by Norman Scott Edwards
As I pray and sit down to write about the future of the Port Austin Bible Campus, I cannot help but think about where Christianity has been, and where it needs to go. The ministry at Port Austin must fit into the greater part of what God is doing—not create just one more voice trumpeting itself above the others. There will be many important practical decisions that must be made at PABC within the next few months. I am taking a couple of pages here to lay down the essential scriptural background, and then explain the options open to us.
The Church Declines and Divides
The Church began on Pentecost, with miraculous power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Believers were so united in doctrine, in spirit, and in living a giving way that they could all live together and share everything (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37). God stopped false brethren from entering the church by striking Ananias and Sapphira dead when they tried to join by deceptive means (Acts 5:1-14). Satan tried to stop this powerful preaching of the truth by having his minions in the government jail the apostles, but God let them out of prison (Acts 5:17:25). Saul ignored the apostles and persecuted the rest of the church and it was scattered (Acts 8:1). Even with this persecution, they took the Gospel everywhere (Acts 8:4).
Paul’s later epistles, 2 Peter, 2 & 3 John and Jude show that as time went on, God did begin to allow false brethren to enter the congregations. By the third century AD, the simple truth taught by the apostles of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit had been replaced with church hierarchy, dogmas, liturgy, etc. Then Constantine merged the visible church organization and the secular state. Over the next few hundred years, the languages of the common people departed from the Latin, Greek and Hebrew—the only languages in which the Scriptures were available—and the deviation from truth was nearly complete.
For a thousand years, the majority of what called itself Christianity was far away from the First century church and the Scriptures. The common believer no longer had the Bible. Even in this vacuum of knowledge, God was still able to judge people by what they did with what they knew. Those who excused moral excess through indulgences, participated in the inquisition, oppressed the poor, went to war in the crusades, and many other evils all knew they were violating the Golden Rule (Lev 19:18, Matt 22:39). But there were also Christians who fed the poor, took care of the sick, and fought to make truth available to the people—a great example being John Wycliffe in the 1300s, who translated the scriptures from Latin to English at great risk of losing his job and his life.
With the Protestant reformation in the 1500s, Bible study greatly increased and there were new Bible translations from the original Hebrew and Greek into many common languages. The people realized that they did not need an ecclesiastical hierarchy or a state-sponsored church to serve God. But just realizing that the old ways were wrong was a lot easier than determining what ways were right. The Church became confronted with a new dilemma: doctrinal and denominational division—which it has not recovered from to this day.
One can understand the desire to replace old dogmas based on tradition with Bible-based doctrinal statements. But differences in Bible manuscripts and translations, along with differing, abilities backgrounds and assumptions of teachers, combined with human desire to think “I am more right than the next guy”, produced a great variety of new “truth”. Old habits die slowly. Just as the Catholic Church excommunicated and persecuted those “heretics” that disagreed with her, so many of the Protestants did the same thing to each other. Groups that learned a new truth wanted to declare their former groups “unbelievers” for not accepting that new truth—even though nearly all of their other doctrines were the same.
Affecting Us Today
Most people today who have learned the truth of the seventh day Biblical Sabbath are little different. While that truth is important, it is only one of many truths and commands in the Bible. If you believe a person must observe the Seventh Day Sabbath to be a Christian, look at your Christian bookshelf: How many Bibles were translated from the Greek and Hebrew by Sabbatarians? How many of your Bible helps were written by Sabbatarians? Why is it “unbelievers” go to great efforts to write these things and Sabbatarians do not? Does your interpretation of Bible prophecy originate entirely from Sabbatarians? If not, why did God inspire some “unbelievers” with prophetic truth from which the Sabbatarians borrowed? How many of the songs that you sing to praise God were written by Sabbatarians? Can we praise God by singing songs written by “unbelievers”?
It should be obvious that Sabbatarians still rely heavily on the work of other Christians. Some may say, “Christ taught us to keep the commandments, and they are not keeping one of the 10 Commandments”?
Jesus addressed this issue head-on in his letters to seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. There he mentions several sins that he finds in these churches, including breaking the 10 Commandments by committing fornication/adultery (Rev 2:14, 20,22) and idolatry (Rev 2:20). Yet he does not disown these His churches, nor does he command people in one church to leave and go to another (they were all less than 100 miles apart). Rather, He commands people with the sins mentioned to repent. He also commands everyone with ears to listen to hear every message to every church.
