Servants' News

May 1995

Local Church Autonomy


Central Control


This memo was written by a Southern California CPA in early April, 1995—before the United Church of God reached its present form. While Friends of the Brethren does not agree with all of the ideas or technical estimates stated in this document, we feel it is a well-thought-out expression of the difficulties facing so many of the Eternal’s people—especially the leaders. For a Biblical perspective, please write for our in-depth article, How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?


The leading ministers of the Church of God all agree on two things. The first is that a separation, from the WCG is now imminent for the Church of God. Second, there should be unity, if at all possible, in separating, so that the brethren have a clear and viable choice.

Discussion taking place between the leaders of three possible separation alternatives has led to the issue of governmental structure being identified as a possible stumbling block to unity in separating. The real issue is not governmental structure, however. It is the attitude and belief system behind each proposed governmental structure. This is where the real conflict lies. And this is what this memo addresses.

Briefly, the three separation groups and their alternatives are as follows:

1. United Church of God (UCG). UCG believes very strongly in local church autonomy where each individual local church congregation (LCC) would be separately incorporated and have a strong sense of member ownership and involvement in LCC affairs. Each LCC would collect tithes and offerings locally and each LCC would be more involved in preaching the gospel message locally. Each LCC would also be a member of a central association and would generously support it, as they are able. The central association office (CAO) would be a service provider to its members (the LCCs). The CAO would help recreate a body of literature, preach the gospel message nationally and internationally, help with international legal matters, help establish Feast sites, provide central purchasing of insurance, etc. There would be a regional pastor system of overview, a doctrinal committee, and other checks and balances against LCCs each going off in their own direction.

2. Worldwide Church of God-Texas (WCGT). WCGT is a Texas corporation that is purposefully structured (as one can surmise from the name) to be as close as possible to the WCG when Mr. HWA was still alive. The major difference would be that the WCGT would be governed by a real Council of Elders (made up of all ministers) who could fire the human President if he were to go off the track. Tithes and offerings would be collected centrally. There would be a fairly large headquarters type of facility or operation since the operating structure or philosophy very closely parallels what the Church of God experienced during the HWA days of the WCG. WCGT would like to make every effort to help save Ambassador University, if that is possible.

3. United Church of God—California (UCG-CA). UCG-CA also believes in a central headquarters’ type of operation with tithes and offerings being collected centrally. UCG-CA would like the field ministers to elect a Board of Directors who would hire a President to run the organization. The Board of Directors could fire the President if he were to go off of the track. Other than the name, there is very little substantive difference between UCG-CA and WCGT.

Basically the two choices for governmental structure can be characterized as local autonomy (freedom) versus central control (control). That is how the balance of this memo will address them.

The former USSR has as many natural resources as the USA, if not more. However, natural resources are only potential wealth. Why did the USA prosper but the USSR flounder? It is true that God did bless the USA to fulfill the birthright promises, but we should look at how He did it. God used the Founding Fathers to chain government better than it had ever been chained before (with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights). With a large central bureaucracy effectively neutralized, creative people were finally free to act. And they did. The subsequent release of creative human energy (freedom) resulted, over time, in the highest standard of living the world has ever seen. God used freedom to bless this country-not a large central bureaucracy with all of its rules and regulations.

To illustrate the difference between freedom and central planning consider this fact. Prior to 1917 Russia was one of the world’s leading exporters of grain. Under central control it had to import grain. What is particularly telling is that even during communism, peasants were allowed to work plots of land (one acre or less) and to sell the output at what amounts to a real market price. Less than one percent of the total land of the USSR was farmed this way. The collective output, though, of these one acre or less plots was... what would you guess? About one percent? Not even close. 50%! That’s right, the less than one percent of the land farmed with freedom produced 50% of the USSR’s entire agricultural output. Did it ever occur, to the central planners, to abandon central planning and let the people own the land again? Unfortunately not. You see, it takes honesty, courage, and living faith to live free. They didn’t have it.

