Oklahoma pastor seeks wide support for significant COG gospel-preaching efforts
By Dixon Cartwright
TULSA, Okla.--Lawrence Gregory has a dream: that the sundry congregations of the Churches of God--whether incorporated or not, whether independent or not, whether in agreement on every tenet or not--could forget about their differences for a while.
If they could set aside their dissimilarities for a few years or even a few months and jointly mount a major effort to "preach the gospel," then maybe something effective to further the commission of Matthew 28:19-20 could take place.
Therefore Mr. Gregory, the pastor of the independent Tulsa Church of God, set out a couple of years ago to plan for the Churches of God Conference 2000, which happened July 28-30 at the Sheraton Tulsa Hotel, on 41st Street in the southeast part of town.
He has accomplished part of his goal: to get people talking. He has, with help from some of his friends, established--as a fruit of the Tulsa confab--the Churches of God Evangelistic Association.
The new association has a board of directors, an advisory council, a mission statement and--though it is not a corporation--a constitution and bylaws.
Will anything come of the new effort? Hasn't this kind of thing been tried before by many Church of God ministries? Isn't it almost impossible to get Church of God brethren to cooperate across congregational lines on anything of substance?
Mr. Gregory acknowledges the obstacles in his way. He realizes, he says, that human nature dictates that good intentions at a feel-good get-together tend to deflate, given enough time, and that it is possible that nothing will come of the effort.
But at least, he told The Journal, he will have tried. Something needs to happen, he believes, to encourage the brethren to "collectively work together to take the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the nations of this earth, which so desperately need it."
That elusive something, in Mr. Gregory's vision, would involve Church of God members in general, not just one group. He hopes the new collaboration can accomplish that objective, and he plans to do everything he can to make it happen.
Several Sabbatarian Christian ministries, service organizations, congregations and individuals showed up here on the Friday night that kicked off the meetings. Seventy-some people, along with family members and other observers, increased attendance to about 150 Friday night and 250 for Sabbath services the next day.
Present were members of the Church of God (Seventh Day), Denver conference; the Church of God (Seventh Day), Meridian conference; the Church of God International; the Intercontinental Church of God; the Bible Sabbath Association; Barnabas Ministries; the Association for Christian Development; the United Church of God; the Worldwide Church of God; the Seventh-day Adventist Church; the Churches of God Outreach Ministries; and several other independent congregations, ministries and individuals.
The first presentation, on Friday night, was by Wayne Cole of Tyler, Texas, a former member of the Church of God (Seventh Day) and the Worldwide Church of God who nowadays attends many congregations, including the Church of God Big Sandy (Texas). Mr. Cole presented "Why Must the Gospel of the Kingdom of God Be Proclaimed to All Nations?"
Speakers over the three days also included David Antion of Pasadena, Calif., of Guardian Ministries and the Southern California Church of God ("Essential Characteristics of the Kingdom of God"); Ron Willhoite of Bixby, Okla., and Maynard Kappel of Tulsa ("Nations of the Earth and the Word of God"); and Ken Westby of Federal Way, Wash., founder of the Association for Christian Development ("Overcoming Obstacles to Proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom of God").
Those were the scheduled presentations. The way things worked out, however, many were heard from and much was said apart from planned presentations.
Matters of emphasis
Conference delegates, Friday night and Saturday, seemed to be of two opinions. One view held that, while it's nice to talk about a major joint gospel-preaching venture, personal evangelism is how Jesus' commission has been and will be accomplished. Therefore the emphasis should be on personal efforts, not on a mass effort.
The second point of view, judging by comments in and out of the formal sessions, supported Mr. Gregory's conviction: that combined efforts complement individuals' work in promulgating the words of God and that combined efforts are apparently necessary to reach the five billion non-Christians in the world.
At the beginning of the conference, from the perspective of this writer, the first point of view prevailed.
In his keynote speech, Mr. Cole said he "no longer believe[d]" that "another large, central, dominant, controlled organization is going to develop that will then produce the programs that reach the world in the fulfillment of some grand commission."
He based his belief, he said, on his experience as a member for many years--until 1978--of the Worldwide Church of God. The fruits of the WCG's gospel-spreading efforts were not always good, he said. Rather than proclaiming a broad message of warning, and sometimes proclaiming it only to "world leaders," the WCG neglected the "bottom line" of the "meaning of the gospel message," which is "Jesus Christ in us, the hope of glory."
He allowed that joint efforts can be profitable, but "we should get things in the right order."
"If our lives are a living message for Christ, then perhaps we can move to the next step and deliver a message of words and a message of hope and one of beauty to others, offering to share this beautiful way of life that Jesus lived, taught and instructed His disciples to teach others."
Hope and glory
Among his listeners that opening night, Mr. Cole noted that several "ministries" were represented, and a variety of ministries is a key to spreading the gospel message.
"Some in this room take the message of hope and glory to jails and prisons, some take it to truckers in truck-stop chapels, some in sending out large numbers of taped sermons, some on radio stations with sound, instructive and inspirational follow-up literature, some in public meetings to expound the message of God's Sabbath, some in writing articles in journals and other publications, some in feeding the sheep in regular church services and then sending tapes in a worldwide distribution program, some in a church that has endured and grown through scores of years such as our brothers in the Church of God (Seventh Day)."
Mr. Cole acknowledged that, if many people work to tell the good news, there will be "duplication of effort." But duplication of effort isn't a problem, he said, and can indeed be an advantage.
The present conference will have accomplished something, he said, if its participants "network" and "get to know one another" and come to "appreciate what works and services are already being performed" and "hear what others are doing to spread the message of the gospel of peace, of good news, of joy and happiness and the fullness of the abundance of the life Christ has revealed and provided to His children."
