Monday, March 3, 2014

Update on Church of God, a Family Community Open House

Church of God, a Family Community (COGFC), the group of ministers and members who have recently left COGaic (David Hulme) and are now primarily led by Mr. Brian Orchard and Mr. Steve Andrews, is having a conference. This is the second conference they have had since they started. Sunday, March 2, 2014 was the first day of the conference and it was an open house available for members to attend and for anyone to view online. There seemed to be about 50 people in actual attendance, not including those who viewed the conference online.

Various men took turns speaking and giving presentations. Questions could be submitted via email, and Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews read the questions and answered them. As of the time I am writing this, the audio files have not yet been posted to The Father's Call website, but I expect they will soon, probably in a day or two.

I listened to most of the open house presentations, and I will share some of my impressions in this post.

The theme and goal of this conference is to gain a greater sense of purpose and of who COGFC is and where it is going. There was a review of the goals and purpose agreed to in the January conference, and it was stated that there was a need to refocus on those goals. Various speakers talked about events they went through as they left COGaic (Church of God, an International Community). There were presentations on technical opportunities, website strategy, and media. There were also sessions in which the questions submitted by email were read and answered by Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews.

I heard much in this conference that seemed to be a defense of and a re-affirmation of what was agreed to in the January conference. The leading ministers are still committed to the goals and direction set in the January conference.

There was a call for people to volunteer their talents in various areas, including writing literature.

I have comments and I will mention some other things that were said in the conference.

How God Leads Us

My first comment is, God leads the Church through the Bible.

We need to let God lead us. Christ is the head of the Church and the Father leads us through Jesus Christ. But we should not misunderstand how that occurs.

Christ as head of the Church leads us by communicating with us so we can know what He wants us to do. But how does He communicate?

God and Christ communicate with us and lead us by the Holy Spirit. But that communication occurs primarily as the Holy Spirit opens our minds to understand the Bible and to understand the application of the things we learn in the Bible to our daily circumstances. I do not believe that the Holy Spirit leads the Church primarily apart from the Bible.

Suppose you have a question and you take your question to God in prayer. Then you fast, and at some time during your fast, an answer comes into your head. All of a sudden, you feel absolutely sure of the answer and you feel sure the answer is from God.

But is it from God or is it the product primarily of your human thinking? Or to put it another way, could the answer you feel sure about be the wrong answer? Could you be mistaken in your conclusion?

Suppose you have a conference with others, a three day conference, and there is much disputing and disagreement for the first couple of days and you simply cannot reach agreement no matter how hard you try. Then you pray and ask God for guidance, and soon after, everything falls into place and you have agreement. You and everyone feel sure God has answered your prayers. And you feel sure that the answers or conclusions you agreed to are from God.

Is it from God? Are your conclusions necessarily correct because you prayed and now everyone agrees?

Do you think Catholics and Protestants never have that kind of experience?

Now, I am not saying that God does not lead us exactly that way sometimes. But the main way God leads us is to help us understand the Bible and the application of scripture to the problems we have to solve. And we must always check our conclusions against the Bible.

So in the examples I talked about, personal fasting and then having an answer come into your head, or meeting and praying and then coming to an agreement, the answer or conclusion must align with the Bible. If it does not align, it is not the correct answer. And in seeing if the answer aligns with the Bible, you have to look at all the relevant scriptures on the subject.

Feeling sure about something does not necessarily mean God inspired your thinking by His Holy Spirit.

God leads us to understand His Word, the Bible, and He leads us by His Holy Spirit. But that does not mean that whatever ideas come into our heads about how to understand a passage in the Bible is correct and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

This is something easy to misunderstand. Catholics and Protestants would agree that a person needs the help of the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible correctly, and Mr. Armstrong would agree with that, but what Mr. Armstrong did is entirely different from what Catholic and Protestant theologians have done and also entirely different from what Mr. Tkach and others did in Worldwide after Mr. Armstrong died.

The Bible tells us what God's truth is. It is plain where we need it to be plain. But the Holy Spirit will not inspire us to "interpret" the Bible contrary to the plain language of the Bible. This is where unconverted ministers in traditional, mainstream religion miss the mark. We have to be careful we also do not miss the mark.

