(or it's time to learn the lessons of history)
The author, Craig White is a member of the Sydney, Australia United Church
of God. He has spent much personal effort during the past three years
communicating the happenings of the congregations in the
The United Church of God leadership has asked for member input into the draft constitution. This is within the spirit to permanently involve the membership in decision-making, the Work and also to break down the old concepts that members should just 'pray, pay and obey'. UCG obviously wishes to be an open Church, doing everything in the light, rather than in the dark. As a result, its constitution should reflect these values lest some wish to return to the old school of doing things in the dark and whipping the membership over trivia. We do not want a repeat of the 'God's Government' syndrome; being screamed at that 'ministers are as Christ before you' nonsense; harassing members out of jealousy if they are perceived to have talents, having a book published and so forth; or believing rumours and distortions about God's children.
The draft constitution as it is, is a fine document, including checks and balances on preventing anyone becoming too dominant; preventing basic doctrine from being changed (although some basic doctrines have been left out); and providing for legal aid for the ministry and so forth. But guess what? There is not a thing for the membership. We have been promised checks and balances, local Church boards as a permanent feature and member involvement in doing the Work. But where are they mentioned in the constitution? And why not? For, if they are not included in it, they can be taken from us at any time.
With each member possessing a copy of the constitution, annual reports (with audits and salary levels stated), the circulation of minutes of meetings, statement of beliefs, code of conduct for ministers and disfellowshipping appeal rules, guidelines for setting up local bank accounts, guidelines for screening incoming ministers will result in the Church operating in the light rather than in the dark. This of itself is a check and balance and would cause any authority to be very careful about making rash decisions (such as huge salaries) when it would be known by all and sundry.
Let's be quite frank, this openness would be good for the Church. The world could not complain about our governance and our will to be honest and open in our operations. They could not complain about our Christian conduct, but they may about our doctrines. We all want to do a real big Work again. But it would be counter-productive to do a big Work which may be full of such severe problems, wastage and abuse of members. No use throwing tens of millions of dollars into a giant media effort if we find that we are continually lashed in the public for abusive and wolf-like 'ministers'.
1. The draft constitution is a very good first attempt; 2. Certain checks and balances and means of ensuring the open form of Church government and local boards promised to us at the outset of all of this is adhered to; not to continue the local Church boards as a permanent feature would be unethical; 3. Certain critical doctrines should be added to the constitution to make it extremely difficult to alter; 4. Fairness and Biblical principles adhered to in areas of judgment.
Why the interest in the constitution? Some think that we are becoming bogged down in red tape, committees, paper work and such like. But this is not the case. Note the following reasons.
The numbering system used below matches the numbering used in the UCG draft constitution. Some of the points below are comments, some are suggested revisions and some are new articles.
2.0 mission statement: It is difficult to understand why it is not
stated that the UCG will continue in the basic truths which came to the
3.3 (1) general conference of elders may approve doctrinal changes: which doctrines? Those in the constitution or those in the statement of beliefs? Both should be the case. Add a line "in full consultation with the membership" which will keep it in accord with the principle in the last line of article2.0.
3.6.1 expulsion of an elder: add a line "in accordance with the code of conduct approved by the general conference of elders".
4.1 Preamble: As it will take many years to address so many issues and doctrines, the UCG should adopt the doctrines of HWA as expressed in the 18 truths (except with a modification of the 1st truth government) and the Mystery of the Ages as well as D&R, the race question, Mark of the Beast, the coming Holy Roman Empire, born again in the resurrection, history of the Church of God etc until such time as each doctrine is examined and approved by the general conference of elders. At this time the only doctrines that there is general consensus which there has been agreement for change are Church governance, medicines, make-up and perhaps one or two others. This should be stated in the constitution. Without this we would be virtually doctrine-less and without continuity. How do we currently administer divorce cases for example?
4.1.1 Christ "is true God and true man": what does this mean? Has this ever been a teaching agreed to or understood by the Church? I can recall that this is what we believed He was while on the earth, but not after His resurrection. This is something that trinitarians teach. Why is it creeping in here?
