UCGIA Letter to Big Sandy Shows True Colors

There are several approaches that church organizations take toward other church organizations. We list the most common ones from the "point of view" of the organization:

Most of our readers will recognize that the WCG for many years was in category #1. Some of the split-off groups from the WCG tried to remain in this category, but it is somehow very difficult to convince a few hundred people on a mailing list, or a few dozen people meeting in a back yard, that they are the only people on Earth with whom God is working. Also, organizations find it very hard to get WCG members to join them if they have made previous pronouncements that anyone not in their organization was unconverted.

Therefore, most of the WCG-split groups have taken the category #2 approach, at least to the outside world. (They may try to convince members internally that they could lose their salvation for leaving the group.) The PCG and GCG are two examples. Revelation 2&3 clearly show that some congregations are "doing better" than others, and these groups stretch this scripture to apply to church organizations (about which the Bible actually says nothing). Even if we overlook that mistake, how does a group prove that it is the "main group" God is using? By number of people, annual income, magazine circulation, megawatts of media, or some other factor? Where is this in Scripture? Though not as badly as category #1, category #2 also "turns off" former-WCG members who might join these groups. Who wants to think they have been in a "Laodicean" group for several years?

Category #3 is indeed much friendlier, and is the most common approach among Protestant churches. But it is the most difficult to defend from Scripture. If an organization recognizes other organizations as a similar group of believers, then how can they justify intentionally dividing the Body of Christ (1 Cor 1 & 3)? It seems best to go all the way to category #4, and to treat other groups like brethren and be willing to serve them, let them come to activities, etc.

If the UCGIA sticks to their declaration in the letter to Big Sandy brethren at right, they are clearly in category #3. Please read the letter at right, and the comments we have inserted (SN:). —NSE


The Council of Elders of the United Church of God an International Association has apparently agreed to start using the initials UCGIA instead of UCG-AIA or UCGaia. —NSE


United Church of God an International Association

P.O. Box 661780, Arcadia, California 91066-1780

Les McCullough, President

Bob Dick, Chairman of the Council of Elders

May 13, 1998


Dear Brethren,

The purpose of this letter is to apprise you of the situation that has developed regarding the governance of the congregation of the United Church of God in Big Sandy. It covers the historical perspective leading to the current situation along with a discussion of the Rules of Association.

The status of the congregation with regard to its relationship to the United Church of God, an International Association, (UCGIA) has not been clearly understood by many, perhaps even by most, in the congregation. It is important that all members understand as fully as possible the situation facing them, and the implications of the decisions they must make regarding the future of the Big Sandy congregation.

In brief, the local church is incorporated as a Texas corporation with its own governing board. The corporation and board consist of seven members with the pastor serving as the chairman. They view themselves as an independent church that has merely chosen to affiliate with UCGIA. The local board states that it is under the Constitution of UCGIA, since the Constitution deals principally with ecclesiastical matters. However, the local corporation has its own Bylaws and does not recognize the authority of UCGIA Bylaws.

A similar situation to the one in Big Sandy developed in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1995. The Transitional Board of Directors of UCGIA was forced to make a decision regarding the status of the Birmingham congregation, thereby setting a precedent with respect to the status of local congregations within each nation in UCGIA.

The situation that developed in Birmingham stemmed from discussions that began in Indianapolis concerning how UCGIA would be structured. One member of the Transitional Board, Ray Wooten, who also served as the pastor of the Birmingham congregation, consistently argued for a structure that allowed for an association of independent and locally governed churches. This structure would have reduced the role of the central office and administration to service functions only.

This type of structure would have had far reaching implications. Under this formation, the Board (later the Council of Elders) would have had no authority to govern any local congregations. Moreover, under such a plan, it would be difficult to coordinate a unified effort for preaching the gospel and feeding the flock. Also, it would be difficult to provide resources for the development of the ministry, and the education of the youth and membership of the Church.

SN: The letter fails to note that a number of elders were in favor of the service approach that Ray Wooten was proposing. It also fails to note that the Indianapolis conference specifically gave authority for local UCGIA congregations to have their own boards.

