Friday, February 27, 2015

What Is the Cause of Disunity in the Church of God?

Why is there disunity in the Church of God? Why are we scattered and divided into many Church of God fellowships and organizations with some COG members simply staying home because they find no satisfactory option to attend services?

Is it because we can't get along? Is it because of hurt feelings or an unforgiving attitude between brethren? Is it because of personal offenses between the members? Is it because of pride and vanity and selfishness? Is it because of an unwillingness to build and maintain personal relationships?

Or is it because of doctrinal differences between leaders, ministers, and groups?

To a degree, it can be both. But one cause dominates, in my opinion.

Most brethren I have known in the Church are very willing to fellowship with brethren in other groups. It is usually not personal difficulties between the lay members that cause divisions in the Church of God and cause us to be scattered into many groups.

It is doctrine.

And to a degree, it can be unwillingness for the leaders to get along. But if so, they usually make doctrine the point of division that justifies being separate from other groups. A pastor might be personally offended with the leader of the fellowship he attends with and works for. He then leaves and starts his own group. But to justify leaving, he has to establish doctrinal uniqueness. He can't just tell his members, I left because I didn't like the leader of the group I was in and could not get along with him. He finds a point of doctrine he can disagree with, and he tells his members, I left to stay faithful to the truth on this point of doctrine and that point of doctrine.

But the cause of our divisions is not primarily the inability of members to get along with each other. For a fellowship whose leaders left their former group because they could not get along with the leader to stress building personal relationships in its teaching to the members is fine - we should all strive to improve in building our relationships in the Church of God in love. But to say that this was the cause of the division is usually not the case. The ministers who teach this may be preaching to themselves, but they may be more in need of their own teaching than the lay members they preach to.

Those ministers may construct doctrinal reasons for leaving a group or leader when the actual reason my be connected with their personal relationship with that leader.

Doctrine is teaching, and it is a way of life. Disagreements about our teaching, about what the Bible teaches on any subject, and about how we should be living are disagreements about doctrine.

What are some of the doctrinal matters that divide the Churches of God?

Preaching the gospel is one. Some groups do it and teach it, and some do not. Some do it more than others. But this is a doctrinal matter, definitely. The doctrine is about God's teaching in the Bible regarding the work of preaching the gospel that the Church of God is to do.

Government in the Church is another. Some practice hierarchical governance, some practice voting which they call "balloting", and some have said they are trying to discover a new model of governance based on the family. This is definitely a doctrinal matter. The governance we should practice in the Church of God should be the governance God teaches in the Bible. Disagreements about what the Bible teaches on this subject are disagreements about doctrine.

How much authority the ministry has is another doctrinal matter. Some groups seem to teach that the ministry or the leader has authority to command the brethren what to believe while others may teach that the brethren should believe the Bible first.

Whether Mr. Armstrong's doctrines can be changed or not is another doctrinal matter about which some groups differ. Some say that he is the Elijah to restore all things and they teach that for that reason none of his doctrines should be changed, while other groups teach that Mr. Armstrong's doctrines should be changed if we see in the Bible that they have been wrong. That difference of opinion is a difference over doctrine.

Some make it a major teaching of their group, a doctrine in other words, that their leader occupies a particular office or rank, be it apostle, prophet, or whatever. When other groups disagree with that teaching, that is a disagreement over doctrine. Some make it a matter of doctrine that Mr. Armstrong was the Elijah to come.

Many groups also differ over small doctrines, and often the leaders of those groups magnify and focus attention on those differences, claiming they are right and other groups are wrong. Those doctrines can include things like the meaning of the falling away verse in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, whether we go to heaven for the marriage supper, and other smaller points. There are also doctrinal issues that may seem small to some but great to others, such as makeup, eating in restaurants on the Sabbath, new moons, calendar issues, how to count Pentecost when the first or last day of Unleavened Bread falls on a weekly Sabbath, etc. Some make an issue of whether or not we should label salvation through Jesus Christ as "the gospel of the Kingdom of God", or they make an issue of where we should place the emphasis in our teaching to the public.

These are the things that divide the Church of God. Some differences between leaders of groups over these doctrinal issues may be real and sincere, but some may be manufactured just to be "different" so they can attract and keep a following.

But without these differences, leaders would have a hard time justifying their separation from other groups.

And yet, doctrine is important. A group that practices the doctrine most accurately from the Bible should not compromise with other groups for the sake of unity.

But what is the root cause of our division? WHY are we divided in doctrine?

"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).

It really does come down to us, the brethren, if we are Laodicean and lukewarm. We can be lukewarm in our love for each other or in obedience to God's commandments or in any point of God's law and way of life. It is because of our faults, our sins, and our lukewarmness that God has given us Church of God leaders that have made mistakes in doctrine and have scattered the Church. The responsibility is ours, for God has given us the leaders we deserve.

We need to respond, each of us, by zealously repenting. But that repentance should not just focus on our personal relationships with other brethren. It should focus on every aspect of the Christian way of life. And love towards God must come before love towards the brethren. We have to really live zealously by every word of God (Matthew 4:4).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this was an interesting article--thank you!
It is also interesting that it does come down to those zealous and those not so--whether lukewarm on doctrines or just negligent in Spiritual life.
But I find it the most interesting that the "zealous" are not all in the same group as one would think should happen. We are truly a scattered Church and you listed many of the reasons. however the biggest reason is that the seven letters to the Church of God were prophecy when given to John and sure enough when it came down to this last era, anyone with eyes and ears that are open can see it.