Can We Achieve Unity Within The Sabbath-Keeping Churches of God?
What is the biggest attitude prevalent within the various Sabbath-keeping Churches of God that prevents unity, flies in the face of unity? It is having the attitude of “We’re the one true Church of God with direct descent to the Ephesus era of the churches of God under Paul, John, Polycarp and Policrates.” That is one of the major belief/attitudes that is holding all the major and minor Sabbath-keeping Churches of God denominations apart, keeping them from successfully unifying into one. And this, for one, is a very prideful attitude for a church, pastor or denomination to take. And even if or should there be one of those denominations that can successfully lay claim to that coveted, hallowed title, they from local pastor to denominational leader, had better never ever state that as their sincere belief to those members under them. If one such Sabbath-keeping Church of God ever hopes or desires to promote unity under its own banner, they had better be the last ones to ever make that statement. Instead they should take on an attitude of total humility, and promoting this attitude to their members, that we’re not to think of ourselves as being any better than the other groups, an attitude of giving honor and showing love in both word and deed toward the other Sabbath-keeping Churches of God and especially their members. Why? And this is important. Please consider this.
The Holy Spirit Indwelling Each One Of Us Unites Us Together
A second point about unity within the Body of Christ (Sabbath-keeping side that is), God’s DNA, the Holy Spirit, for the most part, is within most of the ordinary members of the various Sabbath-keeping Churches of God that broke off from the Worldwide Church of God (and may also richly dwell within many SDA members, who can say?). This makes us all one, brothers and sisters in Christ, because we all share the same indwelling Holy Spirit. So to make such a statement of direct descent shows great disrespect to all these others. Proverbs 18:24 states, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly…” I think the King James translators should have made the “that hath” to “that wants” that is, if you want friends, you have to show yourself friendly, not be verbally smacking them in the face. To take the high and mighty, lofty attitude ‘that we (i.e. insert your denomination’s name here) can claim direct descent to the early Church’ only promotes a condescending attitude toward all the other Sabbath-keeping Churches of God, our brothers in Christ via the Holy Spirit. They, just like us, whether we personally feel their leaders are “with it” or not, have the exact same Holy Spirit, God’s DNA, indwelling them. Take this as just an example, not that I’m pointing at anyone who may have made a statement like this (but simply because I attended one of Fred Coulter’s house-churches, so I know how his members would feel about hearing such a thing through the grapevine), but just say you as a member heard a pastor in your denomination go on a rant to you against house-churches. He, whether he realizes it or not, is directly attacking Fred Coulter’s Christian Biblical Church of God and all those who are attending his affiliated house-churches, all those Holy Spirit indwelt brothers and sisters in Christ of ours. This ought not to be done. We all have close ex-WCG friends or family members scattered throughout all the various Sabbath-keeping Churches of God (we have a family in the congregation I attend whose mother, brother and sister attend one of Fred’s CBCG house-churches, so this is real). Because of this, what is said in one church can easily make its way into another. But on the other hand, if our pastors in humility promote an attitude of love and respect for all the other Sabbath-keeping Churches of God (whether their leadership deserves it or not in our eyes or in reality), your denomination through its loving attitude will take on a very warm, friendly and welcoming attitude toward all the members of the other Sabbath-keeping Church of God denominations. If it is true unity we desire within the Body of Christ, we must be actively promoting it by directly eliminating the prideful “We’re the one and only true Church of God” attitude and replacing it with love and humility for all the others. We must actively purge this attitude from our midst. This is the first step toward restoring unity in the Body of Christ.
The Four Freedoms of the Believer
What Have We Learned From Our Past?
