Should you depend on the process?
The writer lives with his wife, Anne, and daughter, Jessica, in Muncie. He has been involved with the Church of God his whole life and fellowships with a nonaligned group in Muncie.
By Darryl A. Pifer
MUNCIE, Ind.--My dad, Garry D. Pifer of Bloomington, Ill., has been labeled a teacher of blatant heresy by the United Church of God, an International Association, because he presented a Bible study on the subject of tithing (see The Journal, April 30, and articles in this issue beginning on pages 1, 3, 10 and 11).
He clearly explained to the people present in Bloomington, Ill., the Sabbath of Jan. 9 that they were not to believe what he said, nor just to accept what the local United Church of God -AIA pastor or any booklet says; they need to believe what's in the Bible.
Garry then proceeded to lead the congregation through the scriptures about tithing. His "error" in this situation was in not conforming to United's "process." He considered the members of the United Church of God Bloomington congregation to be mature enough in the faith to look into the Bible to see what it says and not to rely upon a person or group of people to tell them what they should believe.
Takes it seriously
The individuals present for the study that Sabbath had no problems with Garry's presentation. They appreciated his approach, his recognition that no one in the congregation is new in the faith and that they don't need to be nursed on the milk of the Word. He takes seriously his responsibility to teach, exhort and edify members in the congregation.
Many tapes of his presentation on tithing have been sent around the world. With each one, a note has been included inviting feedback of any sort. Garry has repeatedly asked to be shown where he is in error, if he is. No one who had any concerns with what he said in his study ever personally contacted him before the intervention of United Church of God -AIA ministerial services.
It was three months after he made his presentation that Garry received a call from Tom Damour, the local pastor. Tom said he had just listened to a tape of the presentation and that he had some disagreements with it. He asked Garry if he still felt about tithing as he had when he gave the study.
Garry replied yes. Tom then bumped him from the speaking schedule for the coming Sabbath to deliver a sermon on tithing to "correct" Garry's presentation.
The reports on Tom's sermon indicate that it did not clarify or correct anything. He ended by reading from the old WCG tithing booklet and the new United Church of God fundamentals booklet. Garry quoted from the Bible, not from a book or booklet.
1974 study paper
When regional pastor Larry Greider came to town and announced to the congregation that Garry was guilty of teaching blatant heresy, he did not refer anyone to the Bible to study the topic; he referred them to a 1974 WCG study paper.
It just seems to me as if there should have been more encouragement for the members of the congregation to study their Bibles about the matter.
Why is there a reluctance or inability for these United ministers to address the issue, tithing, using the sword of God's Word?
Although Tom Damour gave a sermon on tithing, it followed the outline and information of the 1974 study paper. Larry's comments during the question-and-answer session on May 15 indicate that he too has read that paper. He did not demonstrate any errors in Garry's tithing presentation; he just told us Garry was a teacher of heresy.
Garry sent an E-mail with several questions about scriptures on tithing to Tom Damour that Tom never answered. The opportunity existed for the two men to sit down together and discuss and reason with the Scriptures. That has not happened, leaving me to believe that Tom and Larry are not prepared to do so. Larry Greider did compliment Garry, saying that his presentation was "very well done." It was; it was based on the Bible.
A clear theme that emerged from the May 15 Q&A with Larry Greider and Tom Damour was the importance of United's "process." It seems to have been elevated to preeminent status for the United corporation. In fact, it seems clear to me from their statements that allegiance to the process is valued over allegiance to God's Word.
Those of us present for the Q&A session that Sabbath were told that the process is in place to protect and preserve the truth. Of course, that makes me wonder what is it that is threatening God's Word? Does God need an organization and men to protect and preserve His Word?
Nonsense. The process that was repeatedly referred to was one that protects traditional teachings: an orthodoxy within the United Church of God -AIA. It's about guarding and protecting doctrine, which, as Larry said, is considered (or hoped) to be truth.
Of course, if Larry is right and United doctrine is truth, then why is there a process in the first place? There can be no such thing as "new truth," can there (although we've sure heard that term before)?
So, if the United Church of God -AIA has the truth as given by God to Herbert Armstrong and then to the rest of us, and that is what United sees as defining it as an organization and that which its ministers must stand behind and teach, why does a process exist?
Clearly, if there is a need for the process, that is an admission that what United has might not be the truth. Some of it might be false doctrine. If that is the case, then why is there a strongly encouraged commitment and allegiance to "that which we've been taught"? Couldn't that be an encouragement, and even requirement, to adhere to and believe false doctrine? Is unity desirable if it is based on doctrine that turns out to be false?
Larry said "the process" exists because the founders of the United Church of God -AIA saw no one to fill Mr. Armstrong's shoes. He, Mr. Armstrong, was the one who defined truth for the Worldwide Church of God.
Mr. Armstrong was the process. To remain a part of the WCG, people had to accept, or at least quietly go along with, what Mr. Armstrong taught. United has copied that model, replacing one man with a group of men.
Protecting the brethren
Some in United have expressed their pleasure in the fact that there is a process and there is a statement of beliefs because then they know what to believe.
This is the process that is supposed to protect the brethren. It seems to me it takes away their God-given responsibility to study to show themselves approved, rightly divide the word of truth and prove all things.
A process is available to do it for them. What is left but to passively accept what is given? At the very least, to remain a part of the organization, people must keep their disagreements to themselves.