For example, the Bible says, "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4). That is plain language. One can look up other verses on the subject of the soul and whether it is immortal or not, and you will find, along with this verse, the teaching that the soul is not immortal. Now, a minister in a traditional, mainstream church that thinks the soul is immortal will look at this verse, and the thought will come into his head, "The word 'die' really means 'separation from God', not end of existence", and he will think that the Holy Spirit is leading him to interpret that verse that way.

But that can't be! Why? Because that word "die" means what it says. The Holy Spirit will help us understand what the Bible is actually saying, but not assign arbitrary meanings to words and verses that are not really in the text.

Mr. Armstrong taught that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible. But He never meant that the Holy Spirit will assign meanings to verses and words other than what those words actually say.

It is the Spirit of God that inspired the words of the Bible in the first place. God, through His Spirit, inspired the right words to be used in the Bible to accurately represent what He is teaching us.

And when something is not clear in the Bible, we let clear verses interpret unclear ones.

But it is Satan who deceives religious mainstream church-goers into twisting the meaning of words and "interpreting" verses to mean something other than what they really say in order to fit their traditions or opinions.

That is why Mr. Armstrong always stressed that we should let the Bible interpret the Bible.

Sincere people can feel sure that God's Spirit is leading them to a conclusion, and yet, their conclusion can be mistaken. This can happen outside of the Church, and I am sure it can happen even in the Church of God.

Everything must be checked against the Bible, and our decisions and conclusions must be based on scripture, not just on the fact that we found agreement with others in the Church and now have unity or on how sure we are that God put the answer into our minds.

This is why I feel that the decisions made by the leading ministers in COGFC in the January conference, and re-affirmed now in this conference, have to be evaluated based on the Bible, not on the fact that they reached agreement and it seemed to them that God inspired that agreement. And the Bible teaches two major things relevant to those decisions. The Bible teaches that government in the Church is from the top down, that is, those higher in authority make the decisions for those under their authority. And the Bible teaches that the gospel and the Ezekiel warning should be preached to the public, and there is no precedent or justifying principle in the Bible for postponing obedience to that commission.

If I am wrong about that, if there is something in the Bible I missed, if someone wants to correct me, he has to do it by the Bible.

The answers the ministers in COGFC are seeking concerning governance should not be based on their gut feelings or how sure they are that God is inspiring them, but must be based on the Bible. They need to be searching the Bible for the answers they are seeking, in other words.

One thing I keep hearing in COGFC messages is the concept of letting God lead us. But one thing that I do not hear, one thing that seems to be missing, is the understanding that God primarily leads us by the Bible, and that the leadership will look to the Bible for answers to important questions. It is not that they are saying the opposite. Of course they will acknowledge, when asked, that we should follow the Bible, absolutely. It is just that when I hear them talking about letting God lead them, there seems to be an absence of an emphasis that we should look to the Bible to know where God is leading us, that is, God leads us, by the Bible.

And because of this lack of emphasis about how God leads us, I fear that the COGFC leadership is relying on their feelings, thoughts, and opinions, and even in some cases circumstances, and attributing them to the Holy Spirit, to seek to know God's will more than the Bible.

Obviously, the Bible doesn't tell us every detail of what we should be doing. It gives us the broad principles. Nevertheless, it does teach us certain principles and things we should be doing.

To use a concrete example, if the ministers came to agreement after praying for God's guidance in the January conference, and that agreement came in a sudden and unusual way after their prayer, the ministers should not assume that the decisions they made, to develop a new model of governance and to postpone preaching the gospel, were God's decisions inspired in their minds by the Holy Spirit, but rather should study the scriptures about that subject, very thoroughly, especially in regard to postponing the preaching of the gospel. Because if what they agreed to, that they think is inspired by the Holy Spirit, that feels right in their gut, is in fact invalidated by an honest investigation of the issues in the Bible, letting the Bible interpret the Bible, then they should believe the Bible, not their own opinions and feelings, even when those opinions and feelings are unanimous and came after prayer and fasting.


