Addressing Disunity In The Churches of God

Recently, a friend shared a post titled “After 20 Years … there remains but a poor case for a divided Church of God.” It’s arguing that there’s no good excuse for the church of God to exist in different organizations. It broke apart because of doctrinal differences, but now people believing the same things are divided up into innumerable different groups. Why haven’t they got back together yet?

It’s a lamentation I’ve heard pretty much my entire life. My parents met attending the Worldwide Church of God and I was only 6 years old when the major split happened. I’ve grown up in off-shoots of that church group including United Church of God and various independent groups such as Christian Biblical Church of God and the now-nonexistant Bellville Church of God.

  • Quick note for my regular readers: this post is addressed to people in church groups that split off from the Worldwide Church of God (most in 1995) due to major doctrinal differences. If you read something here that seems “odd” it’s probably because of not sharing my target audience’s background. Please bear with me going off on this specific topic for one post đŸ™‚

I don’t really remember Worldwide. But I’ve heard about the huge church groups with hundreds of attendees each week and the Feasts of Tabernacles where multiple thousands gathered to celebrate God’s holy days. I’ve heard (and still hear) Herbert Armstrong quoted in multiple sermons every year. I’ve seen groups trying to re-create the “good old days” when the church had a central government, word-wide cultural influence, and its own university. And I read articles like the one my friend shared that wonder why we don’t have that any more and urging a return to unity.

I’m writing my post today because I feel this type of argument is glossing over the true issues. Perhaps we’re so nostalgic for what was that we’re missing a greater what could be.

Addressing Disunity In The Churches of God | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photo by Pearl, via Lightstock

Defining “Disunity”

First, we have to decide what we mean by disunity and division. This writer said he observed division when a church group of 800-1,000 people was split into four different congregations due to an administrative decision. He also describe the many different groups that grew out of a Worldwide background as currently disunified. It seems he means that division exists when all God’s people in a given location aren’t meeting together and when there are different church groups in existence instead of a single over-arching organization.

But is that an accurate description? Should we expect God’s church to all fall under one human label or to all meet in the same location? Or do some people just think that’s a good idea because that’s what they thought was going on in Worldwide? This gets to a key question: How does the Bible define “the church of God”? We can’t even try to be the ideal version of something until we know what that ideal version looks like. Continue reading

Forgiven The Most

Who responded to Jesus best when He walked on this earth? It wasn’t the religious leaders or the pious folk or the wealthy and powerful. It was the ordinary people, the sinners and the outcasts of society. But why is that? The Christian message carries good news for all people. What made some receive it joyfully and others want to kill Jesus?

How Big Is Your Debt?

There’s a story in Luke 7 that might shed some light on this. One of the Pharisees, a man named Simon, invited Jesus over for dinner. A woman known in her city as “a sinner” followed them and started crying on Jesus’ feet. She washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with oil.

The Pharisee’s mind instantly went to a place of judgement. If Jesus were a prophet, he thought, then He would know what sort of woman this was and stop her from touching Him. Jesus wasn’t too impressed with that line of thought, so He told this story:

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?” Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.” And he said unto him, “Thou hast rightly judged.” (Luke 7:41-43, KJV)

Jesus went on to list the ways this woman demonstrated her love for him (which, incidentally, highlighted Simon’s deficiencies in hospitality). He finished His conversation with Simon by saying, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Luke 7:47, KJV).

One reason the sinners responded so well to Jesus is that they knew they needed what He offered. The people who viewed themselves as righteous thought they were good enough already and found His call to repentance offensive. Continue reading

How Do I Repent and Change?

Repentance from dead works is the first of the foundational truths listed in Hebrews 6. But how well do we really understand it and how many of us truly practice repentance?

When I was baptized, the minister asked if I’d repented of my sins and accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. I meant it when I said yes, but I’m not sure I really understood how much more repentance is than just an, “I’m sorry I messed up.” It involves a change in our innermost being that manifests in a commitment to turn away from things displeasing to God.

As we prepare for Passover, we ask God for feedback on how we’re doing in our walk with Him. We examine ourselves to see if there are hidden sins in our lives and ponder how we can become better examples of our Lord Jesus. But we can’t stop there. We have to act on what we learn.

