Servants' News

Jul/Aug 2000

Working with “Other Groups”:
How Do We Do It?

As the Church of God groups continue to break up into smaller and smaller units, the question “How do I relate to other groups?” becomes more and more important. For most young singles in the Church of God groups, that question defines their future.

Many long-time Church of God brethren remember either themselves or their children growing up in a local church of a few hundred people where there just seemed to be nobody suitable to marry. There may have been some others who were technically the right age and sex, but just not compatible or interested in each other. The hope was that young people would marry someone from their group—meeting them either at a multi-congregation activity, a Feast of Tabernacles or possibly at the Worldwide Church of God’s Ambassador College.

Today there are many small groups, and most are made up of predominantly older people. Young people can sometimes honestly say, “I have met everyone near my age in my church group, there are only a few that would make good friends and none that I think I could marry.” For them, the need to associate with “other groups” seems clear and obvious.

But even if friends and marriage are not a concern to us, how we work with other groups usually becomes an instant question when a new person considers attending our fellowship. Anyone who is thinking about attending your group will obviously be trying to answer questions like “What group(s) does God want me to attend?” Claiming “this is the only true church you need to know about” simply does not work when there are so many similar Sabbatarian groups.

We Have Always Worked With Many Groups

While some people may still long for the “good old days” when the centrally-controlled Worldwide Church of God did not have to work with any other groups, the truth is that we have always worked with them. Yes, we worked with lots of Sunday-keeping Christians. But we only worked with them when the leadership told us it was O.K. to work with them. How did the WCG work with them?

We used their Bible translations. The King James Bible was the work of Sunday-keeping English churchmen. The WCG regularly admitted that there were some errors in translation and pointed them out in their literature. But the WCG never produced its own translation or even a comprehensive guide to what it considered KJV translation errors. (Other groups claiming to be the “one true Church” do produce their own Bible translation.) We also used the Moffatt and many other translations by Sunday-keepers. All these different translations represent the linguistic, historical and theological opinions of the translators regarding what the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures say. None were in the WCG and almost none were Sabbatarians. Even though many early Bible translators were put to death for making the scriptures available to the English-speaking world, the WCG classified them all as non-Christians. But we still read their work, because our leadership said it was O.K.

We used their Bible commentaries. WCG ministers occasionally acknowledged that they used Bible Commentaries to gain understanding of some scriptures. Works by Adam Clarke, Bullinger, JFB, Halley, and Scofield were often mentioned by name. The use of such commentaries was not confined to historical and technical data, but spiritual lessons and prophetic interpretation brought out in these commentaries made their way into WCG sermons and literature. WCG members were neither forbidden nor greatly encouraged to read these commentaries, but were generally warned that they were a mixture of truth and error. Since the commentators mentioned here were already dead, there was little chance that members would try to “follow” them. So some of us learned from these commentaries by Sunday-keepers because our leadership said it was O.K.

We used some of their teachings. Past issues of Servants’ News have shown how the WCG’s teaching on British Israelism (Britain and USA being the lost tribes of Israel), Has Time Been Lost?, the goats of the Day of Atonement were borrowed (in some places word for word) from teachers in other groups. Often, the leadership pretended that these were original teachings, and highly discouraged members from even thinking about reading the works of other religious groups. But when pressed, WCG ministers would usually admit that some WCG doctrines came from other sources and assured us it was all “of God”—because our leadership said it was O.K.

We used their hymns to praise God. The Bible commands us to sing praises to God in many places, but the words and music sung in the WCG were almost all written by people that the WCG would classify as unbelievers. Many WCG members do not realize that Dwight Armstrong, who compiled most of the WCG’s most-frequently-used hymnal, was a Sunday-keeper. While the words in that hymnal are usually paraphrased from the Psalms, he either composed the music or borrowed it from other Sunday-keepers. This staid music was not particularly inspiring to most people and seemed far away from the “leaping and dancing” that David did to praise God (2Sam 6:16). “Special music” at WCG services was frequently much more inspiring, but it was nearly always written by non-WCG composers.

