Sunday, January 9, 2011

Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA)

Many X-UCG ministers are meeting in Louisville, KY today through Tuesday to organize a permanent Church of God fellowship for most ministers leaving UCG. That Church has already been organized, temporarily, as Church of God, a Worldwide Association. Here is a link to their website:

The stated purpose of the conference is to approve a short-term temporary administrative and governance structure and to lay the foundation for a process that will be used to build a permanent administrative and governance structure over the next several months.

How will this new organization be governed? I have no doubt it will be governed via the ballot-box, just as UCG has been. This is Indianapolis 1995 all over again, organized and run by many of the same ministers who helped organize UCG. But the details will change. They will seek to learn from mistakes and to learn from 15 years of experience in governance by voting, experience they did not have in 1995. They will try to make changes in the details of the rules to prevent politics from dividing the Church as it has done with UCG in the last six months (or several years, depending on how you figure it). But they have not yet learned from their big mistake, using voting to select leaders at all.

The reason I think they will set up governance by ballot box is that there is no one leader who has the standing to take charge and lead without confirmation by voting. None of the main leaders of those leaving UCG, not Leon Walker, not Clyde Kilough, not Larry Salyer, not Jim Franks, not anyone you can name has the authority to govern from the top down in the eyes of the other ministers. So they will have to use voting to select a board, or a council, or a leader.

There are two ways those leaving UCG could organize. One is to organize as a loose, cooperative association of small independent groups. The association would have no authority over the pastors and small groups but would provide a forum for mutual cooperation. How would the small groups be governed if the association has no authority over them? It would be up to the pastors individually to decide how they would organize their local fellowships. Some might organize with local voting, letting themselves be elected by local elders or even by the membership. Others might govern from the top down, reporting to Christ or reporting to another pastor who reports to Christ. Over time, God could bless the one He has chosen and will make known who that is by the fruits, and others could join him. So you could start out with small groups ruled from the top down, no voting, and over time those groups could combine under the leader who is bearing the fruits of God's blessing.

The other way is to organize as a large fellowship from the beginning that will include most of the ministers leaving UCG. In that case, governance would have to be by ballot box as in UCG.

There may have been an attempt by some to organize the first way. That may be what COGA was intended to be. But now, the ministers are trying to organize one large group, not many smaller groups. Why? It may be that they quickly saw that members would not readily support small groups, but are more likely to support a large group. So this decision may be driven by the desire to have as many members as possible.

The COGA route may not have been working to attract members. UCG members are not willing, many of them, to leave a large well-established UCG to go to a small, ineffective group that is loosely associated with a collection of other small groups.

So the January 9-11 meetings are for the purpose of organizing a large, stable, strong COG that members coming out of UCG can take seriously. But to do that they will have to use ballot-box governance again. For them, organizing out of a meeting this way, there is no other option. There just isn't time to wait for fruits to show whom God has chosen to lead all the other ministers, and there is no one with the stature and prestige to lead from the beginning.

But there will be differences in details. As I speculated in my last post, one difference may be the term of office of a board member. It may be that voting decisions by the general ministry to vote a man into office as a board member will be permanent, and that board members will be elected "for life" and not have to face being removed from office in a future election. But while this may help to solve the one problem of the potential for a board to drive ministers out of the organization to avoid being voted out of office by those ministers, it will not solve the main problem with ballot-box governance.

The examples in God's word teach that He shows whom he has chosen for office in the Church of God by appointment, by fruits, or by both, but not by the voting of men. You either follow those chosen by men or those chosen by God. The leaders of UCG are those who are chosen by men. The leaders of COGWA, if they organize under ballot-box governance, will be those chosen by men.

The problem with letting men chose the leaders, by voting, is that those men who vote are not best qualified to know who should lead. They do not know the hearts of men. God must choose, not man.

The leaders of UCG who have caused this division were the very leaders chosen by the voting of men, showing that the collective ministry does NOT have the wisdom to know who to vote for.

Voting to select leaders has been likened to the principle of getting counsel and advice (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). But there is a difference. Counsel and advice does not carry authority. A leader can consider the advice, but it is still his decision whether to follow it or not, and sometimes the advice and counsel of the majority can be bad. Look at the examples of David, when he rejected the advice of the man who told him to slay Saul (1 Samuel 26:7-12), or when he rejected the advice of his men when they advised him not to rescue some of the people of Israel from the Philistines (1 Samuel 23:1-5). David was right to reject that advice and follow God. David had a faithfulness and a spiritual discernment that his advisors did not have, which is why God chose him (1 Samuel 16:1, Acts 13:22). Men observe what they see, and even Samuel, a righteous man of God (Jeremiah 15:1) and a prophet of God (1 Samuel 3:19-20) would have chosen someone other than David (1 Samuel 16:4-7). If Samuel was not qualified to choose the leader, how can 150 or 500 voting ministers be qualified to choose a leader? God must choose the leader, and He does not do that by the voting of men.

