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 🙂

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

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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

Show Christ’s Love, Not Your Judgement

Without going into too much  detail, I’ve recently heard from more than one person who is a Christian and has sexual abuse in their pasts. They’ve reached out in response to my request for different Myers-Briggs types to talk about their faith. As heartbreaking as it is to hear about the terrible things their abusers did, it’s equally heartbreaking to hear how the church has responded.

The people who contacted me didn’t say they were hesitant to open-up to me because I was a stranger on the internet. Rather, they were worried because I’m Christian and they’ve had so many Christians react badly in the past. One, abused by “upstanding members in the church” encountered people who wouldn’t believe her or were angry she actually filed a police report. Another faced judgment so harsh she compared it to “being victimized twice.”

That sort of things should never happen in the household of God. We can’t always prevent terrible things being done by and to other people. But we are 100% responsible for how we respond when someone shares their pasts with us.

No Partiality

In his epistle, James tells the church not to judge others for the way they look. You should be just as welcoming and loving to the “poor man in filthy clothing” as to the “man with a gold ring, in fine clothing” (James 2:2, WEB). But do you really think this only applies to peoples’ outer appearance?

If you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:8-9, WEB)

It is a sin to make snap judgments of people based on their appearance, their pasts, or aspects of their personality you just don’t like. Remember, you’ll be judged with the same type of judgment you turn on other people (Matt. 7:1-2). So “use mercy to them all” (Shakespeare, not the Bible, but still a good policy to follow). Continue reading

Mercy and Truth Meet Together: INFJ Christians

Our walks with God don’t all look the same. We’re influenced by our backgrounds, variations in beliefs, and individual personalities. And even though the goal is for us all to become “like God,” that doesn’t mean we become indistinguishable from each other. God created great variety in people and I believe He did that for a reason.

This is the first post in a series looking at Christians with different personality types. Today, we’re focusing on my personality type — INFJ. When you start talking with people of faith who fall into different personality type groups, you notice not all the personalities feel equally valued and understood by Christian churches. And churches on the whole seem skewed toward attracting Sensing and/or Feeling types. If Christianity is a faith meant for all people then why aren’t we doing a better job of connecting with all personality types?

INFJ - Join me for a blog series discussing Christianity from the perspectives of different personality types. | marissabaker.wordpress.com

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Empathy For All

I asked INFJs which Bible characters they identified most with and received a flood of responses. It seems we can’t pick just one favorite character. Several INFJs mentioned that our empathy makes it easy to identify with Bible characters. Rachel writes, “My personality pushes me to strive to understand everyone, so I can identify with all the characters in the Bible in some way.” We do have favorites, though, (mine is the apostle John) and the INFJs who did get into details about their favorite characters were very specific.

I identify with David the most. His emotion portrayed through the Psalms and some OT stories resonate in my heart, especially that of love for God, the Scriptures, and pains of stress under sin and oppression. The way in which he responds to certain situations are very similar to how I’ve responded to mine relate as well. – Sarah H

I identify most with Rahab because she was an idolater who was saved when she trusted God. Not only that, but because of that decision, she was given a place in the line of Christ. I, too, was an idolater, but when I trusted Christ, God adopted me into His household. Now I’m a princess in the royal house of God. – Lillith

INFJ - Join me for a blog series discussing Christianity from the perspectives of different personality types. | marissabaker.wordpress.comThere wasn’t a whole lot of overlap, but multiple INFJs specifically mentioned King David, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. In our favorite characters, as in many other things, INFJs seek connection. They’re identifying with Bible characters who share aspects of their own personality traits and who inspire them to connect with God. And we do that with multiple characters. Take a look at some of what an INFJ named Alexandria wrote me:

I am Mary and Martha. I love Mary for the way she valued Yahweh and sat attentively, listening to all His wisdom. I identify with Martha and always love to think that I am treating my guests like royalty by having everything organized and prepared.

I love David…oh how I love him. I love that he was so gracious to Saul, even though Saul treated him so badly, trying to kill him! I love that David was a flagrant sinner and yet God called him a man after His own heart. I am so moved at how gracious the Lord was with David every time, and I remember that when I feel like my failings are stacking up!! I like his passion for life and the depth of his soul and all that he felt so poignantly. …

And last of all, my heart beats with Paul. I love his drive to get others to really live by the teachings of the scriptures. His quest for spiritual excellence is so awesome and it is so moving how dedicated he is to those he serves and he loves them so authentically and I feel like I really “get” him. He is a person who is passionate in living the Christian life the right way with integrity and love.