When one reads about the circumstances surrounding the composition of some of the great Christian music, one reads about people who lost everything to do what was right, people who gave their lives for others, people who believe they had visions from God, etc. It was a very contradictory position to be inspired by such music in WCG services, yet believe its composers were unconverted and had no real experience with God.

Even though there were many skilled composers within the WCG, no effort was ever made to collect and distribute their music to the congregations so we all could praise God with songs all written by “believers.” We continued to sing and hear songs from those outside our group, even with a bit of doctrinal error on some occasions, because the songs were inspiring and because our leadership said it was O.K.

Difference Between Writings and Real People

There is a difference between using the writings of “other groups” and working with real live people in another group. The WCG virtually never invited a religious teacher from another group to speak in one of their services. Writings are much easier to control. Leaders can “approve” certain writings or certain sections of writings. If some approved written work raises too many questions among members, leaders can study it and write arguments against it, or even “ban” it from the membership. But when one directly fellowships with people in other groups, there is no way to know in advance what they may say or what kind of questions they will ask.

But there is no need to deal in fear.

The principles of dealing with “other groups’ writings” and the principles for dealing with “other groups” are similar. We have used these principles for many years, probably without thinking much about them, can continue to use them to help us in the future as we actually meet with other groups of real people. The processes that formerly took place over hours or days may now need to take place in minutes, but they are still much the same.

For example: years ago, a WCG-member may have been considering which new Bible translation to buy, which commentary to buy or which piece of special music to select for services. The same process that he used can be applied today when we visit a new group or hear a new teaching that we have never heard before:

1. “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov 18:13). One needs to actually read some of a Bible translation, commentary or special music piece before dismissing it as unsuitable. Similarly, one needs to understand the teachings of other groups before dismissing them as unsuitable. This does not mean that a person needs to read all of a Bible translation before they accept it or know every doctrine of a group before they work together—that would take too long. But one needs to read enough to understand it.

2. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16). All teachings (written or oral) should be compared to the Bible.

3. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1Jn 5:14). “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).

Prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit to impart truth have always been available. A believer may pray for God’s will before going to a store to select a commentary or a piece of music. When a believer is hearing a different teaching, they can silently pray for understanding and the wisdom to respond.

4. “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established” (Prov 15:22—see also Heb 5:11-14).

Not all Bible questions have a simple answer. Which verses are literal and which are symbolic? If we just sinned with our hand, should we cut it off? (Mark 9:43). If neither our Bible reading nor our prayer gives us an answer to a question, we can make use of the counsel of other believers.

Unfortunately, this point was overdone in the WCG, and some members referred nearly every question to their local minister, without using any of the previous steps. To whom should one go for advice? The qualifications of spiritual leaders are given in 1Tim 3 and Titus 1.

5. “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2Pet 2:1).

Nearly every WCG member knew that there was a lot of false “Christian” teaching and teachers. Some may have classified every non-WCG teacher as false. But can one declare “false” the exhaustive concordances of Strong and Young? These men labored hard, before the time of computers, to make the Bible much easier for millions to study.

The most dangerous teachers are ones that try to secretly bring false doctrine—who know what they are teaching is not true but teach it anyway and hope nobody notices. I have been amazed at how many former Church of God ministers I have met who have said that they never agreed with the WCG’s view of Church Government, prophecy, tithing, healing, etc., but taught it “so they could remain a minister”.

On the other hand, there are many Bible teachers today who teach Sunday worship, Christmas, eternal punishing and other errors out of ignorance. Hundreds of years ago, these doctrines were secretly brought into Christianity by men who knew better.

Today, most who teach these errors assume that they are in the Bible, but have simply never studied it. If we are uncertain about a teacher, we can search libraries or the internet to find out about his history and to find a summary of all that he teaches. If we read works written against someone, we should look for facts and objectivity, not name-calling. (For example, a book written against “Teddy Teacher” is useful if it quotes Teddy’s writing where he teaches that “the moon is made of green cheese”; the book would not be useful if it primarily makes claims like “Teddy is a bulb-nosed, freaky heretic”.)