It was stated during the Q&A that if an elder has a conviction different from United's doctrine on that topic, he should just keep quiet about it while taking it to the doctrinal committee, because, if he's wrong, the congregations shouldn't be considering it.
Isn't that treating the regular members as unable to think for themselves?
Tom Damour related United Church of God -AIA council member Victor Kubik's words that elders shouldn't look at church members as a "bunch of dummies" who can't think for themselves.
But then Tom went on to express how much the church members need to be protected by the process from things that are different from what has been approved by the process. That is not an affirmation of the regular members' ability to think. I made a comment at that time about the juvenile nature of this attitude. I still think it is juvenile.
Tom emotionally related that he felt violated when the WCG made radical alterations to its doctrines a few years ago. He wondered why so many of the people he was pastoring at the time accepted what came out of Pasadena.
I believe a large part of the reason is "the process," the same thing that is currently wreaking havoc in the United Church of God -AIA. Individuals were not prepared to think for themselves.
Tom said he felt raped because he had to watch the WCG's radical doctrinal changes take place while he couldn't do anything about them. He was told to get up and read the material.
I sat in one of the WCG congregations that Tom Damour pastored at that time. I don't agree with his sentiments. He had a mouth with which to cry from the rooftops, to address the unbiblical changes, at that time. He had the support and encouragement of the leadership in that congregation to do so. But he didn't.
Not only that, he took off the speaking list anyone who would speak against headquarters, and he invited someone in favor of the changes to speak to the congregation. He served the process.
So, when Tom Damour got up in front of the congregation, visibly upset by what happened in the WCG and wondering how and why it happened, I couldn't help but see a repeat in the present situation.
The process takes precedence over the Bible, the Word of God. Allegiance to the corporation is placed above allegiance to God.
In fact, Larry Greider could not sufficiently answer the question, "Is an elder's responsibility first to God or the organization?" He called it an unfair question, because, apparently in his mind, the organization is of God. So, in his mind, allegiance to one is allegiance to the other.
The process renders impotent the members of the organization to diligently study the Bible. It prohibits the realization of Ephesians 4, not allowing the saints to become equipped because they rely upon the organization and its process for protection, for the production and delineation of truth.
That was the problem for so many of us in the WCG. We relied upon the process, a man, to know what the truth was. We were not truly empowered to discern the truth with the direction of the Holy Spirit. The United Church of God -AIA has replaced the man with a group of men, but what's the difference? Isn't it still idolatry to place anything between the individual and God?
No wonder so many people accepted the false teachings of the WCG. They were not prepared to study and prove for themselves. Therefore many of them apparently followed the process down the road to Christian orthodoxy. The United Church of God -AIA is trying to keep its members within its own form of orthodoxy, striving to control the information disseminated to the congregations, "protecting" them and the truth.
We learned on May 15 that questioning of United's teachings is not the domain of the regular members. Larry Greider said that Garry should not have disseminated his approach (which he got from the Bible) to tithing before following the approved process for questioning doctrines.
To me this says that, if you question what the organization adheres to doctrinally, you are not in compliance with the approved way of doing things. In other words, don't question these things; your role is to accept and believe them until we tell you differently.
Is that not juvenile? Is that not nursing upon the corporate breast?
Dependence upon the process produces spiritual lethargy and spiritual anemia. Reliance upon the process produces malnourished Christians, people who cannot rightly divide the word of truth.
Rather than create this need for the process in its efforts to achieve a one-minded unity based on doctrine, the United Church of God -AIA should be making sure that each person draws his spiritual sustenance from the True Vine. Shouldn't these individuals be teachers of the Word, not in need of continued sucking of milk from the corporate breast?
The process is about the control of information.
Larry bemoaned that, with today's technology and publication outlets, anyone can have his ideas disseminated.
He said that, because tapes of Garry's presentation and thanks to the publication of his article on tithing in The Journal, "this has become an issue, and that's the problem."
The only way that tithing becoming an issue can be a problem is if people do not go to their Bibles to reconcile what they hear with the Word of God.
If people go to a booklet or a man, there is a problem, but the problem is not because tithing has become an issue.
The problem is the dependence of the people upon something other than the Word of God.
Larry Greider's purpose in Bloomington on May 15 was clearly to defend United's basic teaching on tithing.
He didn't come to discuss the issues raised by Garry's study. In fact, Larry avoided discussing them, pointing all of us to a 1974 paper on the topic. In subsequent communication with him and in statements to The Journal, Larry has indicated he feels Garry is not willing to consider that he is wrong.
Willing to learn
In answer to a question asked by The Journal, Larry spoke about the need for all of us to be teachable. He mentioned that we shouldn't be contentious and unwilling to be taught.
His comments strike me as disingenuous because his approach has been one of "I am right" while anyone who believes differently about tithing is wrong.
He said during the May 15 Q&A that Garry needs to recant, to admit he is wrong.
It seems to me Larry is contentious and unwilling to be taught anything that is not sanctioned by "the process." Of course, Larry is empowered and encouraged by the United Church of God -AIA to take this approach.
Many other issues are embedded in this whole episode that I will not take the space here to address. They are in the record for all to see, if we will look.
But I can't help but wonder: For what is the United Church of God -AIA preparing its members? It is not empowering them to exercise the strength and guidance of God's Spirit in their lives. It is not equipping them to grow in grace and knowledge. It is creating a reliance upon "the process," the same reliance that too many United Church of God -AIA elders seem to have.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God