God's repo man
After Mr. Cole's address, Mr. Westby, who last attended Worldwide Church of God services in 1974 before his participation in what has been called the East Coast Rebellion of that year, noted that the last time he had seen Mr. Cole was when Mr. Cole knocked on his door in suburban Washington, D.C., to repossess his fleet car on behalf of the WCG.
Mr. Westby referred good-naturedly to Mr. Cole as "God's repo man."
Mr. Cole replied that the incident was something he would "just as soon forget," but he was thankful he and Mr. Westby could "laugh about it now."
Mr. Kappel, assisted by Mr. Willhoite, made an audiovisual presentation that touched on the size of the population of the world, the number of people alive and the distribution of Bibles.
"Why has the Word of God been translated into over 2,000 different languages?" Mr. Kappel asked. "Should we have a plan to do more cooperatively than we have separately? Should we even bother? Are we completely satisfied with our own separate efforts thus far?"
Mr. Willhoite said that, in doing the research for the two men's presentation, he came to be "amazed in two areas": the scientific data that support the close kinship of all humans (specifically the much-publicized Human Genome Project).
"Secondly," he said, "I didn't have a clue to the extent that God's Word has girdled this globe the way it has. The Word of God has been sent out; it has been published; it is there."
Mr. Gregory talked about "the work," the phrase many Church of God people with WCG backgrounds have used for many years to refer to whatever it is they believe God would have them be doing.
"We used to hear about the work, the work, the work," he said. "Then it [the phrase] was verboten."
Some people, he said, believe "the two witnesses are going to do it, or the angel flying through the heavens with the everlasting gospel. All right, then what are we going to do? Wait for the two witnesses or wait for the angel to fly through the heavens? Or is there something more that we can do?"
Suggestions from the audience
Mr. Westby, back at the lectern, noted that Mr. Gregory works in the funeral industry.
"If this conference dies," Mr. Westby said, "Lawrence can lay it to rest very professionally."
Then Mr. Westby asked for comments from the audience. What would audience members like to see discussed?
David Kenders of Loveland, Colo., commented that the WCG neglected the principles of Matthew 25, specifically the parable of the 10 virgins. Church of God people tend to slack off when it comes to visiting people who are sick, helping widows, feeding the hungry and visiting prisoners.
"If we leave that part of preaching the gospel out," he said, "then we're leaving a part out that gives each one of us a reward, a position in God's Kingdom."
Jeff Henderson of Half Moon Bay, Calif., mentioned that Church of God people can get "bogged down" in talking to "other believers" and trying to convince them "of our doctrines and beliefs."
"When you come out with a booklet that says, 'Why do you keep Sunday?,' the person who doesn't go to church on Sunday says, 'It doesn't concern me; I don't go to church anyway.'"
Mr. Henderson said "personal evangelism" is "probably the best way to go," but if a group of the brethren wanted to reach "a billion people" they should do it through the Internet.
He suggested that a "professional ad agency" might be helpful in crafting advertising campaigns that would help promote collective preaching efforts.
Who's a Christian?
Ken Ryland of Wichita, Kan., commented that Church of God folks are guilty of "drawing circles to keep people out."
"Is our job simply to plaster a witness all over the earth and walk away to leave the blood upon the heads of those who hear it?" he asked. "Or is it truly to minister?"
People in the COGs, he commented, often have the attitude that other professing Christians are "very sincere," but they are "sincerely wrong."
But, he said, "what if you were looking face to face into the eyes of a Sudanese Christian mother" whose house had just been burned, crops torched and children beaten and taken into slavery because of her religion and whose "husband was hacked to death by Muslim army personnel"?
"Now, are you really going to tell me that the woman is not a Christian? Are you going to tell me that a man who may not have understood everything there is in the Bible, maybe didn't keep the Sabbath, but who was put to death because he held to the name of Jesus Christ, was not a Christian? Will he be in the first resurrection? I believe so."
Mr. Ryland mentioned a Filipino man who was recently beheaded while visiting Saudi Arabia. Why did he lose his head?
"Because he was witnessing for Jesus Christ to some Saudis. Are you going to tell his wife: That's okay, we'll catch him on the flip side when we come back, but this is our time, not your time? Aren't we drawing circles to keep people out?"
Mr. Ryland said he does not advocate "becoming Baptist" and "keeping Sunday."
"I'm not saying that at all. We have a very precious gift of knowledge of the Bible that few people in this world have . . . But what can we truly expect of people who don't have the knowledge or the opportunity as we do here? Do we expect the same kind of thing that we have the freedom to do here?
"I mean, was Israel keeping the Sabbath perfectly when God brought them out of Egypt? I don't think so. Was the thief on the cross a good Sabbath-keeper? I really doubt it . . . But Jesus did say that He would see him in Paradise . . .
"Jesus was inclusive. He is our Lord. We have to be inclusive."
Mr. Westby, from the lectern, questioned Mr. Ryland:
"You're suggesting that an attitude we may have had can be an impediment to getting the gospel out?"
Mr. Ryland: "When we talk about the matter of the second resurrection pertaining to people who have not had an opportunity, we might be speaking of some people in Asia or Latin America, but we are certainly not talking about the people of the United States or nations of the civilized Western world who may have 10 Bibles sitting in their homes.
"Let's think this thing through. Can you say that people who have the Bible sitting in front of them have never had the opportunity? And, if it is possible that the people of this nation are having their opportunity, then is it not much more urgent for us to be there explaining the Word of God to them?"