Mr. Andrews spoke about organization. He started by speaking about the events involving his leaving COGaic. He said that at one point he felt he needed to apply Matthew 18 because he had to do what God commanded in Matthew 18 if He wanted God's help and involvement. He said that God will not involve himself if we do not do what we are supposed to do. I found that statement interesting because it exactly expresses what I have been trying to say about preaching the gospel. Why should COGFC ministers expect God to involve Himself in their meetings, in their fasts, in their prayers, if they are not doing what God tells them they should be doing, that is, preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel?

Mr. Andrews reviewed the legal organizational history of Radio Church of God and Worldwide Church of God under Mr. Armstrong's leadership. He said the Worldwide Church of God was not incorporated until 1968. He mentioned that Mr. Armstrong did not focus on "organization" (meaning legal organization such as incorporation), and Mr. Andrews said that this is one of the things COGFC has in common with Mr. Armstrong, that there is not a focus on organization. We organize as there is a need.

I think there is some confusion with terms like organization, government, and governance, and some of the confusion is a matter of terminology and some may be a matter of meaning and concepts. Mr. Andrews speaks of organization primarily in the legal sense, such as forming or not forming a corporation, or forming an unincorporated association - that sort of thing. But to me, those issues are side issues compared to government and the organization that is associated with the structure of government. At the bottom of this post, I will link to a post I published about incorporation where I describe the difference between a corporation and an organization.

To me, a corporation is a tool of the Church that makes it easier for the Church to function, like a car or a building or an office copier. I used the example of Global/Living in 1998 when Larry Salyer and Raymond McNair and a majority of the governing board took over control of the Global Church of God corporation and, in effect, took it out of Dr. Meredith's control. But that was not the Church, and neither was it the organization. What was the organization? It was the understanding of roles and offices that most of the ministry and members (about 75%) shared with Dr. Meredith. It was the understanding that Dr. Meredith was human leader, under Christ, with authority to supervise that part of God's Church. It was the rolodex or phone book with phone numbers of ministers on Dr. Meredith's desk. It was the willingness of most of the ministers and members to cooperate with Dr. Meredith and to do what he asked them to do. So what happened? The Global corporation had been taken from the organization that Dr. Meredith had built up and was a leader of. So Dr. Meredith and the organization simply formed a new corporation. They chose "Living Church of God" as a name and incorporated. But for several days, or maybe a week or two, the organization led by Dr. Meredith continued to function without a corporation. During that time, Dr. Meredith was still in charge, we still had hierarchical government, and we still had weekly Sabbath services. Ministers who understood and accepted Dr. Meredith's role still did what he asked them to do. That is organization.

When you listen to COGFC ministers talk about organization, sometimes they may be talking about legal organization. Do not confuse that with the structure of government. In the Church of God, they are two different issues. Legal organization, to incorporate or not incorporate for example, is a function of our relationship with this world. It can be a tool to make it easier to do business and to function in this world. But government has to do with decision making within the Church of God, even apart from this world and its ways. You don't necessarily have to incorporate, but you have to make decisions. How are decisions made? Who makes them? That is government and it is the organization that comes from government in the Church.

How are decisions made in COGFC? When you know that, you will know something about their structure of government.

But I can almost hear a COGFC minister say, "Christ will make the decisions and we need to follow Him." Of course. But that does not answer the question of how decisions are made for the simple reason that men, even ministers in the Church, do not agree on what Christ wants for the Church. Someone has to make decisions at the human level. How those decisions are made is a matter of the structure of government. It has nothing or little to do with the subject of legal organization such as forming a corporation.

And COGFC is already organized, it is already using a structure of government, because decisions are already being made about many things. Decisions are made about the website. Decisions are made about speaking schedules. Decisions have been made regarding these conferences.

That structure is not clearly visible to the whole Church of God because decisions are being made in the background. No one I know of has a recording of all the discussions that took place in the January conference that led to the agreement the ministers reached. That is not wrong, it simply makes it a bit more difficult to know how decisions were made. Perhaps they kept talking till some compromised and eventually they all agreed about a few things, then went forward with those things they agreed on.

