"Demanding Conformity "
“And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name;
and we forbad him, because he was not of us. And Jesus said unto him,
Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”
There are two things almost every COG organization has in common: First, they all believe the Church is a house divided, and second they all believe they bear little or no responsibility for the division. In other words, everyone else is to blame.
It is striking to observe the scores of leaders in God’s Church pointing an accusing finger at other fellowships as the cause of a great fracture within the Body of Christ. Even more striking is the fact that all too many sincerely believe the only solution to this dilemma is for all COG fellowships to repent and coalesce behind them—any other option is simply unacceptable.
So intense is this obsession with their superior standing as God’s only true Church that some leaders have actually declared that the leaders of all splinter groups (other than their own) are ostensibly the “enemies of God” and His people. One such leader has even formally proclaimed that:
1) all other COG groups "are of the Synagogue of Satan,"
2) their ministers are "scorpions and deceived of the devil," and
3) "ordinations of all COG ministers (other than their own) are invalid."
This leader then warns that any COG minister failing to join his organization will be "MARKED" and cut off from God. He has even done this very thing to two long time evangelists who were part of another group. Furthermore, in an attempt to buttress his position within the Church he has claimed the office of "Apostle" and "Watcher"--and claims that he will be responsible for selecting and training the two witnesses as well leading God's people to the place of safety.
“We believe that those who are not a part of us are Laodicean and
should be regarded as someone who has been marked and cut off.
We are to have no contact with them, even family members.”
Member of a prominent COG Splinter
Explaining a policy of his group regarding outsiders
This leader is not alone in this assessment of himself and his denigration of others. Another prominent leader has branded all COG splinters (other than his own) as "Laodicean." That label is also assigned to any member of his association who stops attending. Furthermore, if someone does leave, his members are directed to avoid any contact with them. This leader has also made his authority over God's people one of the preeminent doctrines of the Church. Here is how he expressed it.
“If the Work is to be raised up "as in the days of old," and in those days there was an apostle, isn't it logical that there would be an apostle today? I believe that is what God is showing us...”
"If the voice preceding ours [HWA] was an apostle, isn't it logical that the voice following him would also be an apostle."
But it doesn't end there'
So committed is this man to preserving his own glory that he formally declared that a critical role of the ministry is to “lead God's people to magnify [his] office." Additionally, this and other leaders have implied, if not directly stated, that they can rightfully stake claim to numerous titles and/or identities including: “Malachi,” “The Knocker,” “Watchman,” “Teacher of Righteousness,” “Elisha,” and “THAT PROPHET,” to name just a few.
Smaller fellowships have also claimed such distinctions. Some have asserted that they are being led by the two witnesses. Others claim their leaders are “prophets.” Almost all of the more prominent groups have strict requirements regarding member loyalty and their adherence to ALL the teachings of their particular organization. Consider just a few examples
A leading elder of in a very prominent COG association confronted a member on the Sabbath because he had inadvertently brought a booklet produced by another group. Although the actual booklet addressed a subject on which there is universal acceptance in the Church, this made little difference to the elder. He expressed his strong disappointment and explained that their members should not rely on other groups for instruction on God’s Word because they couldn’t be trusted.
The teenage children of a long standing family in the Church were invited to attend a dance hosted by another fellowship. They readily accepted the invitation because they had known the majority of the host congregation for years. Furthermore, the leaders of the host congregation were well respected men going all the way back to their WCG days.
However, this fact didn’t seem to matter to the pastor of the family’s home congregation. When he became aware of what had occurred (some time after the activity) he met with the parents and chastised them for allowing their children to participate in such a function. What was most surprising was the reason he provided for his angst. According to him, the host group sponsored this activity in a cunning attempt to persuade members of other groups to join their fellowship. He then instructed the parents to consult with him before ever participating in any activities (socials, beach parties, campouts, sporting events etc.) hosted by other COGs again. He even recommended that their children cease associating with friends from other groups on the grounds that such relationships send conflicting messages to their young people.
“Relationships made the church work for many years—
brethren worked together and bonded with each other
through shared beliefs. Most had real fellowship,
not just polite social contact with each other.
Today, we have become strangers.”
