The Churches of God Conference took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, July 28-30. The event was very well organized and delightful to attend. The schedule was sensible and followed closely enough to be convenient, but not so Pharisaically that we felt “herded”. The meals and room arrangements were very pleasing.
The basic plan was to solicit proposals for preaching the Gospel on Friday evening, to discuss each of the proposals in detail on Saturday, and then to plan a course of definite action on Sunday. Each day was begun with a presentation—a short sermon—by a long-time Worldwide Church of God minister: C. Wayne Cole, David Antion and Ken Westby.
Also, a quite different and very interesting slide presentation was given by Ron Willhoite and Maynard Kappel entitled Nations of the Earth and the Word of God. These men gave a lot of technical information on the growth of the world population and the languages that are spoken. Of the 6 billion people on earth, only about one billion claim to be Christian. About 90% of the people in the world could get a Bible in a language they understand (though many of them cannot read). There is clearly a lot of work that could be done. Another aspect of the presentation focused on DNA research—showing that many scientists agree that the entire human race has descended from just one original woman. They further stated that there is more DNA variation within the three main races than there is between the races. While these gentlemen did not make this point, they reported powerful scientific evidence against the “serpent’s seed” doctrine which is too often found among British-Israelite groups and claims that there are two different man-like races on earth, only one of which can be saved.
The conference was attended primarily by former Church of God members. There were about 150 people present on Friday and 250 for Sabbath services. The organization most represented was the Church of God Outreach Ministries which is largely led by Lawrence Gregory, the organizer of this conference. But there were also men from the Church of God, Seventh Day, the Seventh Day Adventists, Messianic Jewish groups, various Church of God groups, and non-aligned groups. None from the UCG-IA or LCG came. One comment made by several was that “this is an older group.” The majority were in their 60s and 70s.
The purpose of the conference was to plan a way whereby the many Church of God groups could work together to preach the Gospel. But the first man I met at the conference said, “I don’t expect some big new program to come out of this conference; I’m just here to meet old friends and to encourage the brethren.”
Representatives at the Conference (provided by Lawrence Gregory)
The conference indeed served several functions. There is no doubt that it reunited a great many friends who had not seen each other in ten or twenty years. It also gave opportunity for many brethren to meet many others for the first time. It was nice to see some apologies for hurts of the past. Raymond Cole apologized for carrying out his WCG responsibility of going to Ken Westby’s house, disfellowshipping him, and driving away in his lease car. Someone else apologized to the Church of God Seventh day brethren for calling them “Sardis” and “dead” for all of these years.
Many different local evangelism ideas were discussed. Louis Williams, a blind man, has a public access TV program in the Washington DC area which costs only $25 per year. Arlo Gieslman spoke about his Truckers Bible Studies and passing out literature at a fair booth representing the Bible Sabbath Association. David Kenders talked about a 6-point program based upon Matthew 25:35-40: feed the hungry, water the thirsty, house the homeless, cloth the naked, visit the sick, visit the prisoners. Alfred Harrell and Manny Molinar spoke of the college that they were forming to train people to preach the Gospel. A number of groups displayed their evangelistic literature.
Many of the suggestions were far from local. Barnabas Grayson suggested a full page ad outlining the Gospel in a major newspaper like USA Today. Jeff Henderson suggested producing a web site, but said that it would have to be backed up with traditional media, print, radio etc.
Lawrence Gregory suggested TV programs aired via satellite. An entire continent can be covered for about $500 per program. That would cost $25,000 per year for a weekly program—$125,000 per year to cover the entire world. But viewers would need to have satellite hardware and need to find the right channel at the right time. Local congregations could pay to have local TV stations capture the signal and air the program locally. There was no definite plan for who would make the programs or what message they would preach. Mr. Gregory at one point suggested that some of the local ministers’ sermons might be aired.