A work of men
Dot Kenders of Loveland, Colo., at one point in the proceedings, wondered if whatever came of the conference would be "another work of men" that would exclude women.
Mr. Gregory, from the floor, agreed with previous statements that the "idea of the Internet" has "a lot of merit" and that "the idea of personal evangelism that we're all advocating is tremendous."
However, when it comes to gospel-preaching, "we're losing ground. There are more people being born and added to the population than we have members to reach. There's no way that the members of the Church of God can take the gospel with personal evangelism to six billion people. If we believe all Christians are true Christians, what about the other five billion?"
Arlo Gieselman of Blue Springs, Mo., commented that he helps out with a regularly scheduled "truck-stop Bible study" in his home area.
"I meet every Sunday morning with [truckers]. I rented a fair booth for Labor Day weekend."
Mr. Gieselman also mentioned two-minute radio commercials, pamphlets and going out "two by two" to preach the gospel, "following Christ's example."
Allan Burlison, a Church of God (Seventh Day) member from Oklahoma City, said he wanted to make a "short comment."
"I'll give you a place to start," he said. "Everyone has the challenge to be able to give an answer for the hope that lies within you."
"That was short," Mr. Westby agreed.
Alfred Harrell of Hot Springs, Ark., commented that his organization, the Christian Leadership Academy, will begin college classes patterned after "a revolutionary concept" this fall in four Arkansas cities.
The new school, he said, would be a worthy project for a sponsor such as the Bible Sabbath Association, a Sabbatarian Christian organization whose members were well represented at the conference here.
Supporting the CLA could help preach the gospel, he said. Also, since most conferences begin with a flurry of enthusiasm, then fizzle out, the participants in Tulsa should resolve to do something concrete during the meetings the next morning.
Bill Hicks of Bristol, Tenn., director of missions for the Denver conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), quoted Seventh-day Adventist founder Ellen G. White as saying: "You don't have to worry about the Church of God movement, because they're never going to do anything. They're too busy trying to convert each other."
"We have a great and vast opportunity," Mr. Hicks said. "We need to work together . . . We are the people of the Book and of the living Word. Believe me, God can do things that you can never imagine."
Mr. Westby commented that, indeed, the Churches of God are "splitsville."
"In opera, when someone's stabbed in the back, instead of bleeding he sings. In the Church of God if he gets stabbed in the back he starts a new church."
Manny Molinar of Meridian, Idaho, a member of the Meridian conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), proposed a "beginning in terms of teaching."
"I recommend we consider, not only as a beginning but as a catalyst for the Churches of God and as an ongoing process of the great commission, to train and teach students to be totally devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, teaching men and women to first live the gospel, then go teach and make disciples."
Terry Post of La Vernia, Texas, suggested COG members rally around The Sabbath Sentinel, the magazine published by the Bible Sabbath Association.
Jeff Booth, pastor of the Christian Church of God, Amarillo, Texas, gave the closing prayer for the day:
"Please inspire Your people, the people in whom is Your Spirit, to innovate, to figure out, to determine how to spread, how to disseminate, the good news of Your Kingdom and of the saving sacrifice of Your Son and our Savior, Jesus, by whatever means are available."
What is the Kingdom?
The next morning at 8:30 Mr. Antion spoke to the group about the "essentials of the Kingdom."
A kingdom, he said, has a king, territory, laws and subjects.
Matthew 3 exhorts people to "repent" because the Kingdom of God is "at hand." What does "at hand" mean? Mr. Antion asked.
The Kingdom is "eternal life," he said. But he cited Romans 14:17 to show that it is also "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."
"That means," he said, "that the Kingdom of God has in some way pierced its way into this age, this world . . .
"The Kingdom of God is forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It is acceptance of Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. It is preparing ourselves for that entrance into the Kingdom. It is loving our brothers, and it is offering that food and visiting the people in prisons.
"When we preach it, we're preaching everything . . . It is the good news, and it's not just good news about something that's going to come here someday."
Later in the session Dr. Harrell told more about the Christian Leadership Academy and its planned start-up of classes in November. For more about the CLA, see "CLA to Start New School in November," page 1.
Several other participants made comments from the floor, including Edward Moody of Moore, Okla., who suggested that there ought to be a way to proclaim the gospel by satellite or the Internet or through news media from Jerusalem.
Mr. Gregory said he supports the campaigns in American and Canadian cities that Dr. Harrell's CLA undertakes, and another good idea would be radio and television broadcasts beamed via satellite to other parts of the world.
Some among the participants suggested that the BSA, the Bible Sabbath Association, could be the vehicle to run with Mr. Gregory's concepts of gospel-preaching.
But Mr. Westby, who sits on the BSA's board of directors, commented that such a project would not be appropriate for the BSA, which is a loose association of Sabbatarian Christians. The BSA has "a very narrow franchise," he said. It is focused on one aspect of Christianity: keeping the Sabbath. It would not work, he said, to try to reach a consensus about "how to preach the gospel" among BSA members.
"In the BSA we have sacred-names people. We've got some who practice or observe the annual festivals and some who do not. We have Trinitarians; we have some one-God people. There is a variety, although I don't think we have any snake handlers.
"We all agree on the Sabbath, but outside of that we don't get into anything that would pretty well destroy the whole purpose of the group."
James McBride of Lincoln, England, elder in the Church of God United Kingdom (COGUK), commented that a problem in preaching the gospel is the question of what to do with people who want to know more.
The COGUK has directed people with questions to the United Church of God when the COGUK has lacked representation in a certain geographical area in Britain that is served by the UCG.
"But we never get people coming back," he said. "We never get referrals from the United Church. We have to get rid of this fear that someone is going to take away tithes people might provide."