What is one of the major evils, sins most of the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God denominations have “inherited” from their parent church, the Worldwide Church of God? Ron Dart, a former evangelist in the Worldwide Church of God, sums it up quite well when he says “Christians may not have recognized their own motives, the WCG may not either…I don’t know how much of a role old habits played in HWA’s evangelistic efforts, but I do know he looked for differentiation, and he did so adversarially, as an adman naturally would. What he wanted were wedge issues: issues that could be used to drive a wedge between a person and his old church so the person could be attracted to the WCG. And he wanted exclusive use of the product. He didn’t want you coming to church with him this week and going somewhere else next week. The wedge issues are familiar: born again, heaven & hell…, Sabbath verses Sunday, pagan holidays, immortal soul, etc. But, in typical adman style, Mr. Armstrong advanced these with hyperbole and often took them too far in the attempt to differentiate. [i.e. to draw people from their churches and into the WCG.] Other products (read denominations or churches) were demonized to complete the sale. The long and the short [of this was], one of the by-products of this [evangelistic] approach was a church that was long on hostility and short on tolerance.” Ron Dart continues under the heading of “Christ Does Not Put One in the Church?” where he says, “One of the demons of differentiation is vanity. ‘We are better than you are.’ ‘We have the truth and you don’t.’ Arrogance is the bitter fruit of vanity. Another demon is exclusivism. Yet another is authoritarianism, necessary to keep us exclusive: “You can’t join the church; Christ has to put you into it”---which means we have to approve you, and we can blackball you. I don’t think we should be driven by the demons of differentiation. Rather, we should be drawn to Christ, where we will find our differences accepted or corrected as need be---and where we find ourselves together in ways unexpected and unanticipated. Some are finding it difficult to relate to other Sabbatarian groups because they lose some of their identity in the process…” (Dart R. Beware of the demons of differentiation. The Journal, January 31, 2003, p.10 emphasis mine throughout.) What Ron Dart describes here, these demons of exclusivism, authoritarianism, vanity and arrogance are exactly the opposite of God’s agape-love he’s told us to be growing in (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/Agape/Agape%20I.htm. If you want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, be sure to log onto and study that awesome series on what Agape is.)
The Four Freedoms of the Believer Stated:
The four basic freedoms of the believer are succinctly listed by Ron Dart here. I found myself, looking back into my WCG experience, quietly living by these freedoms, although I didn’t fully realize it. Did that make me a rebel, an independent, or did I just internally realize within my heart what my God-given rights were as a believer in Jesus Christ? Let’s take a good look at these four freedoms, as so well expressed again by Ron Dart: “…we believe a church should be committed to following four freedoms: 1) Freedom of Association. A church should not discriminate between members upon whether they associate with other persons, churches or groups, but rather should encourage a spirit of cooperation and communication. 2) Freedom of Giving. A church should not require members to give or tithe to the church either in whole or in part, although normal fund-raising is appropriate. Tithing and giving are acts of personal worship and must not be interfered with by anyone. [And I might add, if your church or denomination is acting as it should, really nurturing your members spiritually, and doing a superior job in evangelizing the world as Christ calls for, then your members will be properly motivated by that fact to give most or all of their tithes to the church and/or denomination they attend. In my mind, it’s not that God doesn’t command for us to give tithes and offerings, but he gives us the right to decide where and to whom to give them to. This is a God-given right. Ron Dart said it, so don’t stone me J] 3. Freedom of Conscience. A church should not discriminate between members based on their privately held beliefs [assuming those beliefs aren’t heretical, of course. Don’t be so open-minded your brains fall out]. They may, however, require certain practices as a condition of full membership or office (such as Sabbath and festival attendance.) [Boy, have I recently discovered what it feels like to come under that “discrimination.” Churches that do not grant this freedom of conscience tend to be toxic, abusive and unfriendly---and they do not grow.] 4. Freedom of Attendance. A church should not discriminate or sanction member attendance except in cases of egregious misconduct (1st Corinthians 5:1 ff.) disturbing services, or willfully causing division. For instance, a person will not be barred from church attendance because he or she is still struggling with the Sabbath…” [or I might add, Freedom #3, they will not be barred or ostracized or disfellowshipped for having differing privately held beliefs which are secondary in nature.] (Dart, Ronald, Why CEM?...4/12/03) [My comments in [ ] brackets throughout.]
Church congregations that live by and maintain these Four Freedoms of the Believer are usually pleasant and very friendly, a joy to attend, as the attitudes of being judgmental of others are left at the door. You might consider adopting them for your own church, or as an individual.
