In the middle decades of the twentieth century, a movement within the Churches of God began to gain a momentum not seen previously in the modern era. What began as a radio based ministry took root and grew exponentially, providing a nucleus for a potent organization that changed the landscape of the Church for the next several decades. From rather simple beginnings, that organization grew to become the most dynamic within the spectrum of organizations previously known. It created waves among its predecessors, but even more among the evangelical religious community. The organization went on to gain a credibility we, a generation later, can only hope to regain.
But, while some things were exemplary, growth also brought problems of a rather intractable sort, that eventually became unmanageable and led to the precipitous demise of that organization. So long as God led the Church, growth was impressive. But, human nature being what it is, political agendas and errant perceptions were brought into play. Interpersonal posturings, those common within the organizations of men, created a situation that eventually rendered the organization structurally unsound. Then when spiritual ineptitude gained the chief seat, it all came apart rather quickly.
So from its shattered ‘remnants’ several nucleus organizations were formed intending to preserve and, to the greatest extent possible, replicate what once had been. The problem is, that certain of the characteristics these various remnant groups want so much to replicate, contain the embedded elements which were the factors that caused the problem. Some ‘successor organizations’ have even taken these characteristics and amplified them to a much greater degree than ever was seen in the CoGs in their best days.
A prime example is the demand for unconditional ‘organizational loyalty’. In fact, among some, the strictest of organizational loyalty is required. In the nineteen eighties it was alleged that ones’ salvation would be forfeit should the Christian ever withdraw from that one organization. Incredibly, that idea still holds a few in its grip, causing them to remain with the old organization, despite it now having cast off its former teachings, and even changing its name to sever all association with its former reputation. They still ‘hold fast’ to the memory of what it had been, as though it would some day miraculously reappear from within itself.
Externally, we see others attempting to “raise the ruins”, as they say, by preserving the memory of what had been, and incorporating key elements, good or bad, into their replica organization, without due regard for the real reason why it all fell into ruin in the first place! Again, being exclusive with their ‘one-and-only’ organization is touted as essential to ones’ very salvation.
But from this climate, a generation of scattered sheep emerged. Most, having been battered by unpleasant experiences, find themselves jaded and reluctant to wade back into the political fray still common among the various new groups.
From the other side, members of the successor organizations cast a negative eye toward (and even will expel) any regarded as ‘independent’. Nothing but whole-hearted support of their organization is accepted. Their organization is seen as the very Work of God, and no suggestion of a wider inclusiveness is acceptable. Though the old term, ‘not a dimes worth of difference’ is often the assessment of impartial observers of their respecttive doctrinal positions, these groups mutually exclude each other. It’s generally unacceptable that a UCG member attend with LCG or either of them with the PCG! Even though their ministers were trained in the same institution, they wouldn’t be allowed to speak before each others congregations. Not so much due to any doctrinal differences, but because of their organizational orientation.
Yet these all (separately) regard themselves as the Church of Brotherly Love! But, in fact, it was the absence of practical love that helped create the counterproductive environment within the original organization. We’ve gained very little in that area since. Though there is a certain inward-reflecting love within the various organizations, that love is largely conditioned on loyalty to the organization. That love, being broad enough to be extended based on the indwelling of God’s Spirit, is not seen in very many situations. We are not yet that enlarged of heart!
(It would be interesting to see what would happen if a True Saint from a former age were to be made alive and brought into one of these modern congregations without them being made aware of who that individual was. What kind of reception would that person receive?)
An Inserted Intermediary
One of the major stumblingblocks we placed in our own path is the idea of a minister (or group of ministers) being placed in an intermediary position between ourselves and God. Wonderful organizational charts were produced in the early 1980’s showing a man in chief leadership position within the Church. (read that as the supreme ‘authority position’, second only to Jesus Christ) Though it might have worked reasonably well in one situation, it proved to be very temporary! It served to create a loyalty to the leadership, but when we attempted to transfer another man into that charted office, it served more to overthrow all that had been built in that church. We were stymied by our own doing. We dared not challenge, we dared not speak out. We allowed an essential component to be effectively cancelled out of our relationship with God. The idea of a ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus Christ was a minor consideration, if even mentioned at all! We were to relate to God through our chief minister, as a prominent evangelist drummed into us so often.
