The ruling Council of Elders (COE) of United Church of God an International Association (UCG) has requested and received the resignation of the president of the UCG, Clyde Kilough. He has been replaced as president by the chairman of the COE, Roy Holladay, who will serve as interim president until a new president is appointed by the Council. Several other men holding administrative positions have also resigned, including Jim Franks and Larry Salyer, who are replaced on an interim basis by Victor Kubik and Peter Eddington respectively. Letters from Mr. Holladay explaining these changes can be found at the UCG members site. Portions of letters may also be found at Robert Thiel's COGwriter blog.
This is not unexpected. There has been a power shift going on in UCG between two opposing camps. As those familiar with UCG governance and politics know, the 12-man Council of Elders is elected by the vote of the General Conference of Elders (GCE), which is the collective body of about 500 ordained ministers in UCG. In recent elections, the GCE has replaced those who have held power and influence on the Council of Elders for a long time with new council members who have different priorities and perspectives than the men they replaced. The 500 man General Conference of Elders has been approximately evenly divided in their support for the two camps with a thin majority for the new men who have taken control.
It is not hard to find out, from various blogs and communications, which leaders are aligned with which camps. The divisions seem fairly sharp, and it seems there have been feelings of bitterness and hostility, which prompted a letter December 28 from the Council to the general ministry pleading for a spirit of unity, and warning of the danger of a spirit of division within the UCG ministry.
What is harder to determine are the exact issues that divide the two camps. Those issues have never been openly acknowledged to the membership and the the Church of God as a whole.
One issue was the proposed move of headquarters to Dallas. First the decision was made to move to Dallas, and then, after money was spent preparing for that move, the decision was reversed.
But I find it hard to believe that was the only, or even the primary, issue.
Is it the priority given and money spent on preaching the gospel to the public? Is it a matter of how tightly local congregations and pastors are controlled from headquarters? Is it cooperation with other Church of God fellowships? Is it possible doctrinal change, such as a change in the doctrine that the United States and other western nations are descended from the lost ten tribes of Israel, or some other doctrine? No one I found is open and clear about exactly what issues divide the two camps. This is not just a matter of personalities.
But while the issues that are the focus of the current divisions are not clear, the REASON for the spirit of division that exists is clear. And it goes back to the start of UCG as a church in 1995.
Herbert W. Armstrong began to fellowship with the Church of God Seventh Day around the time of his conversion in 1927. While still a lay member, he wrote up papers proposing changes to doctrine based on his independent research in the Bible, and sent those papers to the COG7D leadership, including a paper on the identity of Israel. The leadership of that church never accepted the new doctrines Mr. Armstrong discovered in the Bible. Eventually, Mr. Armstrong and the COG7D parted company, and around early 1934 Mr. Armstrong started a work that led to the formation of the Worldwide Church of God, which he led till his death in 1986.
Mr. Armstrong taught God's government in the Church from the top-down, what some would call "one-man rule". Mr. Armstrong did not report to a ruling board of men or any body of men who vote, or "ballot", to select a leader. Mr. Armstrong understood, from the Bible, that democracy, the selection of the leadership by those under the authority of the leadership, is not God's way. He understood that he personally was responsible to and under the authority of Jesus Christ, not any group of men. This was an important doctrine to Mr. Armstrong.
So when he was ill and knew his death was near, he did not leave the selection of a replacement to a voting board of men, but in the name of and by the authority of Jesus Christ appointed Joseph Tkach to succeed him as Pastor General of the Church.
During the decade that followed, Mr. Tkach changed most of the important doctrines of Worldwide. Those who remained faithful to the doctrines taught from the Bible by Mr. Armstrong left Worldwide at various times and formed a multitude of fellowships, with almost all, except one, following Mr. Armstrong's judgment that right Church governance is from the top down.
United Church of God was organized by a number of leading ministers, including David Hulme and Roy Holladay, in the spring of 1995.
Here is what Mr. Holladay wrote in his April 13 letter explaining the recent changes: "As collectively established in the beginning of our fellowship 15 years ago, the Council of Elders is directly and solely responsible for oversight and setting direction and policy for the Church. This is quite a different structure from the one we experienced in our former church affiliation where only one or two people at the top made all of the important decisions. We learned through painful experience where that led. The United Church of God, we collectively decided, would be different. We adopted as one of our primary governing principles Proverbs:24:6: 'In a multitude of counselors there is safety.'
"To put in perspective the now-past situation, allow me to review a few more points of important history. Fifteen years ago we collectively chose a very different structure of governance on the physical level, emphasizing and recognizing of course that the living Head of the spiritual Church is Jesus Christ Himself. The highest authority in our physical organization is the General Conference of Elders, which is all of the nearly 500 elders of the United Church of God who choose to participate."
Mr. Holladay quotes Proverbs 24:6, but it is misapplied if it is used to justify placing authority in the hands of 500 voting ministers. Proverbs 24:6 has to do with the giving of advice, not a matter of authority. Mr. Armstrong used the principle properly when he would get advice from those under him before making a decision. But always the authority for the decision came from Christ through Mr. Armstrong, not through the men who advised Mr. Armstrong.