Robert Marlowe of Hot Springs said gospel-preaching efforts of Americans should focus on America, because "if America goes down the tube what's going to happen to the rest of the world? We are the stalwarts of the world today. Without America the world is going to be in worse shape than it is now. I think our efforts should be to try to do something in our own country."
Julian Cruz, pastor of the San Antonio Church of God, revealed his thoughts on "mass evangelism":
"I would feel more comfortable having mass evangelism if it supported local evangelism."
Norman Edwards of Perry, Mich., publisher of Servants' News, commented that he worked with the Global Church of God in the early 1990s for its first two years of existence.
"In that time they poured in $10 million or so, and 100 new people began attending. That was about $100,000 per new person. You can spend a lot of money and not see a large result."
Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Radio Church of God in the 1930s, "was successful," said Mr. Edwards, "because he had a message that people were interested in. He was good at it. He had follow-up books he could send out. There was a plan."
Spending money is "easy," he said, "but it's a lot harder to make something work."
John Akin of Overland Park, Kan., asked a question:
"When was the last time you went to your neighbor and knocked on the door and said can you come to church with me? We don't do that because people would say, boy, he's a weirdo."
So many ways
Mr. Booth commented that "the beauty of all this [discussion]" is that it shows "there is not any one way to preach the gospel. There are so many ways to preach the gospel."
Mr. Booth said his congregation in Amarillo preaches the gospel by supporting The Gideons International of Nashville, Tenn. (www.gideons.org).
"If you're a minister, you cannot be a Gideon," he said. "It is an entirely lay-ministry work. One hundred percent of the donations go to purchasing Bibles. Everybody's a volunteer. Nobody is paid. They distribute these Bibles all over the world.
"In Amarillo and Clovis [another Christian Church of God congregation, in New Mexico] we support the Gideons. We have them come in once a year and give a 10-minute report on what they've been doing.
"Now, is this or is this not spreading the Word to the world? They get the Bibles into China, into Russia. It's unbelievable what they do."
Charles McLendon of Hawkins, Texas, commented that it "is surprising" how many Church of God kids don't have Bibles. "Giving out Bibles has a tremendous potential," he said.
Mr. Westby said his Association for Christian Development "sends Bibles by the case to West Africa."
The oil is not the Spirit
Mr. Kenders, this time at the lectern, spoke once more on the 10 virgins of Matthew 25. He said that, contrary to popular opinion, the Spirit of God is typified in the Bible by water, not oil, as in the parable of the 10 virgins. He cited words of the apostle John and Jesus.
"John spoke about the water of life and the Holy Spirit," said Mr. Kenders. "When the lady went to get the water from the well, Jesus said, 'I speak of the water of life,' or of the Holy Spirit."
"What on earth, then, does the oil [in the parable] typify? I say to you it doesn't really do the job of typifying the Holy Spirit. It typifies light and heat."
Therefore "it's light we're talking about in this parable of the virgins. You see, they let their lamps go out. It wasn't the fruits of the Holy Spirit they lacked; it was good works they lacked."
When the five foolish virgins ran out of oil, they were really running out of "good works," he said. "What they were doing was paying and praying. We all fall into this: Somebody can do my good works for me if I pay them to."
Mr. Kenders said he heard a Church of God preacher say that the COG leaves the work of "visiting the sick and all that" up to Protestants "because they're better at that than we are. We choose to preach the gospel."
He commented on the idea of the satellite broadcast as "an idea before its time."
Mr. Kenders revealed another idea for preaching the gospel. He buys leftover Sunday newspapers from a publisher and removes from them and saves the advertising discount coupons. Sometimes he ends up with 600 coupon books at one sitting.
He uses the coupons to buy "free food" that he uses to "help people."
"You guys are laughing," he said, "but the last time I did this I got 300 cans of free tuna fish. I have a garage full of canned food, clear to the ceiling in every direction, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of cans of free food, all kinds of Del Monte food."
Mr. Kenders said that in the WCG's "best 22 years" the church spent $5 billion. "Why didn't we convert the whole world with $5 billion?" he asked. "I don't want to see a lot of big money spent anymore. We ignore the things Christ told us to do: personal evangelism. It's something that God requires of us or you're going to be in the goat category."
At Sabbath services that afternoon, Mr. McBride, from England, and Arthur Hulet of Perry, Okla., gave sermons. Mr. McBride spoke of Matthew 28:19, about preaching the Word, and of "the great job ahead of us" and about Revelation 7 and the 144,000, "the people who will come out of great tribulation."
However people are reached, he said, whether through one-on-one efforts, the Internet, the mass media, whatever, people must be reached.
"So we do have a huge work ahead of us. This conference is a very important step towards the fulfillment of that."
Jesus Himself had the same mission, Mr. McBride said. "It was a message which He understood from the beginning of time."
The message could be expedited, Mr. McBride believes, by applying Philippians 2:3: "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself."
When Christians follow the principle inherent in those words of Paul, they cease their fightings, and splits evaporate.
Mr. Hulet's sermon cited several miracles he and his family experienced during his years in the Worldwide Church of God and later.
He quoted Matthew 16:13-20, about Jesus prophesying to Peter about the future of the called-out ones.
"I am here today to tell you that the Church of God is alive, and it will be alive until Christ returns," said Mr. Hulet.
Later in the day, at 5 o'clock or so, the meetings convened again. Among other comments, Alan Ruth of Farmington Hills, Mich., who founded Barnabas Ministries and the Web site at www.biblestudy.org, stated that the brethren in "local fellowships" are "champing at the bit for local participation."
Louis Williams, who is black, blind and a broadcaster, related some of his experiences in producing a television program in the Washington, D.C., area.