It is false to claim that the UCGIA needs to control local congregations in order to provide centralized Gospel preaching, education of ministry, etc. Numerous protestant denominations have locally autonomous congregations, but centralized media, literature, education, etc. If those groups can make it work, should not the UCG, with claims of so much more of God’s spirit, be able to make it work? The Apostle Paul was able to conduct his ministry without support from some groups, such as the Corinthians (2Cor 9:11-12) because the Eternal was behind it. Furthermore, some of UCG’s best efforts, such as the Good News magazine and Howard Davis’s TV program are not produced by the home office, but by gifted people in local areas. Whereas the UCG council was totally unable to review and monitor the production of the one TV program produced by its own president in the space of over one year and at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Historical Perspective

Letter: To understand the approach of UCGIA toward governance, we must return to Indianapolis in the spring of 1995. Upon arriving in Indianapolis, it became clear that there was much agreement on the major issues, even though only limited discussions had taken place to that point in time. The following thoughts reflect the consensus of those present:

• We left WCG because of doctrine. There is no question that the structure of the organization facilitated the introduction of heresy, yet how we would be governed was not the primary issue which brought us together.

• We agreed that we believed in a central governmental structure. There was no desire on the part of the majority to be independent or autonomous.

• We were not interested in a structure which promoted a loose affiliation of congregations.

Our discussions in Indianapolis centered around how we could work together, and not how we could be independent or separate, which was foreign to us.

It is a matter of record that, after a presentation by Ray Wooten which encouraged a more autonomous role, Dennis Luker stood up and publicly denounced the idea. The presentation given by Mr. Wooten during the Indianapolis meetings has given rise to a number of ideas which were not a part of the planning in April 1995. Unfortunately, some in Indianapolis left with a more independent view and equated local boards, local collection of tithes, and local corporations as the encouragement for locally autonomous congregations. This was never the view of the vast majority of the group which attended the Indianapolis meetings.

SN: The idea of a group of men voting for church leaders was also foreign to the UCGIA ministers, but they did it. It was obvious to many that the Eternal was blessing these congregations that emerged from the WCG on their own. The concluding statements of the Indianapolis conference permitted local boards, local collection of tithes, local incorporation, etc. Several local congregations were already in existence before the first meeting at Indianapolis.

Letter: The Transitional Board, which was established in Indianapolis, consistently maintained the position of a central authority when controversy arose during the months following the conference. As a result of questions which were addressed to the board in the summer of 1995, a statement was issued in August from Denver, Colorado. This statement was adopted unanimously by the entire nine member Transitional Board:

"We affirm that Jesus Christ is the living head of the Church, and that He sets apart some for the service of the ministry. The ministry, organized as a conference of elders to serve the needs of the local membership, being led by the Holy Spirit, chooses from amongst its numbers a governing board of directors whom God has demonstrated have the fruits consistent with senior leadership positions.

"The general conference of elders recognizes the board of directors under the leadership of Jesus Christ to provide direction and oversight in the affairs of the Church according to its established bylaws, including but not limited to the areas of doctrine, ministerial duties and responsibilities, the preaching of the gospel, and financial management.

"The governing board in turn elects a chairman and appoints a president. Each is accountable to the board. The chairman nominates officers of the board, subject to the approval of the board. The president nominates operations managers, subject to the approval of the board, for the functioning of a home office. The home office is responsible for the administration of the policies and procedures established by the board for the day-to-day management and care of the Church.

"We recognize that each local congregation is guided and shepherded by a pastor, assisted by elders, deacons, and others constituting advisory committees and/or boards governed by published rules of association. The local congregations work in conjunction with the board of directors and the home office in carrying out the policies and procedures that have been established by the board. Local congregations work together with the ministry in serving and caring for the needs of the Church and its membership and being an example in the community."

SN: The above was called a "carefully crafted statement" by David Hulme, UCGIA president at the time. It was analyzed on page 10 of the Sept-Oct 1995 Servants’ News. That analysis proved correct. The statement appears to support continuing local boards and some kind of "rules of association" for local congregations. But in reality, it only guarantees the right of the council to control local pastors and local pastors to guide and shepherd (control) local congregations.

Letter: The situation in Birmingham became acute with some members requesting full relationship with UCGIA, and not some loose confederation. Finally, on September 16, 1995, a "Form al Statement Regarding Fellowship And Affiliation" was published in the local congregation by the Birmingham pastor and the local board. Here are some quotes from this document:

"It is important to note that the United Church of God-Birmingham is a separate corporate entity established to serve a spiritual ministry. It is not now under the governance of any other corporate entity, nor does it plan to be so governed in the future.

"It is our desire at this time to remain affiliated with the United Church of God, an International Association after the December conference. But the ministry supported by the United Church of God-Birmingham supports the concept of an International Association which serves locally administered congregations but does not govern them.

"We have recently come to see that a few are under the impression that we are now or soon will be under the governance of the United Church of God, an International Association. This is not so.

"Those who don’t wish to worship in this way or oppose this kind of worship should be reminded that everyone is here voluntarily. No one is coerced into this fellowship. If one does not agree with this form of worship then the best thing for that person would simply be to leave.