Right now, it appears that two men are leading COGFC, Brian Orchard and Steve Andrews, and the rest of the ministry is cooperating with them, as long as those two agree. How do they reach agreement? Probably through discussion and compromise. They are close enough to each other right now to be able to do that. They can probably do that with most issues. What happens when an issue comes up and they can't agree or compromise? Nothing. No action is taken on that particular issue.

It is like two friends who want to do something together. One wants to go bowling and the other wants to play cards. They will talk and eventually compromise and do one or the other. But if they can't? Then they do neither.

So I will try to articulate what I think is starting to happen in COGFC, with the pair of Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews as the core.

It is hard to know what kind of model of governance they are trying to develop. They say the structure should be hierarchical, and with that statement Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Hulme would agree. They might say that authority should be practiced in love, and again, Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Hulme would say the same thing. But they have questions about governance, and they so far have not articulated those questions very well, so it is hard to know what they are thinking. Saying it should be like a family answers nothing, especially since many families in our society are broken or dysfunctional. Saying that government should be based on the family model only shifts the question to, "Ok, what is the family model"? The question is, how should decisions be made at the human level? Calling it "family" just slightly changes the question to, how should decisions be made in a family? And we are talking about organization, under the Father and Christ, but organization and government at the human level. So to say, well, the Father of the family, that is, God, should make our decisions, answers nothing.

But what the ministers, and especially Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews, seem to be doing at the present time to make decisions seems to be as follows: Someone assumes initiative to call a meeting of those who seem to be leaders. They pray for God's guidance, then have a free discussion of the issues and try to reach agreement. They keep trying till they reach agreement on most or all of the important issues. That agreement can come as each of the ministers, one by one, comes to an agreement with the others, either because he is persuaded by the discussion, or because he compromises and agrees to support the decision even though he does not think it is the best decision. At the end of the day (or the conference), agreement has been reached on many issues, maybe all of them, and they go forward with everything they agree on. But if there are issues they were not able to agree on, they take no action on those - they are deferred till later. And in all this process, there is exchange of advice and counsel and no one is assuming authority over the others to say, "here is my decision". Anyone can raise an issue, anyone can make a suggestion, anyone can express his view whatever it is.

In other words, they seek unanimous, joint decisions, asking God to lead them to those decisions, and they then go forward on those things they agree about and postpone anything they cannot agree about until they agree at a later time.

Is this hierarchical? Mostly, it is not, but neither is it democracy. It may be hierarchical to the degree that others in the fellowship who have not been invited to the meeting submit to the decisions of the leaders. But between the ministers in the January conference, it was not hierarchical.

Right now, to the degree that COGFC ministers and members recognize Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews as joint leaders, it is hierarchical from them on down. COGFC submits to and cooperates with what Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews agree together to do. But there is no hierarchy between those two men. They lead by mutual agreement. Whatever they agree together to do, the rest of COGFC will usually do. Whatever Mr. Andrews and Mr. Orchard cannot agree on, is postponed - no action taken.

If hierarchical government can be described as government from the top down, and democracy can be described as government from the bottom up, this can be described as neither. It is a voluntary, collaborative arrangement.

What are its strengths and weakness? Loyalty, harmony, and peace are a few of its strong points. When people agree to do something, they tend to work harmoniously with each other. No one has cause to resist or complain about a decision he has agreed to.

But its weakness is, it cannot reach decisions without unanimous agreement. The larger the governing group is, the harder it is to reach agreement, which may be why the original nine ministers divided with four of them going in a different direction. Perhaps the real leaders of the January conference were three men, Mr. Orchard, Mr. Andrews, and Mr. Nathan. But even three may have been too much and Mr. Nathan left. This means this structure of decision making is limited, and some decisions simply cannot be made.

So it is harmonious, but can be weak. But that weakness may be minimized the more like-minded the governing group is. The more like minded Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews are, the more decisions they will be able to agree about.

But being too like-minded can itself be a weakness in a group because it lacks the valuable input that can come from contrary views.

