Columnist offers toast to church's next generation

The writer pastors United Church of God congregations in Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich.

By Melvin Rhodes

DEWITT, Mich.--Sunday, May 3, was a special day in the Rhodes household. Our eldest daughter, Alexandra, married Kennat Jon Nyhus, son of Mr. and Mrs. Laurie Nyhus of Edmonton, Alta., Canada.

My wife and I have been happy seeing Alix and Ken come together. What makes it particularly special for us is that the four parents have been friends for well over a quarter of a century, a friendship that began at Ambassador College, Bricket Wood, England.

This is one of those rare marriages where in-laws really shouldn't be a problem. Now that we are all related, our friendships have been strengthened and renewed. It was a particular pleasure to share the ceremony with Laurie and to note that a cross-section of people from various Sabbatarian groups were present for the service.

This was so in spite of recent events in the Churches of God.

I say this because the Nyhuses and the Rhodeses have been members of different churches for almost five years now.

Mixed marriage

Back around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles in 1993, the Nyhuses left Worldwide. Laurie had been a minister employed by the church for 19 years. He and his wife, Sarah, left over the doctrinal direction the church was taking and were soon members of the Global Church of God. Laurie pastors Global congregations in the western part of Canada.

About 18 months after they left the WCG, my wife and I left and soon afterwards began ministering to members of the United Church of God, an International Association. We still pastor two congregations in Michigan for United.

Those of you who have also "transitioned" will know how significant this wedding was and, at the same time, how easily it might never have happened.

If we had followed strict church policy back in 1993 when the Nyhuses left the WCG, we would have cut ourselves off from all contact with the family. After all, they were disfellowshipped. They had, as we used to say, "rebelled against the government of God."

We're thankful that our friendship was stronger than corporate boundaries, and we continued to be friends. We soon found that our differences were minor compared to what we had in common. That's how it remains.

Now that the Nyhuses were in Global and we were in United, Alix and Kennat could so easily have gone their separate ways and never come together in marriage. How unfortunate that would have been. These two young people were made for each other; they click together so well. Yet artificial corporate boundaries could easily have separated them permanently.

We are so thankful that we had the sense to see through the spiritual minefield of control, exclusivity and disfellowshipment, those triggers that have rent asunder the Body of Christ, to the true meaning of Philadelphia: brotherly love. People of like mind who do not necessarily agree on every little thing can nevertheless come together as brothers and sisters in Christ and learn to love each other and walk together in peace and harmony.

Silly generation

I believe the Nyhuses and we did the right thing in sustaining our mutual friendship through the turmoil of recent years. But we are inspired by the fine examples of our children, who have taken it even further. They have shown the way for others in their generation in realizing that, whereas common belief is an added blessing in a happy marriage, corporate divisions and differences of administration can be overcome and even overlooked.

From conversations I have with young people across the spiritual divide, I see even more clearly just how silly our generation has been. Many of our young people know what they believe: They believe what we believe. But they don't understand the division. They don't understand what the fuss is about. They simply want to have peace and to see their friends who are scattered throughout the churches.

How nice to realize that in 20 years, when this generation of leaders has died off, a new generation will be in charge that sees things differently, that is able to discern the difference between belief (doctrine) and administration and to realize that, while one is important, the other is a matter of personal preference and therefore in a different category.

Our generation has blown in. We have shown that, in spite of a commonality of belief, we have allowed differences over administration to get the better of us and have, in consequence, restrained our Christianity.

May I suggest that at our next Sabbath meal all of us raise a glass of wine in a toast to the next generation?

To reconciliation.

To healing of division within the Body of Jesus Christ.

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