A long time COG member
A member of a well-respected fellowship had recently read a book titled A Sabbath Test and was persuaded by the case it made against dining out on the Sabbath and Holy Days—a teaching that went contrary to the fellowship she was attending. After appealing to her leaders to read the book and investigate the matter, she was informed that they were not interested in doing so and only regarded the matter to be divisive.
At one point these COG leaders acknowledged that others in their group shared this member's view. However, to remedy this problem they prohibited her from eating potlucks together and fellowshipping with them or others on the Sabbath and High Days during the Feast of Tabernacles. These men actually commanded this member to dine in her room ALONE. They argued that they were imposing this sanction in the interest of unity but never explained how their action would accomplish what they intended.
“The principle to remember is this: there should not
be any contact with converted church members who have
left--and that includes family members other than a mate.”
Prominent COG Splinter
What would Paul do?
This approach stands in stark contrast to that of the apostle Paul when dealing with those he thought were weak in the faith, leading us to ask: what would Paul do as a pastor if he knew members of his congregation were offended by him dining out on the Sabbath or holy days—assuming that such a practice was lawful? Would he still do it? Or, out of respect for the "weak," would he abstain? In other words, would Paul bring a meal on holy days and eat it with those who, for conscience sake, would not dine out? Or, would he go to a local restaurant and command the "weak" to eat by themselves? The answer to this question is found in his first epistle to the Church at Corinth.
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. (1 Corinthians 8:9-12)
Here, Paul is saying that even if you could innocently consume the meat because you are totally unaware it was used in a sacrifice it would still be wrong to do so if it would offend someone who was weak in the faith. He then punctuates this point by offering a personal example of how he shows consideration toward others.
Wherefore, if meat makes my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (1 Corinthians 8:13)
The point God's servant was making is that in order to prevent his brother from stumbling, he would not only abstain from eating meat that may have been offered to an idol, he would abstain from eating meat altogether.
A young woman was counseling for baptism with the leader of a small fellowship. However, at one point she informed her pastor that she would like her former pastor who was part of another group, to perform the actual baptism. Although both men knew each other quite well and there didn’t appear to be any antagonism between them, her pastor was adamant in his opposition to her request. He actually went so far as to suggest that his group might even reject the legitimacy of the baptism altogether. This was absolutely devastating to her because she couldn’t understand why it would make any difference who baptized her.
In truth, she makes a very good point—one that is actually articulated in the scriptures. While so many leaders insist on preserving their own exclusivity, Jesus actually chastised His disciples for something very similar (Lk. 9:49-50).
Recently, one of the smaller fellowships informed their members that any gatherings in which the Bible was discussed MUST be attended by an ordained minister. This even included outings in which friends would go camping for a few days. According to the Church, any study must be done privately and not discussed with each other. When some members questioned why there was such a policy, the leadership explained that the ministry possesses a special blessing from God that members cannot have. There are NO EXCEPTIONS. This blessing gave them a greater depth of understanding with respect to spiritual matters. The leader of this group went so far as to say that members are actually bound by God to accept this teaching. We’re just curious, but would this Church leader apply the same policy to the Bereans?
Shortly after this announcement a long standing COG member (over 30 years) was involved in a private discussion with a recently ordained elder. While the member possessed a wealth of knowledge acquired from his academic training (he graduated with honors from Ambassador College) as well as his life experiences, the elder had a modest education and a limited history in the Church. He was actually ordained within three years of his baptism.
The discussion concerned fellowshipping with members from other groups. The elder was adamantly opposed to it. The member, his senior of many years, questioned the wisdom of such an opinion. This led the elder to chastise him for failing to understand that “elders know more than members” and cautioned him against non-compliance.
The Seat of Authority
There is an emerging view within the Church which asserts that God only recognizes the writings of those who are ordained and that non-ordained COG authors are being presumptuous to publish anything of a Biblical nature. Others argue that the lack of an ordination stands as proof that God actually disapproves of certain members—thus making their work inferior and even contaminated. Others still, claim that any Church service conducted by non-ordained hosts lacks legitimacy and is done so without God’s blessing. This is peculiar because the vast majority of Church services during the days of the apostles were held in private residences where there was no formal ministry.