I have no objection to voting or polling to get opinions before a leader makes a decision. What I object to is giving the majority the power to force its will on the minority as happens when you give authority to a process of voting.

So we are likely to have two groups now, the original UCG made smaller and the new COGWA. If John Carmack's estimate is correct that 60% of the paid ministry has left UCG (see my last post), then UCG will save about half or more of the money they have been spending on minister's salaries. Add to that the savings of not supporting the poor Latin American congregations, and UCG may be able to do very well financially even on diminished tithe income. While 60% of the paid ministers are leaving, much less than 60% of the UCG members are leaving, at least in the beginning. However, more members may leave when they realize they will be pastored by less-experienced men who have been unpaid, part-time, local elders.

COGWA will have most of the paid ministers leaving UCG, but proportionally fewer members to support them. I think they can get by if they are frugal, but will not have much extra income for preaching the gospel to the world.

I think over time, COGWA will grow in membership while UCG will shrink somewhat. The experienced, full-time paid ministry in COGWA will simply be able to better serve the needs of the members, and members will see that. But COGWA will not have the income to do much of a work of preaching the gospel to the world.

Then, after the dust settles, we will see something that we have often seen in COG organizations. The leaders of each organization will boast about how much unity they have. That is, the leaders of UCG will then tell the brethren that there is wonderful unity now in United Church of God, and the leaders of COGWA will tell their members that they are now blessed with wonderful unity and peace in COGWA.

I wrote about this in my book, Preaching the Gospel. Here is a quote from the section titled "Church Government" in chapter 7:

"Is God's Church divided? Yes, it is. That is a fact. God's Church is divided into many pieces. And all the time that the division and a competitive, hostile, unloving attitude exists between the pieces, many pieces boast how much unity that particular piece has with itself! A small piece of a divided Church will say, 'What wonderful unity and harmony we had at our last ministerial conference'. That piece has 'unity', that is, until that piece divides into still smaller pieces. Then each of the smaller pieces can also boast that it has such wonderful unity within itself.

"But is there unity between the pieces? Is there unity of the whole? Not now. Not with most of the pieces. Not until different groups and organizations begin to show at least a minimum of respect and esteem for one another.

"I think we need to understand that unity within a Church of God organization is not real unity if that organization is hostile to other Church of God organizations that teach and practice the same doctrines from the Bible. Unity within one piece is not unity in the Church. Some ministers want members to identify with the 'piece' they are in, but that is wrong. Our identity is with God and with Christ and with the WHOLE body of Christ, every man or woman who has the Spirit of God. Obviously some members and ministers have fallen under the influence of serious doctrinal errors, but if a person has the Holy Spirit, that person is still a member of the Church that we should identify with, and we should help them correct their errors. Competitiveness is not going to correct anything. Some speakers like to use props. I can imagine a speaker bringing his own piece of pottery to the podium, showing the audience how beautiful and unified it is, then smashing the pottery next to the podium and holding up one of the larger pieces and saying, 'See what unity this one piece has with itself. There are absolutely no cracks or divisions in this one piece. What a perfect example to show that God's one true Church is not divided.' "

See links below for the source of this quote.

What I wrote above came true in United Church of God. They used to boast of unity, and they have put the world "united" in their name. And now they have just split. And the "unity" that will seem to exist from now on in UCG will not last. It cannot last. The same process of voting that has contributed to this split will work its magic to create disunity over time in what is left of UCG. The Council may seem unified now, but over time, maybe another 15 years, new divisions will develop, even among those who are on the same side now. It is built-in to the system.

And the same disunity will develop in COGWA if they organize under ballot-box governance.

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

Friday, January 7, 2011

Why Sabbath Ruling Now?

United Church of God Council of Elders has issued a statement that Church members are not to operate a business, including a day-care business, on the Sabbath. This ruling came about because of a controversy over a Church family in Chile who operated a day-care center that was open certain days of the year on part of the Sabbath. This controversy became a contributing cause of the split in UCG. A link to that statement in an "Inside United: Realtime" blog post is below:

The ruling is consistent with past teachings of UCG, and in my opinion, it is the correct ruling.

But of course, it raises a question, why now? Before this ruling, UCG had published a document that implied that it was permissible for this particular family to let their business stay open on part of the Sabbath on certain days of the year. That document became a cause (not the only or principle cause) of division that has mushroomed and led to a large number of resignations and removals from the UCG ministry. Had this ruling been issued earlier, it might have helped calm things down.

