COG elder, in sermon in Texas, says fear not, and you too can preach the gospel
By Dixon Cartwright
BIG SANDY, Texas--Tom Justus, the 71-year-old pastor of the Church of God Sabbath Day, Springdale, Ark., told members of a Texas audience the Sabbath of July 17 that they, too, could preach the gospel. Further, he said, God expects them to do just that.
Mr. Justus, who from 1961 to 1973 ran the printing department for the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) and Ambassador College in Pasadena, Calif., puts his money where his mouth is. He and his wife, the former Thelma Clark of Santa Barbara, Calif., along with the 15 members of their congregation in northwestern Arkansas, send booklets on biblical subjects to anyone who would like to read or distribute them.
The morning of July 17 Mr. Justus set up in the back of the building in Big Sandy a display to showcase some of his booklets on various subjects. Their titles, such as Just What Do You Mean: Born Again? and Why Were You Born?, sound familiar to people in the Churches of God. WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong wrote booklets with similar titles in the 1940s and '50s.
It may come as no great surprise, then, that these are virtually the same booklets. They are slightly modified versions of some of Mr. Armstrong's early works (which are now part of the public domain), although they do not name Mr. Armstrong as the author. After counseling with several friends concerning whether the booklets should include Mr. Armstrong's byline, the consensus was they should not, said Mr. Justus, because "the name Armstrong could turn some people off."
"We now have 15 booklets, ranging from 12 pages to 32 pages," he told his audience. Containing "basic doctrine," they're designed for small Church of God groups and individuals to read and distribute.
Although he didn't write them, he did edit them. If he saw something that he believed was not correct in a booklet, he changed it.
Just a printer
Mr. Justus has no problem printing booklets. For 20 years he has operated Just-Us Printers, Inc., at 555 N. Old Missouri Rd. in Springdale, with sheetfed presses and 30-some employees.
"We print magazines from all over the country," he said. "We print for John Brown University, Tyson's, Wal-Mart. We do anything from a business card to four-color-process magazines."
Just-Us Printers produces the booklets at cost. The expense of production is offset by donations received by the Church of God Sabbath Day.
The idea is that individuals or groups who want to help spread the Word can write Mr. Justus and the Church of God Sabbath Day and receive as many copies of any or all of the booklets as they believe they can distribute.
The Church of God Sabbath Day also supplies at no cost artwork for distributors to use to build ads to promote the literature.
Each booklet includes a statement from Mr. Justus inside the front cover. He signs himself as "minister" of the Church of God Sabbath Day. But below his name is a line that says "Presented By." Under those words the end distributors may affix their own name and address. So feedback, suggestions, even monetary donations, do not go back to the Church of God Sabbath Day. They remain with the end distributors of the booklets.
"Everything is absolutely free," Mr. Justus said. "We do not put a return envelope in anything that we send out," although distributors are free to include envelopes or letters or whatever they like with the booklets, whether they mail them or hand them to people.
"We're going into 17 foreign countries," he said. "We bulk-package these and send them all over the world, 50 of this and 100 of that."
The Arkansans' booklet ministry is a reaction, he admits, to the attitude he perceived many people, including himself, had that the hands-on work of preaching the gospel was properly the responsibility of the managers at a church's headquarters. The members' responsibility was mostly to finance the work actually carried out by headquarters-hired personnel.
To address that perspective, Mr. Justus printed one of the few booklets in the inventory not written by Mr. Armstrong. It is You Can Preach the Gospel!, and Mr. Justus wrote it "because somehow along the line we had forgotten the message of Jesus Christ. We had become a bunch of Pharisees.
"I was part of it, so I can't point the finger at anybody."
The mission of the Church of God Sabbath Day is "to help groups do something," he said, "because basically they're helpless."
They're not really helpless, he concedes, but sometimes they think they are, because they're accustomed to "sending in money someplace." When money is sent, Christian duty is done.
"But, once I got to studying, I realized that wasn't really true," he said.
Mr. Justus came to his conclusions after many years of working with the headquarters of two churches: the WCG, Pasadena, Calif., and the Church of God International (CGI), near Tyler, Texas. He attended the CGI, and served as one of the original council members until 1995.
Even though one of those organizations, the WCG, has repudiated many of Mr. Armstrong's teachings and the other, the CGI, holds to many traditional Church of God teachings, Mr. Justus's experience with both helped him realize, he said, that he should not rely on an organization to do his preaching for him.
Even Big Sandy
Mr. Justus said it is incumbent on the brethren of the Church of God to spread the good news that Jesus Christ overcame death.