A stronger structure of government, when the man at the top is of righteous character, is one man at the top to make decisions, surrounded by men with many diverse views who can offer advice, but will support the decision made by the man at the top even when they do not agree with it. That structure of government can make decisions, even quick decisions when necessary, on any issue, whether unanimous agreement is reached or not. It is a more powerful structure. It can accomplish more. And it is the very best structure of governance when the men who are in the organization, especially the man at the top, are of righteous character and live by the Bible. In that case, you cannot beat it.

Is the collaborative agreement model I described that I thought COGFC is currently practicing biblical?

Except for the Acts 15 conference, most of the examples in both the old and new testament are not of this model. Most are of the hierarchical model practiced correctly by Mr. Armstrong and practiced by Mr. Hulme. Paul for example, gave orders, not always, but he had the authority and he used it when he chose to do so. He told Timothy and Titus what to do. They in turn had authority to appoint ministers, and those ministers obeyed Timothy or Titus, and the brethren obeyed those ministers.

But in the Acts 15 conference, you had two leaders, each of which had authority over a part of God's work, and those two leaders were Peter and Paul. And they had a conference because neither reported to the other, but both reported to Christ, and the conference was to know God's will.

Is this like what is happening between Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews? In one sense, yes, and in another sense, no. These men are joint leaders of one organization or fellowship, but they are not each a leader of an organization. What would be more like Peter and Paul coming to an agreement in a conference of the leading men of the whole Church would be more like all the top leaders of the different fellowships coming together - Dr. Meredith, Mr. Hulme, etc. - to reach an agreement.

There is another weakness of the model of governance that COGFC is practicing, and that is, it can be unstable. It can work as long as there is agreement, but it tends to break up when agreement is not achieved on something important.

COGFC ministers will have to find their own way on the governance issue. They will have to learn how to articulate it better, even to articulate the questions better before they can find the answers, or at least to help the brethren understand the answers when they teach them. And over time, the collaborative agreement model can become completely hierarchical with the two leading men coming to a recognition sometime in the future that one of them is showing by his fruits that he is the leader Christ has chosen. It can serve a transitional purpose, in other words, to give men time to see the fruits of others to know whom God has chosen.

Perhaps this is what will happen.

What Is God Doing?

Mr. Andrews said that Israel is on the verge of a crisis and asks, how will the message go out to Israel about that crisis and what should we say about it? He asks, what message might God have for us that we can receive and carry to the world? Then he says that he does not know the answer.

I find this amazing. The answer is in the Bible. Mr. Armstrong knew that. We are to preach the gospel and warn Israel. We are to cry aloud and tell our people their sins (Isaiah 58:1). That hasn't changed and it isn't going to change. Details of how that will be expressed will change, but it is our job to use the abilities God has given us to prepare and deliver the message. That is the example Mr. Armstrong set.

He asks, is there any instance in the Bible where God works with one of His servants to do His will, then after that is finished, goes back and does the same thing He has already done? Does God repeat himself? I think the implication is that we should not try to recreate what God did through Mr. Armstrong because God will not repeat Himself - what He did with Mr. Armstrong He will not do again.

I think the answer to Mr. Andrews' question depends on what kind of detail you are talking about. In general terms, yes, God does the same thing over and over, but details differ. Likewise, we are to do what Mr. Armstrong did, in general terms, because the Bible commands it, but details will differ. What did God do over and over? The first example that comes to mind is the cycle of sin, punishment, and rescue that occurred in Judges. Time after time, the people would sin, God would punish them by allowing their enemies to oppress them, and then God would give Israel a deliverer to save the people. God empowered the deliverer to defeat Israel's enemies. The book of Judges is full of that. Of course the details differ. Gideon was a different kind of man than Samson, for example.

Of course we will not do things exactly the same way Mr. Armstrong did things. We have the Internet now. Radio is less important. People's attention spans are shorter. But we must still preach the gospel and the warning. The details of how we express the message, how we phrase it, the words and phrases we use, the titles of our articles, the technology we use, can be different, but the basic message is the same, and it is the basic message we are commanded to deliver. COGFC is not doing that. Look past all the words and the meetings and look at actions, and they have not started. After more than two months, they have not started. Those actions tell you and me more about COGFC than all their words about why they have not started.