What was the "painful experience" Mr. Holladay referred to which led to their decision to overturn Mr. Armstrong's judgment that government in the Church must be from the top down and not by the voting of men? It was the division and scattering of the Church of God caused by the doctrinal changes made by Mr. Tkach. It was Mr. Tkach's authority over Worldwide, the authority of one man not restrained by any council or board that could vote him out of office, that gave him the power to make massive doctrinal change, change not supported by most of the ministry and members, in only ten years.
In order to avoid that kind of thing repeating itself, UCG ministry wanted a system of checks and balances so that no one man had the power to make doctrinal changes without the approval of most of the ministry. So they set up governance with the whole body of ministers having the authority to select, by voting (or "balloting"), a 12-man governing board. That board would then select a management team led by a president.
The idea was that the vesting of power in the hands of the whole ministry would prevent doctrinal heresy that could divide and scatter the church once again.
But there are several problems with that approach.
First of all, democracy will not prevent the introduction of unbiblical doctrine, it only slows it down. This can be seen in other church organizations that are governed by the voting of men. It may become apparent in UCG as time goes on.
Secondly, while making doctrine subject to the will of the entire ministry may make it harder for any man to introduce false doctrine, it also makes it harder for correction to doctrine and new knowledge to be taught from the Bible. The UCG ministry likes to look at what happened from 1986 to 1995, when the principle doctrines taught by Mr. Armstrong were overturned, but they do not look at how those doctrines came to be in the first place. Mr. Armstrong was able to discover those doctrines in the Bible and teach them to the Church precisely because he reported directly to Christ and not to a voting board. Had he stayed with Church of God Seventh Day, we would not have those doctrines (unless God used someone else). Had those doctrines been subject to the voting of men, we would not have them today.
Thirdly, as I point out in my December 19 and January 1 postings in this blog, democracy is a guarenteed recipe for division. You cannot separate the two. I said above that the reason for the spirit of division that exists in UCG is clear. It is a direct effect of rule by ballot. You will ALWAYS have division, eventually, if rule is by ballot.
For one thing, the whole issue of authority is confused. Who is in charge? Does the 12-man board govern the 500 ministers, or do the 500 ministers govern the 12-man board? If someone asked me, I would have said the 12-man board is the highest authority, but Mr. Holladay in his letter said, "The highest authority in our physical organization is the General Conference of Elders, which is all of the nearly 500 elders of the United Church of God who choose to participate." (By the way, the reason not all elders "choose to participate" is probably that some of them have a conscience problem with voting, knowing that it is wrong according to the Bible.)
The 12-man Council of Elders governs the 500 ministers, but the 500 ministers are the "highest authority" over the 12-man board. Does this sound like "self-government"? Do the members of the 12-man board report to Christ or to the 500 ministers who vote them into office? Is there a conflict of interest here?
When UCG started, some said it was governed by a "Spirit-led consensus". I suppose they meant that God led the 500 ministers to vote for the right members of the Council of Elders and to approve the right proposals that the ministry votes on. But if that is the case, why would God lead UCG to spend money on a move to Dallas, then cancel the move? And why is the GCE so evenly divided in their voting?
But as I point out in my previous blog postings about four months ago, there is another reason, the most important reason, why balloting MUST lead to division and will ALWAYS lead to division.
Proverbs:24:6 teaches us to get counsel from others before making a decision whenever possible. The 500 ministers who vote must be able to freely discuss their differences, not only differences among themselves, but differences between themselves and those holding elected office. They must be free to criticize, and WILL criticize, the men they elect. But this very criticism weakens those in authority and causes division.
It becomes a vicious cycle.
And the whole Church of God is watching this play out in UCG.
A fourth problem with UCG's governance is that they made the decision to overturn Mr. Armstrong's judgment based on human observation rather than God's Word.
As anyone knows who is familiar with my writings in my book, Preaching the Gospel, I do not say that Mr. Armstrong's teachings cannot be changed. Mr. Armstrong himself corrected his own doctrines when he saw by the Bible that they were wrong, and he would have us do the same, I am sure. But before changing a doctrine or judgment Mr. Armstrong taught based on the Bible, the Church should do a thorough Bible study on the subject and prove from the Bible whether that doctrine is right or wrong. And only after proving from the Bible that the doctrine or judgment is wrong or has no basis in the Bible should the doctrine be changed.
UCG has never done that with the doctrine of government from the top down. There is no record or authorization in the Bible that indicates that God rules through the voting of men. If you know of any, show it to me. Acts 1:15-26 is NOT an example of voting, as I point out in my book.
The decision on governance in 1995 was made based on human reason and observation, not the Bible.
It boils down to how to determine truth. That controversy has been going on since Lucifer disbelieved God and chose to experiment for himself with vanity to see if it brought him greater happiness. God must have warned Lucifer, and all the angels, of the dangers of sin, BEFORE Lucifer sinned. And if Lucifer committed the first sin, then there was no one to tempt him, so he didn't sin from personal weakness. I don't think Lucifer deliberately chose a path that would bring him long term misery. But he didn't believe God's warnings. He probably wanted to see for himself, to experiment, if thoughts of vanity and self-exaltation would make him happier.