Evaluating teachings to avoid those who are truly dangerous can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but a great amount of learning takes place in the process.

6. “And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam” (Rev 2:13-14).

This is one of the several clear examples in Revelation 2 and 3 showing that some groups teach a mixture of truth and error, yet Christ claims them as his own. The average WCG member looking for a Bible commentary would have realized this—he or she would expect a mixture of truth and error and would not throw out the commentary the first time they found an error in it.

So, today, when we fellowship with other groups, we should not consider them non-believers just because they have some of the rather serious errors mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3. So many Sabbatarians take the approach of: “In order for me to consider someone else a believer, they have to know as much truth as I know”—it is good that Christ does not take that approach!

7. “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14:21-23).

If a WCG member of the past heard a fellow believer read from a commentary that he disagreed with, or sing a song he thought was doctrinally in error, he probably would not reject him as a brother. Romans 14 talks about how some people thought it was a sin to eat meat and others did not. Paul, rather than clearly teaching the solution to this problem, clearly teaches that we should not offend fellow-believers even when they are mixed up on a point of doctrine, and that we should not expect them to do the right thing when they do not have faith that it is right. (This does not eliminate sin—people still suffer from doing the wrong thing, and once God shows them that it is wrong, He expects them to change it.)

How Much Error Is Too Much?

I hope that you can understand that there is need to be willing to fellowship with those who do not understand as much truth as we do. The very next verses after Romans 14, quoted above, are: “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification” (Rom 15:1-2).

Is there any limit to how much error we can fellowship with? Yes. The Bible shows that some errors are far more destructive than others are. Several doctrinal problems are mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3, yet Christ neither commands the individuals in those seven churches to leave their group nor does He tell them to “kick out” the heretics. He commands everyone who “has an ear to hear” to repent. But other scriptures do show there are some errors with which we cannot fellowship.

1. Those who reject Christ. Both in the first century and today, there are people who claim to believe the Bible, but who do not believe that Christ actually came in the flesh. (Some people will say that all “Trinitarians” fall into this category, but please realize that professional theologians are about the only ones that actually understand and believe the various “Trinity” doctrines. Since these doctrines are not found in the Bible, the average Bible-reading Christian believes that the Father sent His Son in the flesh to the earth, and that they later gave the Holy Spirit to dwell in Christians.)

2Jn 7, 9-11 “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist… Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.”

2. Those who preach unbiblical limits regarding who can be saved. Some during the first century were teaching that without circumcision, men (and their wives) could not be saved. This teaching exists today among some Jewish Christian groups and is still responsible for breaking up families when one parent feels it must be done so that the children can be saved, and another does not.

A very similar but even worse teaching of our day is the serpent’s seed doctrine—the teaching that only some of the people on the earth are true children of God through Adam and the rest are children of Satan and have no possibility of salvation. This doctrine also breaks up families, congregations and communities since, because of a person’s ancestry, they can be regarded as no more eligible for salvation than a dog. It is very difficult to fellowship with a group when they reject the majority of people on earth as “unsaveable”.

Acts 15:1 “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’”

Galatians 5:6,10,12 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love… But he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is… I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!”

Titus 1:10-11 “For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.”

3. Those who cause division. The Church of God groups are good at quoting these Scriptures, but they were not as good at using them. If a member tried to form a new group that would follow only himself, the Church of God groups would do the right thing and disfellowship the person for “causing division”.

People who insist that a certain set of doctrines or certain human leaders are necessary for salvation are indeed causing division. But more often, a CoG member with a different doctrinal understanding, or one who openly complained about the church group’s leadership was also “disfellowshipped” for “causing division”.

These people with questions were not “causing division”, but merely raising questions—and possibly offending some brethren. In these cases, the leadership “caused division” by casting out the brethren rather than answering their questions or charges—or being honest and admitting that they did not have the answers.