There is an assumption in COGFC leaders I think that, "God has brought us to this point." But is it not their own decisions that have brought COGFC to the point they are at? What about personal responsibility and free moral agency? God creates the circumstances, but people make decisions, and it is the combination of circumstances plus the choices we make as free moral agents that bring us to the point we are at. Not everything we do is God's choice for us. God has not necessarily brought COGFC to the point it is at. It may be primarily the choices that COGFC ministers have made that brought them to the point they are at, and some of those choices could be wrong. The leaders of COGFC need to take personal responsibility for their choices and acknowledge that their choices and decisions have helped to bring them to the point they are at.

How should the gospel be preached? Should we wait for God to show us a better way or a new way of doing it?

Of course we may develop new methods, and God will help us. But that is no excuse for not using the methods and means we already have today. Mr. Armstrong always tried to preach the gospel by whatever means were available to him at the time. Within Church of God Seventh Day the main method he used was to rent a hall for a meeting and hand out or post announcements in the community inviting them to the meeting, then speak at the meeting. Later, on his own, he used radio. When he first started his broadcast, he had a song service and made it like a church meeting, because he did not know a better way, but later he learned to change the format. He learned by his mistakes, but he never sat on his hands waiting for God to somehow reveal a better method to do what he knew God already commanded to be done in the Bible.

I get the impression, COGFC doesn't want to start to do what God says, to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, till God somehow, maybe by putting the thought into their minds, shows them, in detail, HOW to do things a different way. Again, I hear the excuse, we should not try to get ahead of God by doing something on our own. That is a ridiculous excuse for disobedience, for not moving forward with whatever means God has given us to do what He has commanded us in the Bible. It is diametrically opposite to Mr. Armstrong's way of thinking and the way of thinking taught by the Bible.

So, ministers neglect or refuse to do what God has commanded in the Bible, then say, God has brought us to this point (of inaction), we don't know what God has in mind, but we must not obey what He says in the Bible because that would be "getting ahead" of God and it would be our work not His. They say, we don't know what God wants. Yet, the Bible makes clear what God commands.

What method of preaching the gospel cannot be replaced by a better method once that better method is known? None. Do what you can now, and when God shows you something better, use that better method. Set up a website. Later, you can improve it or even scrap it if you find a way that works better. In other words, start immediately to obey God the best you can, and continuously improve as God helps you improve.

He said the future of proclaiming a message is probably not on TV, then asks, does our Father ever having used a facility for a purpose at a particular time go back and repeat what He has done before?

Yes, God used Mr. Armstrong to proclaim a message on TV and God is now also using Dr. Meredith to proclaim a message on TV, and guess what, TV still works. People are coming into LCG from the TV program and being baptized. People are being warned. Responses to the program keep increasing. Statistically, LCG probably gets as many responses (requests for literature) from the TV program today, per dollar spent, and maybe more, than Mr. Armstrong got shortly before he died.

Question and Answer Sessions

Questions were submitted via email. Mr. Brian Orchard answered a question about, why can you not preach the gospel to the world and heal the Church at the same time, and he said there is no reason not to do both at the same time, the two can go together. This may be a slight change from previous views because I thought I remember Mr. Orchard saying at some point in a previous message, in a Sabbath sermon or Friday Bible study, that the work of healing the Church must be done first before preaching the gospel to the world.

Mr. Andrews mentioned that Mr. Armstrong often said that he was taught the way the other apostles were taught, by Jesus Christ, and Mr. Andrews said that what Mr. Armstrong meant by that was that the message he was given to take to the world was given to him spiritually through the Holy Spirit from Jesus Christ. But that is not how I remember it. What I remember is that Mr. Armstrong said he learned the gospel from Jesus Christ directly, just as Paul learned from Jesus Christ directly, but with this difference: Paul learned from the Word of God, Jesus Christ, in person and Mr. Armstrong learned from the Word of God in print, that is, the Bible.

Here are links to related posts I published about the difference between an organization and a corporation in the Church of God:

"Should a Church of God Fellowship Be Incorporated?", dated July 3, 2011, link:

"Beware of Those Who Preach Against Organization", dated March 28, 2013, link:

"The 501(c)(3) Issue", dated February 4, 2013, link:

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