, and everyone has terms of office that end and require new elections or new appointments. The split cannot be over the size of the governing board, or length of terms of office, or how often there are elections.
Sooner or later someone will tell me why Dallas is important. Will it be the place of safety? Is there gold buried there? Is there a cryptic reference to Dallas in Bible prophecy that has not been published yet? Maybe it's important because it is close to Mexico. Or maybe it is important because it is close to Mark Armstrong. Is it easier to accredit a college in Texas? Did some minister receive a vision saying, "move to Dallas"? Do COGWA leaders have family there? Use your imagination. No one has talked yet. Maybe the proposed move to Dallas became a symbol or metaphor for a greater issue. If so, what did it represent?
I said it before and I will repeat it. A split like this cries out for a better explanation than has been given by either side so far.
Brethren have a right to want to understand this. They have a right to want to understand cause and effect. We have to understand cause and effect to learn lessons, and God gave us this physical life to learn lessons. Everyone has the right to ask what this is really about. The split is the effect. What was the cause? What was REALLY the cause? It is NOT just carnality.
Look, suppose a policeman sees two men fighting in the street and he wants to know why they were fighting. Each man points to the other and says, "he's carnal," and bystanders say, "they are both carnal." Does that explain anything? The policeman wants to know WHAT THE FIGHT IS ABOUT! In othe words, WHAT REALLY STARTED IT! What issue or disagreement are they fighting about?
Some bloggers like James Malm have stated what they thought was the cause, the issue that the split is about. But an explanation needs to come out of COGWA. It is not going to come out of UCG. UCG leaders may have forced COGWA ministers out, but they will never admit that. In the end, most COGWA ministers resigned, and the burden falls on that organization to explain why. If they were forced out, they must know why they were forced out. I am not talking about the mechanics of HOW they were forced out. I am talking about the root issue. Why did UCG leaders want COGWA ministers to leave?
Is splitting a large Church of God fellowship just "business as usual"? Are brethren to expect this sort of thing every decade or so as par for the course?
Brethren in COGWA have a right to ask this since COGWA has chosen a governance structure much the same as UCG's governance structure. And if that is a good governance structure, why didn't they remain under the authority of that structure in UCG? If you agree that the structure is good, then why say the results were bad? If you committed to support ballot-box governance in 1995, then why not accept the results and live under the authority of that system? If it produced good results, why not live under it? If it produced bad results, then why replicate it?
"Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit" (Matthew 7:17-18). Also, Luke 6:43-44, "For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush."
Did Christ guide the voting in UCG or not? If He guided it, then why not submit to it? But if He did not guide the voting, what assurance is there that He will guide the voting in COGWA? And if He does not guide the voting, then that organization is being lead by mere men, not by Christ. Is that what COGWA wants, self-rule rather than rule by Christ?
I know the same questions could be asked about top-down governance, what some call one-man rule. Surely, John Carmack would point that out to me.
One could ask, if the appointment of Joseph Tkach by one man, Herbert Armstrong, bore good fruit, why not stay with Joseph Tkach? And if it bore bad fruit, why replicate one-man rule?
The whole issue in both cases is: who decides who will lead and how does that decision become known? There is also the question of understanding the causes of a split.
In the case of Worldwide coming apart, many have talked about causes. I have written about what I think are the causes in my book, Preaching the Gospel. I do believe Christ inspired Mr. Armstrong to appoint Joseph Tkach as Pastor General of Worldwide Church of God. There is a reason why Christ did that. While the fruit was painful in the short term, it was necessary for the long-term good of the whole Church of God.
We do have one example in modern times of successful governance in the Church from the top down. There are no examples of successful ballot-box governance in the Church that I know of.
Christ taught that we should beware of false prophets and how to know them. In principle, the lesson applies to any leader in the Church, not just prophets. It can apply to apostles, prophets, evangelists, or any minister of any rank.
We know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). And the principle fruit to look for in a true servant of God is accurately teaching the truth of the Bible (Isaiah 8:20, Deuteronomy 13:1-6), and there may be other fruits also.
So you can evaluate a man like Mr. Armstrong. Thousands did as they listened to him on the radio and read his writings. They checked in their Bibles and saw that the fruit was good. They also saw that God gave that man unusual success in getting the message out and in building the Church of God. This showed that God had chosen Mr. Armstrong to lead the Church and do a work. God showed this by backing him up, just as God showed ancient Israel that Joshua was leader by backing him up (Joshua 3:7).
Likewise, thousands of Church of God members evaluated Mr. Tkach based on the Bible, and they found that the fruits of his teaching were not good. It was not Christ's decision or Mr. Armstrong's decision in appointing Mr. Tkach that was wrong. It was time for Christ to test the membership and put us through a trial that would shake many members out of their complacency. Most of us had become lukewarm. "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).
I believe Christ led Mr. Armstrong to name Mr. Tkach as his successor. Mr. Armstrong did not know Mr. Tkach would overturn his doctrines. But Christ knew, and He wanted it this way to test the membership, to wake us up, to force members to deal with it. Many members had to turn to the Bible or they would be deceived. And many did become deceived and separated from those who believed their Bibles.
Why did the scattering of Worldwide occur? Why did Christ allow it? Those questions have been asked, and many have suggested answers, as I have. Those same kinds of questions should be asked and answered about the split of UCG. If they are not, the members and ministers will have doubts about both UCG and COGWA. As I say, there will be a restlessness, and tendency to wander, a lack of loyalty to either organization. There will be more splits. The more splits there are, the more there will be and the more members will distrust their ministers. Members are commanded to esteem their ministers highly (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13), but sometimes the actions of the ministry make that more difficult than it needs to be.