It wasn’t until about 1913, with the passage of the income tax amendment and the institution of the Federal Reserve Board, that the federal government gained the real power to control things centrally. And now look what has happened. The central bureaucracy got loose from its chains and started eating the people it was supposed to be serving. Now, after decades of central planning, and an attempt to redistribute untold wealth, more people than ever have become dependent on receiving handouts from the government in order to exist. The economic destruction is bad, but what is far worse is the spiritual and moral decline of the people receiving the handouts. They are ruined people who have been taught not to fend for themselves. Do you know what could be purchased with the collective amount of money that has been spent fighting poverty in the United States since 1965? Every acre of farmland in the USA and every Fortune 500 company.

If the Founding Fathers had tried to play it safe, emulating the British Government, from whom they were separating, the American experiment with freedom would have been a collective yawn and the world’s highest standard of living would not have been achieved.

The central hierarchical structure has failed the modern era of the Church of God. It is nonsense to only take the good returns (HWA’s leadership) and not count the bad returns (the last several years). The author of this memo is from Orange County, California. When Bob Citron, Orange County’s Treasurer, was achieving better than average returns on investment, it is nonsense to not consider the rest of the story, the $2 billion loss. The total return on investment is just that, the TOTAL return on investment, not just the good times before the crash and burn phase.

The central hierarchical structure has resulted in two kinds of training which are both detrimental. The first is that ministers are taught to simply take orders. The second is that members are taught to pray and pay and that’s basically it. This has led to the current situation where the ministers have stood by waiting for orders (which aren’t coming because there is no one to give them) while their sheep have been slaughtered. Please see Mr. Ray Wooten’s letter [on page 4 or this issue]. It has also led brethren to wonder why aren’t any of the leaders doing something? After all, since they have prayed and paid, their responsibility has ended. It’s someone else’s problem to solve. NO IT ISN’T!

I believe that God’s people have proven that they have good attitudes and will obey. Now, I believe, that God wants to know what kind of decisions each individual will make. By forcing individuals to make decisions (to exercise and develop good judgment) it forces on each of us a much higher standard of involvement and responsibility. A central hierarchical structure will defeat this. It will be pray and pay and take orders all over again, versus a SHARED ministry with member ownership and involvement at a local level. To head the Church of God in its present state will take an open, honest, warm and loving approach, not more central controls.

You can’t put a “melts in your mouth, but not in you hands” coating on a headquarters and say it is something different. It is not something different. It is simply a return of the chained central control. But central controls have defeated their chains throughout history. Are we really so smart that we will be the first ones ever to successfully chain it? The central hierarchical structure has been an instrument of ABUSE toward both the field ministry and the members. In an age of incredible technological advances, central bureaucracies are dinosaurs. Central bureaucracies do not innovate, they destroy people and their lives.

Ministers are going to have to see the irony of teaching that we are going to become members of God’s family, but at the same time teach us that we can’t handle money or make a hotel reservation without a list of hotels to pick from. Either we are or we are not going to have tremendous responsibility some day. So let us actlike it NOW.

Some ministers and members may be afraid of local church autonomy because it is new to the modern era of the COG. An honest examination of the work involved shows that it is very doable.

Local Incorporation Requirements

1. It takes a few hours to incorporate and costs about $500. This includes qualifying to do business in your home state. It will take several days for your corporate seal, minute book, etc. to arrive. There is a Legal Start-up Memo, complete with sample Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws available to local churches wishing to incorporate. The Legal Start-up Memo’s section on Checks and Balances concerning LCCs and the CAO is enclosed as Exhibit B. It should be read because it contains a good discussion of the checks and balances that are necessary.

2. It takes a little one-time effort to obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS and to open a bank account and a Post Office Box.

3. You do have to fill out IRS form 1023 in order to obtain a determination letter from the IRS that your LCC is tax exempt. And you should also obtain tax exempt status from the state you are located in. But this is a one-time thing and UCG can provide a sample form 1023 for LCCs to use so the process is relatively painless.

4. There are no annual reporting requirements for churches with the IRS and with most states. So once you have incorporated, qualified to do business in your home state, gained formal tax exempt status, etc. there is no other big legal thing to do. All of these things can be done for less than $1000 and a couple of days work.