The lesson of being able to do public-access television at a cost of only about $25 a year, he said, is that "if God tells you to do something get off your butts and do it. All throughout our country we have public-access television. Use it."
Mr. Williams said that, when the WCG split wide open in the mid-'90s, most people who left the church were white, while most black WCG members stayed with the parent group.
"The reason black folks mostly stick around in Worldwide is that they think their identity is just to be in Jesus," said Mr. Williams. "But their real identity is to be spiritual Jews and children of the promise, and only the truth of God can give that to everybody, regardless of their calling."
As a result of the television efforts of Mr. Williams and his brethren in the Washington area, "we baptized three people in the last two years who had never heard of the Worldwide Church of God."
The real "work of God," he said, "is that you believe on Him whom God has sent. If we're doing that work, God, who says He began a work in you, will finish it."
Mr. Burlison, a CG7 member from Oklahoma, threw out a question: If the apostles fulfilled the great commission during the first century, is it still an important issue for the church?
"Probably in their time the apostles came more near fulfilling this than at any time that there had been since then, because they did travel over most of the world at that time."
But, he said, even if the apostles did fulfill the admonition of Matthew 28, "it is still our responsibility to carry the gospel . . . They did their job, and we're going to do our job, because we have a story to tell, and God wants us to tell it."
Change of consensus
At this point Saturday evening, a debate--or at least an animated discussion--continued concerning methods of preaching: whether the gospel is an announcement, what is the definition of the Kingdom of God, whether the apostles fulfilled the commission, whether something is left for modern Christians to do.
The consensus, as perceived by this writer, was that the participants believed it more likely that the gospel is successfully carried to the world one on one more efficiently than by extensively organized means and that even it is not necessarily desirable to mount a mass-gospel-preaching offensive.
That all changed during the next speaker's speech. Royce Mitchell, who attends the Houston (Texas) Church of God Fellowship and is a member of the board of the Bible Sabbath Association, walked to the lectern and asked some questions.
"Do we want to do this?" he began. "Do we want to go out there and preach the gospel?"
Apparently assuming the answer to the question lay in the affirmative, he continued:
"Now that we've answered that question, then we need a way to do it; we need a means to have a part in it."
Picture the BSA
He proceeded to describe the BSA.
"I'd like to give you a picture of the Bible Sabbath Association, not that the BSA can do this."
The BSA, he explained, is a "talented group of individuals." It is an association, founded in the 1940s in Fairview, Okla., that "teaches about the Sabbath and about the commandments of God and about Jesus Christ."
It is made up of unpaid volunteers. They publish the bimonthly Sabbath Sentinel magazine, of which Mr. Mitchell serves as editor.
BSA members and supporters hail from many church groups, including the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Sidney Davis of Chicago, Ill., BSA president, is an SDA member who happened to be in the audience while Mr. Mitchell was speaking.
"We have a Seventh Day Baptist on the board," said Mr. Mitchell. "We have Church of God (Seventh Day) on the board. In fact, one is here tonight, Mr. [Calvin] Burrell.
"We have widely varied beliefs, yet we can come together and agree that God's Word is true, that God's commandments stand, that the Sabbath day stands right in the middle of them, and that Jesus Christ died for our sins. On those points we can agree."
As something similar to the BSA, a new association, built by the present conference, could form with the express purpose of fostering cooperation among its members to preach the gospel, Mr. Mitchell said.
"Let's form a board. We don't need a lot of money to do this. The BSA operates on less than $15,000 a year. I think we can reach a segment of the market; we can reach a populace that will not be reached in any other way. We can have this vehicle that will bring it all together--if we really want to do this."
The BSA could not do the job, he said, because it is "too diverse" a group.
Mr. Kender, who earlier had strongly advocated a one-on-one approach, commented that he "like[d] the idea."
"I sat there pondering where is this all heading," he said. "I think we need some kind of central clearinghouse to exchange tapes and resources, all kinds of things. But I want you to know right up front that my wife and I are extremely sensitive to sending money. I don't think you need to guess why."
Bill Fowler of Wichita, Kan., still wasn't sold on the idea. He noted that he had "been there" and "done that."
"I think we need to get past organizations," he said.
Leon Avery of Kellyville, Okla., stood up and praised the ministry of Leon Sexton of Rowlett, Texas, as an example of a gospel-preaching effort that works.
Mr. Sexton and his wife, Gloria, recently set up housekeeping in Bangkok, Thailand. Together they assist Church of God brethren in Thailand and Myanmar in spreading the gospel message in that part of the world.
Mr. Ryland suggested that some of the organizers at the conference might want to "pray as a group" about the concepts and ideas being put forth.
"Put out the fleece," he advised. "God did not get upset with Gideon for putting out the fleece" to determine His will.
He also reminded participants that, for the most part, they were no longer part of "hierarchical" groups and therefore should check with their fellow church members back home before deciding what to do.
Mr. Cruz, the pastor from San Antonio, asked for a show of hands. Who thought it would be a good idea to form a vehicle that would be neutral, but with its supporters working together and making suggestions?
Most people's hands went up.
Tom Justus, a pastor from Springdale, Ark., said he had resolved not to open his mouth during the Tulsa meetings, but he had wavered.
"In my mind the Outreach [the Churches of God Outreach Ministries, or CGOM] was going in the wrong direction. But the idea that's coming up now is different from the way the Outreach went. I'm on the board of directors of the BSA, so that shows you that I'm not totally out in the cold.
"But I'm listening. I'll keep my mind open. It's like Julian over here said: Don't close the door on it until everyone gets the chance. The general idea sounds good if we can keep control of it. Let's keep our minds open, and I haven't made up my mind."