How Doctrinal Unity Will Come
The larger church groups that have understood the seventh day Sabbath almost all claim to be the one or main church God is using. They usually classify people in non-Sabbath-observing groups, or even all other church groups as “unbelievers”. While this teaching may have the benefit of keeping members and tithes in their church group, it is not helpful in spreading the Sabbath and other biblical truths.
Sunday-keeping Christians whose lives have been forever changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, who have received healings, who have experienced miracles, who have spoken in tongues and/or who have seen Christian prophecies come to pass are not convinced that they are unbelievers just because they do not keep the Sabbath. This claim that one must keep the Sabbath to be a Christian causes them to reject it, because they know they are Christians without it. Instead, they need to be shown the biblical teaching, benefit and blessing of keeping the Sabbath. If Sabbath-keepers cannot acknowledge the truth, fruits and works of Sunday keepers, how can we expect them to acknowledge the truth of the Sabbath or other truths that we believe and practice.
While we have dealt with only the Sabbath doctrine here, the principle applies to all other true doctrines as well. We should reach out to other Christian groups with our truth and say, “We appreciate the good work you are doing, and we hope this truth we have learned will be a blessing to you.” Too often church groups say: “We have the truth on this issue and you do not; if you want to be a Christian, join us—even if it means losing the other truth, fruits and works that you already have, because they are not as important as ‘our truth’”.
Most church groups see the deficiencies of other groups as catastrophic and their own deficiencies as “minor things that Christ will work out in His own time”. Most believe their denomination is the one to whom Christ will return—or who will rise to meet Him in the first resurrection and reign with him (Rev 20:4-6). But anyone who has visited many different denominations and congregations realizes that in nearly all of them one finds people full of the Spirit, as well as tares among the wheat—sometimes mostly tares, sadly (Rev 3:1-4).
Doctrinal unity will come to the Church when Christians take the approach Jesus Christ expounded in His letters to the seven Churches (Rev 2 & 3). Jesus’ loving approach was:
1. to recognize their spiritual accomplishments,
2. to tell them to repent of what they were doing wrong,
3. to regard them all as His churches,
4. to show that it is the individuals within each church who overcome that will be rewarded!
It is also important to realize what Christ did not say:
1. He did not tell the people to get out of their church if it had errors.
2. He did not say that unity would be achieved by every believer joining the "one best church group", either now or in the future.
3. He did not tell the heads of those churches to meet together to form a joint doctrinal statement or produce an ecumenical merger.
4. He did not say that because God was temporarily permitting sin in one church that it was all right for the other churches to commit those same sins, too.
PABC is to be a Christian community, somewhat similar to those mentioned in Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37, where the seventh-day Sabbath, Feast Days, clean meats, and other biblical—but less common—Christian doctrines are observed. But the goal of PABC is also to seek out the spiritual gifts, knowledge and wisdom of other Christians—something ignored by many Sabbatarian groups. PABC teachings and experience are to be shared with all other Christians, without insisting they must join us.
Within this context, we believe that PABC will still be able to fulfill its original seven-point plan (bold type below) as expanded here (in plain text):
1. Be a light to its surrounding neighborhood. PABC must diligently avoid becoming isolated or totally absorbed with itself and its supporters. Jesus and his disciples healed and helped everywhere they went. We must use an appropriate amount of our gifts and resources to help them.
2. Educate young people in the Bible, Christian service and ways to make a living. Mentor them toward making a living in biblical ways that serve others—learning to run their own business doing something needful in society: alternative energy, appliance repair, audio and video production, auto mileage improvement, auto repair, child care, computer programming, construction, desk top publishing, elder care, Internet sales, food service, photography, web design, etc. This allows young people to move “back home” or wherever else Christ leads them, rather than training them for a job requiring them to live near a big city, big business or big university.
3. Provide a meaningful life for older Sabbatarians who are willing to help and/or in need of limited non-professional care. Allow a balanced lifestyle of Bible study, companionship, good food, exercise with a meaningful purpose. Provide care to the level of qualifications of PABC personnel as well as library/Internet access to the hundreds of different ways that different health-care professionals may treat a specific medical condition—allowing the individual to choose what is best.
4. Help the disadvantaged and needy believers among us. These include people who have been prisoners, divorced, alcoholics, drug users (prescription and not), demon influenced, victims of oppressive religious groups, and victims of believing they are the one person who understands the scriptures and therefore the main person whom God is using.
