Recently I read an article in the Journal by Dixon Cartwright about a question and answer session given by UCG leaders January 31 and February 1, 2011. I thought the article helped to give some insight into the state of UCG today and some clues as to where it may be headed. President Dennis Luker and ten members of the Council of Elders appeared before about 300 UCG elders and their wives and answered a variety of questions on such topics as governance, doctrine, reconciliation, and the split. Then men on stage included Scott Ashley, Bob Berendt, Aaron Dean, Bill Eddington, Roy Holladay, Victor Kubik, Dennis Luker, Darris McNeely, Melvin Rhodes, Mario Seiglie, and Robin Webber.
There was discussion of the situation in Latin America. Mr. Holladay said that about a quarter of original membership of UCG in Latin America has stayed with UCG. There was quite a bit of discussion about "servant leadership", and some of that may have been about the meaning of the term, though no clear definition seemed to come through. Aaron Dean said that income for the year is down about 35%.
Gary Petty spoke about reconciliation, saying that "we" failed at reconciliation. Bob Berendt said that since those who disagreed have left, there is a wonderful attitude now in UCG.
Mr. Berendt's comments about the wonderful attitude that now exists in UCG remind me of a trend in the Churches of God since the scattering of the Church after Mr. Armstrong's death, which I wrote about in my book (see section titled "Church Government"). Ministers in each group talk about the "wonderful unity" their group has, yet each group is sharply divided against the others. Each Church brags about its own unity while the whole Church of God is divided into fighting factions. Then a group, which brags about its unity, goes through a split. Then each of the fragments that is left brags about its own individual unity. Anyone remember United Church of God bragging about its unity since it formed, or after David Hulme left? Their very name, UNITED Church of God brags of unity. But they just split.
What is wonderful about UCG's attitude towards COGWA? But I think Mr. Berendt is talking about UCG's internal attitude towards itself, not towards other fellowships in the whole Church of God.
Hey, how about a merger between UCG and COGWA? After all, they have mostly the same form of governance and the same doctrines. Why not merge the two groups? (I'm only kidding.)
Shannon Lucas said that Satan caused the split and that UCG should not worry too much about the other side but rather UCG should just focus on their side.
Donald Ward spoke about governance and doctrine, saying that UCG has a dilemma. He mentioned that government was one of the most repeated doctrines Mr. Armstrong emphasized in the latter years of his life. I am not sure what point Dr. Ward was making. But he was not the only one who talked of government in the Church as "doctrine".
Howard Davis spoke of the superiority of UCG form of governance, saying that it is the God-inspired New Testament form of biblical governance, and that it should be articulated and raised to the doctrinal level. To me, he seemed to be saying that only UCG has the right form of governance.
Dael Baughman said that the current doctrinal review process is a hindrance to accepting new understanding, and that UCG should look at restructuring that process so that needed doctrinal change can be made. He seemed to say that doctrinal change has been bottled up in the past by two individuals. Melvin Rhodes said that one doctrine that has changed in the last 25 years is governance. Mr. Rhodes also encouraged elders who have suggestions for doctrinal change to write them up and submit them to the Council.
Mr. Luker encouraged audience response to some comments, in one case asking the audience to give someone a hand for saying she felt safe in UCG now, and in another case asking the audience if they would all say "amen" to a particular comment or question.
Here is a link to the full Journal article:
UCG has changed and is changing. The split has changed it. It is a mistake to see UCG simply as a continuation of the group that started in 1995. This is not the same UCG minus a few dissidents. The United Church of God that existed five years ago does not exist today, under any name. It has been replaced by two new groups, the new United Church of God (UCG) and the new Church of God, a Worldwide Association, both of which are different from the old UCG. UCG members who have not realized this will, in time, see it. UCG will continue to change as time goes on.
There is a natural trend among people in general towards doctrinal liberalization, and this exists in the Churches of God as well as in the world. To resist this trend, there must be strong government. If a fellowship is allowed to drift, especially if it drifts in a direction popular with the membership, or if winning and holding members becomes a priority that leads the ministry to try to be popular with the members, that fellowship is as likely to move into liberalism as an apple is likely to fall from a tree. Right doctrine is not "natural" in that sense. Right doctrine must be actively and courageously taught, maintained, and defended, or it will be replaced by liberalism. Liberalism must be resisted, or it will gain ground.
If UCG leaders fight to maintain and defend right doctrine, and do not compromise, there will be no liberalization in UCG. But if they let things take their natural course, there will be.
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