Reach out and slap someone
Chris Barr of Pocahontas, Ark., spoke from the lectern about the need to be "confrontational."
Church of God folks tend to be too passive, he divulged. They need to get out and get in people's faces.
After all, the apostle Peter was confrontational.
Mr. Barr noted that he and his family like to attend Sunday congregations to tell first-day-observant Christians about the Sabbath.
"We're making inroads," he said, "by being direct and confrontational."
Mr. Edwards, the Servants' News publisher, said some of the comments he was hearing reveal a slight confusion about "different missions."
Preaching about the Sabbath to Sunday keepers is one thing; preaching a gospel of repentance is something else.
"We can't always do both in the same literature or broadcast."
Alan Ruth noted that 450 million people use the Internet to communicate. By 2005 some people expect the total to reach about one billion people around the world.
Barnabas Ministries, Mr. Ruth's part-time ministry, which he conducts in addition to full-time employment in the world of computers, distributes the equivalent of tens of thousands of booklets every month of the year.
Mitchell Smith of Lindale, Texas, commented about Mr. Ruth's ministry:
"Is that not a greater work in a sense than the apostles did as their work in their time?"
Manny Molinar talked about Maranatha College, where he plans to begin teaching classes in a few months. The CG7-supported school operated for decades but is presently defunct. Mr. Molinar wants to begin it anew as a Sabbatarian-Christian-oriented institution of higher learning.
Ads in major newspapers
Barnabas Grayson of Eufaula, Okla., suggested the use of full-page advertisements in papers such as USA Today. "This newspaper idea can complement a whole lot of other things," he said. "It can be confrontational, controversial or soft-sell."
At the bottom of each ad, the sponsors could be named and their addresses listed.
What if someone took out an ad about homosexuality? he asked. "Would you sign your name beneath the article, or is Dr. Laura going to be standing alone on this topic? . . .
"If you're not ashamed of the gospel, let's be bold in preaching it. This is what our objective is right now. It's to reach out."
No turning back
Some of the discussions after the Saturday-evening session centered on the change in drift and direction of the conference. Mr. Gregory agreed in an interview with The Journal that Mr. Royce's speech Saturday afternoon was the watershed occurrence of the conference.
"I would say the turning point came with Royce's presentation," he said. "Then by Saturday night I saw that we were going to have to do something Sunday. It just came together. By Saturday night we knew something was going to come about, and it certainly did."
Quite a ride
The last sessions here began Sunday morning with a presentation from Mr. Westby. The founder of the Association for Christian Development and New Millennium journal urged his listeners to move soberly and deliberately in tackling the task at hand, to carefully consider their options, but not to overly concern themselves with apparent obstacles.
He noted that, after the incidents he was so intimately involved with beginning in 1974--called the East Coast Rebellion by some and a "reformation movement" by Mr. Westby himself--he and his wife, JoAn, bought new unmarked Bibles and began reading God's Word afresh.
"That journey of discovery has been quite a ride, let me tell you," he said. "The older you get, the more you realize you haven't learned. Anybody else here experience some of that? Isn't that a wonderful thing? I feel bad for those people who get all soured on God."
Mr. Westby said people who are "burned" by a church rely on their emotional injuries as an excuse "for not doing diddly about doing anything."
But no one said it would be easy. "There are going to be obstacles, right? Life is a fight. It's never been anything else, has it? Look at the book of Acts. Wasn't it a fight? The ministry of Christ is always being challenged, at all sides."
Then, amid the details, lurks the devil.
"Satan's still in business. He's not tired. He still has lots of energy. The mischief he's doing is directly related to the good that Jesus Christ wants to do to you and me. He's got culture by the throat, and we've got the secularized, degenerate, indulgent culture all around us . . . So we're going to have to expect obstacles. If obstacles bother you, then you're not ready for the job."
Think things through
He quoted from Matthew 10, where Jesus sent out His disciples. Mr. Westby called this part of Matthew's Gospel an "amplification" of the commission in Matthew 28:19-20.
Jesus had obviously thoroughly thought out the assignments He was passing out to His friends.
"I think that's important for us to do as well," he said. "People tend to support what they have a part in making. For people to support something, we need to win their support and not be in too big of a hurry to nail something together. Anything good ends with a vision, then ends up in a well-thought-out proposal.
"Then that proposal has to be sold; it has to have compelling reasons why people should want to join in with their energy, time, money and sacrifice to make the proposal go."
The making of disciples is an important part of the commission, said Mr. Westby, citing Matthew 28: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations."
"This requires more than simply bringing people to Christ, more than just a warning message . . . Rather, this is one that requires positive detailed instruction and teaching.
"Further, it's one that leads to repentance and baptism."
Salt and light
He mentioned that he and two other men the previous day, on the Sabbath, had broadcast by telephone from a room in the conference hotel to Mr. Westby's "Virtual Church," which he conducts each Sabbath for usually a couple of hundred of the brethren, many of whom cannot otherwise attend a Sabbath service.
One of the men during the telephone service commented that perhaps collectively the work being done by the Churches of God might be greater than it ever had been while they were together as part of the Worldwide Church of God.
"I wonder if the cumulative effort of these small groups doesn't add up to more in the long run, reaching out to more?" Mr. Westby commented.
He cited the biblical analogies of salt and light: of the earth benefiting from the savor of salt, of light helping people find their way.
"Mass media is one way to get the Word out," Mr. Westby said, "but much more powerful is word of mouth by somebody you trust."