4.1.3 Satan and demons: We should also mention something about the angels here.
4.1.10 Sabbath: Why leave out that the Sabbath is a sign? Most strange.
4.1.11 annual holy days: add that every member household will be supplied annually with a copy of the Church's current understanding of whichever Sacred Calendar it has adopted; it will include both Hebrew and Roman dates and an explanation of how the calendar works.
4.1.13 Christians are forbidden from taking human life: extend this concept to include abortion except in the case of a mother's life being threatened.
4.1.14 This hints at the teaching that the Anglo-Saxon-Kelts and
Nordics descend from Abraham. We need to be more explicit and state just who
4.1.15 God's purpose is the creation of spiritual character: we need to be proud of the doctrine that God is a Family and that we are born into that Family. This should be stated openly. We should not be ashamed of the truth nor reject it (Hos 4:6).
4.1.16 The Church is not a denomination: extend this to state that the UCG is only one branch of God's Church and consequently members are free to visit other sabbath-keeping groups.
4.1.17 the resurrection: state that there are 2 (or 3) resurrections. As is, anyone reading this would think that there would be just one.
4.1.19 new clause: state that tithing and offerings are principles.
7.2.2(7) relationships with other organisations: change to with other sabbatarian organizations .
7.2.2(13) develop rules of association for local congregations: add the words "jointly with the local congregations"
7.3.1 The board may provide, by resolution, for representation on the
board of those elders residing outside the
7.9: Church membership and discipline: before we get into this negative area, we need to state that members have rights such as a right to love, fairness and justice. When addressing disfellowshipment, state that any minister who maliciously disfellowships anyone will themselves be disfellowshipped and the member reinstated immediately (Deut 19:15-21).The constitution should empower the local Church boards to review cases of harassment, slander against a member by a minister, suspension or disfellowshipment in accordance with the principle of Matt 18:15-18, and overturn such decision. See 15.0 below. On further reflection, this clause should be removed and perhaps be contained in a separate policy document.
10.4 the annual report to be made available to all members: add that the report shall contain the annual budget, audit, list of all ministers, code of conduct for ministers, disfellowshipping appeal guidelines.
10.5 disclosure of top five salaries: instead state that all salaries plus allowances of all ministerial levels and officers will be listed. Why were the allowances left out? Why were the other Board members left out? [If leaders are setting an example of righteous financial management, should not the members see and learn from it? -SN Editor.]
10.8 new clause with sub-points: Access by members to UCG Policies and Material
10.8.1 The UCG is committed to undertaking everything in the light rather than in the dark. As such it shows that it has nothing to hide and fulfills its original promise to the membership to have an open form of government with the resultant checks and b balances.
10.8.2 Every member shall be supplied with a regular updated list of all UCG books, booklets, reprint articles, research papers, policy documents and such like.
10.8.3 Any member of the Church shall, within 14 days of the request, be loaned for 14 days or supplied with a copy of the following items that the Church produces: Statement of Belief, Ministerial Code of Conduct, Disfellowshipping appeal rules, Conflict and Grievance Resolution Procedures, Ministerial and Officer Performance Management System Guidelines, National and Local Board Minutes, any ministerial bulletin or letter [i.e. anything similar to the PGR -Ed.], guidelines for interviewing potential ministers, guidelines for setting up local bank accounts, doctrinal research papers, general conference statutes, agenda and any papers associated with the international or Australian general conference of elders- and any other document related to rules, policy or doctrine.
12.6 judicial authority: remove or alter. Only the courts may interpret and enforce Bylaws.
14.0 new article: INTERSABBATARIAN CO-OPERATION
14.1 It is mentioned elsewhere in these bylaws that the UCG does not consider itself to be the only true Church nor is it exclusivist. As such it will endeavour to break down the barriers with other Churches of God [eg Church of God, 7th day -Ed] and to co-operate in any way possible (eg joint Feast sites or sharing resources) with similar groups [eg CGI, GCG, CBCG, CGG, -Ed.].
14.2 As such the leadership of the UCG will attempt to establish a General Advisory Council of Churches of God. The Council will meet at least once each year to attempt to break down barriers, establish dialogue and to ascertain whether joint activities are feasible. It is envisaged that the Council will include the leadership of the Churches on it.
