Thinking back, our small group started all unexpectedly one night about 5 years ago at what is known in Central Florida as a “gospel sing”. The “sing” was held at a Baptist church and several friends were there together. One of the men said, “I wonder what would happen if we all just got together and worshipped God with all our hearts.” We said, “Okay, let’s do it!”
The following Sabbath we had our first meeting. We were not Sabbath people. We belonged to mainline churches so Sunday was already tied up. Since that day we have been on an adventure with Jesus! How our lives have changed!
At the start, we had 12 to 15 people at most meetings. Much of our time was spent in singing, praise and worship—and still is. One never knew what direction the meeting would take. If someone had a difficult week, we listened and prayed. Someone might tell something they discovered in the Bible. Other times we spent extended times in prayer. Our goal was to learn to be led by the Spirit during this time when we were literally gathered together around Jesus. Our Savior was our focus and our reason for being there. And it was wonderful.
We discouraged depending on the writings of men, but sought His writings—the Bible—only, although we did use Greek and Hebrew concordances, Greek interlinear Bibles, and history books. But not commentaries. The Bible alone was, and is, our authority. We consciously sought to lay aside the traditions of men. This is difficult to achieve when you have been conditioned to seek leadership and knowledge of men rather than God. It can take years just to sort out which of our beliefs came from the Bible and which came from men.
Some of us covenanted to read through the Bible every year, and to put our time with God in scripture and prayer first every day. The goal was to approach the Bible afresh. Whatever He said, we would do. Whatever we could not find for ourselves, individually, between those covers, we would put on the shelf—perhaps forever.
We learned that when we consciously lay down everything else and seek God only, walking with Jesus becomes an adventure. Each day brings new discoveries, fresh blessings and an infilling of joy. And why not? This was always God’s plan. Church doctrines and traditions interfere with this process because, whether they realize it or not, people are required to put the tenets of the religious organization first in order to “belong”. Specifically this means they are required to put something else ahead of God and His personal dealing with them. That “something” is their denomination and their church or leader’s beliefs or traditions. If we are not careful, we will reproduce this situation in our small groups because we have been so conditioned to that environment ourselves. It seems easy for human nature to want to control and straighten each other out instead of leaving each one free to learn from the Father.
Part of the outcome of our small-group story is this:
None of us had Sabbath backgrounds and all celebrated “normal” Christian holidays. As we approached the Bible afresh, someone started to question the Sabbath. It appeared that the disciples observed the Sabbath after the resurrection.
There was disagreement. This writer has learned that people usually initially reject something that is contrary to what they have “known” all their lives. Understanding that makes it easier to expect it and not argue. Just share what we discover and then leave it with them and God! Take our human hands off. After all, we don’t want them to follow us. We want them to follow God. If they truly believe they should worship on the first day, then to the best of their ability they are following Him. But, in a humble attitude, we will plant a question in their minds and then let Jesus deal with His own servant!
Our central lesson from all this: We do need to disciple new believers. But above all, we need to teach them how to have a relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, search the scriptures and obey what God shows them, then allow them to follow Him.
In time, part of our group set out to observe the Sabbath. Some also decided to leave the mainline church because we could see that a group, led by a plurality of elders instead of by one man or woman, was God’s original plan for His church. We just didn’t think we could improve on His plan.
We have celebrated Passover and other scriptural holy days for several years. Some have struggled with the issue of Christmas. One more person in our group came to the place this year where she let it go. She said that she truly wants Jesus to be Lord of her life and she wants no idolatry. She did it from a heart that is surrendered to Jesus rather than a denomination urging her to do something that God had not yet revealed to her. When Christmas has been wrapped in happy childhood memories of loving family around a Christmas tree, giving that up is a life crisis and no one can effectively make someone else see that. The Father must show it to them if it is to be real.
Finally, not all the people in our group came to agree with us. As we made these changes, many left. We are, to some degree, starting over from a core group. We think this is God’s purifying process and that He has to get our group right before He can do the work that He wants to do through us. We maintain close relationships with believers who left. We continue to love them and be there for them in times of need. We are walking in joy and in His blessing. I am so glad we decided to “just get together and worship God with all our hearts” that first Sabbath day. And that we decided to abandon everything in order to just cling to Jesus. If you decide to do that, all I can say is hold on for the ride! There is no telling where He will lead you. Wherever it is, life will take on new meaning and the joy of the Lord will be your strength! We really don’t need much else.
This group meets weekly on the Sabbath in Grant, Florida.
Contact Neil and Melody Carson, 321-768-2023, email@example.com
or Arlean Kelley, 561-663-9417, firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Some Church of God brethren have difficulty believing that a group could learn all of these truths on their own from the scriptures. They have read scriptures like Acts 2:42: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers”. They believe that truth comes to a group through its apostle(s) or other leadership. But today, we have the writings of the original apostles—something that people in the first century did not have.
We can continue in the “apostles’ doctrine” by reading it in the Bible. Furthermore, we must realize that God never told believers that church leaders would have all the truth, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13). — Norman Edwards]
This group started in 1995 as a CGI affiliate. They went independent in the spring of 1998. Their attendance ranges from 12 to about 20. The Midlands Church has a traditional COG service with songs, a sermonette, and a sermon generally given by the pastor, Ralph Hanahan. They use the purple CGI hymnal.
Once a month, however, they eliminate the sermonette and shorten the sermon. This gives them time to have an interactive Bible study. The subject is selected in advance so as many members participate as possible, including the ladies.