Other evangelism plans were suggested, but most of the people agreed that a smaller committee would have to be selected to evaluate specifics and determine exactly what was possible. The people attending agreed that an organization could be formed along the lines of the Bible Sabbath Association: dues-paying members would elect a board, but there would be no management salaries. All of that work would be done by volunteers. When Mr. Gregory asked for hands as to whom wanted to form a temporary board to organize this project, he (and many others) seemed a bit shocked that none of the long-time “high-ranking” ministers raised their hands. After a bit of pleading, one of them said “We don’t have much time, we have to work for a living, too, now.”
Finally, someone suggested that since Lawrence Gregory was the primary motivating force behind the conference, that he choose a board after the conference was over. Nearly everyone at the conference agreed to this idea. The group also agreed, after some talking, on a name and a mission statement: The purpose of the Churches of God Evangelistic Association is to facilitate the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and make disciples of all nations. Protests were raised that this name sounds too much like David J. Smith’s cult-like organization, and that the name “Church of God” ties in our rather difficult past, but no change was made.
Both myself and others at the conference clearly stated that any preaching of the gospel should be based around people who appear to have gifts from God in certain areas, not around money, technology and organization. Nevertheless, this latter approach seemed to prevail.
The temporary board that was chosen after the meeting consisted of Lawrence Gregory, president, Alfred Harrell, vice-president, Royce Mitchell, secretary-treasurer and Allan Burlison, parliamentarian. An advisory board was also formed consisting of David Antion, C. Wayne Cole, George Crow, William Hicks, Arthur Hulet, James McBride and Kenneth Westby. In order to avoid confusion, the name was changed to The Evangelistic Association of the Churches of God (PO Box 691499, Tulsa, OK 74169-1499). Two progress letters have been mailed, you may write the address above to be put on the mailing list.
The last letter listed three things necessary to preach the gospel: God’s favor, money and workers. It is easy to find the first and third items in the scriptures, but not the second. As it is, over $1600 had been collected, some of which will be used for an evangelistic campaign in San Antonio, coordinated by Julian Cruz and Alfred Harrell. The mega-plans to preach the Gospel to the world are being delayed a bit to help some people who already have a track record of success. That seems like a good idea.
Without spending a cent, some local evangelism was actually occurring at the conference. Wonderful Sabbath music was provided by a multi-CoG-group choir directed by Ray Kurr. One of the singers had no previous Sabbatarian experience, but jumped at a chance to sing with a traveling group. Now, she is interested in learning more about what those in the choir believe.
For much more conference information, ask for the Aug 31 issue of The Journal, $22/year, PO Box 1020, Big Sandy, TX 75755.
— Norman Edwards
The following are my notes for a brief presentation I planned to make at the Tulsa conference. Since all of these points were made by different people throughout the conference, I saw no need to present them all again. Nevertheless, the results of the conference differed greatly from these suggestions. Norman Edwards
1) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11) We must realize that any evangelism we do should be what Christ is doing in us. Use a Christ-centered approach rather than a money-centered approach. Find someone who is successfully preaching, teaching or writing in a small waysomeone who apparently has a gift from Christand help them to do it bigger or better. Do not collect a bunch of money, decide on a program (magazine, TV, radio, etc) then find someone to pay to produce it. This latter method will almost always appear to work and produce some kind of resultwhether God is directing it or not.
2) The evangelism of the WCG became more like a marketing arm to perpetuate that group than it was a tool in the hands of Christ. I worked for the computer department there from 1977 to 1992. The cost to obtain a new subscriber, co-worker or member was a major factor in determining which kinds of evangelism were further promoted. There was little effort to determine whether these new people had a sound commitment to God and the Bible, or whether they were there to escape the tribulation, be on Gods good side, to join a nice conservative group that lets members drink alcohol, or for some other reason. When the WCG (and the CGI) broke up, if was obvious that members had come there for many different reasons, because they left to go many different places.
3) Any evangelism approach must embrace the many Sabbath- and Holy-Day-keeping groups in existence today. The days of saying we are the one true Church of God or even we are the main church God is using are over. The large number of Sabbatarian groups, plus the availability of information over the internet, virtually assures that new potential converts will be exposed to more than one group. If these new people know John 13:35, but see Sabbatarian groups that fight over minor issues, they may well give up on all Sabbatarian religion.