"You say here in Big Sandy everybody already knows about us? Oh, that's hogwash. There are people out here who don't know the truth of God, and you could give it to them. Who knows? They may start coming to church here."
Acquainting people with the truth of the Bible "turns people's lives around," he said. "It's something for Big Sandy to think about."
After Mr. Justus assured his listeners they could preach the gospel too, he mentioned the title of his sermon, "Beyond the Hill and Fear Not."
The hill he referred to stands near the farm close to Walnut Ridge in northeastern Arkansas on which he grew up. As a child he wondered, and feared, what might lie on the other side of it.
"Let me tell you," he said, "it's easy to fear, and it's more easy to fear when you're just a little, small group."
When you feel the protection and anonymity of a larger group, you're not as afraid. But that protection and anonymity have a down side. The drawback is that a Christian in that position can grow comfortable with letting other people assume his responsibilities of preaching the gospel.
"Jesus Christ knew His disciples would be scattered and persecuted, and He knew His church would live on through the scattering and persecution."
When Mr. Justus lived in Pasadena 45 years ago, he walked to Sabbath services with his Bible under his suit coat because he didn't want anyone to know he was carrying a copy of the Scriptures.
"I'm not ashamed of carrying the Bible anymore," he said. "But the reason I did that? I had fear of what people would think about me."
People can find all kinds of things to be afraid of, he said. He used to be afraid of asking time off for the Feast of Tabernacles. "My knees would knock together before I would go see my boss."
But in later years his own employees would come to him with requests and be caught in the throes of the same kind of terror.
People fear losing their jobs. They fear flying; elevators; rejection; Jan. 1, 2000; the dark; and even talking about their Savior.
"I went so long without Jesus Christ in my life," he said, "even though I was a converted person in the Body of Christ."
Members of the Worldwide Church of God, he said, were fearful of talking about the "grace of God."
"They would say, well, grace is unmerited pardon. But, oh, it's so much more than that. It's the mercies of God. How do you grow in grace? You become more like God."
People's biggest fear, Mr. Justus continued, is death.
The path to overcoming the natural fear of death is documented in Hebrews 2:13-15: placing one's trust in Jesus as Savior. Jesus, quoted Mr. Justus, will destroy "him who had the power of death; that is, the devil."
"Understanding God can take away the fear of death: the understanding that God loves us, He cares for us."
An unhealthy fear of God can take the form of scary teachings, he said. He gave as examples the doctrines that God's name has to be pronounced a certain way and that a miscalculation in the festival calendar can lead the offender to the lake of fire.
"Our God is not like that," he said. "God says He's not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
"I don't want to fear God. I do fear God in the right way--I stand in awe--but the fear of burning forever and ever, that's a different kind of fear. I don't live the life of fear anymore, and no one is going to teach me that if I don't get the full-moon crescent just right it's over."
Mr. Justus gave another reason not to fear death. Dying is a release from pain. Death is the preparation for a new body. Obedience to God, being a Christian, "should keep you from being fearful. It's to keep you close to God and make you want to look beyond the hill."
Mr. Justus closed with the account of his oldest son, Bob, who learned in 1991 that he was terminally ill.
"My oldest son walked into my office. He was about 42 years old then. I looked on his face and I knew there was something wrong."
Bob had gone to see a doctor about a mole on his head.
"We looked at each other, and I said, 'Bob, you've got cancer, haven't you?' "
Bob Justus lived 16 months after that, undergoing three major operations.
"They went in, did chemo, they burned, checked, gave him radiation, everything you could do. Then it got into his lungs." But "never one time did I ever hear him complain."
After his third operation Bob said to his father: "Dad, that's it. Whatever will be will be. We'll pray about it."
Bob asked his father to buy four adjacent burial plots, one for Bob and his wife and one for Tom and Thelma Justus. "I want us all to be together when we come up in the resurrection," he said.
Eight days before he died he visited his father's printing plant and said individual good-byes to all 32 employees.
Mr. Justus said Bob's demeanor and calm approach as he neared his death, on June 2, 1992, resulted from his knowledge and faith in what God had in store for him.
"He had no fear. He knew what was beyond the hill. He had come to that place. He was only 44 years old."
The younger Mr. Justus requested that his tombstone read: "Stay close to God and one another until we meet again."
Mr. Justus concluded his sermon: "Brethren, all I can say to you as a fellow servant in Christ is stay close to God and one another until we meet again, and I love all of you very much."
For more about Mr. Justus's literature program and how to order copies of booklets, please see the interview with Mr. and Mrs. Justus beginning on page 15.
For comments about the fear of God from another long-time Church of God elder, see "Church President Says Fear God, Avoid Cafeteria Christianity," page 9.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God