5. Provide a variety of Bible evangelism and teaching tools that other Christians may freely use. This will include a great variety of printed, audio and video tools available free on the Internet. Mainstream media distribution outlets will be sought when possible. PABC’s concept of the Church is the same as Christ’s concept in Revelation 2 & 3: there are multiple groups that are his churches, they are doing some good things and some bad things, and the individuals within them that repent of the bad things and do the good things will be rewarded.
6. Help sift through the maze of false information produced to deceive people in the fields of history, news, health-care, insurance, economics, government, etc. Our nation, especially its young people, is increasingly oppressed by their government and a largely controlled media. Some of this oppression has the force of law behind it, but much of it we accept because we do not know any better. On the other hand, there are many “alternative medicine”, “conspiracy theory”, “tax avoidance “, and other non-mainstream promoters that are also frauds.
7. Produce written, audio and video records of how this community works so that other Christians can do similar things. PABC must never become a closed society or declare itself the only/best way to God. If it has any truth or method that would improve other Christian groups, those things will be documented and offered freely to other groups as they are ready to receive them.
While we believe that a good foundation for the above has been laid (see article), the financial resources are virtually exhausted (see article) and the Edwards family has become overextended in several ways (see article). Norman and his wife have lived 2½ hours apart for the last two school years so that she could work at Spring Vale Academy and obtain the 85% discount for staff member children there. They would like to spend the next two years back together, preferably at SVA, until their youngest son graduates.
At present, nearly all of our resources at Port Austin are consumed by the maintenance of the property, infrastructure and ourselves. If we had twice as many people, and twice as many resources, we could accomplish several times as much. Why? Even with twice as many people:
1. Many fixed costs, such as our loan payments, phone, Internet, association dues, etc. would not go up at all, but the cost per person would be cut in half.
2. The time and expense required to mow lawns and shovel snow would be almost unchanged.
3. Gas and electric utilities would cost only slightly more—we are heating and lighting most areas already.
4. The time spent to grow and prepare food would be much less than double in our large-capacity facilities.
5. We would have the advantage of specialization. Now, too many people are spread out too thin, doing too many things.
We do not believe we would be good stewards of the property entrusted to us if we simply ran out of money and let it go into foreclosure in disrepair. We want it to be used for God’s work in His way.
Decision Time: For Us, for You
While God drafts a human and demands that he do a certain job (Jonah 1), we believe that God often allows individuals to volunteer for His service (Ex 32:26-28; 2Chr 30:10-11; Isa 6:8; Matt 8:19-22; 16:24; 19:21-22; Luke 9:23; 17:7-10; Rom 16:1; 1Cor 9:17; 16:15, etc.). Since long-time readers of Servants’ News have known about the plans for this ministry for five years and many have helped us in it, we believe it is only fair that they have the first chance to participate in its ongoing ministry.
On the other hand, our March/April 1998 issue carried a lead article entitled Does the Eternal Have to Use Us to Preach His Final Message? This article asked if the Sabbath, Feast Days, clean meats and other doctrines would reach the world through the Church of God groups, or would God simply reveal these truths to the mainstream of Christianity? It seems the latter is coming to pass. A Yahoo Internet search for “Feast of Tabernacles” now yields over a million results. A random survey of them shows most are not from Church of God groups.
And so with the Port Austin project, we will first look for help from those whom we have known, and then look to other Christians with a different background, but who are interested in doing the same kind of work.
After much prayer, study, thought and evaluation of options, we are considering the following options. We would also consider other options someone might propose. We believe we need to have our options solidified by sometime in the middle of August.
1. Continue on a similar path, increasing all of the seven areas, above, as we are able. This will require additional people to move to PABC to serve as skilled workers, teachers, writers and mentors. It will also require substantial offerings—enough to pay down existing high-interest debts, begin to bring other payments up to date, and to advance some of the projects. A great variety of combinations of people and funding could be made to work. A few new, capable people, along with current offerings of about $150,000 would allow us to effectively follow our current plan. If a large amount is not available now, but a reasonably assured $10,000 per month were, the same work could go on. Some combination would also work: $75,000 now and $5000 per month, for example.