"If anyone continues to display open disagreement and hostility or if one continues to secretly try to convince others against this form of worship, then that person will be asked to leave."

SN: The above selected quotations make it sound like the UCG Birmingham church sought out people who disagreed and forced them to leave. In reality, there were a few individuals who were in direct contact with the UCGIA home office and who continually tried to stir up others against the idea of local governance. Eventually, the UCGIA started a home-office-controlled service in Birmingham, and those loyal to Arcadia left to attend there. After attending the Arcadia-sponsored congregation for a while, some brethren left and returned to the UCG- Birmingham congregation. No one was ever asked to leave! Ray Wooten never refused to let anyone participate in Passover services, Sabbath services, or church programs of any kind.

Letter: It was after the distribution of this document in September 1995 that a local congregation for the United Church of God, an International Association, was established in Birmingham to serve the needs of those who desired a full relationship with UCGIA. The Transitional Board did not agree with the concept of loose affiliation among congregations in the US, nor has it ever agreed with this concept.

SN: Yet at this time in the UCG history, there were no clear policies stating exactly what kinds of decisions, if any, could be made by local boards. Policies requiring home office review of local media and evangelism were not issued until the last couple of months by the UCGIA.

Rules of Association

Letter: Some in Big Sandy have stated that they have been waiting on the Rules of Association, which would determine how the local congregation should "associate" with UCGIA.

A proposed set of Rules of Association was recently sent to the ministry for their review and input. However, it should be understood that any Rules of Association that are adopted cannot be in conflict with the Constitution and Bylaws. Therefore, all congregations are required to abide by the Constitution and Bylaws. The Council also must govern according to the Constitution and Bylaws that were ratified by the General Conference of Elders.

SN: There is nothing in the UCGIA Constitution and Bylaws that defines the congregations to which the rules of association can apply. The UCGIA documents neither specifically include nor exclude USA congregations. There is no conflict in having some churches operated by the UCGIA constitution and bylaws, and others operated by under rules of association.

Letter: Although Rules of Association were discussed in Denver, in August 1995, as having a place in local congregations, by October 1995, when drafts of the Constitution and Bylaws were being organized, the idea of Rules of Association was almost exclusively applied to international areas. It was understood that the Constitution and Bylaws would provide the framework for the organization. Any Rules of Association would be subservient to the Constitution and Bylaws. A draft of proposed Rules of Association was actually circulated among the ministry in December of 1995, immediately after the Cincinnati conference. This document was incomplete and was circulated for the purpose of getting input. The current draft, which has been sent to the ministry, reflects that input.

It was also during the Cincinnati conference that a delegation of international ministers requested a change in the Constitution to clarify the role of a national council. The original document contained no reference to national councils. To address these concerns, an emergency meeting of the Transitional Board was convened the evening before the official ballot in Cincinnati. The result of this meeting was the inclusion of Article in the Constitution under the title "National Councils":

"A council or board that is established to meet the requirements for legal recognition of the United Church of God, an International Association, or serve the administrative needs of the Church in nations other than the United States of America, are national councils. The national councils shall conduct themselves in accordance with the scripture, this Constitution, their local bylaws, the rules of association and applicable law."

The name selected for the organization in Indianapolis was United Church of God, an International Association. There was no intent to have a "national association" but an international one. Congregations within each nation are expected to respond to their national council. Of course, in the US there is no national council. The management team from the Home Office is entrusted with the day-to-day responsibility of the US ministry and the congregations within the US. This is consistent with the structure as outlined in the Constitution and Bylaws. Any Rules of Association will have to correspond to these existing documents.

SN: These concepts may have been clear in the minds of some members of the Council of Elders, but they were not clearly set down on paper. There seemed to be some effort to court the good will of some who wanted more local autonomy. The claim that the word "international association" was used because everyone knew that they did not want a "national association" is silly. "International" implies within the nation as well. An international soccer association will often consist of leagues in different countries as well as several leagues in the same country.

Letter: Since the conference in Cincinnati and the adoption of the Constitution and Bylaws, questions and concerns have come up from time to time regarding governance and local congregations. It has always been made clear, by the Council and the Home Office management team, that the idea of independent, loosely affiliated congregations was not the consensus of those gathered in Indianapolis, nor is it consistent with the Constitution and Bylaws of the United Church of God, an International Association. In our short history we have consistently confirmed our belief in a central authority within the Church. The Rules of Association will reflect this understanding and will hopefully bring closure to the questions that have arisen on this topic.

