Sabbatarians: Whom Will Your Children Marry?
This article is written to church of God members with older children, but it applies equally well to grandparents of older children and to young people out on their own. The basic issue should be important to anyone who is interested in the long-term survival of "Church of God" organizations.
Most long-time Church of God brethren have always taught their children to "marry in the Church". In many ways, that was probably good advice. It may have seemed difficult, at times, for single people when there were only a dozen or so people their age in their extended "church area" and they knew that they did not want to marry any of them. Nevertheless, there were Feasts, colleges, camps, sporting events, and other events that allowed young people to meet possible spouses "in the Church". But with the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God, there are now much smaller congregations. A young person interested in marrying may find that there two, one, or zero persons to choose from in their "church area". Attending a much smaller Feast of Tabernacles, there may be only a dozen or so people that they would consider for marriage. There is no "Church of God" college now.
Now for the big question: Is it acceptable for young people in the "Church of God" groups to date, and possibly marry people who attend with other groups?
Many people with whom I have spoken have never really stopped to think about what all of the different Sabbatarian groups mean to young people. Most young people really are not concerned about whether the gospel is preached via TV, radio, magazines or local lectures. They might be willing to help out with any effort that their local group is involved in, but most know that they are not going to be personally starting any such work themselves. Young people generally are not concerned with the form of church government; they are just now learning to establish an identity separate from their parents. If unreasonable requirements are placed on them, they probably will not want to reform their church government, but will simply give up on it and stop attending. They are not concerned about the fine points of doctrine; they are more interested in deciding if they will or will not observe the basics.
Young people are rightly interested in how they will be able to get a job, go to college, and/or find a mate. One of their biggest trials is "can they do these things and still be able to keep the Sabbath, holy days, and other Bible teachings?" They know that these practices put them at a disadvantage sometimes in todays schools and jobs. Asking and trusting the Eternal to work out these things is a major step of faith. So what does a young person do if they are accepted for a job or college, but the only nearby congregation is a different Church of God group? Must they stay home and listen to tapes? What does a young person do if they are very interested in someone as a potential mate, but they attend a slightly different group?
I recently attended a very interesting wedding. The bride and groom had known each other since they were babies. Their fathers had both been WCG ministers and the families were still good friends. Both men officiated together in the wedding ceremony. Many friends from the home congregations of both bride and groom attended. However, one father of the couple is now a UCG minister and the other father is a GCG minister. Everyone got along marvelously at the wedding. But where will the couple attend services? They plan to travel back and forth occasionally between the cities where each set of parents lives. This brings up a number of interesting, but very real questions. We challenge you to ask your hierarchical pastor these questions:
#1) Should the couple be allowed to attend UCG when they are with one set of parents, and GCG when they are with the other?
#2) If the answer to question #1 is "no", then are these ministers responsible for disfellowshipping their children when they find out that they attend the other groups service?
#3) If the answer to question #1 is "yes," then how do the organizations justify their "double standard"? What is the exact reason why this couple would be allowed to attend both groups, but many other individuals have been "disfellowshipped" for attending another group?
#4) Will the UCG and/or GCG insist that the couple declare themselves "members" of one organization or the other?
#5) Would the couple be better off declaring themselves members of some third group that they never attend, so they could always be welcome as "visitors" in the UCG and GCG?
#6) Should the UCG and GCG ministers be fired for performing this "confusing" marriage, or allowing their children to marry, or letting them date in the first place?
I hope you can see that this is all very ridiculous. It is becoming rare enough that children of "Church of God" families want to remain Sabbatarians. They had nothing to do with the WCG breakup. They had nothing to do with the organization their parents joined. Cannot we all be happy that they have chosen Gods way rather than the worlds? Is there any reason for them, at this state in their life, to try to evaluate these human organizations and choose one? Is there a compelling reason not to attend services with their parents and friends-the ones who taught them most of what they know about God and the Bible?
Now of course, some people today can relate stories of how they personally struggled during their teen and young adult years, being the only WCG members for miles, and only being able to meet others their own age on Holy Days or a few Sabbaths during the year. But they did this to be a part of the only group of people they knew of that understood many Bible truths. Also, the organization was growing, and there were excellent chances that a new WCG congregation might be started nearby. But should people be expected to be lone Sabbatarians to support one organization whose leaders do not get along with other organizations? How encouraged can singles be when it looks like there is a greater chance that their organizations existing congregations will break up than there is of their organization forming new congregations?
Has anyone ever thought that this couples marriage may long outlast the two church organizations? The couple is young; many UCG and GCG ministers are quite old. If you study Sabbatarian history, lots of organizations have died out completely. What are the chances that those organizations will merge or become defunct before the couple dies? Will God fault them for not joining one of them?
This writer did not speak with the newly married couple on this subject, and hopes that this writing will have no personal impact upon them. However, it is hoped that people in these organizations will take a long look at organization policies and say "what kind of sense are we making for our childrens future?" Some parents taught their children to "stay in the WCG and marry someone in the WCG no matter what". So the children, knowing little about biblical doctrine did exactly that, and were dismayed when their parents "fell away" to join the GCG or UCG. So what should parents teach their children? To stay in the "one true Church of God Organization", the name of which changes every few years? Rather than teach our children to "marry someone from the XYZ Church Organization", is it not better to teach them to marry someone who is personally convicted to live by the Bible and the teaching of the Holy Spirit?
These questions raised at the wedding did not end with the married couple. There were many other "Church of God" brethren at the wedding who were long-time friends, but had not seen each other in years. Why? Because they were in different Church organizations. Does anyone believe that it would be possible to go through this crowd, and by observing the fruits of the people, determine who was a UCG member and who was a GCG member? Would all the nice, diligent, and clean people be in one organization and all of the yucky, ugly, and disgusting people be in the other? No, if one did not already know the group that each person was in, it was impossible to tell.
Organization leaders really need to think about what they are doing when they order members not to attend the services of other groups. If they believe that they are "teaching the people" and "doing the work" in a much more powerful way than the other groups, then they should not be afraid to let their members visit other groups and spread the word about their own group. If their members are being taught solid doctrine, their leaders should not worry about them being deceived if they visit elsewhere.
It seems like the main reason why one group would forbid its members to visit other groups, is because they are afraid that they might find other groups better in some way. Trying to stop members from visiting other groups stops comparisons and questions that ministers would rather not deal with. It would be better if ministers would see their responsibility to the Eternal and the Bible, not to a particular church organization. If their work is of God, He will make sure that it will have the money it needs. Church leaders do not need to divide families and brethren in the hopes that they can maintain their membership and income.
Brethren need to think about what they, their children, their grandchildren, and their friends are going to do. If you are in an organization, ask your minister or headquarters about their policy or opinion on these matters. If they do not have a solution, the problem will not go away.
There is no doubt that the Eternal allowed the Worldwide Church of God (and other organizations in the past) to teach much truth to many people, while also teaching the error that their organization was the one true church. But the Eternal has allowed that organization to be broken up. It is time for His people to learn the lesson of treating others as brethren who believe the Bible and seek to be led by the Holy Spirit. We need to stop creating artificial lines of division that make little sense to us and no sense to our children.
Norman S. Edwards
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