"Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; But Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And they went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches" (Acts 15:39-41).
"For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives" (Heb 12:6).
When brethren have difficulty with each other or when their sin is discovered, we should not gloat or be joyful. We should pray that all brethren can live in peace, work together, and resist the temptation to sin. Nevertheless, we should not simply ignore serious doctrinal differences (Titus 1:9-11) or sins that are giving a bad reputation to the work of the Eternal (2Sam 12:14, 1Cor 5:1).
Ronald L. Dart has played a major role in the development of the Church of God International (CGI) since its earliest days. He directed the ministry and other activities; many of the organization's tapes and literature bear his name. He is widely respected by many as a long-time Bible student and teacher. Below, we reprint the entire text of his resignation letter dated October 29, 1995:
To all my friends and brethren in CGI:
After much prayer and soul searching, I have come to see that it is God's will for me to make a change in the direction of my ministry. I will try to explain.
A couple of weeks ago I had another episode of cardiac arrhythmia. I saw my doctor, had an EKG, and discussed a change in medication with him. His conclusion was that the episode had been brought on by stress. This episode made me think very seriously about my future effectiveness to God and the church. I know He will sustain me, but He also expects me to use common sense.
At the same time, the church at large (we in the CGI do not believe we are all there is to the church) has suffered shattering blows. I have called this the age of confusion, and the church has lamentably not been immune. The number of hurt, confused and bewildered refugees seems to grow by the hour. Some have come to the CGI, or gone to one of the splinter groups (which show signs of splintering again). Most, however, have not. They do not trust any of the existing church organizations. Many have decided that they are through with organized religion for good.
I believe it is God's will for me to step out of the administration of the CGI and to reach out to these people as a non-aligned minister whose objective is to serve. At the same time, I want to stay in touch with all our friends in the CGI, and I intend to be available for counseling, for prayer, or for any other individual spiritual need. It may be that I can personally be more effective even with the CGI by stepping outside the organization itself.
I love the CGI, the brethren and all the ministers. We have come a long way together, and much has been accomplished. There is still more to do.
In 1978, Garner Ted Armstrong promised that we would all walk shoulder to shoulder. I want to go on record that he has kept that promise to me. I am grateful for the freedom I have enjoyed in the CGI for the past 17 yearsfreedom to grow and freedom to study and think.
I sincerely hope to maintain a warm and friendly relationship with the CGI in the years to come, but (and I do not use this expression lightly) God has shown me it is time to move on.
With great love and hope for the future,
Ronald L. Dart
Ronald Dart has come to see what thousands of other brethren have seen and are seeing: (1) there is no guarantee that the Eternal will correct the leaders of church organizationsHe seems to let them, like the kings of Israel, do what they want. (2) Each individual is responsible for understanding the Bible, being corrected by it (2Ti 3:16) and working out their own salvation (Phlp 2:12). We are very happy to see Ron Dart step out in faith like this. There is much work to be done. (3) The presence of the holy spirit in power is more important than a large group or a lot of money.
The people that started Friends of the Brethren came to this realization about a year ago, but there were thousands of others before us, and there will be many thousands more in the future. We should not judge each other concerning "who understood it first," but be happy that others are understanding it.
While Ron Dart's letter contains few hints about trouble in CGI, the religion pages of the Internet had frequent stories about Garner Ted Armstrong and a video tape made of his activities during one of his visits to a massage parlor. We contacted Garner Ted Armstrong via E-mail and received a reply indicating that indeed an incident occurred that was video taped. He told us: "the actual tape is in the hands of the FBI, and I hesitate to go into detail, since it is supposedly a 'covert' investigation, and of course with the federal offense such as extortion, some rather lengthy prison sentences could be handed down, and the last thing in the world I want to do, is the extortionist's work for them."
On Wednesday, November 20, Suerae Robertson sued Garner Ted Armstrong and the Church of God International in Tyler state court seeking unspecified damages. She alleges that she was sexually assaulted by Garner Ted Armstrong and has suffered so much that she is unable to work. Without the biblically required witnesses, we cannot judge who is guilty of what. However, if the video tape only shows a "Joseph" fleeing a seductress (Gen 39:7-12) there would be no reason for a lawsuit or for the following events:
Even though no criminal charges have been filed and it is months before the suit will come to trial, Garner Ted Armstrong has resigned from the office of President and the Board of Directors of the Church of God, International and its affiliated corporations. He is being retained to produce a telecast and write letters and literature, but no longer has any official management responsibilities. The Church of God, International continues to operate as normally as possible, being run by an executive team consisting of Guy Carnes, Charles Groce, Ian Hufton, Benny Sharp and Vance Stinson. We pray that all these men will have the wisdom to make wise decisions and strengthen their brethren during these difficult times.