5. On an ongoing basis, even for a large LCC, there is little extra work to do. If a larger LCC had 200 attending and the average family size was three people, there would be about 67 families. There are about 22 working days in a month. If each family wrote one tithe/offering check per month the LCC would receive about 3 checks per day. This would take someone less than 30 minutes per day to photocopy the 3 checks, prepare the bank deposit, prepare and mail 3 contribution receipts, and note the deposit into a cash receipts journal. Even a large LCC would write no more than 15-20 checks per month. This is less than one check per day. The entire accounting of even a large LCC would take less than one hour per day of either volunteer or even paid labor. It just is not a big job. Once a month someone with accounting skill, or a local CPA firm, or a hired bookkeeper could prepare a simple financial statement. Again, there are no external reporting requirements for churches. And LCCs should use a full service payroll company that will literally do everything concerning getting a payroll processed.

Is there a minister out there who will say that an average member can become a part of the God family, but cannot deposit three checks per day into the bank and write one check per day to pay bills? A person with a modest amount of clerical training can open envelopes, remove checks, copy them, fill out a deposit slip, fill out contribution reciepts, mail the receipts and make a bank deposit. We have taught the principle of “resourcefulness” for years: it can be put to use for the rare exceptions such as bad checks, foreign currency donations, unreadable addresses, etc.

The truth is that while making very little extra work, organizing locally does provide maximum possible protection for the Church of God. If a LCC could not find one person, or hire one person, to do less than an hour’s worth of accounting, per day, in order to meet together to hear the truth, and to be nourished spiritually, there is nothing a central headquarters is going to do for that LCC either. They are dead, dead, dead!

Concerns and Answers About Local Autonomy

1. The cost of administering the LCCs is too high. A conservative estimate of the failure of central control is $250 million down the drain. And thousands of shattered lives. The truth of the matter is that a lot of the labor necessary to have a LCC function will be donated, which is the beauty of it. The person donating the labor will benefit most, because they are doing so out of love for God’s church and his people. And of course the LCC will benefit. The Holy Spirit will inspire these acts of service and because there will be a REAL sense of member ownership at a local level, there is a very good chance that per capita giving will be much higher. This is because people will know what they are giving for and why. Also, when members know they are paying the bills locally, creative energy will be unleashed to hold costs down and to make every dollar count. Don’t be surprised if better halls are found for less money, etc.

Since ministers are going to have to be paid anyway, and because hall rental will have to be paid anyway, and there are no annual filing requirements for churches, I don’t see any higher administrative costs, other than the admitted hour per day of donated accounting labor. There could be come LCCs that need to purchase a modest amount of accounting and legal help, but that is minimal. To offset this, loyal church members who are lawyers and CPAs can each adopt 3-5 LCCs and help [not control] them in their legal and accounting needs. I am a CPA and I could easily advise a number of LCCs. We are supposed to serve each other.

It is true that insurance can be much more cheaply purchased as a block. But the advocates of UCG believe very much that a CAO can and will purchase the insurance with each LCC being billed for their prorata share. The same thing is true if a 403B pension plan (the 401K equivalent for non-profit corporations) is set up. Each LCC can be billed their prorate cost of the 403B.

2. There is a risk of doctrinal differences, especially over time. UCG proposes that the CAO have a doctrinal committee and that any LCC who does not hold to the truths once delivered will be de-listed from membership in the association and lose the benefits thereof. If a LCC goes doctrinally south, usually because the minister there has done so over time, there is little either a central control or anyone else can do about it. It is probably less likely with local control because the LCC’s Board of Directors can fire the minister and hire one who teaches the truth. Of course, a Regional Pastor needs to be given a chance to mediate the dispute and a Regional Pastor system will be set up. LCC’s and the CAO should both follow Biblical standard, e.g. Matthew 18, in attempting to resolve differences. That would be a nice change for the modern era of the Church of God.

3. The LCCs will spend all of their money locally and none will be left over to do a Work. If the CAO genuinely provides services to the LCCs, why wouldn’t they support it? LCCs do need to have a Christian giving perspective. By our estimates, there could be about 250 LCCs, 200 full time ministers, and an annual income to the CAO of about $9.2 million. This assumes each of the LCCs remit 65% of their funds after expenses, retaining 35% to preach the gospel locally. Obviously, the correct number might be lower or higher. The point is, there is ample money to do a Work, if Christian people will work together in the right spirit and attitude. And if they do, God will add more money and people.

