Sabbatarian leaders meet, hear CLA founder's plans for Tulsa
By Dixon Cartwright
TULSA, Okla.--Sabbatarians from several church organizations met here the Sabbath of March 20 at the Tulsa Church of God, pastored by Lawrence Gregory.
They were here for two coincidental reasons:
Mr. Gregory invited Alfred Harrell, founder and director of the CLA, to address the congregation regarding the CLA's planned campaign. Then Arthur Hulet of Perry, Okla., pastor of congregations in Perry and Enid, delivered the regularly scheduled sermon.
In the audience of about 105 people were Sheldon Monson of the Living Church of God's Inola, Okla., congregation; Cornell Bemore of the Branch Jerusalem of Church of God (Seventh Day); Al Sweatt of the Seventh Day Bible Church; Ray Kurr of the Church of God Tulsa Fellowship; Art Hulet of Perry Church of God; and Marvin Keim, Church of God (Seventh Day), Claremore; as well as Mr. Gregory and Stephen Andrews, elders of the Tulsa Church of God.
A representative of the Tulsa congregation of the Untied Church of God, an International Association, had planned to attend but because of personal reasons was not able to.
Karl Beyersdorfer, pastor of the Joplin, Mo., and Inola, Okla., congregations of the Living Church of God, was not able to attend the service but did arrive for a potluck meal and fellowship later in the day.
Dr. Harrell, the Arkansan who founded the CLA last year, was traveling in the company of two other CLA representatives from Arkansas, Tim Hall and Fred Porter of Jonesboro.
Dr. Harrell announced that he was inviting the Tulsa Church of God and others in northeastern Oklahoma to help sponsor the CLA's April campaign. So far the CLA has sponsored campaigns in several cities in Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky, inviting the general public through newspaper, radio and TV ads and in some cases direct mail.
He noted the evolution of the CLA's strategy in conducting such campaigns.
"Most of you are familiar with Matthew 24 and Matthew 28," he said. "Those are scriptures that talk about preaching the gospel . . . I think there is a way to get that news to the world in a very powerful way. After all, would God give us something that was impossible to do?"
He mentioned that the best way thus far that the CLA has of preaching the gospel is to deliver a message that draws heavily on the proof of the seventh-day Sabbath.
"We in this room are Sabbath-keepers, and there's nothing that we could come together on any more than the Sabbath . . . In many cases Satan would like us to emphasize what we don't have in common, but, if we can come together on what we believe, on that one issue, perhaps we can make an impact that would go farther than any of us could realize."
He noted that his experience with Sabbatarians has included a lack of cooperation.
"But, if we can agree on the Sabbath, why can't we join hands and get that message to the world? Many people who are not Sabbath-keepers have a total misunderstanding of what we believe. They think we are legalistic."
Seventh-day Adventists are perplexed, he said, by the lack of cooperation among seventh-day-keepers.
"I talked to a Seventh-day Adventist a few days ago, and he expressed his frustration . . . He said, if the Seventh-day Adventist Church sponsors a meeting, none of the other Sabbath-keepers will come to it."
Dr. Harrell sees the CLA as a "neutral organization" with no affiliation with any other church group that can help bring about cooperation among Sabbath-keeping groups.
"When we come into a city to conduct a campaign, anyone who responds to the advertising is not directed to us. We are not trying to build a church. What we are is a tool in your hands. Every person here who represents a church, I hope you see us as a tool in your hands, not a group in conflict with you."
The CLA does not want to pull anyone out of any congregation, he said.
"Wouldn't it be nice to have a campaign, say, here in Tulsa, and from a 100-mile radius every Sabbath-keeper would come in and help with the flier distribution? Wouldn't that be great to have such an impact that the community here would say something happened here? The strengths of all organizations involved would be increased.
"If we can get away from just feeling like our organization is the only one doing anything, we can all benefit from it."
Dr. Harrell said that thus far he has served as the sole speaker at the campaigns, but he would like to change that.
"We have some wonderful speakers and teachers in all these congregations willing to put their lives on the line, and it's a shame in many cases they get to speak only to their own congregations. Wouldn't it be nice to get those people out in front of the public? That's what we're trying to do."
Such an approach would put Sabbath-keeping churches on the offensive, he said.