Before anyone stands up to say "why do these people associate with a sinner?," we all ought to look at our own lives. What have you and I done in this past year that fortunately no one has discovered? Our Father in heaven sees everything! Do you attend a church organization that degrades other teachers or that inflates its own attendance to make itself look better? "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1Jn 3:15). "...all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Rev 21:8). While we must all make decisions about where we will fellowship and what kind of work we will help do, we have enough work removing our own sin without taking too much time to condemn others.
Meanwhile, on November 14, 1995, Ronald Dart, Allie Dart and Larry Watkins (former CGI business manager) were mailing the first letter from Christian Educational Ministries (CEM), PO Box 560, Whitehouse, Texas 75791. The text of that letter was as follows:
Dear Friends and Brethren,
I am pleased to announce that I am alive and well--contrary to some of the wild rumors going around. I went into the hospital for observation during a change in heart medication. The only ill effect from the change was a little stomach upset which they tell me will pass shortly.
It is really encouraging at a time like this to find out how many friends you have. I can recall no time in my life when I have been told "I love you" so many times from people other than Allie. At times the fervency of the feeling expressed is almost startling--it is surely humbling. Your concern and prayers are sincerely appreciated.
The past few weeks have been as hard as any in my life. The decision to resign from the CGI was heartrending, and only made after much prayer. It would have been so much easier at age 61 to just stay put and keep getting paid. I think you know us well enough to know that we would never have made that move unless we felt we absolutely had to. Larry Watkins has had to make the same decision, and we are joined together to get on with tackling the most important work any man has ever picked up.
There is for every Christian one prime directive: go into all the world and make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to observe all things Christ commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). From the day of my baptism in 1958, that commission has always been "the work."
Whenever I think of "first love," I always think of the Work. Everyone around me in those early years was filled with a vision of the Work and carried a passion for getting out the witness, the gospel, and the warning. The mission is the same. The urgency is just as great. Some of us doing the work are a little older, but we have lost none of the desire. The goal is before us. The challenge is to find the right way to do the job.
One of the things we are committed to do is to reach out to the scattered sheep of the church. Of all the things we have ever done, the "tape program," or "extended church" has been one of the most effective. I don't know how many people have told me that it was a life saver for them. Hundreds of people have found their way back into the church because someone gave them a tape and followed it up.
For this reason, and because of the many calls we have had to request it, the first thing we are going to do (surprise) is a tape program. In a sense, it will be an "extended church," drawing a lot of us together every Sabbath, even though we are separated by time and distance. It is not surprising that many of our friends from the CGI would want this, but you might be surprised at the number of people recently flushed out of the WCG who have called me out of the blue asking that I would include them on any tape program we do. They looked me up in directory assistance to get the number, or showed up in my E-mail. If anyone wonders whether the grapevine is alive, I can assure you it is. I got a call yesterday morning from an old friend I hadn't heard from in 20 years. In spite of all the changes, disfellowshipments, attitudes, and differences, people still care about one another across the barriers.
When resources (time, money, people) permit, we want to expand into a newsletter and literature. The continuation of the Bible correspondence course is a high priority. We have hopes for a training program in personal evangelism, and are considering some seminars for people who have been hurt by their experiences with a church or religious organization. During all this time, Larry and I will be available for prayer, counseling, questions, and all the other things a minister is happy to do for God's people.
Without doubt, the most precious of resource in all this are people. Nothing has plagued the churches over the years as the lack of what Jesus called "laborers for the harvest." Herbert W. Armstrong founded Ambassador College to meet that challenge. It was quite successful during its golden years. Unfortunately, the fragmentation of the church that has taken place over the past several years has presented us with a new problem that is going to have to be met in new ways. The sheep are scattered, and so are the shepherds. In the age just ahead, it may be necessary to feed sheep where they are, and to train the future shepherds in the field. It is not totally clear how this will be done, but it is clear that it must be done.
We hope to involve people from all over the churches of God in this task. There are fine writers out there among the flock who have no outlet for their work. This is a task far beyond the capabilities of a handful of people and it is too important to let organizational boundaries hinder the job. One problem, for example, is the development of Sabbath school materials. We already know that there are people out there who have the skills to achieve excellence in this. We intend to ask for their help.
This raises another of the dreams we have. We would like to pull together an alliance of ministers to help with this task. The idea in this is not to create a governing body for the church, but a band of brothers whose goal is to serve God's people wherever they find them and however they can. Their task would be to search out dedicated men and women, to teach and to train, and to provide a growing pool of people qualified to lead and to serve the people of God. Beyond that, they can help the scattered sheep find their way to a fold. One of our objectives as stated in the articles of incorporation is: "To assist churches and congregations."