375 Differing Sabbath-keeping Churches of God Split Off The Worldwide Church of God, All Saying They’re “the One True Church”
“Show us how much we agree instead of how much we disagree.” That is a beautiful saying, but how do we apply it? Whether you’re a pastor or local member, stop using or putting up with politics at the pulpit that divides, stop slamming the other Sabbath-keeping Churches of God or looking down upon members that come from them, welcome cross-church fellowship instead of shunning it and visiting members from the other Sabbath-keeping Churches of God. Jesus wants unity within his Body of Believers, not disunity (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophets/Zephaniah/Zephaniah1.htm and scroll to Zephaniah 2:1-3 and read that section). The First Freedom of the Believer, Freedom of Association, means we’re not discouraging or banning people who associate with other Christian groups, Sabbath-keeping Churches of God. Sadly, it’s the ministers and Sabbath-keeping denominational leaders that have separated us, divided us, instead of uniting us, and it’s usually been over petty doctrinal differences in extremely secondary areas of Biblical interpretation. Applying what Ron Dart said to this bigger issue of disunity amongst the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God, the differing Church of God denominations made themselves “wedge issues,” using interpretations in minor doctrinal areas to separate themselves out from the others, promoting exclusivism, and enforcing it with authoritarianism. The motive, some of it’s been purely over power and politics, and “whose going to control the tithes.” This is disgusting in the eyes of Jesus Christ. All of the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God either say outright or imply that “they’re the One True Church” and that all others are either false, or inferior to one degree or another. This is where following the third freedom of the believer as an individual can contribute to unity, not allowing differences in secondary interpretational beliefs to separate you from the rest of the Body of Christ. If a denomination adopts and promotes this freedom, its members will automatically start to reach out in friendship to the members of all the other groups whenever the opportunity provides itself, contributing to the unity Christ desires. These freedoms are powerful, and they go directly against disunity. Beware of real heresy, but realize all differences in secondary beliefs are not heresy. Accepting real heretical teachings is akin to being so open-minded you let your brains fall out. But agreeing to disagree in areas of secondary belief is the key to allowing Freedom of Conscience, the third Freedom of the Believer. We, as individual believers, have to make a conscious decision to avoid and eliminate attitudes that divide. That is where unity begins, in the mind. And if your pastor doesn’t promote attitudes that unite the Body of Christ, and you see your church is a bit toxic in this area, find a Sabbath-keeping Church of God that is not as toxic, more accepting of these Four Freedoms of the Believer. Don’t be afraid to vote with your feet if you should realize you’re in a toxic church. I’m not promoting rebellion, far from it. But I am saying we must make a conscious effort to avoid these attitudes that Jesus Christ hates, attitudes that have made churches toxic, attitudes that have divided us. This short article is also a litmus test. How? Those churches or denominations that tend toward the toxic side will hate what’s being said here, and will fight against it with all their might. Those that are genuinely growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and his agape-love will start to accept these freedoms, and come to embrace them as time goes on. It’s a natural progression of growth toward spiritual maturity. Concerning the Second Freedom of the Believer, Freedom of Giving, we all agree that tithing and giving of offerings is a command of God, but to whom you tithe to, to which organization, is totally up to you, it is an act of worship. How does this work? You should feel comfortable in whom you tithe and give offerings to, you should feel good about giving to that Christian organization, and feel that by giving to it you are giving to God. You should never feel like you have to give to the church you attend, just because they demand it. That is the first sign that something is wrong. God says he loves a cheerful giver, and if someone is demanding that you tithe to them alone, exclusively, that kind of puts a crimp on cheerful giving. Again it’s a question about toxicity verses the freedom of choice which God has granted you as a believer. In the end, God will stop blessing the toxic churches, and bless the ones offering the most freedom of choice, within the guidelines of his Word, and this will also contribute to unity, as Jesus Christ de-funds the toxic churches. I don’t think Jesus is messing around here anymore. Time will tell.