"We have been on the defensive so long in what we believe. When the people on the Day of Pentecost [Acts 2] left, they went on the offensive."
Television and radio efforts are fine, "but when we look at the Bible we see a message taken by the people to the people."
The CLA needs brethren who are willing to "hit the streets" and "to volunteer to do things. Obviously there will be some expenses, but they will always be at the bare minimum."
Dr. Harrell said that, when members of the public show up at a CLA campaign, they are struck by the comparison of the biblical explanation for Sabbath observance with the Sunday observance promoted in their home churches.
"All of us know that Sunday-keeping ministers don't have a leg to stand on," he said. "I guarantee you that a Sunday-keeping minister, unless he's not very smart, will not get in a debate with a person who knows something about the Sabbath. Why? Because his hide would be nailed to the wall. We have the truth of the Sabbath; all they've got is the deceit they've put on the world. The sad part is that we're letting them get away with it."
Dr. Harrell said "something happens" to people who get personally involved with preaching the gospel.
"When you go into a city personally and you start talking about the Sabbath and passing out fliers and get before a group of new people, it does something inside you when you realize that you're actually involved in the work of God. I've got to believe that anyone with the Spirit of God has something within them that urges them to get involved and preach the gospel."
After Dr. Harrell's address, members of and visitors to the Tulsa congregation asked him questions for a few minutes.
Someone asked him his position on money, on taking up offerings at campaigns. He replied that he does not take up offerings.
Someone asked him if he had been criticized for operating what some people would call a "lay ministry." In other words, Dr. Harrell has never been ordained by any church, therefore some people would say he is a self-appointed minister and therefore conducting an invalid ministry.
He acknowledged he is not an ordained elder, but he believes his role with the CLA "is to be a catalyst for the people of God."
"It is not my intention," he said, "to be a leader of a vast organization. The criticism has been mostly because of ignorance. Ignorance is not stupidity, but there is ignorance about our motives. There have been a lot of people with wrong motives who have abused the people of God. We're not a church, therefore no one owes any allegiance to us. If you don't see fruit, don't be a part of us. If you do see fruit, get in there and roll your sleeves up."
After the questions, Mr. Gregory asked the congregation for a show of hands: How many would like to be involved in the CLA's efforts in Tulsa?
Many hands went up. When Mr. Gregory asked how many were opposed to the congregation's involvement, no hands went up.
Mr. Hulet's sermon
After Dr. Harrell, Mr. Hulet spoke, telling about a new congregation he pastors in Enid with attendance of 25 to 30. The new group consists of people who recently ceased to attend with the Worldwide Church of God because their WCG congregation began meeting on Sunday.
Mr. Hulet also pastors a group of 15 to 20 in Perry, where he lives.
In his sermon he asked, "What is love?"
"Or let me put it another way," he said. "What is God?"
God gave His Son as the sacrifice for everyone's sins "because He wants a big family," said Mr. Hulet.
"God took a chance with Him, because had He sinned, brethren, you and I wouldn't be here. We wouldn't have the opportunity to be a part of the greatest family there is, the God family. God so loved the world that He gave His son for you and for me."
After the Sabbath service, and before a potluck meal, Dr. Harrell met with Mr. Gregory, Mr. Hulet and several other men to begin to plan a strategy for the Tulsa campaign that would include any who wished to help with the effort.
Present were Mr. Kurr of the Church of God Tulsa Fellowship; Mr. Monson of the Living Church of God, Inola, Okla.; Maynard Kappel, David Hope, Richard Gawith, Barnabas Grayson and Mr. Andrews of the Tulsa Church of God; Dr. Harrell, Mr. Porter and Mr. Hall of the CLA; and this writer for The Journal.
The conclusion, after about an hour's discussion, was that the Tulsa Church of God reaffirmed its desire to be involved in the CLA's campaign. Mr. Gregory reported that other churches not represented at the meeting but present at the earlier Sabbath service had also expressed their interest.
"I want everyone to come in with open eyes," said Dr. Harrell, "to know our motives, to know what we're trying to do, that we can work together with an attitude of camaraderie and as friends."
The men asked several questions, about money, strategies and literature. Does the CLA distribute its own literature at its campaigns or the literature of the participating churches?