Today, it is primarily the leadership of the various Church of God organizations that are causing division. Local brethren frequently would like to get together for joint activities, but the corporate leadership opposes it.

Rom 16:17 “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.”

Titus 3:10 “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition.”

4. Those who will not listen to the Apostles. In the first century, the apostles were trained directly by Christ, worked many signs and wonders, and were an obvious source of truth. Today, we do not have any universally-recognized Apostles—though we do have their universally-recognized writings. Today, I believe we should withdraw from people who claim to be “Christian”, but who do not believe that the Bible is the source and guidebook for our belief.

2Thes 3:6,14 “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us… And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.”

5. Those who will not hear the decision of the church (a congregation). Matthew 18:15-17 contains a most effective formula for fairly solving most problems among people in a congregation. It can be used for personal conflicts or doctrinal issues that at least one person thinks are very serious. These verses do not usually come into play until a group has actually fellowshipped together for a while.

Matt 18:17 “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”

6. Those who are flagrantly sinful. All believers sin (1Jn 1:8), but 1 Corinthians 5 explains that flagrant sinners should not be allowed to remain with the body of believers until they change. The specific sins to avoid are covered in two passages below. As I read through these lists, I realized that a number of them corresponded directly to one of the Ten Commandments.
I placed commandment numbers in braces {} after each word that directly fit one of the Ten Commandments. The results were interesting. Only one commandment was missing. Which one?

1 Cor 5:11 “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral {7} or covetous {10}, or an idolater {2}, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner {8}—not even to eat with such a person.”

2Tim 3:2-5 “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers {3}, disobedient to parents {5}, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers {9}, without self-control, brutal {6}, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God {1}, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”

The fact that the Sabbath is not mentioned here does not undo the Eternal’s command given at creation (Ex 20:8,11). Whilst Saturday-versus Sunday-worship was probably not an issue when this was written, soldiers, slaves, and certain others may have had difficulty keeping the Sabbath. It is interesting that the New Testament contains no command to avoid fellowship with Sabbath-breakers.

Let Us Be Honest

Viewing ourselves as an outsider would view us—as the Eternal would view us—is a very difficult thing. “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment” (1Cor 11:31). Please take time to read these few paragraphs, even if they may be distasteful to some of you. Please try to judge fairly.

Consider the reputation of the Worldwide Church of God in the public news and then look at the verses above. WCG leaders were publicly accused of doing nearly every one of the sins in those verses. I will not go into all of them here, but you can read about the accusations on the internet: AmbassadorReport/files/home.html

Many will say, “these are only accusations; they have not been proven true”. Some have, some have not. The WCG’s own documents prove some of the sins. They show the spending of large amounts of money on luxuries whilst members were asked to sacrifice and “go without”. They show denials of sins by the leadership, only to be followed by admissions of it.

They show setting of prophetic dates, followed by claims that “they never set dates”. They show members were encouraged to seek only divine healing, while leaders went to doctors. There are many other accusations where there are two or three witnesses.

In my attempts to look into these accusations of flagrant sins by the WCG leaders, I have found some proof that they are true and very little proof that they are false. As a matter of fact, I have not found anybody who personally was with the WCG leadership who will deny much of any of the big accusations leveled against them. (If you know of someone, please write.) Most simply refuse to talk about it.

A number of people who were not present when the events allegedly happened will make statements like “those accusations can’t be true because that was God’s Church and God’s Apostle.” But these are not witnesses; these are unknowledgeable people with an opinion.

So what should a person do who is considering fellowshipping with the WCG or one of its “successors”? If they read about the leader’s sins, from which the Eternal says “turn away”, why should they not leave? Having taken calls for the telephone book advert about our “Independent Sabbath-Observing” local fellowship for several years, I have spoken with several people who want to assemble with believers on the Sabbath, but will not assemble with people who have come from the WCG. They know all about Ambassador Report, the “Tangled Web”, and other books about the financial abuse, lying, sex, and other problems.

