Thursday, June 30, 2011

COGWA Proposed Governance

The Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA), has produced documents describing their proposed permanent governance structure.

Should non-COGWA members of the Church of God be concerned about things happening in COGWA? Or is it none of our business what they do within their own fellowship?

"For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many....But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually" (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

What happens in COGWA, or any other fellowship in the Church of God, should be of concern to all members of the whole Church of God, everyone who by reason of conversion through the receiving and indwelling of the Holy Spirit are members of God's true Church and the body of Christ.

Is what happens in COGWA really no business of non-COGWA Church of God members, whether members of other fellowships or scattered members not able to attend any fellowship at this time?

Should outsiders refrain from judging the decisions made by COGWA leaders, members, and ministers based on the principle that God will give wisdom and guidance to those who have the responsibility for making the decisions more than to outsiders who do not make those decisions? That is actually a good principle to keep in mind. We should be cautious about focusing on and judging the actions of others when we have no responsibility for making such judgments.

Yet outsiders have a stake in what is happening in COGWA. COGWA governance decisions potentially affect many Church of God members outside of that particular fellowship. For one thing, some of us have to make judgments about whether we can join or attend COGWA. Not everyone in the Church is in a satisfactory situation regarding attendance or membership with a COG fellowship. Some are looking for an organization to fellowship with and support. Some scattered members are at home on the Sabbath. Some need to make decisions about where to send tithes and offerings. Some attending other fellowships find that those fellowships are not serving their spiritual needs or are not faithful in their doctrines and practices, and those members may be looking for a better place to attend.

If a Church of God member needs a place to attend and support, if there is a COGWA congregation in his city, should he not be concerned about the state of COGWA? Does he not have a responsibility to judge those things he must judge to make a decision God has given him the responsibility for making?

We also have a mandate from God to love our brethren, and sometimes love requires correction and warnings about consequences of decisions, decisions that others make that could harm themselves. "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter" (Proverbs 24:11).

The Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA), has made available to its ministers and members through its website three documents describing the proposed permanent governance structure of that organization. The three documents are, the Proposal for Governance, a Constitution, and Bylaws. There is a statement in the Proposal for Governance that states that the Constitution and the Bylaws should not be electronically transmitted to people outside of COGWA because they are legal documents internal to COGWA and not intended for the general public, so I will not comment on the details of those two documents. I find no restriction concerning the Proposal for Governance itself.

The governance documents were distributed to the entire COGWA ministry (unpaid elders as well as salaried ministers) to consider and vote on. They will be voting online and can vote between Monday, June 20 and Tuesday, July 12. The vote will decide whether or not to approve the proposed Governance Plan, the Constitution, and the Bylaws and also to decide between two alternative methods for choosing members of the Ministerial Board of Directors (MBOD).

The Long-Term Governance Committee, comprised of 18 men, did the initial work in producing the proposal for governance. In the proposal is a brief history of the steps that were taken in producing the three documents, which I will not cover here, and the Constitution and Bylaws were finally reviewed by Jim Franks, Ken Giese, Mike Hanisko, Doug Horchak, Clyde Kilough, David Register, Larry Salyer, Greg Sargent, Richard Thompson, and Leon Walker.

There will be a Ministerial Board of Directors consisting of seven men. They will select a president by a vote of 5 out of the 7 men on the board. The president will serve a 7 year term and can be reelected without any limit on the number of terms he can serve. The president will supervise the employees of COGWA and the ministry and serve as a spiritual leader of the Church. The members of the board will serve 8 year terms. Their terms will be staggered so that every four years there will be an election to elect 3 or 4 members of the board. The president may not also be on the board.

There will also be a Doctrine Committee composed of five men which will review doctrinal papers. It can propose changes to doctrine, but doctrinal changes must be approved by 75% of all elders who cast ballots. There will be a Moral and Ethics Assessment Committee (MEAC), also five men, which will handle charges of wrong doing. For both committees, members will be selected by being nominated by the president and approved by the board by at least 5 votes.

There is a distinction made between all elders and "career elders" or "career ministers". All ordained men credentialed as elders in COGWA are elders. Career elders are ministers currently employed by COGWA and who have been employed by COGWA or who have past employment experience in the Church for five years. This would include employment in Worldwide, United Church of God, or any organization that COGWA recognizes for this purpose. The distinction is important because some things can be voted on by all elders and some only by career ministers.

There are two alternative proposals for selecting board members, and COGWA elders will be voting on which of these two methods will be used as well as voting to approve the overall governance plan. In option one, career elders will vote to nominate candidates for the board. Each career elder may vote to submit seven names. To be nominated, an elder must receive 10% of the votes cast, and the top 14 names will be nominated. Then all credentialed elders may vote to select the 7 out of the 14 who will become board members. In option two, the nomination is the same except all credentialed elders can vote. But then, names will be drawn to randomly select 7 men out of the 14.

To produce staggered terms so that there will be an election every four years for about half of the board members, once the seven men are selected in this first selection, there will be a drawing to select 3 of those men to serve four-year terms and 4 to serve 8 year terms.

So basically, the governance will be similar to that of UCG, but with some differences. The main differences are that there will be longer terms, fewer elections, a smaller board, and more authority for the president and less for the board.

There are many more details in the proposal - I am just covering some main points.

This may reduce the politicking, and this governance structure may work better than UCG's governance structure has worked, but it is still government by men from the bottom up, in my opinion. This seems to be a proposal to make democracy work better.