They feel very fortunate in having found their meeting place. It is a separate activities building owned by and located in back of the Shandon Methodist Church. It is called the Billy Bartlett Building. Not only is it a fine facility with its own kitchen and parking, but the church has let them use it for years FREE. They have Sabbath services at 10:00 a.m. The street address is 3406 Devine, Columbia, South Carolina.
For their evangelism efforts they sponsor the Born to Win radio program on the Hartsville, South Carolina, station. They especially like the scheduling on this station because the program immediately precedes the Billy Graham program. The call letters are WTNI, 1490 on the dial, 7:00 a.m. on Sundays. Ralph mentioned that Born to Win is well received by the local station management.
Although it is a major undertaking for them, they have just last week agreed to start Born to Win on Columbia’s number one AM station. It will be broadcast on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on station WVOC, 560 on the dial.
They are also looking into other evangelistic possibilities. One of those will be learning more about advertising and distributing Tom Justus’ reprints of some old WCG booklets. (See the Jan/Feb 2000 issue of the Servants’ News for more information.)
Asked for the main interest or focus of the Midlands Christian Church of God, Ralph said it is to have a peaceful learning environment for the Christian to maximize his or her own personal growth.
Ralph Hanahan can be reached at (803) 732-7869, or Jimmie Beard, church Deacon, can be reached at (803) 776-9478.
— “One-third Century in-COGs”
Our family attended several different “Church of God” groups over the past few years. My wife, our two teenage sons and I witnessed the splits and divisions. The independent group we were attending recently broke up as many members moved out of the area and others went back to bigger “Church of God” organizations. Our boys were asking for us to find a church where there would be other kids. My oldest goes to Tulsa Adventist Academy and most of his classmates began attending a new Seventh Day Adventist congregation in South Tulsa. The new pastor is a friend of ours and we were asked to come attend the church.
It appears that the SDA Conference (central headquarters) is becoming aware that the SDA church has been seen as operating in the “Stone Age”. This new conference-supported church is only 14 months old and has grown to 200 attending each Sabbath service. The majority of these are new converts, not “stolen” members from other churches. The Conference has approved a $750,000 loan for a new building project.
The standard “church” format has been modified to appear like a fellowship. Sabbath starts out with breakfast, followed by Sabbath School, Worship Service and a fellowship lunch. We have just completed a Wednesday night study on the infilling of the Holy Spirit—can it apply to the SDAs or is it just for the charismatic churches? The conclusion of those in the study is they are receptive to it. There are many other activities.
Monday nights include a men’s prayer meeting. We just finished up the Promise Keepers book. The next project is a book called What God Does When Men Pray by William Carr Peel. There is also a divorce support and study group to help people struggling with these problems. They are studying a book called Rebuilding Relationships. On Tuesday there is a study on the book of Daniel which has been going on for 32 weeks and, on Wednesday, a prayer meeting and Pathfinders children’s group. The Bible study is on The Incomparable Jesus out of the Walking With God series. Thursday has a Revelation Seminar for Kids and a Bible Marking group. A Friday night kids evangelism night is being planned, but it hasn’t happened yet.
There is some competition here as there are several other kids nights in some of the very large charismatic churches in town that draw up to 500 kids every week.
Every weekend there is a church activity. Two weeks ago it was swimming, BBQ and skiing at the local reservoir. Last week it was a trip to Branson, Missouri. This weekend it is a game night at church. We will be playing a modified version of “Millionaire”.
The church will sponsor their second “Power Seminar”, then a “Prophecy Seminar” back to back, with Leo Schreven (web site at http://www.prophecyseminar.com).
The church is planning a project with Maranatha Ministries (not the same as Maranatha Music) which is a worldwide SDA organization that builds physical church buildings. I went on a mission trip two years ago with Maranatha where we built a church for a congregation in Panama in one week. It is interesting that most of the people that went on that trip are now members of this new church—including the pastor.
The main focus of this new congregation is local evangelism. We have a majority who are somewhat biblically illiterate, so in-depth study such as “Our Jewish Roots” is not part of the plan. I read from my Tanakh, B’rit Hadashah and Chumash, no one has made an issue over these versions. I do get some friendly inquiries from time to time from members on what my source is. I like to throw in some curve balls now and then for fun. I try to be discreet and not argumentative. I don’t directly challenge basic SDA dogma but I do nibble around the edge, which they are receptive to.
The main thing that this SDA group has learned is visitor and new convert follow-up is a must. The last SDA church we went to never did call back and it was two years after we went that they finally showed up at our door.
Additional information about this congregation may be found at: http://www.websites4churches.com/institution1.asp?account=1578
—Wes Gordon: 2827 N. Kingston Ct., Tulsa, OK 74115; 918-836-9208; e-mail: email@example.com
Wes and his family are not becoming Seventh Day Adventists. He realizes that there are many problems with Ellen G. White’s teaching, as there are with Herbert W. Armstrong’s teaching. He has chosen this congregation because there are many people with which his family can fellowship, because much of what they do is right and good, and because he is free to believe and even talk about Bible topics new to most Seventh Day Adventists. Is this true of all Seventh Day Adventist congregations? Probably not! One good way to find out is visit the ones near you and see. The Bible teaches that the Eternal calls and works with people—he does not put His Spirit in organizations. The question for any fellowship is: can I effectively learn, grow and serve others there? —Norman Edwards