But there are no books I can recommend to them to refute those accusations. The WCG leadership either ignored them or mentioned them in vague terms. The WCG leaders should have publicly confessed their sin in the charges that were true and upheld the integrity of “God’s Work” by denying the charges that were false. Instead, it appeared that their strategy was to try to say little enough that those members who were ignorant of the charges would remain ignorant, but the same time say just enough that those who knew about the charges would think that the WCG had an answer for everything, but was not going to bother with taking time to explain it all.

Some will point to Christ and say, “He did not defend Himself, so neither should Church leaders”. The comparison is totally invalid. First of all, Christ did not answer, because if He would have told the truth and used his infinite wisdom, He would have been able to show each person involved the gravity of their sin and talk His way out of His execution. But He let himself be led like a lamb to the slaughter. Secondly, Christ never sinned—but the Church leaders did. None of the charges against Christ were true and an unbiased person could have figured that out. At least some of the charges against the WCG leadership are true (by their own admission) and the rest are difficult to either prove or disprove.

No “Clean up” in Sight

The entire “Church of God” mess could have been cleaned up if some of the now-deceased WCG leaders spent their last days either acknowledging and repenting of the sins of which they had been accused or else refuting the false accusations. The mess could still be cleaned up if Garner Ted Armstrong, David Antion, Ben Chapman, Otto Lochner, Rod Meredith, Raymond McNair, Aaron Dean and others who really know about some of the situations would sit down and write a book explaining how the accusations in Ambassador Report, the “Tangled Web”, and other books are either true or false. But many others and myself have written letters to them on these subjects—nearly all of which go unanswered.

Certainly, much truth was taught by “Church of God” leaders, and the Holy Spirit came upon many of the members (including leaders) and many lives were changed for the better because of what God did. But the sins of the leaders will be forever documented by Ambassador Report and other similar works, with no opposing documents to show, point by point, where they are wrong.

Furthermore, the older writings of the WCG may no longer be publicly available as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, on Sept. 18, 2000, ruled in favor of the Worldwide Church of God, opposing the Philadelphia Church of God’s efforts to reprint old WCG literature. The judge ruled that the old writings are corporate property and cannot be reprinted without permission. This ruling has caused others with old WCG literature on their internet sites to remove it. If these rulings in favor of the WCG stand through additional legal challenges, and if the WCG continues to pursue copyright violators, the available history of the WCG will be that of its sins, not of its good teaching.

Could the Eternal suddenly change all of this? Could He restore that work through one of the existing WCG-offshoots, or a new group? Yes, of course He could! And if He builds such a work headed by righteous men, I hope to be one of the first to recognize it! But now He is allowing the present CoG organizations to fade, and for their sins to be better preserved than their truths.

I realize that these things will be hurtful and depressing to some people, and that they are hard to think about. But if we want a future for ourselves and our children, we need to begin thinking about them now. If we want to follow the Eternal, He will take care of us. If he wants to move us beyond the WCG-splinter-groups, we need to be ready to follow.

The Love Factor

Before we discuss where we might go, let us consider one other important factor. Christ said His disciples would be known by their love for each other:

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love… Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1Jn 4:7-8,11).

At the local level, many “Church of God” brethren have great love for each other. They help each other—will even risk being kicked out of their own hierarchical church group to help a long-time friend in need. But as one climbs the levels of hierarchy, love gets harder to see. First of all, understand that it is easy to appear loving through writing, tapes or television. These productions are usually reviewed by a fairly large group of people and if a part of them does not sound loving enough, it will be re-done. To see if a person really has love, it is necessary to work or live with them for many hours—to be there when things go wrong.

It is also easy to pretend to be loving at a once-per-week worship service. Nearly all Christian churches preach a lot about love and claim to have it—though hearing about it and doing it are two completely different things. Many groups preach “love” to the exclusion of law, history and other truth in the Bible. So those who hear that message and do not develop Godly love end up with nothing. In order to worship God, we must have both love through His Spirit, and truth (John 4:23-24, Gal 5:22, Col 1:8). How can we tell if we, or other groups really have love?