2. Continue by placing economic self-sustenance ahead of ministry. We would choose one—possibly more—of the following tasks to produce the support we would need so we could eventually afford to continue the ministry. Some options might produce difficulty in separating our property into business and ministry parts. However, once successful businesses were in place, they would provide training and work for young people who would come to the ministry in the future. These options would require some additional offerings and people to start, then would become more than self-supporting.
a. Provide assisted living for elderly people (hopefully Sabbatarians). We have a CENA and others trained in elder care already on staff. People who simply need an unskilled person with them 24 hours per day frequently pay $250 per day for such a service. We provide better than minimum care for less money and support the ministry with only three or four such people here.
b. Use the Port Austin facilities for a Christian retreat and conference center, etc. This usually takes a year or more before it will pay for itself, but there is quite a bit of demand for this type of facility. People from Detroit would probably make good use of it.
c. Begin internet sales businesses.
d. Begin “green” businesses producing & installing energy saving items. These suddenly are becoming very profitable with rising energy costs. We have much more detail available than we can adequately explain here.
3. Share our facilities with other like-minded individuals or organizations. We would be glad to share management with others who are similarly willing to commit their resources to the ministry. This could be anything from one other individual, a church group, or multiple church groups that would like to have a place to send their young—or old—people whom they would otherwise not be able to care for. We realize we might well become a minority decision maker in such an arrangement, but are willing to do so provided those we work with have similar goals and a track record of successful ministry. If other options do not work, there are several individuals and groups in this category we will approach.
4. Share our facilities with another Christian group with different goals. We realize God has many plans we know nothing about. We would much rather contribute to other worthwhile Christian goals than simply let the property languish or give it to others. There are also individuals and groups in this category we will approach if no other solution is available.
5. “Sell” the property to someone who wants to carry out our goals. We would consider various legal methods that would gradually transfer control provided that the new party continued to carry out the original goals. On the other hand, we would consider a direct sale which would give complete control to the new party—this would require about $125,000 and the ability to make payments of $7000 per month.
6. “Sell” the property to someone who will carry out a Christian ministry. Like the above point, we would consider various methods of transferring control. The costs would be the same.
7. Give our interest in the property to someone whom we believe will carry out a worthwhile Christian ministry. The person receiving it would have to demonstrate the ability to meet our financial commitments in some way. Our mortgage holders would have to agree to this.
Help us Choose
“Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it…” (Pslm 127:1). We believe that God has made the ministry possible thus far. But we also believe that brethren have a choice as to whether or not they will help build (Ex 32:26-28; 2Chr 30:10-11; Isa 6:8; Matt 8:19-22; 16:24; 19:21-22; Luke 9:23; 17:7-10; Rom 16:1; 1Cor 9:17; 16:15, etc.)
We realize that these kinds of decisions take much thinking, prayer and fasting for all involved. What does God want us to do with our life? What talents has He given us? What have we done for ourselves? For Christ? What else do we hope to do before we die—or we rise to meet Christ in the air? (1Th 4:17).
There is no doubt that moving to a new place for a completely new life style is one of the biggest decisions in life. It takes time and planning to figure out how these things can work. It also takes faith to walk forward when all of the details are not yet known (Heb 11:8).
While financially supporting servants of God is mentioned a few times in the New Testament, there is a much greater emphasis on going, and doing and teaching. Living in a Christian community and helping to establish this ministry will be a wonderful opportunity for Christian growth and character.
It is so easy to let ourselves believe that all God wants is for us to know the truth—and that there is nothing we can really do for God now. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Jam 1:22). We certainly believe that each of us has a choice how we serve God.
We Would Like to Hear From You
We would appreciate hearing from those of you who will seek God’s will through prayer and talk to us about the seven options we have outlined at left.
If you know someone else whom you think could help, please pass this issue on to them.
We welcome further questions or would be glad for you to come and visit the campus:
PABC, PO Box 474, Port Austin, Michigan 48467; 989-738-7700; PABC@portaustin.net
We hope to hear from as many of you as possible via mail, e-mail or telephone. We are willing to discuss a variety of options. Obviously, the most helpful thing to us would be individuals saying: “I can help by coming and doing this, or by contributing that to your ministry. In order to satisfy my convictions I would like you to change such and such. I would like to be involved in ministry decision making in the following manner…”
We are praying that through these discussions, the decision will be clear to us. If not, we will ask God to show us in some definite way. (In Acts 1 the 11 apostles found two others whom they thought were qualified to replace Judas, and then asked God to choose the right one.)
We realize that some people will pretend that they want to help us, hoping they can come and make a profit, find the easy life or gain religious power of some kind. We are praying that God will deliver us from such deceivers. We know that God is not mocked (Acts 5:1-13).
The current Port Austin Bible Campus members hope to continue to support the concept, even if God does it through other leaders. May God bless those who have read thus far and who are praying for the success of this ministry—in whatever way. We hope to make a decision by August of this year, 2008. May God be glorified in all that is done here. &