SN: The UCGIA has been anything but consistent in their belief in central authority! No one disputes that Christ is the central divine authority, so they must be talking about human authority. How can the election of the governing council by over 400 elders from all over the world be considered "central authority"? How can congregations with local boards and separately accounted funds be considered "central authority"? Even this document is not consistent. It speaks of "central authority within the Church" (we assume the capital "C" means the spiritual Body of Christ), yet later says: "We believe there are spirit-led Christians in other organizations." If there are multiple, completely separate groups that are part of the Body of Christ, then there is no central human authority!

The Current Situation

Letter: It is our belief that most of us assumed that the Big Sandy congregation was fully a part of UCGIA, not just affiliated with it. It is obvious, from the question and answer session last Sabbath, that several in the congregation do not wish to be fully a part of UCGIA, but rather wish to be either a totally independent congregation, or an independent congregation only associated or affiliated with UCGIA. At the same time, others clearly do not wish to be a part of a congregation independent of UCGIA.

The decision regarding which way you decide to go will have far-reaching consequences for all concerned. We do not wish to make spiritual judgments concerning the decision you make. We believe that there are spirit-led Christians in other organizations. This is not the time for vocal minorities (or majorities) to be making accusations and judgments concerning who is responsible for these decisions. There are always two sides to every equation. No matter what happens, no matter what decisions are made, let us act peacefully and not apportion blame. Let us make our decisions and determine to live as Christians one with another.

SN: The above paragraph is excellent! It is almost like it is written by a different author. It states the way relationships should be among believers, even when their opinions on a specific issue may differ.

Letter: Perhaps one could say that UCGIA should make an exception to its governing documents and permit the Big Sandy corporation to associate with UCGIA without being under its governing documents. We believe that such an exception would set a far reaching precedent that would seriously jeopardize the integrity of UCGIA. And, as we have previously explained, a precedent has already been established. As deeply as the Council desires to see unity in the Big Sandy congregation, it must consider the unity and well-being of all the congregations of UCGIA.

SN: The first part of this letter was all about how everyone wanted central governance, and no one wanted a loose association! Yet, the underlined statement above says that allowing one UCGIA congregation to simply "associate" could threaten the whole group. What danger could there be if the whole organization wants central control anyway? Or is it possible that the UCGIA leaders know that a lot of people really want local control, but are concerned about being disfellowshipped or fired if they ask for it? Is it possible that central leaders are the greatest proponents of central control?

Letter: Some feel that there are three alternatives for local congregations:

1. To be fully a part of UCGIA

2. To be totally independent

3. To be independent, but associated with UCGIA.

It is important that all realize that the third alternative is not an option under the Constitution and Bylaws of UCGIA. The Constitution has no provision for independent local congregations merely affiliated with, or associated with UCGIA. Therefore, if congregations do not wish to be fully a part of UCGIA and wish to have any kind of independent status, they must realize that an associated or affiliated status will not be recognized by UCGIA.

SN: As stated previously, the UCGIA Constitution and Bylaws do not say what congregations the Rules of Association refer to. The rules could be written to include multiple USA congregations. If the UCGIA leaders see the Biblical need to treat all brethren as brethren, then they should just leave the Big Sandy congregation alone until they can amend the Constitution and Bylaws into conformity with the scriptures.

Letter: It is clear that the membership of the Big Sandy congregation will choose between the two alternatives available. It is important that everyone consider carefully and prayerfully the choice they will make and the implications of their choice. These are some of the implications for each alternative:

SN: We commend the UCGIA for acknowledging that this decision is up to the Big Sandy congregation. At least they did not "command them in the name of God", when God has not commanded them to speak.

Letter: To be fully a part of UCGIA means:

1. Being subject not only to the Constitution, but also the Bylaws of UCGIA.

2. Being fully a part of preaching the gospel to the world and taking care of the flock of a national and international work.

3. Being fully a part of the administrative structure of UCGIA.

SN: Does the Eternal and the Bible fit into this anywhere? But, apparently the above three points are what the UCGIA considered most important.

Letter: To be totally independent means:

1. Being subject only to the Bylaws of the local corporation.

SN: Nearly every independent group we know would put being subject to our Savior and His Word as point #1.

Letter: 2. The "work" that is done will necessarily be mainly a local one. The congregation may contribute to other local efforts and some international ones, but it will not be able to be a part of the worldwide work and centrally administered media efforts.

SN: We see nothing wrong with working locally, especially if that is the work that the Eternal has given one to do. But there are numerous ways that a single congregation can be heavily involved in national and international works. Many single congregations throughout history have sent ministers to other areas to teach and eventually raise up a congregation. Also, CEM, GCG and numerous other ministries will accept donations for their international broadcasts (giving money is about the extent of most member involvement in gospel preaching anyway). Does the UCGIA statement here mean that they will refuse Big Sandy donations toward their gospel preaching efforts?