“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phlp 2:1-3).

“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Rom 12:10).

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).

The concept of laying one’s life down for one’s friends is not found in the Old Testament. The Old Testament said “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18), but not “more than yourself”. Christ’s teaching is not some kind of “spiritual suicide” where all the good people die and all the bad people win. Rather it is a process where we develop love for others and even suffer for them, that we “might obtain a better resurrection” (Heb 11:35).

Are the “Church of God” groups the most apparently “loving” of all church groups? I do not think so—but I think they are far from being the worst. I have attended Sunday groups where people were just “doing their religious duty”, or were there to make business contacts.

But there are other church groups where people spend a large portion of their disposable time serving others, sometimes at great danger to themselves. Some teach the Bible to those in areas where violence and infectious diseases are a way of life. Others take worse risks at overseas missions. In Muslim and other countries where the killing of Christians is accepted by governments, captured believers literally do give their lives for others—by not telling who and where they are. Very few Church of God brethren have ever had to make this choice—though many have had to lose all of their friends (be disfellowshipped) in order to do what their believed was right.

I will be the first one to admit that a high percentage of the ads and stories about “dangerous Christian missions where people risk their lives daily” are so much advertising propaganda to raise money. Nevertheless, some of these life and death missions are real—see boxed article, “Greater Love Than This…”, on page 11.

It is not my purpose to judge exactly which people have the most love and which do not. That will be judged in the resurrection. But if we think that because we have more true doctrine, we have more love, I think we are wrong.

“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1Cor 13:2).

We can have knowledge without love. An interesting thing is happening in some big cities where there are many corporate Church of God groups. Sometimes, most of the brethren will, a few at a time, move to one particular group. Is it because that organization has better doctrine or preaches the Gospel better? Probably not—because the organization that people gravitate to is not the same in every city.

It may be UCG here, LCG there, and another group in some other city. The point is that there are ministers and brethren who obviously have more love for others—and fellowshipping with that particular group is just so much more uplifting. This writer knows of corporate church headquarters employees who prefer to attend another organization’s services when they are in certain cities.

Love is evident. It matters.

If we are searching to fellowship with our Father’s people, we need to consider love as the major factor that the scriptures say it is. We do not “have to” fellowship with people who are regularly dying for each other. But fellowshipping where people are willing to do whatever is necessary to help their fellow believers is as important as a lot of doctrine. Learning to be a person with that kind of love is also as important as knowing a lot of doctrine.

Error is not Tolerance is not Ecumenicism

We must recognize that we have not been and are not now perfect Christians There are things that we can learn from other believers, and that there are things we can teach them. We should be willing to treat others as believers, even though they may have serious error—just as Christ did in Revelation 2 and 3. Tolerating others with error and fellowshipping with them is completely different from joining in their error. We, like Christ, can be among people with error and set an example—as long as we do not let it affect us. Notice Paul’s instruction:

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1).

If someone is finding themselves falling into doctrinal error or some other sin because they are fellowshipping with people who do the same thing, then they should leave until the problem is corrected.

Tolerating others is not ecumenicism—it is not joining the “one world church” movement. Ecumenical movements seek to unite the ministries and administrations of church organizations. The Bible condemns members for aligning themselves with different leaders (1Cor 3). It encourages all believers to work with each other, though it shows that bad church leaders will sometimes stop that process (3Jn 1:10). An ecumenical “one world church” movement is the ultimate church hierarchy—the ultimate mistake. Believers cooperating with each other and tolerating each other’s weaknesses is the way the church should be (Eph 4:1-6).

The reality is that most Church organizations, and a fairly large number of independent churches are not the least bit interested in having Sabbath-keepers among them trying to share their knowledge with their members. Only a small fraction of professing Christians really read the Bible regularly and try to do what it says. But since that small fraction is a fraction of the over one billion professing Christians, the total number is quite large—certainly larger than the Church of God groups.