4. Ministers are afraid of getting fired. UCG’s proposed Bylaws call for a seven person Board of Directors, of which the minister is one. The proposed Bylaws also call for the necessity of a 70% vote to fire a minister. This means that it would take 5 out of 6 of the Directors, excluding the minister, to fire him. And this would be after the minister and the LCC had mediation by a Regional Pastor. If, after a Regional Pastor’s efforts have failed, a minister still cannot get at least two votes from a six person board, he would best serve by going someplace else. Ministers and the entire Church of God need to understand that this is a world of instant information and empowerment of the average person. The day of the old attitude of lording it over other people, that some (nowhere near all) ministers have utilized to rule their congregations, is over.

Ministers and members need each other. We should all have a spirit and attitude of service to each other. Any minister with this attitude has nothing to worry about. There is going to be a shortage of good full-time ministers. Good ministers are going to be valued like they never have before.

5. There will be pay inequity as some LCCs will pay their ministers more than a comparable LCC will pay their minister. So what. If one LCC wants to keep their minister and is willing to pay him a little more, whose business is that anyway? The whole LCC process will tend to raise the pay level of the ministry, which is a good thing. Field ministers have been too long abused by not having any say about where they shepherded, etc. And that is nonsense.

6. LCCs will become involved in local power struggles. Better at that level than at a central control level, where huge damage has been done and can be done. If the LCC’s members (in the legal sense) are comprised of long-time faithful tried and tested leading people, they can snuff out a local power struggle at any time by electing a new Board of Directors, etc.

7. Smaller LCCs will need financial help to rent a hall and hire a minister. That is nothing new. The larger local church areas have always subsidized the smaller ones. The only reason that wasn’t widely known before was because tithes and offerings were collected centrally and then doled back out. The larger LCCs will need to help out those sister LCC’s in need. And they will.

8. There is some concern that in most congregations about 20% of the people do 90% plus of the work. That is probably true. And one of the reasons is members have been taught to primarily pay and pray. If they are encouraged to participate and have a sense of ownership at the local level, you will see a diversity of talents spring forth like you have never seen before from God’s people.

9. There won’t be ministerial rotation. Good.

One of the leaders of UCG-CA commented that the field ministers should elect a governing board to run the central organization. He later commented that a central organization was absolutely necessary to prevent 500 dictators (the field ministers) from each going their own direction. I am sure it has not occurred to him that having 500 potential dictators vote for a governing board is an inconsistent position. Are they 500 potential dictators, or are they men who are wise enough to elect a board? This whole idea of men controlling other men is something that God is going to totally smash.

The Houston South church, which is the church where the lead’s of WCGT are, actually formed their own separate non-profit corporation last year. They did so to collect and hold funds to ultimately purchase their own church building. Their research showed them they needed a separate non-profit organization to protect “their” money from being raided by headquarters. For this, I commend them as wise and prudent. Headquarters does have a tendency to raid local church activity funds. But now these same men wish to propose WCGT, which is about as close a rehash of the same old thing as you can get for the rest of us. Their own actions are so loud I can’t hear them! They have a separate non-profit corporation, but propose central controls for the rest of us. I think this is wrong.

If, after reading this, the senior ministers of the Church of God still believe in central control, then for the sake of the members, why not just go with the Global Church of God? It would certainly be less divisive to the overall Body of Christ and Global is already up and running. I realize the pat answer is, “Because the ministers don’t want to be under one man rule again.” But, someone has to be in charge. Why not go with Global, with the warning that if Mr. Meredith ever goes south doctrinally, is too heavy handed administratively, etc., we will then separate and put a system of government in place where there is a real Board of Directors. Who is being thought of here? The ministers, who don’t want to work for Mr. Meredith, or the members? We can always separate later, if it becomes necessary, and deal with it then.

God used freedom to fulfill the birthright promises to modern Joseph. He can certainly use freedom, coupled with his Holy Spirit, to bless the modern era of the Church of God. Freedom means member ownership and participation. It means the ability to develop good judgement and learning how to work together because we want to, in a spirit of service and love, not control. It means that local ministers can stop being abused and stop worrying about administrative details that have nothing whatsoever to do with their calling. They can fulfill their calling and let God show us who the real leaders are by their attitude, by their service. and by the fruit that is born. As it says in the last half of 2 Corinthians 3:17: “and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

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