Only members of the Council and administration of UCG can answer why this ruling was made at this time and not earlier. I can think of two possible reasons. One might be that the loss of ministers, members, and income has been greater than the Council desired and they want to stop the loss, and to do that they need to refute charges that they are going liberal on the Sabbath doctrine. But the other explanation is that they WANTED the division all along. That is, the original Sabbath paper that fed the division in the Church was INTENDED to sow division. By publishing that paper, which made it appear that the Church was watering down the Sabbath doctrine, they put questions in the minds of both ministers and members on this issue. This led to members questioning their ministers about that document, and ministers were forced to take a stand. Many of them were critical of that paper and gave the Council and administration the excuse to remove them on grounds of rebellion against or criticism of headquarters, or to pressure them into resigning.

Why would the Council and administration want UCG ministers to resign?

Next May 15-16 will be elections by the General Conference of Elders. The ministers who have resigned or been removed are the same ones that likely would have voted against Council members and their proposals. So the whole Sabbath controversy could simply have been engineered, or magnified, to manipulate voting results. It helped to force opposition votes out of the GCE, guaranteeing that the Council and its supporters can retain control through the next election. If so, this is a case where the mechanics of the STRUCTURE of governance, which UCG has long maintained "doesn't matter", has directly contributed to the division of the Church.

In other words, the Council could have engineered this whole division of the Church to manipulate the next ballot to their favor. They may not care if UCG is smaller as long as they can retain power.

In a December 23 letter addressed to members and ministers in UCG published in the "Inside United: Realtime" blog, Mr. Melvin Rhodes and Mr. Dennis Luker state that they think the crisis in UCG is nearing its end. This seems to be a kind of victory statement, after about 140 opposition ministers have resigned or been removed. Link below:

Then, in a later post from UCG, they issued their ruling on the Sabbath. Link below:

It is as if they said, ok, we have pushed the ministers out we wanted to get rid of, and now we are satisfied, so we will go back to the old Sabbath ruling and you ministers who are still with us are welcome to stay.

In fairness, even if the above interpretation is accurate, that does not mean that the Council members are doing this for selfish, personal reasons. It could be that they believe this is best for the Church in the long run. They may feel that the ministers who are leaving UCG would have been a divisive influence if they had stayed. Or they may feel that the agenda they want to advance in the Church of God is the best for the membership and that the "old guard" ministers would have been a drag on the advancement of that agenda. Each individual member of the Council and administration knows his own reasons, and God knows the hearts of all men better than they know their own selves. But whether for personal selfish reasons or for "the long-term good of the Church", the Council may have simply wanted certain ministers out of UCG, and if so, they have accomplished their purpose.

I do not know the exact number of ministers UCG had before the split. Vote totals in past elections on the issue of the move to Dallas suggest around 510-520 voting ministers, maybe more ministers in total if several choose not to vote (because they know it is wrong). About 140 ministers (including local elders as well as pastors) have resigned or been removed from the UCG ministry. Bob Thiel in his COGwriter blog reported that UCG has lost 143+ ministers and elders, using UCG Current Crisis post as a source. I counted 141 names, but I might have missed a few. Links are below:
COGwriter post:
UCG Current Crisis post:

In any case, 140 ministers out of about 500-520 represents more than a quarter of the entire UCG ministry and probably far more than half of all voting elders who would have voted against Council members and Council agenda items in the next election of the GCE.

But the division may be more serious than that. John Carmack in the Church of God Perspective blog has published an estimate that about 60% of the ministry has left, and I think he means the PAID ministry, the full-time pastors. This means that the loss of ministers is far greater proportionally among full-time paid pastors than among the local elders. A loss of more than half of full-time pastors represents a serious blow to the ability of UCG to care for their members. Link to John Carmack's post below:

Besides customary accusations against those ministers who have left, much of the December 23 letter from Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Luker is an iteration of the advantages of staying in UCG and a reassurance to the members that despite the losses, UCG will be able to take care of them. But there are a few statements I want to comment on.

Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Luker state that they believe as much now as they believed 15 years ago that God led the formation of UCG in Indianapolis, and by this I think they are saying that God led the formation of UCG as an organization with ballot-box governance. I disagree. I think the fruits show that that ballot-box governance is not good, and while God through Jesus Christ allowed it He did not lead it. It was a mistake made by human beings, a mistake God allowed, and a mistake that Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Luker are still making and have not yet learned from.

Why do they think that because they made that decision that Christ led that decision? Does God allow mistakes to be made or not?