Some Of Us Are Walking Down That Road Toward Unity
Just for the record, if you have not surmised it, I attend a couple local congregations in the United Church of God. As far as doctrinal understanding, I do not believe any one of the major Sabbath-keeping Churches of God is any more correct than any other, they’re all pretty much the same on major points of doctrine. The reason I attend United is because I sincerely believe they’re going through some sort of spiritual revival, and I find it refreshing. It’s a personal choice to attend. A friend of mine who attends Robin Webber’s San Diego congregation of the United Church of God made some comments about my article on the Four Freedoms of the Believer, a few of which I’ve excerpted here. Not every congregation in United has adhered to these Four Freedoms, some are more “hard-line,” adhering to older understandings coming from the old Worldwide Church of God, as in other Sabbath-keeping Churches of God. It’s just I find these four freedoms point us toward the road to unity for all of us, if we have the courage to travel down it. And it is a road that requires a certain attitude and adherence to these four principles. They do not altar our doctrinal understanding one single bit. Here are excerpted comments of my friend who attends Robin Webber’s San Diego UCG congregation, his comments about that article “The Four Freedoms of The Believer”: “One of the things that greatly annoyed Jesus, I think, was arrogance. ‘We are the only ones, and you’re not one of us, so you’re illegitimate.’ This is exactly the attitude that WCG had, and it persists today. Personally, I’m not going to limit who God can work with.” Another point he made was this, “HWA liked to say that ‘church’ means ‘called-out ones,’ when it really means ‘assembly.’ This caused 2 things: 1) the formation of a nation-wide, even world-wide “church”, which was never an assembly, but worse, it left the “church” to decide if you were really a “called-out one” and if a person could come to church. This is still practiced by some of the Sabbath-keeping Church of God denominations, and annoys me greatly. If they want to come [i.e. new people] and learn about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God, let ‘em in! What are we blocking the door for!? Jesus said do not forbid the little ones from coming to him.”… [about] “Freedom of association. Robin Webber told me when I first started coming to UCG, that I was always welcome, and if I didn’t come for awhile, I was still welcome. I regularly fellowship with my wife at LCG, and Webber encourages me to do so, calling me an ambassador for UCG. Others in our congregation attend elsewhere at times, and no one looks at them askance.” [About the Freedom of Giving he said,] “UCG does not monitor tithes or offerings. We are free in that regard, too. As to freedom of conscience, I use these standards: If they are sowing discord or causing division, it must be addressed. If they are affecting how you worship God or how you live your Christian life or how you lead your family (for example, the Tkachian apostasy), then it must be addressed. If they bring shame upon the congregation by their unrepentant behavior, it must be addressed. If they corrupt the congregation with their unrepentant behavior, it must be addressed. Otherwise, respect for difference in views must be the rule and it is in the San Diego UCG. Our Bible chat is a great way to study the Bible, but the real value is to learn to appreciate and respect each other’s different opinions, and to respect them as Christians honestly trying to serve God, as I am.” Those were the comments of a friend of mine who attends Robin Webber’s San Diego United Church of God congregation. This friend in the San Diego UCG also remarked that he would love to just read that paper verbatim that I sent to him about Ron Dart’s Four Freedoms (included in this article), but it would just bore the members, since they’ve been following them for years now, like preaching to the choir. What we need to do now is apply what Robin Webber has done in his congregations across the board, in all our congregations, it’s a near perfect model of where we need to go spiritually, to achieve spiritual maturity within our congregations.
Another Analogy About How We Are One
What follows is the way I view all of the various Sabbath-keeping Church of God denominations that sprang off of the Worldwide Church of God around 1995. Again, I detect a spiritual revival going on within the one I attend, so it’s my personal choice to attend that one. It does not mean it’s the best, or the “One And Only True Church of God.” We must be very careful to not say anything disrespectful against the leaders whom Jesus is using to guide and protect those within the other Sabbath-keeping Church of God denominations. For the most part, Jesus is keeping those children of his safe and sound through them. Personally, I like the analogy that says that all the differing Sabbath-keeping Church of God denominations are like the different ships in the United States Navy during WWII, some are sleek destroyers and cruisers, some are like old cargo ships. They’re all serving in the Navy of Jesus Christ. Unlike the US Navy, Jesus, regardless of what any pastor or church leader will tell you, allows you to transfer to any ship in his navy. Once transferred, naturally, you should serve that ship and it’s captain loyally. He also allows freedom to visit other ships in his Navy, just like we see within Robin Webber’s UCG congregation. Sadly there may be a few ships like the “SS Bucket” in that 1960s movie Mr. Roberts, whose captain would not allow Mr. Roberts to transfer to that ‘sleek, fast cruiser going into harms way.’ The crew took a real chance, and had a contest to see who could forge the skippers name the best, and they had the winner sign Mr. Roberts request for transfer with the skipper’s name. Under the principle of “freedom of association” it ought not to be like being aboard the SS Bucket. There are a few “ships” that are like that, sadly.
Ultimately, Jesus Christ desires real unity within his Body of Believers. Don’t believe me? Read this,
God wants us to be growing in his agape-love, and away from exclusivism and authoritarianism. See,
To see what Paul wrote in Hebrews about Tithing, that it still is a New Testament command, see http://www.unityinchrist.com/hebrews/Hebrews%207%201-28.htm (It’s an interesting expository study.)