3. The congregation will have to develop its own governing structure, which probably will be different from the one that now exists.

4. The congregation will have to assume all pastoral expenses. These will include not only salary, but also health and life insurance, business mileage expenses, and all other expenses now covered by the Home Office. Health and life insurance can be obtained, but at much higher premiums than under the group rates covered by UCGIA. The congregation will also need to consider the important human factor of providing for the pastor’s retirement, should age or health require that he retire.

SN: We wonder what problems the apostle Paul had obtaining health and life insurance, as often as he was beat up, shipwrecked, etc. But even if we throw our faith out the window for a moment and forget about Christ’s promises to take care of those who serve Him, it seems that the UCGIA is the group that should be most concerned about salaries and retirement. People will almost always physically take care of an aged local pastor who has served them for many years. But the UCGIA relies largely on current income to pay retired persons. In about ten years, over half of their ministers will be old enough to retire. The UCGIA has barely enough money to pay salaries now, and it is continuing to shrink in size. How can it survive when over half of its payroll is retirees?

Letter: 5. For all practical purposes, the pastor will be the pastor for life. If the pastor should wish to transfer at some time in the future, where will he go? If the congregation wishes to have a change at some time in the future, where will they send him? Where will they go for a replacement?

SN: All Big Sandy has to go on here is the Eternal’s promises to provide those people with the spiritual gifts necessary to nourish his body (Eph 4, 1Cor 12). If the people ask and a local pastor needs to leave or a new one needs to come, the Eternal will provide. If the local pastor ceases serving, those who see it can leave the local congregation and form a new one elsewhere. On the other hand, a local congregation in a centrally controlled congregation can either accept the pastor given to them, or do as the Big Sandy congregation is doing...and leave.

Letter: 6. This choice inevitably accepts that a split will occur in the congregation. There are many who wish to be part of UCGIA, and do not wish to be an independent congregation.

It is the earnest hope of the Council of Elders that the membership in Big Sandy will choose to remain fully a part of UCGIA. At the same time we understand that some may not choose to do so. This is sad and we regret very much that some do not wish to be fully a part of UCGIA. However, we respect the wishes of all concerned. While we regret the possible departure of some from UCGIA, as stated earlier, we in no way condemn them nor do we consider them to be anything but our brothers in the faith. We hope that whatever the outcome of this situation is, it will be done peacefully and that we remain friends and brethren.

At the same time we want to assure you that UCGIA is fully committed to serving the needs of the brethren in the Big Sandy area who choose to be fully associated with us. May God be with all of us as we hope and pray for a peaceful resolution to this situation.

For the Council of Elders,

Robert Dick

SN: The above two statements make the UCGIA a category #3 organization (according to the definitions at the beginning of this article). They believe there are converted people in other organizations, but that it is their job to serve only those who decide to come under their control.

We are happy with the UCGIA’s decision not to claim that they are the only or main "True Church". But this writer believes that their clear decision to have no affiliation with a group rather than a loose affiliation essentially spells the end of the UCGIA in its present form. The UCGIA has stopped more evangelism projects (mostly local) than it has started. There is very little to show for the millions of dollars poured into the home office. Their best evangelism tool, the Good News magazine, is largely an independent effort. Now, more Feast sites, literature and gospel preaching opportunities exist in the independent Sabbatarian community than in the UCGIA. Congregations that really want to let their light shine, and make a difference in their community and elsewhere, will have a hard time justifying staying with the UCG.

We realize that these are hard sayings for people who wish that they could all remain together and be friends. But when people believe they know the will of the Eternal for their life and their congregation, and a group of distant "leaders" who never asked about their situation say "you must either let us control you or leave our group", can they do anything but become independent? &

David Havir’s Summary of the Big Sandy Church "Split"


This "split" was not initiated by the people in Big Sandy. This split was not initiated by the UCG Big Sandy. It was initiated by the UCGIACouncil of Elders (hereafter "the Council").

Here are the facts.


Now, what was my objective? I was not initiating any action. I was not involved in any early dialogue. My objectives were not a part of this scenario.

Now, what did I want? I wanted someone to talk about this, before rushing into decisions that would hurt this particular congregation and the corporation. However, my wants were not a part of this scenario.

I am sorry if these facts are unpleasant to your eyes. But, we must never be afraid of the light and the truth.

David Havir,

Pastor, Big Sandy

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