United Church of GodAIA
Is It from God . . .
. . . or from Men?
We received the following letter in reference to the letters we printed on pages 22 and 23 of the Mar/April Servantsí News. The issue seems to be one of UCG-AIA authority. Does the UCG-AIA headquarters have authority directly from God, or do they have authority from the General Conference of Elders that elected them? Does a local Pastor have authority directly from God, from UCG-AIA headquarters, or from a local church congregation that invited him to come?
Below, we reprint one UCG-AIA memberís letter, the letter he received from Larry Greider (local pastor for UCG-AIA) which he asked us to reprint, and our own thoughts.
UCG Member: May 12, 1997
We (the Kansas City church membership) received a letter from Larry Greider this last week. A copy is enclosed. Please look at the bottom of the letter. Any time that information can not be brought out in the open, something is wrong. What are they trying to hide? I think this letter should be made public. The Servantsí News published a letter from Mr. Richard Pinelli in the last issue. It is my understanding that [name removed] were relieved of their church duties for sending this letter to you. I may be "dechurched" for sending this letter.
We enjoy Servantsí News. Keep up the good word.
May 6, 1997
Dear Kansas City Brethren,
This is a private letter to discuss some issues that are vital to us all. We are having some tension that is affecting our ability to become a united, peaceful congregation here in Kansas City. Iíve been told that this area has had a somewhat troubled history at times and that there are some concerned about trust and having confidence in the leadership God has provided. It is my desire to work through this and build a strong and viable congregation that can worship God in spirit and in truth in a peaceful setting.
SN: How can anyone prove that they have the "leadership that God has provided." For many years, most of the Kansas City congregation were taught that God would provide the leadership in the Worldwide Church of Godand most of them decided to leave that organization because they disagreed with that leadership. A large number of the Kansas City brethren made that decision in spite of their local pastors.
Greider: My appeal to you, as a called out member of the body of Christ, is to reflect on what our calling entails. Christ asked if we are willing to leave our loved ones and follow Him (Luke 14:26). We must learn to submit to Christ and work together to build unity and dwell in peace.
SN: This paragraph is absolutely true, but its location at this point makes it appear that submitting to Christ and submitting to the UCG-AIA are the same thing. Does the Eternal require that each believer submit to every person who claims some kind of spiritual authority over them? No, they must use the scriptures and holy spirit to determine which teachers they will follow (2Cor 1:24, 1Jn 4:1, Rev 2:2).
Greider: The UCGaia has done much to safeguard the doctrinal process ensuring that our basic understanding given to us from God is not easily corrupted. Consistent with scripture we also have set in place oversight of the ministry and a procedure for appeal from members and ministers alike so that a fair and just administration is possible.
SN: We found this paragraph hard to understand. The UCG incorporated many doctrinal points into their constitution from Worldwide Church of God doctrine. However, some, like the nature of Christ and the Trinity, are so vague that it is hard to know what they believe. Other doctrinal points, such as hierarchical government, they had to dismiss (at least temporarily)otherwise, they would have no right to exist. If we admit that some error came through Herbert Armstrong, and acknowledge that most of our beliefs came through his teaching, not through divine revelation, it is difficult to talk about a collective understanding "given to us from God".
None of the UCG-AIA members we spoke with knew anything about an "appeal procedure" or how a person might invoke it if they believed they were mistreated. Nevertheless, if Mr. Greider acknowledges that such a procedure should exist, is not that an acknowledgment that the church leadership sometimes makes serious mistakes?
Greider: Local churches, according to our constitution, are shepherded by a trained, ordained pastor, assigned by the Home Office. He is assisted by elders and deacons/deaconesses and, where helpful, local advisory councils. This process was ratified in Cincinnati by an overwhelming consensus of the elders.
SN: All of the items listed above are examples of authority from men. It is the UCG-AIAís constitution and bylaws that empower it to train, ordain, and assign pastors. This constitution was approved by men, acting as they believe the Eternal wanted them to act at that time. If a "consensus of elders" from across the country can establish a big church organization, why cannot a "consensus of elders" in a local congregation establish local policies?
Greider: It is my desire to involve all in the local congregation who have interest and talent in the various social and business affairs of the Kansas City area. However, ecclesiastical governance in the UCGaia is from Jesus Christ and works through a church pastor on the local level.