Using Our Gifts

INFJs who talked about serving in their church felt their contributions were appreciated. These INFJs are leading Bible studies, cooking dinners for small groups, participating in youth/teen ministry, using their artistic skills, teaching, and contributing musically. Many INFJs also expressed the desire to help more, but said they either haven’t had the opportunity or were actively discouraged. Continue reading

Healthy Christian Boundaries and Loving People You Don’t Like

It’s easier to follow the second great commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” when you like your neighbor. But Jesus didn’t say “love the people you like” or that this great command only applies to people who are easy to be around.

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax collectors also do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing that is remarkable? Do not the Gentiles also do the same? Therefore you be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:46-48, LEB)

God is perfect in every way. In this case, however, Jesus is specifically talking about His perfect impartiality. Leading up to these verses, He said,

 But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. (Matt. 5:44-45, WEB)

If we want to be like God, we have to love the way He loves. God is love. It “is the sum and harmony of all His attributes, His essence” (Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts on 1 John 4:8-9). Love isn’t just something God does. It’s His nature; the motivation driving every choice He makes. The chief example of this is that while “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, LEB).

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Clearing Up What Love Is

But things get complicated when dealing with humans. We run into questions, not because we’re trying to wiggle out of the command to love others but because we’re not sure what it means. Consider these scenarios:

  • Does love that “bears all things” mean I let my abusive parents/spouse/etc. keep hurting me?
  • Does love that “covers a multitude of sins” mean I always have to trust people again after forgiving them?
  • Does love that “does not behave rudely” stay friends with people who creep you out?

Continue reading

Balancing Views On Singleness and Marriage

Most modern Christian churches develop a culture that prioritizes marriage. We know marriage is a good thing and that it’s part of God’s plan for humanity. Marriage pictures the union between Christ and His church. Beyond the spiritual aspects, it’s also held-out to young people as a sort of “prize” for listening to what the Bible says about purity pre-marriage.

Since we think of marriage as such a good thing, we think of the opposite as something negative. Western culture is, on the whole, very binary. If something is good, the opposite is bad. Our minds don’t naturally consider that both could be good in the proper context. With this mindset, singleness is treated as less-desirable and if a single person doesn’t want to marry we think there’s “something wrong” with them. But is this really how God views things?

Seeking Balance

It’s a safe bet all my Christian readers know of the verses discussing marriage in a positive light. The marriage relationship was established at creation and in the New Testament Paul connects it to Christ and the church (Gen. 2:18-24; Eph. 5:22-32). Proverbs 18:22 maintains that “he who finds a wife finds a good thing.” Marriage is certainly seen as a good thing in the Bible. I’m not disputing that and I still hope someday to get married. But I think we make a mistake if we assume marriage’s goodness makes being single a bad thing. Continue reading

Crash Course In Romans

We’re going to talk about all of Romans in one blog post. That looks like a crazy idea as I type it, but I think sometimes when we zero-in on just one section of Paul’s letters we miss the bigger picture of what he’s trying to say. Perhaps there’s merit in studying overall messages as well as minute details.

Romans is a confusing letter, especially when you read pieces out of context. To really get a sense of what Paul is trying to say in any given chapter or verse, we have to read the entire letter. That’s true of any book in the Bible, but I think it’s more true for Romans since Paul connects his arguments so closely. Especially in the first half of the letter, he frequently makes a statement that could lead readers to make an incorrect assumption, then he asks that assumption as a rhetorical question and refutes it.click to read article, "Crash Course In Romans" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Also, even though we’ll stay mostly in Romans, it’s important to remember Paul wasn’t writing in a void. Reading Romans (or any other book of the Bible) by itself can lead to misinterpretation. We must frame our understanding of this letter in light of the Old Testament (the only scriptures around for Paul to reference) and the teachings of Jesus (for Paul would never contradict our Lord’s words). Doing that well would take a book instead of a blog post, but last week’s post serves as an good introduction to this one.

Doing The Law

Romans opens with a discussion of “ungodliness and unrighteousness” which brings people under the judgment of God (Rom. 1:16-32). Paul then takes his readers to task not, as some assume, for keeping the Law but rather for teaching it and then acting in a way that dishonors God (Rom. 2:1-29).

After saying, “not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified,” Paul shifts to explaining that even if you do keep the Law you’re still “under sin” because we’re not perfect. He also says it is righteous with God to judge the world, which is guilty before Him because the Law gives knowledge of sin and cannot justify us in God’s sight (Rom. 3:1-20).

Continue reading