"We are not in the business of distributing literature from the CLA," he said. "We would like to use literature that's already been produced, that promotes sound doctrine."
"Point of clarification," said Mr. Monson: "Let's assume 20 new people show up at this meeting, or maybe 100 new people, and they're wondering where is the nearest church they can attend. Would you put out a list of all the local pastors here and the times they meet so they know where to attend, or how does that take place?"
Dr. Harrell replied that, after careful deliberation, he and others in the CLA decided it was not up to them to direct any of the campaign attenders to a particular church organization.
"We will have a handout at the campaign which will list the Sabbath-keeping groups within a certain radius of Tulsa," he said. "If God opens three people's minds to the Sabbath, He may want them to go to three different churches."
Mr. Hulet commented that the CLA's methods and goals are nothing new.
"Christ said you will not have gone over all the cities of Israel, and He also said when He sent His disciples out He told them to go into cities . . . So this is not a new concept; this is what Christ Himself instituted in the beginning.
"The problem we have in the Church of God is we have gotten away from that concept, and I think what God is trying to show, not necessarily through your organization, but probably, is that you've got to come back."
Mr. Porter, one of the three CLA representatives present, said the organization spends "just a minuscule fraction of what the Worldwide Church of God spent" on preaching the gospel, "yet we're having 30 or 40 people show up at a campaign because they're interested in the Sabbath. We've touched people, whether they do something about it or not."
Mr. Porter said no one in the CLA "is making a dime off this. But we're doing something that I think needs to be done."
The men discussed the kinds of advertising that might be placed in news media in Tulsa. Then Dr. Harrell related a conversation he had had two days earlier in Arkansas with an SDA elder.
"Thursday I met with a Seventh-day Adventist minister in Hot Springs, Ark. I sat down with him and pretty well explained what we were doing. The more I talked, the more excited he got because he could see the potential of getting the Sabbath issue out in a more effective way than what they have been doing."
Dr. Harrell said other SDA elders have attended his campaigns and have been "intrigued" by what they heard.
"In Paducah [Ky.] we had three SDA ministers there . . . They are strong believers in the Sabbath. We can agree on the Sabbath. The minister in Arkansas said what you're doing we cannot do, because if we put on a campaign on the Sabbath no other organization would work with us and support it."
Mr. Kurr commented that a "Christian radio station" in Muskogee, Okla., had offered his group "anything we wanted to do" as far as providing airtime for a religious message.
The station is KHJM and is owned and operated by Bryant and Karline Ellis. Mrs. Ellis is the daughter of longtime Worldwide Church of God elder Herman Hoeh of La Canada, Calif.
Others in the meeting were interested in learning more about the radio station, whose signal reaches into the Tulsa area.
Dr. Harrell recounted some of his early experiences in getting the CLA ball rolling.
"When I first started with this concept," he said, "I traveled and talked to certain church leaders, not knowing exactly how it could be done, even though I knew there had to be a way to do it. I went to certain ones in these organizations--not asking for money, but I hoped they would see the advantages of it and be willing, if they didn't help us, at least not to fight against us."
He quickly learned that that approach was getting him nowhere fast.
"I discovered real quick that wasn't the way to do it. You've got to get out and show you're serious and prove and show fruit. You have to show you have been faithful in what you said you were going to do.
"Now people, when they see what we have done so far, can see the potential in it."
Mr. Kurr, who is himself not an elder but one of the founders of the Church of God Tulsa Fellowship, commented that he had heard all his life "that you have to be ordained to preach the gospel. So to see something like this happening is tremendously encouraging."
The Tulsa campaign happened April 24 at the Radisson Hotel near the airport.
"It seemed to be a great success," said Natalie Avery, who sang in the choir for the meeting.
"I thought it was wonderful. There were 40 people there who had not attended Sabbath services anywhere before out of a total attendance of about 300."
After the hour lecture by Dr. Harrell, he fielded questions for another hour. Inquiries during the Q&A, said Mrs. Avery, were mostly about the Sabbath and feast days.
Write the CLA at P.O. Box 20096, Hot Springs, Ark. 71903, U.S.A., or firstname.lastname@example.org. Write the Tulsa Church of God (which is associated with the Churches of God Outreach Ministries) at P.O. Box 54621, Tulsa, Okla. 74155, U.S.A.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God