UCG-IA Rejects Christians?

by Alan Ruth

No doubt the title of this article sounds pretty provocative. The answer is, "no," you may say, "I cannot believe that a group such as the United Church of God-International Association would reject Christians that have the same essential beliefs as they do." Strange as it may seem, it has happened!

Since my 1994 research paper on the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) splits, I have stood on the sidelines and not commented much in writing about the situation in the Church of God. Though tempted many times to write, I openly wondered whether such comments would be beneficial or would fall on deaf ears. Something recently happened, however, that so illustrates the major unresolved problem UCG-IA and a host of other splits possess that I was compelled to comment.

Hereís the situation that got my blood boiling. Ron Dart, founder of Christian Educational Ministries, was asked to speak at a UCG-IA seminar in Cincinnati to be held December 25-27. Mr. Dart was approached to speak before the Feast by a local UCG-IA organizer and had purchased a non-refundable airline ticket. Mr. Les McCullough, president of UCG-IA, initially approved of his talk at the family weekend.

As time drew closer to the meeting, some elders in UCG-IA did not like Ron speaking at the seminar. In late November, Mr. Dart was informed he was rejected as a speaker. Why, you may ask? Was it because Ron was going to preach heresy? Or was it because he would actively try to suck out members and money from UCG-IA? Or that he would criticize and lambaste their leadership? CEMís Web site and letter to their mailing list states that Ron was asked not to speak because "The organizers (of the event) requested that Mr. Dart not participate, due to objections from some members of the UCG-IA Council of Elders and Ministerial services." Thatís a fine statement, but what is the real reason Ron was rejected?

The REAL Reason

After Ron mentioned in October he would speak in Cincinnati, I offered to give a seminar on preparing for the Year 2000 computer bug at this family weekend. Initially, the local organizer seemed happy to try and include this type of discussion on the schedule. This person seemed to sincerely desire to have something of a Church of God "family reunion" that last December weekend. Unfortunately, his best intention aside, the organizer would soon learn that one cannot assume your leaders will act at least as Christian as you do.

In late November an E-mail arrived stating that the seminar weekend was restricted and that the Y2K discussion would not be held. Was it because the Year 2000 bug is some great heresy? No. The invitation to all non-United speakers at this family weekend was unacceptable to some UCG-IA leaders. The organizer was told that the speakers would be restricted to only UCG-IA elders! It became painfully apparent that to the UCG-IA, a personís corporate affiliation is far superior to the Christianity they practice.

Carnality reigns supreme

Someone once told me that under the canopy of truth carnality reigns supreme. How true! Out of the more than 150 WCG splits, Mr. Dart is one of the least controversial or obnoxious speakers you will find. He is a "safe" speaker, someone who has a gift for preaching Godís word and tries to do so with integrity. To reject Ron simply because heís not one of "us", not in our organizational clan is ridiculous, foolish and downright carnal.

For the record I consider myself an "independent", one who is independent of organizations but fully dependent on God. I am not a "member" of CEM. Ron is discussed here because he happens to be a recent example of what, sadly, goes on on a regular basis in the Church of God!

As if to add vinegar to this unpleasant situation, as of the middle of December, Mr. Dart had not been offered an apology by either Mr. McCullough or any UCG elders. No apology has been delivered in spite of the fact that Ron planned and prepared for this meeting weeks in advance and paid for a non-refundable ticket to Cincinnati!

Further Evidence of The Mindset

Barnabas Ministries has a large Web site on the Internet at www.biblestudy.org that has articles and audio messages by a large selection of WCG split groups. Late in 1997 we exchanged "links" (a link is a referral to another personís Web site) with someone on the UCGís Council of Elders who has a Web site. He was initially happy to both receive referrals and to refer people to the Bible study site. However, in a short time, overzealous UCG people (some of whom would later go with David Hulmeís split group from UCG) began to lambaste this council member for having non-UCG links on his Web site. As the pressure to be "100% United" built, the link to the Bible study site (and others) was taken off.

The link was removed under the umbrella of "maintaining unity" and (quoting directly from the E-mail sent on the link removal) "We (UCG-IA) are still, as an organization, trying to find our way as to how we work with other Christians." Other Christians? Is this talking about working with Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans or even the Worldwide Church of God? No! It has to do with working with those who, like them, left the WCG and who share many common beliefs!

My jaw dropped when I got this e-mail. Can you imagine a church elder, someone who has been a Christian for many years, needing some kind of organizational policy to know how to treat other Christiansóto know how to be a Christian? Is corporate obedience more important than a personís conversion? What good is it to be a council member, one who is supposedly spiritually mature enough to help guide thousands of people, if you easily cave into the unbiblical requests of others?

The Conclusion

Why are there splits in the Church of God? Why are people leaving the bigger groups to form the fastest growing and largest part of the church known as home fellowships?

It is because brethren are fed up with the silliness and immaturity of the organizations they attend and the "leaders" that say they represent God. They have borne with the clueless ministry long enough. They are weary of the spiritual food fight going on between those who say they are shepherds in Godís flock. The power-hungriness, zest to be "in-charge" and rule, arrogance and vanity of quite a few Church of God ministers is a marvel to behold. It is under the canopy of Christianity that those who say they are mature have committed the most carnal actions. Do you need permission from someone or something before you act Christian? Our challenge is not to repeat the mistakes of our leaders. Are we up to the task?

Norman Edwardsí Comments

Most of the UCG-IA members I have met do not reject other Christians. I feel more welcome in the local Lansing UCG-IA congregation than I have in some home-fellowships. I would guess that the UCG-IA leaders do not want to reject other Christians, but they are not sure how to go about it. When men have worked in a hierarchical corporation for years and have a problem, they ask for an organizational policy rather than going to the Bible. If a minister tells his headquarters, "this is what I understand from the Bible so this is what I am doing," he will be in trouble if his organization has a different policy.

So why doesnít UCG-IA have a policy for dealing with "other Christians"? Because any such policy they would write would be clearly contrary to scripture. Paul clearly instructs believers not to form factions (1Cor 1 & 3) around individual leaders. Furthermore, the clear acknowledgment that true believers need not be in their organization greatly diminishes the authority which they think the UCG-IA has. If there are Christians outside of the UCG-IA, how can they fault UCG-IAmembers for attending other services, sending money to other ministries, or discussing doctrines held by other groups? How can their headquarters assert authority over a local minister or congregation if he or they can resign from the UCG-IA and still be considered Christian by everyone?

Nearly all of the leaders of Church of God organizations were "trained" in the Worldwide Church of God, which claimed to be the one and only true church. Much of its doctrine and practice utterly relied on this claim. Most of these leaders have not really thought through all that is involved when they admit that there are "other Christians". &