When UCG started, ministers had little or no experience with voting and democracy. That first effort failed to preserve unity and may yet fail to preserve doctrinal integrity in UCG (time will tell). COGWA ministers seem to have learned some lessons from that and made improvements in the ballot-box structure they are using. It should work better. But I still feel the big lesson has not yet been learned. That will take more time and experience probably.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

When and How to Judge, 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

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pentecost Should Remind Us to Be Thankful

Do you know God's truth? Do you know His plan for salvation?

How many people do?

If you add up the members of all of the Churches of God, plus some scattered members who are not able to attend any fellowship right now, you might come up with an estimate of around 60,000 people who understand God's truth. There are more than six billion people alive on earth. That means each of us is one out of about 100,000 people on earth who understands the purpose of life, why God made us, what God's plan of salvation is, how we fit into that plan, and how we should be living.

God is not trying to save all mankind right now. Satan is the ruler of this world, and God allows Satan to deceive the whole human race about the most important issues of life (Revelation 12:9). Only the few God calls and draws can come to Christ (John 6:44). The world as a whole CANNOT know the truth at this time. Their chance will come later.

But God is calling a few. That is a lesson of Pentecost. Jesus Christ preached to thousands, but only about 120 disciples were there when the Holy Spirit was given to the Church on the day of Pentecost after Christ's death and resurrection (Acts 1:15, 2:1-5). Those called in this age will be blessed to sit with Christ on His throne during the millennium to help Him rule the earth and bring peace, justice, truth, happiness, and salvation to all mankind (Revelation 3:21, 20:4).

We in the Church are the first fruits, the smaller early harvest as pictured in the Old Testament Feast of Weeks, the day known as Pentecost in the New Testament (Revelation 14:1-5, James 1:18, Romans 8:23).

Only one out of every 100,000 people.

Is that something to be thankful for?

We in the Church have an awesome opportunity. This is something to keep in mind in our trials. We should be inspired to be thankful for the blessing of knowing God's truth.

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Pentecost - the Gift of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 2

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pentecost is Unique

Pentecost is unique among the holy days God's Church observes because it is also recognized and observed by traditional mainstream Christian churches. They do not understand the full meaning of the day, but they recognize it as a day to be kept by the church. They usually do not do much special on that day, but it is a Sunday, so for those who rest and assemble for services on Sunday it would also be a day of rest and assembly. Probably the main thing that would make this Sunday different for most Sunday church-goers is that they would hear some kind of sermon about the meaning of the day. That meaning would no doubt focus on the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, but they would not understand the meaning of first fruits.

Pentecost therefore is a point of commonality between the Church of God and traditional mainstream churches.

The full meaning of Pentecost, if mainstream churches understood and taught it, would open up many important points of truth that most churches do not have. It would answer some questions that have plagued the churches - questions they cannot adequately answer, such as why are so few saved in this age, and what is the fate of the billions who never heard the name of Christ because of circumstances of birth over which they never had any control.

The truth that the Church is only the first fruits, as shown by the association of the Church being started and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost with the early spring harvest in the Old Testament, directly leads to an answer to the question, what happens to those who never had the opportunity to hear the gospel in this life. That question must bother many in traditional, mainstream Christianity, especially those who have loved ones who have died without ever becoming Christian. The full meaning of Pentecost provides that answer.

On the Church of God front, things are relatively quiet right now. That is probably good after the turmoil so many have gone through. There is not a lot of news concerning UCG, COGWA, or the other COGs, not in comparison with the nine-month period July 2010 through March 2011. It is good, especially during season of the spring and summer holy days, for members to be able to focus most of their spiritual energy on drawing closer to God and learning the lessons that God wants us to learn through the holy days.

There are issues and events that can come up in the future, maybe sometime after Pentecost. I watch for three possible developments.

COGWA has not yet come up with a permanent form of organization and governance. At some point, that will be decided and announced. They may publish a document on what the Bible says about government in the Church, as UCG did. UCG published their document long after they had already set up their governance. COGWA may publish such a document at the same time that they propose their permanent form of governance. It would make sense that a Bible study on the topic be done BEFORE making the decisions on governance, not afterwards. The decision on governance could be announced when the Bible study on government is published, with the understanding that the decision was based on the conclusions of the study.

Another issue concerning COGWA is the employment of ministers who were employed by UCG before leaving UCG to go to COGWA. There may be several ministers who were paid full-time salaries in UCG but who have not been hired by COGWA but are serving in COGWA as ministers. They are not being paid because funds are not yet available. If that is the case, this may become an issue. Ministers who work full time in the ministry should be paid for their work in the ministry. "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14). If a minister previously paid in UCG is serving full time but unpaid in COGWA, that minister may have financial needs not being met. In that case, in may be that some members who are aware of that need will offer that minister part of their tithes and offerings. It would remain to be seen how COGWA leadership reacts to that, because tithes and offerings paid to ministers directly from members, not through COGWA, would reduce the tithes and offerings coming into COGWA as an organization.

If COGWA tries to prevent the direct contributions of members to their ministers who are in need, then there could be ministers who feel forced to leave COGWA to organize independently.

Finally, it remains to be seen where UCG goes from here. There has been widespread speculation during the split that the leaders in control of UCG want to liberalize doctrine. Up until now, they have not had the power to do this. Now they have the power. If these speculations are true, I expect doctrinal changes and liberalization to occur, but slowly, gradually. But with a year or two at the most, changes would be evident, IF the leaders really want to change doctrine. If doctrine remains the same for the next couple of years, then I think the leaders never really did want to change doctrine in the first place.

I am working on a series of posts on the subject of governance in the Church, which I plan to start to publish in the near future.

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

Pentecost - the Gift of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 2