Later, they say they must be prepared to humbly learn from their mistakes, but I guess they are only referring to certain kinds of mistakes, not mistakes about governance. So far, they have not been prepared to learn from that mistake. They maintain as their founding belief and conviction that in a multitude of counselors there is safety. But there is not safety in a multitude of counselors when you get rid of counselors who disagree with you and use fear tactics to silence those who remain, which appears to have been the case. They state that their system of governance (by ballot box) gives them the tools to do God's will. Again I disagree. Their system of governance is a hindrance, not a help, to doing God's will. Ballot-box governance promotes division. It hinders the preaching of the gospel to the world because I think God will not bless a group that preaches one thing to the public (the removal of this world's democracies by the top-down government of Christ when He returns) but practices another thing (democracy) in its own organization.

Finally, they state that the General Conference of Elders (the whole ministry) remains in place to promote stability in the Church. I will let you think about that one.

In other news, Joel Meeker has written a letter to Mr. Rhodes explaining why he is declining to accept a seat on the Council of Elders. A link to UCG Current Crisis post that gives a link to Mr. Meeker's letter is below:

In this letter, Mr. Meeker states that he signed a Council Code of Ethics document in 1998 in which he agrees to uphold the consensus of the Council when he is a member. He cannot now uphold such consensus with a clear conscience when the Council violates the letter and spirit of the UCG governing documents. I think this shows the danger of signing agreements to support the decisions of men. We made a commitment at baptism to obey God - that should be sufficient.

Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA) has been organized, and appears to be a large group being formed. Here is a link to its website:

In the home page for the site is a link for a Sabbath services webcast January 8 at 2:30 pm Eastern time, so members across the country can listen in.

There is also a good FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page that explains that it replaces Church of God - America, which was a temporary organization. Link:

The temporary board of directors of COGWA is made up of Michael Hanisko, Ken Giese, Greg Sargent, Roger West, and George Evans. The temporary leadership team includes Jim Franks, Doug Horchak, Clyde Kilough, David Register, and Richard Thompson.

COGWA is hosting a conference in Louisville, KY January 9 through 11 (next Sunday through Tuesday) to make more permanent arrangements. UCG Current Crisis blog published an announcement from COGWA, link here:

COGwriter has reported that the recent holy days offerings in UCG were down from 3.7% to 8%, depending on the particular day, while attendance was down 1.7% to 3.3%. This information comes from the December 2010 issue of United News. These holy day figures are actually better than I expected. Of course, both income and membership must be down much more than that now. But if John Carmack's figure of 60% of the paid ministry leaving UCG is correct, the present UCG may be saving so much money on salaries that it can afford a large drop in income. Link to COGwriter post:

UCG has published a link to a video that tries to answer questions and there is a transcript of the video. Link here:

John Carmack has a post with a link to a map that shows the location of those ministers who have left UCG. Link to the Church of God Perspective post:

UCG Current Crisis has published a post with a link to a pdf document from COGWA giving the timeline of their recent efforts to organize. This is to refute charges from UCG (see December 23 letter) that ministers have behaved in an unethical fashion in organizing a different Church group while in the employment of UCG. The authors of this document are: Jim Franks, Doug Horchak, David Johnson, Clyde Kilough, Richard Pinelli, David Register, Richard Thompson, and Lyle Welty. Link:

UCG has invited UCG ministers to a conference January 31 and February 1 (Monday and Tuesday) in Eastgate, Ohio. Link:

Apparently UCG congregations in South Africa are separating from UCG. UCG Current Crisis blog published a post in which is a letter from several South African pastors to Mr. Rhodes in reply to a letter from Mr. Rhodes in which he says that he and Victor Kubik will be visiting South Africa over the next two weekends. In this letter, the South African ministers say, in effect, that because UCG has cut off the subsidy for their congregations, removed their names from the UCG website, and not answered their inquiries, that Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Kubik are free to try to contact UCG members and arrange to meet with them at some location they may arrange, but they will not be welcome at the regular meeting places for the South African congregations. Link to that post:

Most of the organizational efforts of those leaving UCG have been temporary. The upcoming conference in Louisville will be an attempt to create large, permanent organization for those leaving UCG. How the governance will be organized is unknown, but I feel sure it will be another version of ballot-box governance. There is no leader who has the standing in the eyes of the members and other leaders to take charge without balloting. No doubt there will be changes though. There will be an effort to learn lessons from the split of UCG by tweaking the rules. My guess is that there will be a governing Council elected by the ministry, but that the seats will be permanent. That is, once elected, you're on the board for life. That would eliminate what may have been a cause for division in UCG, that is, the Council dividing the Church to push ministers out whom they fear would vote them out of office if they have the chance.

But that will not permanently solve the problem.

Not all ministers who are leaving UCG will want to be part of this new group. Probably most of those who have resigned or been removed will want to be. They have burned their bridges behind them. But there will be a few that cannot accept the new arrangement, and they will have to be independent or gather in smaller groupings. Those smaller groups may have top-down government or ballot-box governance. But the large group, Church of God, a Worldwide Association, will probably be governed by the ballot-box.

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