The Kingdom of God, he declared, "is advancing." The Kingdom of God "is unstoppable. It's moving to a point in time with the everlasting power of His majesty and His Kingdom, and soon it's going to fill the earth. The growth of His Kingdom will never end. It's great to be a part of an unstoppable kingdom."
Be bold, as were the early Christians, Mr. Westby admonished.
"I think there's too much timidness among us. We're very doctrine oriented. We'd much rather fight about calendar dates, leavened or unleavened, grape juice or wine or 14th or 15th. We travel a long ways to have conferences about that kind of stuff.
"You find the most dogmatic people are not always the smartest people. I'm not talking about their IQ, just their scholarship or level of understanding. If you're not sure about something, pound a little harder and be dogmatic."
To do the "works of God," said Mr. Westby, requires a high level of energy.
"How do you get this motivation? Well, you can go to a motivation seminar. They can hop you up. Maybe it lasts for a little while. But is that really the answer?"
No, that's not the solution, he said. The answer is so "trite" that "I'm almost hesitant to mention it. It's prayer."
Someone from the audience uttered, "Amen."
God hears, said Mr. Westby. God helps. Christians should pray to make sure they are on God's side.
"There is a God in heaven whose face is shining upon you, and He rules with great brilliance. He has a hammer as big as the sun, but His touch is as soft as a feather. That's the God you serve, and for some reason He loves you . . . We just need to commune with Him."
Church of God members need a new, fresh identity, said Mr. Westby.
"No longer think of yourself as an ex this and an ex that. I'm an ex-CGI, ex-Global, then I was in a living-room church, then I moved to the bathroom, then I quit. But you're not an ex-Christian, are you? You're a present Christian."
With the proper realization of their identity, Christians--however they go about propagating God's message--should surmount the obstacles and "get it done," he concluded.
More from Mr. Mitchell
After a break, Don Deakins of Palos Heights, Ill., pastor of the Church of God United in Chicago, opened the next session with prayer.
Then Mr. Gregory mentioned the names of several people who had planned to attend but could not make it for various reasons. They included Church of God members Stan Metz, Al Carrozzo, Ray Wooten and Ron Dart.
So Royce Mitchell could continue his discussion that began with his stir-to-action speech of the previous day, Mr. Gregory invited him back up to the lectern.
Mr. Mitchell said the new association could be patterned after the BSA, which is supported by about 100 members, each of whom contributes $25 to join up.
Mr. Henderson, of Half Moon Bay, Calif., said he wholeheartedly supported the direction of the discussions.
"I feel good about it, and I think we need to start the ball rolling."
Mr. Edwards said the "BSA model is ideal." Besides offering association memberships, the association would need some kind of board for day-to-day operations and decisions.
He advised against incorporating, noting that a religious organization can enjoy tax-deductible status in the United States without incorporating.
Others spoke in favor of the developing association, including Mr. Antion of Guardian Ministries and Dr. Davis, the BSA president.
Mr. Justus said he wanted to clear up any misconceptions inspired by his comments of the previous day when he stated he was not comfortable being a part of the Churches of God Outreach Ministries (CGOM).
"I have been working with the Outreach Ministries," he said. "It's just that when I go and speak someplace I like to go and represent Jesus Christ.
"I think [the proposed association] is a wonderful idea. I'm not an intellectual. I'm just a poor old Arkie who doesn't know anything. It takes all kinds of people, but it really takes the Holy Spirit . . . We can work together if we get each other out of the way."
Two goals for the association
Mr. Mitchell announced that he would like to see two things accomplished:
· The development of a two- or three-sentence mission statement.
· The naming of five to 10 people to be the "shell" of the association, to serve as a temporary board to get the ball rolling.
"It would be a beautiful thing to be able to pull this off, and it would be a miracle," said Mr. Cruz. "This conference would not have been possible a year ago."
Carol Solensky of Dallas interjected that without Yeshua (Jesus) "you can do nothing."
"There are different ministries but the same Lord," she said. "We need to get to know Him. We need to have a relationship with the Father and the Son."
Bill Hicks, the missions director for the CG7's Denver general conference, noted that he was attending the proceedings on behalf of conference president Whaid Rose of Denver. Mr. Rose would have been at Tulsa except that he was in Amsterdam with Billy Graham and other delegates to Amsterdam 2000, billed as a conference of 10,000 "preaching evangelists" and attended by invitation only.
Mr. Mitchell mentioned that a mission statement should be a "very simple statement of your goals."
Mr. Gregory led a brief discussion of possible wording for such a statement. He and audience members came up with the following phrasing:
"The purpose of the Churches of God is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and makes disciples of all nations."
This writer for The Journal commented from the floor that the name "Churches of God" in the statement was confusing in that many groups have a similar name, and that it seemed to presume to talk for all Churches of God when it in fact it did not.
As a result, the delegates added the phrase "Evangelistic Association" after a brief continuation of the discussion. In subsequent meetings of the new board, the wording was slightly amended. Here is how it stood Aug. 30:
"The purpose of the Churches of God Evangelistic Association is to facilitate the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world and make disciples of all nations."
A discussion ensued about who should serve on a working board and who should serve on an "advisory council" made up of people who might not have time to be as actively involved as the working board might require.
Mr. Booth, the Amarillo pastor, concluded from the floor that the delegates seemed to be "trying to nail Jell-O to the wall"; they weren't making much progress in determining how to choose board members, much less who should serve.
Therefore, he suggested, why shouldn't Mr. Gregory, main organizer of the conference, in informal discussions with his "lieutenants" come up with a working board and an advice-imparting council.
Mr. Gregory and the conference liked the idea, so the meetings adjourned without the board and council having been decided upon.