There is one very important thing to understand about this: It is not our intent to encourage brethren to leave an existing fellowship or church. The fellowship and relationships we build over the years in a church are precious, and anyone who would come between brethren deserves nothing but contempt. There are seven things listed in Proverbs that God hates. One of them is the person who sows discord among brethren (Proverbs 6:19). All of us should tread very carefully in this area. We expect to serve members from all the churches of God, and wish to compete with none of them. But there are a lot of hurt, scattered people out there, and someone has to go out and try to find them.
We hope to put together a package of assistance for those who want to start a small church. There are things they need to know about the law, IRS requirements, etc., as well as some of the pitfalls one can avoid if one knows they are there. We will be happy to offer guidance, counsel, and many of the services a small church cannot provide for itself. Larry Watkins, a dedicated minister, is worth his weight in gold in this area. We will try to support in every way without attempting to exert control. If God wills, perhaps we can put together a network of self-governed churches to cooperate in the many things a small church cannot do well alone.
We have a lot of other ideas in the works (including evangelistic outreach), but it should be plain that we are going to have our hands full with this. We will do our best to give you support, and we need your prayers and support as well. Please tell all our friends where we are and what we are doing. We have already got one taped Bible study in hand (the first), and we will be sending it to you under separate cover. Please let us know if you want to continue receiving the tapes on a weekly basis. They are free as long as we have the money. We will probably be late and slow for a little while. Larry Watkins, and Allie and I are the only laborers in this harvest for now, but that should change soon.
Meanwhile, we remember the words of Paul: "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
We love you. Keep in touch.
Ronald L. Dart
P.S., A few people have asked about Academy Books and how it figures in our plans. Academy Books has turned out to be a very useful service to a lot of people. The emphasis has begun to shift from old sermon tapes to books, education and training. We plan to leave Academy Books alone to keep doing exactly what it is doing. It does not figure in our plans for the ministry. Academy Books is not a nonprofit corporation, but it is deliberately being operated without a profit. It has one half-time paid worker and a lot of unpaid volunteer effort. We inadvertently made about $100.00 last year. We hated the necessity of paying corporate income tax on that and will try not to let it happen again. Academy Books was formed, not to make a profit but to provide another tool in serving God's people. If you would like to see a financial statement on Academy Books, write to Academy Books at P.O. Box 1700, Whitehouse, Texas and request one. Financial statements for the mnistry will be published regularly and will include salaries and compensation of all directors and officers.
This letter contains many good ideas that we hope will be put into practice. We are happy to see the holy spirit moving a man that has spent much of his life in an organization step out to simply feed the flockto help men and women to know the Bible, to establish congregations and to teach them to teach it to others. We were a little puzzled when he wrote as if he invented the idea of an independent ministry. (Alan Ruth's paper on the WCG splits and back issues of Servants' News will show that there are dozens of small groups that accept articles from a variety of writers, tapes from a variety of speakers, and make them available to whichever brethren would like them. Gary Mercer, an individual in Birmingham, Alabama, has helped congregations incorporate; other men have shown how to run a congregation without incorporating.)
Nevertheless, as Ron Dart states, we need many more "laborers for the harvest." There is room for everyone willing to work. There are thousands of brethren that have been confined to the pray, pay, stay and obey functions for too long. We need more men and women full of faith and the holy spirit, reaching for verses like John 14:12, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father." While we have not been given this kind of faith and power in our lives yet, we realize that this is how a mighty work will be done, not through physical strength and wealth (Zec 4:6).
Finally, we would like to close this article with a full reprint of Ronald Dart's letter of November 30, 1995.
Dear Friends and Brethren,
This is a strange and confusing time for all of us. Institutions we thought would last until the return of Christ are being threatened at their very foundations, and people are asking if we are heading into the "famine of the word" (Amos 8:11). Others are asking about Daniel 12:7 where the prophet speaks of scattering the power of the holy people. Is that what is happening to us?
I don't think the famine of the word is upon us, but I do sense the hand of God in what is happening. Church organizations accumulate power over time in spite of themselves. The power comes in many formspeople, money, structure, disciplineand it is easy to begin to trust in that power. There are two kinds of power that settle upon the church. One is the power of God through the Holy Spirit. The other is the physical power we create by working together. Which is more important? Which is more dangerous?
If we get to the place where we start trusting in our own power it is not so hard to imagine God "scattering" it. God broke the pride of Israel's power because they came to trust in that power instead of trusting in Him. It is not so easy to lay power aside once you have it. But if we expect to "work the works of God," we have to do it. God will not work with people who trust in their own strength.
Not all of this was clear to me as late as a month ago. It should have been. I have preached about Gideon's 300 enough times over the years that I should not have passed over that lesson so easily. The story is worth another reading, but the central lesson is clear enough. When Gideon called his troops together, he had an army of 32,000 men. As respectable as that body of men was, God was not impressed. "The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands," God said, "lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me"(Judges 7:2).