It was the severing of the direct link between our-selves and our Chief Apostle, our only intermediary and the insertion of a human office between the individual Saint and God, that removed from with-in the Church its true stabilizing element. The ‘pillars and grounds of the truth’ were effectively stripped of their God-ordained responsibility! Even the ordained ministry of the organization was short circuited. Any who spoke up, especially those early on, were dismissed by a membership oriented to letting the leadership do all the thinking. Such ‘dissidents’ were quickly run off! Small followings gravitated toward a certain few outcast ministers, but not all of the causes of our problems were abandoned even with them!
Despite the suppressive climate, a few began to come out of the self-induced ‘organizational orientation’, turning back into their Bibles, and broadening their awareness of what God expects of those who are in possession of His Spirit. To some degree, these found themselves at odds with the professional ministry in direct proportion to how oriented that ministry was to its organization. (We must keep in mind that there was a paycheck to consider.) Those individuals were seen as ‘independents’, and were diminished in reputation, and in some cases expelled from service or attendance.
Trained to Be…?
We need to ask ourselves, we who were ‘trained’ for decades in the Church, at what point in time are we sufficiently trained to where we can walk by Faith? Was the training we received adequate for use in our lives, or not? The ministry still considering us ‘babes in Christ, still needing to be fed the milk of the Word’, should provide us a partial answer. Some are still under-developed spiritually. It’s not all the fault of the teaching establishment.
But then we have the flip side of that, where the ministry wants to keep the membership held to a certain limited awareness level in order to discourage them from ‘walking by Faith’ as that would put more stresses on their oversight than they’d want to have to deal with.
Two Kinds of Independents
As the membership matured, and as the break-up of the established organization occurred, independents began to emerge more and more. Perhaps that was God’s ultimate intent! But as in any such situation, there is the danger of ‘independent thinking’ drifting into varying degrees of error. It is the exposure to brethren that can help channel any drift. “Iron sharpens iron”, we were told so often. Will we allow that to take place? Can the membership function effectively in that capacity? Those who survive through the trials in the end-time are those who “speak often one with another”. (Mal. 3:16) Are our eminent organizations fully comfortable with members doing that?
There are two kinds of independents that can develop: That kind who shies away from contact with others, usually finding too little common ground to warrant fellowship, and the kind who is amenable to a wider spectrum of organizations and fellowship situations, recognizing the presence of God’s Spirit as the prime consideration, not just a persons’ organizational affiliation.
Though the label ‘independent’ carries a negative connotation in many of today’s Churches, there’s a kind of independent who can be an asset in the greater fellowship of Saints. To distinguish them from the isolationist type, we should perhaps recognize them instead as “At Large Christians”, those who are willing to extend an open hand of fellowship based on the indwelling of God’s Spirit, evident by the fruits in ones’ life, not merely ones’ organizational affiliation.
Were the first century Churches of either type? Were they strict exclusivists, or did they face into a wider fellowship situation than our members would do today? Negative situations they experienced provide some answers to that question.
Yes, There ARE Challenges
Paul experienced ‘perils among brethren’ (2Cor 11:26) and was treated badly by associates (2Tim 4:10-15). John the Apostle was barred from contact with the true brethren by a local minister in at least one notable situation (3Jo 9-10). Was that an endorsement of ‘isolationist or exclusivist’ policy? Would we be stronger or weaker if we succumbed to our fears of having to face life’s challenges?
When we withdraw into our organizational ‘safe zone’ as we perceive it, can we fulfill our personal responsibilities to the greater fellowship of Faith? By becoming withdrawn, we do disservice to the others in other organizations or other fellowships who would benefit from exposure to challenges to their narrowed thinking. Iron does sharpen iron! Open dialog spurs more effective study!
When we attempt to achieve ‘organizational purity’ (often referred to as ‘being of like mind’) by being exclusivists, we risk being remiss in our responsibility to uphold the Truth as God has allowed us to understand it and we deny ourselves the benefit of the growth opportunities that come with challenges. There will always be diversities of Gifts, there will always be a new generation that needs to be worked with in order for us to convey to them the same understanding we have, developed by years of being led by God’s Spirit. Reticence has few benefits, not to ourselves and not to others of like mind! &
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