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Photo credit: “Remember this day” by Tim Sackton, CC BY-SA via Flickr

David’s Example

Psalm 51 is perhaps the best example we have in the entire Bible of repentance. David wrote it after committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed. There were consequences for those sins, but David was forgiven. He didn’t just “get away with it” because he was king and God wanted to keep working with him. David was forgiven because he confessed and repented from a humbled heart (unlike the previous king, Saul, who made excuses when confronted with his sin). Continue reading

Are There Sins Separating Me From God?

There’s a fairly prevalent idea out there in Christianity that our sins separate us from God because God can’t be in the presence of sin. But is it true that God pulls back from us because we’re too dirty for Him, or is there something else going on?

The idea that God can’t be around sin is largely based on a verse in Habakkuk that reads, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13, KJV). When we look at the context, though, we see God just told Habakkuk He planned to work with the vicious Chaldeans, and this verse is part of Habakkuk asking God why He would ever associate with such wickedness.

If we accept the premise that Jesus was and is fully God (as I believe we should), then we know God doesn’t shrink back from sin as if scared to get His hands dirty. Rather, He dives right in among sinners so that He can wipe sin away and replace it with holiness. God gets close to sinful people so He can set things right.

But there are also verse that talk about iniquity separating us from God and revealing that God will not fellowship with evil. While we don’t have to worry that we’re so filthy God wouldn’t touch us, if we want a close relationship with Him we need to figure out what’s going on here. Continue reading

Am I Ready To Hear What God Says?

As the Passover approaches, those of us who believe Jesus intended modern-day Christians to observe it are given a task. Before following Jesus’ instruction to take the Passover symbols “in remembrance of Me,” we’re told to examine ourselves.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks the Lord’s cup in a way unworthy of the Lord will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup. (1 Cor. 11:26-19, WEB)

Every year I hear these scriptures read, and every year since my baptism in 2008 I ask myself, “How?” What can I do to examine myself and determine if I’m keeping the Passover in a worthy manner?”

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Photo credit: “Remember this day” by Tim Sackton, CC BY-SA via Flickr

The Lord Examines

Perhaps the reason why I’ve always felt like I was hitting a wall when trying to examine myself is found in a very familiar scripture:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Yahweh, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:9-10, WEB)

There’s no way we can successfully examine ourselves without God’s help. Maybe that should have been obvious, but I only connected it with Passover after hearing Len Martin’s sermon on self-examination (which you can listen so by clicking here; I highly recommend it). We need to ask God to examine us, or our self-examination isn’t going to bear much fruit. Continue reading

Be The “Anyone”

There are 3,310 pairs of socks in the men’s homeless shelter.

This past weekend, I attended a young adult service and enrichment weekend. After a Friday evening and Saturday of discussion questions, seminars, Shabbat services, and good fellowship we spent Sunday on a service project. Nearly 100 of us descended on a homeless shelter to help tackle some of their needs, including wall painting, deep cleaning, window washing, and sorting the donations room.

I spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out what my gifts are and how to use them effectively. That interest in personal growth and development is, in part, why this blog exists. But somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least), this weekend’s focus on filling your role in the body of Christ barely touched on spiritual gifts and individual talents. Rather, the take-away was finding your identity as a servant of Christ and then following His example no matter what.

Photo: “Helping Hands” by Valerie Everett, CC BY-SA via Flickr

While I’m a staunch advocate for finding, developing, and using your gifts (that’s why you have them, after all), it doesn’t really take any particular gift to count socks. Perhaps someone with a gift for math could have worked more quickly, or a person with a gift for organization sorted them more efficiently. But really the only thing absolutely essential was showing up and doing the work.

In focusing on where we fit best, perhaps we sometimes close ourselves off to areas where anyone could serve. Maybe we think, “Anyone could do that, so I’ll focus on what I do best.” But that doesn’t mean “anyone” will actually step-up and do it.

During your quest to find the best way to use your gifts, don’t overlook the importance of being the “anyone” who will step in and fill needs. Move from theory to practice. Whether it’s in your family, your church, or your community, let’s look for opportunities to help and then actually take them.