A few years ago a couple who had grown up their entire lives in the Church began dating and it didn’t take long for it to grow into a courtship. However, each of them was now a member of a different splinter group, having followed their parents. It never occurred to them that this could be an issue. After all, their beliefs and practices were virtually identical. Unfortunately, they would be introduced to a part of the Church that was foreign to them—one in which beliefs didn’t matter.
When they began to counsel with ministers from both fellowships the issue of which group they would attend came up. They had already anticipated this and agreed that they would alternate. To them this was no different than going to two different congregations of the early New Testament Church. Although one of the splinters was amenable to that, the other would hear nothing of it. They were adamant that in order for them to sanction the marriage the person not presently attending with them would have to renounce the other group and even disassociate himself from its members.
This policy was nothing short of a vulgar attempt to force two young people, who just a few minutes earlier were teeming with joy, to abandon the people they loved and worshipped with their whole life. In the end the parents of both young people became estranged and the wedding was placed on hold.
These are only a few of hundreds of stories where leaders in God’s Church hold themselves up to the required adoration of their members. The sad part of this is that the Almighty is actually moved by a different attitude altogether. When giving the parable of the “Pharisee and the Publican,” Jesus declared that it was the lowly publican that drew God’s favor, not some braggart (Lk. 18:10-14). He also stated that a near destitute widow drew God’s favor as well, not some egotist making a show out of his “gift” (Mk. 12:42-43, Lk. 21:1-4). Additionally, the scriptures tell us that the meek and contrite are the ones who turn His head and gets His attention (Isa. 66:2),—as well as the lowly of mind and those who esteem others greater than themselves (Phi 2:3).
Compliance versus Commitment
One of the great tragedies in the Church is that its leaders confuse compliance with commitment. In truth God isn't looking for those who conform for the sake of peace in the Church. God desires COMMITMENT to His way, even at the risk of acrimony and outright persecution. The reason for this should be obvious: compliance is easy to impose on others. It can be accomplished simply by instilling fear in members. But compliance has no staying power. Commitment on the other hand, is altogether different. One must be genuinely persuaded in his heart to embrace something in order to be committed to it. In other words, it is not simply good enough to obey God in a calculated way—simply following His instructions. God desires our obedience to be spontaneous, natural and intuitive. Such obedience is NEVER coerced, but rather INSPIRED. The Messiah’s life and His approach toward others should be the source of that inspiration.
Recently, two men, who were members of different COG fellowships, became engaged in a discussion regarding the “place of safety” and what it meant to be accounted “worthy to escape” to it (Lk. 21:36). The first gentleman, citing the Messiah’s warning in verse 34 explained that the greatest threat to deliverance was becoming absorbed with the cares of this life and ostensibly taking one’s eyes off the Kingdom (Mt. 6:33).
The second gentleman vehemently objected and claimed that deliverance was predicated on unqualified submission to God’s true leader and keeping your eyes on him—a man he confidently asserted just so happened to be the director of his particular COG group. He then claimed that God will reveal the time and place of flight to this man and only those who submit to him will be allowed to escape. He concluded his argument by telling the first gentleman: “unfortunately, you and the other groups will probably have to learn this lesson the hard way.”
Whether they believe it or not, God's leaders will never be able to inspire commitment in their people until they are willing to attentively listen to them and engage them on real issues, as opposed to demanding that they simply take their word for it. God has always encouraged His people to prove Him (Mal. 3:10) and their faith (I Thess. 5:21) as well as to assume personal responsibility over their own spiritual growth (II Tim. 2:15) as well as their spiritual destiny (Phi. 2:12). This will never be accomplished by appealing to their sense of fear but rather to their sense of reason (Isa. 1:18).
A Final Thought
The true and faithful servants of the Almighty are those who lift up Christ and not themselves and their authority. They are those who preach the power of FAITH, HOPE and CHARITY, not the arrogance of me, myself and I. They are those who reject the doctrine of self and embrace a doctrine that proclaims there is something greater than self.
Leaders who present their own self-worth as proof that God actually embraces their authority don’t have to look far to see how that approach can play out. Nebuchadnezzar tried something similar and the result was NOT good.
The king spoke, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?
While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; The kingdom is departed from thee. (Dan.4:30-31)
In closing, Ralph Waldo Emerson once described Abraham Lincoln, a president of extraordinary grace and humility as “A man who does not offend by superiority.” Now that is true leadership.
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