SN: This appears to be the opposite of the previous paragraph. How can a church organization be governed both by a constitution and directly by Jesus Christ? Does this mean that Jesus Christ is not allowed to do anything unless it is permitted by the UCG constitution? Or does he believe that the UCGconstitution is so perfect that it will not stop Jesus Christ from doing what he wants to do? If it is that good, why is there a procedure for mere men to be able to change the constitution? In spite of the difficulties in logic here, Mr. Greider is apparently claiming his decisions in the local congregation have the authority of Christ, even if every other person in the congregation disagrees with them.
Greider: Any who feels uncomfortable with these relationships within the congregation should talk with me about it. If any are then still unwilling to work together in such a fashion, it would be best for all concerned for those of that opinion to fellowship somewhere else. As the Apostle Paul mentioned in 1Cor 11:16, "...but if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God."
SN: Apparently, this is saying that if brethren do not accept Greiderís decisions as Christís decisions, they can go somewhere else. What is even more amazing is that the United Church of God Kansas City existed months before it had a pastor from the UCG-AIA. It was by spiritual consensus of the board of that congregation that they asked a UCG-AIA pastor to come and serve them. They received a letter at that time from Richard Pinelli affirming that their board could continue to function (see SN last month). Now, the same people that invited the UCG pastor are being told that they must leave the congregation they started unless they give him sole authority.
If we examine the history of how the UCG was formed, and what occurred at its three conferences to date, we see a lot of discussion of a wide variety of ideas, and often disagreements. Apparently, though, Greider is labeling everyone that will not unquestioningly accept his authority as "contentious." The only other option he gives them is to leave their fellowship and all of their friends.
How long ago was it that these same people were told they had to accept the new doctrines or leave the WCG? How long ago was it that UCG-AIApastors were told that they either had to preach doctrines they did not believe in or leave their job? We would hope that many people would learn from these experiences.
Greider: Of course, it is not my intention to be contentious as the pastor, yet we must be able, as a congregation, to work together in a common way.
SN: (His way!)
Greider: It is my desire to settle in Kansas City as your pastor and promote the objectives of Christ and of His church as directed by the council of elders in conjunction with our General Conference of elders. If you feel drawn or compelled to participate with us in United, then you are MOST welcome. In order to accomplish this, however, we should all agree to support the constitution and bylaws and the due process approved by the UCGaia. As Paul mentioned:
SN: We noticed that the UCG-AIA is referred to as "His church" above. Does that mean that brethren leaving this organization are leaving "His church"?
Romans 15:5-6, NKJ, Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2Cor 13:11, NKJ, Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
SN: The simplest way for a group to be of one mind, is for only one person in the group to use their mind, and the others not to use their minds. But does that train future priests and kings? No. Peace is available in a local congregation when all seek to have the mind of Christ, but deal humbly with each other, realizing that they might be wrong. Spiritual consensus can be used in a local congregation, just as it has been used at higher levels in the UCG-AIA. The system of governing by elders (older, stable people) was in place when the New Testament was written and never renounced by Jesus and his disciples.
Greider: It has been over two years since UCGaia has been established and we need to be moving forward. We are all learning as we go, but for those who choose to be a part of the local congregationwe must work together in a common manner. It is my desire to promote peace and encourage those of like minds to bond together as spiritual brothers.
If you have any questions about the UCGaia, donít hesitate to call or write me.
Larry W. Greider
SN: We agree that the UCG-AIA needs to be moving forward. We receive many calls from people expressing similar frustrations. We also realize that working effectively in fractured congregations can be incredibly difficult. However, the area where the UCG-AIA most needs to move forward is in utilizing their thousands of long-time members to serve in their congregations and preach the gospel. Progress was made when men left the WCG hierarchical government and came to the Indianapolis conference. The re-establishment of a new hierarchical government does not seem like progress, but reverting back to old ways that failed.
Greider: NOTE [at bottom of page]: No part of this letter may be published or transmitted electronically or by any other means without the express permission of the author.
SN: Publishing letters sent to us for the purpose of editorial comment does not violate any copyright or privacy laws that we are aware of. However, we do wonder why this letter was intended to be kept "private." If this letter was inspired by and has the authority of Jesus Christ as Mr. Greider implies, than should not it be made public as an example for everyone to see? How will members know how to govern people in the millennium if they do not know how it is done now? On the other hand, it makes more sense to keep a letter like this private so that not so many people look at it and analyze it.
For a much more scriptural and positive approach, we recommend a paper by Craig White, a member of UCG in Australia: Utilising the Members in the Local Congregations and In the Work: A System to ensure Fair Opportunity for All. For a background on church government, we recommend our paper: How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans? NSE