After the meetings
After the conference, in meetings in Tulsa and Dallas, Mr. Gregory and associates did name a board to serve for one year. The "ad-hoc committee" to serve for 12 months is Allan Burlison, Oklahoma City; Alfred Harrell, Hot Springs, Ark.; Royce Mitchell, Houston; and Mr. Gregory.
Two ordained men serve on the board: Mr. Gregory of the Tulsa Church of God and Mr. Burlison of the CG7, Denver conference. Dr. Harrell, CLA founder, and Mr. Mitchell, BSA president, have never been ordained.
The advisory committee of "auxiliary counselors" is David Antion, Pasadena, Calif.; Wayne Cole, Tyler, Texas; George Crow, Katy, Texas (a Church of God member and attorney who didn't attend the Tulsa conference); Bill Hicks, Bristol, Tenn.; Arthur Hulet, Perry, Okla.; James McBride, Lincoln, England; and Ken Westby, Federal Way, Wash.
The Dallas news
The Journal talked with Dr. Harrell three weeks after the conference and a few days after the new four-member board met in Dallas.
"We were there working on the bylaws and constitution and preamble and all that," he said. "At the end we started talking about specific projects. It's very important for those who are observing this association to see something produced."
The Churches of God Evangelistic Association, said Dr. Harrell, wants to support the campaigns the CLA conducts in American and Canadian cities as one of its first projects.
The initial association-backed CLA campaign will take place in October during the Feast of Tabernacles in San Antonio.
Mr. Gregory had telephoned the three other men to ask them if they would serve on the interim board "to get things going," said Mr. Harrell. "So we were appointed by Lawrence."
More than seven
After the four on the board wrote the drafts of the founding documents, they sent them to the members of the advisory committee.
The Journal asked Dr. Harrell for his impression of the Tulsa conference.
"Normally, if you try to get more than seven people together to accomplish something, you will not accomplish it," he replied.
"I think the fact that the 150 or so people who were in Tulsa came together with an attitude of wanting to do something and agreeing on as much as we did was just fantastic. I think it was a good start."
Mr. Gregory is the president of the association for its first year. Dr. Harrell is vice president. Mr. Burlison is parliamentarian, and Mr. Mitchell is secretary and treasurer.
Dr. Harrell admires Mr. Gregory because the Tulsa pastor sees what he perceives to be a great need and he does something about it, rather than just talking about it.
"If a person has the heart that Lawrence has, then there's a lot of hope," he said. "If you have somebody who doesn't have the heart, then there's going to be disaster."
He said Mr. Gregory and others involved in the project are "learning" and that, because of their backgrounds in a tightly structured, highly organized body (the Worldwide Church of God), they are having to unlearn certain practices and attitudes to work in an environment in which WCG-ordained men no longer enjoy the ascendancy.
"I have seen in the past two years Lawrence Gregory come a long ways," said Dr. Harrell. "None of us is perfect yet, but Lawrence is learning how to deal with a whole new ball game."
Mr. Cole after the conference
In the first address, Mr. Cole's keynote speech Friday night, July 28, in Tulsa, he implied that "personal evangelism" is the way "the work" will get done. He seemed even to be preparing the conference delegates for the possibility that the goals of the conference might not be realized, since they involved the concept of a joint effort rather than individual efforts to preach the Word.
The Journal asked Mr. Cole several days after the meetings if he had changed his mind.
"Well, I don't suppose I've changed my mind very much," he said. "I was encouraged that more came out of the conference than I had anticipated. It's a cliche to say it, but I think the jury's still out; it's a little early to tell how the association will develop."
On the other hand, Mr. Cole has seen the drafts of the association's constitution and bylaws, and he is favorably impressed with them.
"I think the association has been structured well. There will be no paid employees; they're all volunteers. Any money paid to anybody would be only for actual expenses incurred."
His "greatest fear," he said, is that the association could "devolve" into a "personality organization" or that personality conflicts could hinder the work it sets out to do.
"I've already heard statements like, well, if so-and-so's involved, I can tell you what his attitude's going to be."
The Journal asked Mr. Cole what he thinks would be the proper role for such an association.
"That's the $64,000 question," he said. "There are several things that I think it can do, but I really don't know what role it is going to fill. I think it could provide an avenue as a clearinghouse for the dissemination of information, whether sermons on the Internet or articles, but, whether it can carry out activities that would pertain to the proclaiming of the message to the world, that remains to be seen.
"I think a lot of time has to go into talking about what some of the functions, roles and jobs would be for it, and I don't presume to know those myself."
An encouraging aspect of the conference, said Mr. Cole, was that it brought together people from a WCG background with members of the Church of God (Seventh Day) "and even the Adventists. I was encouraged with the prospects of what the association could do to build bridges with the CG7. I think that's a good step."
The Journal talked with Mr. Gregory after the conference.
"I'm getting a lot of calls and hearing a lot of enthusiasm about it," he said. "I think this is going to be just a wonderful opportunity to get together and help where no one has to leave their church organization."
Mr. Gregory said that, after Mr. Mitchell's address Saturday afternoon at the conference, "it just came together. By Saturday night we knew something was going to come about Sunday to bring it together, and it certainly did."
The Journal asked Mr. Gregory about the Churches of God Outreach Ministries, of which he is a board member and of which his congregation, the Tulsa Church of God, is a part. Since the CGOM was already in place, why did he see a need for the Churches of God Evangelistic Association?
"I think one great advantage it has is that barriers from forming another church organization have been eliminated," he said.
"In other words, we're not a threat to anyone. We're not like a church group that has to deal with United or other church groups.
"This association is open to any member because they're not challenged or threatened in any way from another church trying to proselyte them away from their own affiliation."
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God