But there are differences between what happened in Worldwide 1987-1995 and what happened in UCG in the last couple of years just as there are differences in the structures of governance that were involved.
For those who believe the Bible, the need to leave Worldwide became obvious. Mr. Tkach was changing major doctrines that should not have been changed. Those who left had to leave. Nothing like that happened in UCG. Most members did not HAVE to leave UCG as we had to leave Worldwide.
With top-down governance, you can evaluate the top man according to the criteria the Bible sets, that is, the bearing of good fruit, the accurate teaching according to the Bible, and God backing up the leader as he backed up Joshua to know whom God has chosen. But how can you evaluate the leader when there is no leader? When authority is diffused in a ruling council with members of the council coming and going as they are elected into office and then elected out of office, no one is in charge. At any time, you can have a mixture of good and bad, and the authority resides in that mixture.
So the only way you can evaluate according to fruits is to evaluate the system itself. And the system or structure of governance that has ruled UCG has not borne good fruit, in my opinion. If the leaders of COGWA think that system has borne good fruit, then let them explain why that system produced a leadership that required COGWA ministers to leave, even though there was no major changes in doctrine that forced them to leave as happened in Worldwide.
You don't have to evaluate the structure of top-down governance by the fruits because God has already endorsed that structure with many examples in the Bible. But there are no examples in the Bible of a ballot-box structure of governance.
You want examples of successful top-down governance in the Bible and in the history of Israel and the Church of God?
Here are a few. Moses's leadership of Israel. Joshua's leadership of Israel. Samuel's leadership of Israel. David's leadership of Israel. Solomon's leadership of Israel. Christ's leadership of the twelve apostles while He was on earth. Paul's leadership of the preaching of the gospel to the uncircumcised and Peter's leadership of the preaching of the gospel to the circumcised. Mr. Armstrong's leadership of the Philadelphia era of the Church of God in our time.
Name one historical example of successful ballot-box governance in the Church or in Israel either in the Bible or in modern times.
UCG's governance structure is not found in the Bible. It was an experiment. And like any experiment, you have to evaluate the results. The results have not been good.
Now COGWA is repeating the experiment with some changes. They think they can get better results if a few details are tweaked. So elections will not be as often. The ruling board or council will be smaller. The president will have a bit more power.
Well, we'll see. This is ballot-box experiment number two. I do not think the long term results will be better.
Ten ministers in COGWA voted against that structure of governance. Others may also be against it, but did not vote. What will they do now? Perhaps some of those ten wanted ballot-box governance but with different details. Only those men know why they voted against the proposal.
The qualifications required of top leaders is clear in the Bible. The question is, who judges a man as to whether he has those qualifications? Who chooses the leaders? Does the decision come from above or below? That has been an issue since Satan led his angels in rebellion against God. Is it those who are ruled who decide who their ruler will be, or does or does Christ decide through His office as head of the Church. It cannot be both.
The only possible valid reasons to use balloting to choose leaders is if voting by those under authority to select the leaders over them is right in God's sight and if Christ guides the voting to put into office those leaders He has chosen. The only way to know if it is right in God's sight is by the examples in the Bible, and every example of godly governance in the Bible is from the top-down. There is not a single example in the Bible of God endorsing or setting up a system of regular elections year after year (or every four years or whatever) to govern Israel or the Church of God, but there are many examples of God appointing a man and showing by the fruits whom He has chosen.
I am not sure what the attitudes are about the election results in UCG and COGWA. There may be a difference between those two groups. Does one think that Christ decides and endorses all election results and the other thinks that the results of elections are merely the decisions of men? UCG leaders have said that those who disagree with them are disagreeing with Christ, and that their leadership is inspired by Christ as was their election. COGWA leaders do not agree with that. But what do they think? How would they explain it? That Christ does NOT inspire the election results? Then why have elections? I remember one minister saying something about the election decisions being collegiate decisions, or something like that, saying in effect that from the beginning of UCG there was not the belief that Christ inspires the voting to select leaders. If he meant something else, he did not explain it to my understanding.
So UCG leaders seem to claim that Christ inspired their election and that to disagree with them is to disagree with Christ, while COGWA leaders dispute that. But on the other hand, some COGWA ministers were upset with the overturning of the decision to move to Dallas because they thought that once the decision was made, it should not have been changed, implying the original decision was inspired by Christ. You can't have it both ways. Does Christ inspire voting or not? How can COGWA ministers say that Christ inspired the vote to move to Dallas but not the vote to rescind or the vote to elect the present UCG Council? How can they say it is wrong to second-guess the Dallas move but not wrong to second-guess the choice of Council members?
And if Christ inspires voting, why are results often split nearly in half? If Christ inspired a vote for Dallas, why was the vote so close, and why did Christ later reverse His decision? If Christ inspired the recent COGWA vote to approve the proposal for governance structure by balloting, why did ten ministers vote against it? Do they not also have the Holy Spirit? If Christ inspired the decision to choose option one for selecting board members, why did almost half of the ministers vote against it? And what are they to think now? "Well, I prayed for God to inspire my decision, but I guess God did not answer my prayer this time." You don't really have the kind of agreement that Christ talked about in (Matthew 18:19-20) or was the result of the meeting in Acts 15 when they were ALL in agreement.
When you set up a system governed by voting, you are making a commitment to support and abide by the decisions by the majority of men before you know what those decisions are, and there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that God works that way in His Church.
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