Where Is It All Going?

I have spent a lot of time over the past few months in correspondence or on the telephone with a great many believers, both in and out of the Church of God groups. It seems that people are stirring in religious groups everywhere. Those who have spent many years in a religious group are suddenly wanting to learn directly from the Bible, rather than their organization’s dogma. Other independent Bible churches and Bible study groups seem to be willing to start their study afresh and do what the Bible says—no matter what long-cherished ideas they will have to change.

There are probably millions who have long ago figured out that obeying the Bible does not require a “church organization”, but humble people who will read the Bible, give their lives to Christ, and do what He says. These people do not build buildings, create organizations or register anywhere, so we do not know how many there are or how many people they are teaching. But God knows.

Working with other groups does not require that all existing Church of God groups break up and that the members just wander off to some other group to tolerate a bunch of error. The entire purpose is for all believers to share what the Eternal has given them and to teach it to new people. The Church of God organizations are producing some very good literature and teaching some people. But most of the congregations are simply getting older—and smaller. The following suggestions are made in the hope that Church of God brethren can recognize what the Eternal is doing among all of His people now, and be better prepared to be a part of it.

1. Stop thinking that the only way the Gospel will be taken to the world is by the Church of God groups getting back together and doing a “big work”.

2. Realize that there has been no consistent set of doctrines held by any group throughout church history. We should not give up on what we know to be true, but we should not demand that others know as much truth as we do before being counted as believers.

3. Realize that a person who has never heard of the “Church of God” may have the Holy Spirit and be a believer.

4. Realize that other groups may excel in loving their neighbors, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, preaching Christ, praising God and other Biblical commands. We may excel in understanding and teaching doctrine. If we expect our “gift” to be acknowledged and respected by other believers, we need to acknowledge and respect theirs.

5. Look for other Bible believing groups in your area—especially those who allow interaction in their services. The phone book, newspapers and internet sites can help.

6. Pray and ask the Eternal to show you where you can be of service. (I have met many people who found other groups by the most unusual of circumstances.)

7. Visit other groups as it makes sense for you. Most groups are usually very eager to welcome visitors—especially those who are not members of any other church organization. Some brethren will find it best to visit other Sabbatarian groups, some Messianic Jewish groups, others Sunday groups and some weeknight Bible studies. Some, especially parents with young children, may simply have very little time outside the Sabbath to devote to fellowshipping with other believers. (Whenever you visit a group, ask people if they know about small, independent Bible study groups. Word of mouth is often the only way to find these groups.)

8. Learn what you can about each group—go early and stay late so you can talk to people. Treat them as brethren. Let them see your light shine and let them provoke you to good works. Don’t be shy about what you believe, but do not disrespect those who do not know as much. Explaining what we believe by using only Scriptures and history (no CoG booklets) is a worthwhile experience in itself.

9. Realize that the environment you are creating is much better for new believers than the typical Church of God environment where “everyone seems to already know everything”. New believers need to see a variety of people who love each other and are all striving to live by the Bible, even though they may have different opinions about what it says.

10. Let Christ work. Realize that we do not have to “do it all”, but neither should we “do nothing”. He is the Head of the Church throughout the world and He will see that the necessary work is done.


The future of the Church of God brethren is something that I have prayed, studied, and thought about quite a bit. I cannot say that this is His will for anybody beside myself. Christ gives individuals many different things to do as He sees fit. But I think this approach will be much more beneficial both to ourselves, our children and the believers in other groups that we will meet. It will certainly be better than arguing picky points of doctrine and watching our groups gradually shrink.

There may not be a time in the future when we are able to teach a group of people all of the doctrine that we know. But which is better, to teach someone a lot of truth or to teach them to use the Bible and the Spirit of God to find truth?

Norman Edwards

Related Articles:
“Church of God” Groups Stuck With Reputation?
Greater Love Than This…
Teaching Other Groups—One Example

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