14.3 All members will be given a copy of any policy or guideline on inter-sabbatarian co-operation and any news on such co-operation will be announced at Sabbath services and published in the Church's periodical.
14.4 No member, elder or pastor will be prevented from visiting or attending another positive sabbath-observing group or reading material from another sabbath-observing group.
14.5 Other sabbath-observing Churches of God may affiliate with the UCG to undertake a joint "Work". The guidelines for such affiliations are produced separately by the Board. No application for affiliation is automatic.
15.0 new article: EMPOWERMENT OF LOCAL CHURCH BOARDS
15.2 All members will be supplied with the guidelines or policy on the nature, purpose, structure and role of the Board. The policy will be produced by the regional home offices with participation by the general membership.
15.3 Generally the board s function is to assist the ministry and membership in numerous administrative ways. The following guidelines shall apply: review of disfellowshipping and suspension decisions- relieve the ministry of many burdensome administrativ administrative responsibilities- the board shall contain no more than 50% of ordained men and no less than 5 and no more than 12 members- both men and women shall be represented on the board- the board shall have offices such as a secretary, treasurer, media co-ordinator, activities co-ordinator and youth worker and any other advisory office that is seen fit- the UCG recognises that to undertake a big Work certain functions related to doing the Work should be centralised (eg TV, magazines), but that the local churches may also be involved in activities for the Work (eg radio show, local lecture campaigns, writing articles, advertising or personal evangelism). The board would be an appropriate body to co-ordinate such efforts without approval of the home office-provided the home office is notified of the activity. This way the Work may be co-ordinated and local talents/gifts utilised (1Cor 12).
15.4 all local boards will be elected by an annual vote of all adult members (both baptised of any age and unbaptised from the age of 20 and older).
15.6 The principle of Matt 18:15-17 shall apply in regard to serious offenses and sins. This principle applies equally to the ministry as to the lay-membership. No minister is exempt from this Law of God.
15.7 Matthew 18:15-17 steps:In similitude to a serious offense, the
ministry must provide the membership with an appeal or conflict resolution
procedures based on this principle. (a) Go to the alleged offender to determine
the nature of the problem. No mi minister will be allowed to act on rumours and
gossip. (b) If that does not reach a satisfactory solution, then the two
parties must meet at a neutral venue with 2 or 3 neutral, non-ordained
witnesses. That is, witnesses of the meeting, not witnesses who allege crimes.
(c) If an impasse is reached, it may go to the board for determination. It does
not go to the board if a person has repented or who accepts the discipline. (d)
Should the board be involved and the decision not be acceptable, it may be
appealed to the regional board [neutrality is not guaranteed -Ed].(e) Finally,
should that not be acceptable, then the board based at
16.0 new article: RELATIONSHIP OF LOCAL CONGREGATIONS WITH THE REGIONAL HOME OFFICE [this section to spell out the relationship between those few local congregations that want autonomy and the home office. Points in addition to the ones below will probably be needed.]
16.1 Although it is not the desire of the UCG for such actions, each local congregation shall be free to be an autonomous associate of the UCG, provided that a majority of the membership has voted to be so. Voting on the status of autonomy or full membership of the UCG shall be voted on regularly by the membership bi-annually. [note: I do not personally advocate autonomy, but a balance between the full control by the home office and the local churches. These clauses will permit the continuing affiliation, fellowship and brotherly love of the churches to continue. Together we can do a big Work. If we force those that want autonomy out, the organization will splinter. ?Ed]
16.2 An affiliate church should utilise the UCG name and may utilise UCG resources and material to undertake the Work. These resources may be given free to the affiliate or paid for by it.
16.3 The affiliate s pastor shall not be paid from the UCG home office, except by special agreement.
16.4 The affiliate church shall only have observer status at the general conference of elders and may not caste a vote on any matter.
16.5 There shall be free inter-action and fellowship between the affiliate and the general voting UCG churches.
It's time to learn the lessons of history!
-Craig Martin White
GPO Box 864