So rather than trust God to tell the truth and to lead him in the way that produces happiness, Lucifer chose the method of experimentation, observation, and interpretation of results. After he sinned, he became Satan, the Devil.
He taught that same method to Adam and Eve. Eve SAW the fruit (Genesis 3:6). She observed that it was good for food and pleasant to the eyes, just as UCG leaders observed that Mr. Tkach used his one-man authority to make massive doctrinal changes. She interpreted what she saw, just as UCG leaders interpreted what they saw happen in Worldwide to mean that government should not be from the top down, but there should be a system of balloting to prevent any one man from becoming too powerful. And Eve disbelieved God, just as UCG leaders did not trust God's teaching about government in the Bible.
Solomon was another man who experimented. You can read of how he experimented, and observed, and interpreted, in the book of Ecclesiastes. See Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. But his experimenting did not bring him happiness, but frustration and depression, as you can read in the whole book of Ecclesiastes, and he also became unfaithful to God (1 Kings 11:1-13). Contrast this with the example of Abraham, who believed what God told him even when it was contrary to what he observed (Romans 4:3, James 2:23, Genesis 15:4-6).
Today, one of the greatest controversies in the United States is the evolution-vs-creation controversy. I have debated this issue in many blogs and forums, and those who are hard-core atheists and evolutionists will not accept any idea or knowledge that cannot be verified by the scientific method of experimentation, observation, and interpretation of results. For them, the scientific method is not just the best path to truth, but the ONLY path to truth.
But God's method for us to learn truth is to trust His wisdom and integrity enough to believe and obey what He says. As we believe and obey Him, he gives us more wisdom to understand His will and the Bible so we can believe and obey Him more.
The apostles Peter and Paul did not depend on the voting of men for their appointments. You will not find a single example in the Bible of God's authority flowing through the voting of men. Democracy is one of Satan's forms of government, and you can see the results of it in the division and steady weakening of the United States. And it should be obvious that there will be no balloting in the Kingdom of God.
Did God lead Mr. Armstrong to name Mr. Tkach, and if so, why? I answer those questions in chapter 5 of my book.
God Himself is performing an experiment for all mankind. This is not an experiment for God to learn what is true. It is a demonstration experiment, to teach mankind what God already knows is true. It is like experiments in high school chemistry labs, where the students perform a text-book experiment so they can see what happens, but the writers of the textbooks already know the results.
The seven thousand year plan of God is a demonstration to show mankind that man cannot govern himself, and that God's way works best. For six thousand years, mankind has been following the pattern set by Adam and Eve, and set by Satan before that, of learning by experimentation and observation, and then interpreting the results to decide for oneself what is best. But God's way is different. God reveals by His Word, APART from experimentation and observation, what is best, and He commands us to believe Him. Mankind is writing the lesson in death and suffering that the scientific method, when used as a substitute for God's revelation, does not bring long-term good.
I think the same thing is happening in UCG. When God scattered the Church of God for our Laodicean attitude, He allowed one major fellowship to practice governance by the voting of men. I think that just as He is allowing Satan to rule this world for 6,000 years to demonstrate that Satan's way does not work, so He is allowing one major fellowship to govern itself by the voting of men to demonstrate once and for all that democracy does not work, that it causes division, and that it does not prevent doctrinal error.
What is happening in UCG is a mirror-image of what is happening in the United States Congress. They are both the same system, and as our political divisions are weakening our country, so the political divisions in UCG are weakening the Church.
But we must be different if we are to learn the way of life we will practice in the Kingdom on God.
The issue of governance by ballot vs. government from the top down is not going to go away. Government was top down under Mr. Armstrong, and it is because of that top down government that UCG has most of the doctrines that it has. And since 1995, it has been trying to preserve those doctrines by abandoning the principle of government that made those doctrines possible and which is taught in the Bible. It won't work. There is an inconsistancy here, I think what someone in Worldwide once called "cognitive dissonance". You can ignore it, sweep it under the rug, pretend you can solve UCG's problems by appealing to the members and ministry for love and unity, but it won't work. When the foundation is cracked, you cannot solve the problems by patching the building. You have to start over organizationally, from the bottom up, no matter how painful that will be. It will be painful, because it involves admitting to a 15-year mistake, which most people are not willing to do.
I have no doubt that some in United Church of God will do this, and others will not. That is part of the testing process that God is putting the whole Church of God through since the death of Mr. Armstrong.
Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:
A Lesson from the Autobiography, Chapter 6
A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5
Finding the Solution, Chapter 5
Government in the Church, Chapter 5
Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6
Church Government, Chapter 7
The Inconsistencies of Saying We Can't Change Herbert W. Armstrong's Doctrine, Chapter 6
Faith, Chapter 6
Evolution versus the Creation Account in Genesis, Chapter 1
Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1
God's 7,000 Year Plan -- Are We in the Last Days?, Chapter 1
The Feast of Tabernacles - the Millennial Rule of Christ, Chapter 2
Sunday, April 18, 2010
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