The Lord proceeded to cut Gideon's army from 32,000 to 300a sizeable reduction in force, but still enough to do the job. The lesson must not be forgotten. God works best with a people small in number and lacking in power of their own. If we get "too big for our britches" He may well cut us down to size. When that happens, all we can do is say, "Thank you, Lord," and get back to work.
Where is God leading us? What direction does He want us to walk? We believe the centralized church organization has had its day, and that it is time to take a fresh approach. It seems clear enough that God grants us great latitude in how we structure ourselves and our organizations to do the job He has laid before us. I believe He takes delight in letting us try things and learn from our experiences. It is for this reason that I have been reluctant to argue for a particular "doctrine" of church government.
However, it is becoming clearer with each passing day that those church structures that feature strong centralized control have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. This is not to say that centralized control does not work. It does worksometimes too well. But it fosters a belief in and a trust of the power of the organization itself. The power of the organization can become a substitute for the power of God.
The argument about church government is, in the end, an argument about power. It has to do with where the levers of power are and who controls them. Hierarchical church government is very effective in focussing power to the top of the pyramid, but there is little that can be done to check the abuse of power once it is there.
Jesus said, "All power is given to me," and "Lo, I am with you even to the end of the age." By now it should start becoming clear that he had no intention of creating human power structures to advance His work. Rather He seems to have diffused that power among the apostles and elders and brethren (Acts 15:22, 23).
Rather than creating a new centralized church with government and power, we have concluded it is time to leave off the debate about "church government" and turn instead to service and work. What we visualize is a network of small, self-governed churches assisted and supported by a service ministry which can provide the things a small church cannot do for itselfthings that will enable the church to be more effective in its own community.
We have heard from several in the past few weeks expressing concern about "going it alone." I expect it is a little scary to think of having a little church with no organizational support. What will we do about tapes, literature, training, evangelism and festivals? Where can we go for counsel, guidance, education, help? Why can't that be provided by a service organization rather than a centralized governing body? And we don't have to go it alone if we are networked with other small churches like ourselves.
In truth, this is already beginning to happen in the churcheswithout anyone planning to make it so. There is already a smorgasbord of services available here and there, and the growing openness in the churches is making it easier for brethren to work and fellowship across organizational boundaries. God has his own ways of taking us where He wants us to go. We can swim against the tide or with it, but in the end we must go where He wills.
With Christian Educational Ministries (CEM), we hope to build a service agency to support a network of churches that are dedicated to doing the real work of the church. The first step was to start a weekly tape program to fill the needs of the scattered brethren for edification and a sense of belonging each Sabbath day. We now have that under way, and have developed a modest office infrastructure to keep things rolling. The next step will be the publication of a newsletter to keep everyone up to date on what we are doing and how they can be involved. With the first edition of the newsletter, we hope to include information on how to establish a local congregation or fellowship group, and how to connect to the CEM network of churches.
There is something you can do right away to help us. We do not intend to charge anything for the tape program. It is the main line of spiritual nourishment for too many people, and there are many who simply cannot afford to pay for it. That is what Christian charity is all about. But all this costs money, and we don't want to waste anything. We need to know for sure that you want the tapes and the newsletter. Would you please take a moment to fill in the enclosed card and let us know what you want and need?
How are we going to pay for it? I am so glad you asked. A fellow called a couple of days ago, and the first thing out of his mouth after hello was, "do you accept tithes?" Yes, we do. And gifts, contributions and any other form of assistance we can get. We see no point in being bashful about asking God's people to give in order to carry on His work. But if we are going to ask this, we feel we owe you at least two things in return: Integrity and accountability. We know that God holds us accountable for being good stewards of the things that belong to Him. One of the ways we can be accountable to Him is to be accountable to you. CEM is committed to full disclosure of income and expenses along with the salaries of all corporate officers. (This is easy right nowno one is getting paid.) If we are honest and straightforward with you, I don't think you will mind at all being askedeven encouragedto give.
CEM is also committed to another rare commodityhaving fun doing the work of God. The Biblical word for fun is "joy." If we can't have joy in the things we do for God, it is time to back up and take another look. Truly we are excited about the opportunity before us. We are taking a fresh look at the work before us, and are looking daily for God's direction and blessing. Without a doubt, the most important thing you can do for us is to pray that God will direct our hands and our thoughts.
Thank you for the encouragement and support you have already given. We need you just as much as you need us.
With love from all of us,
Ronald L. Dart
We are happy to see that he is offering his service free of charge and has the faith to trust our Savior to supply the resources to carry it through. The latter half of the letter is a little puzzling againit reads as if CEM is the only organization trying to help the people "going it alone." Some people certainly have that fear. We can all help them learn that they are not "going it alone." We have fellowship with the Father and His Son (1Jn 1:3) and he will never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5). Our Father has promised to supply all of our need (Phlp 4:9). There is plenty of work to do. Let us all work together!
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