Where did God place His name this year?
The writer has been a Church of God member since 1974. He lives with his wife, Cindy, and son, Nathaniel, on a farm near Big Sandy, Texas. The Bursons in the 1980s published--anonymously until its last issue--Faithful Word newsletter.
By Ed Burson
DESTIN, Fla.--Where does God place his name for the Feast of Tabernacles? We (my wife and I) first asked, and answered, this question a long time ago. For many years we were secure in the belief that God had placed His name wherever Herbert W. Armstrong had placed a Feast site.
But then, more than a dozen years ago, we were forced to ask this question a second time.
For decades we were content to allow the Church of God to lead us into the Kingdom of God. We loved the church. It was not only the center of our life, it was our whole life.
When time came for the Feast of Tabernacles, all we had to do was show up and serve in whatever capacity the church deemed best. We loved the convenience. Services were scheduled, halls were rented, speakers were provided, and the incidentals were taken care of. It was a nice arrangement. We knew it was the way things were supposed to be.
But time passed, and things were changing. One day God began to show us that the church wasn't necessarily leading us into the Kingdom any longer, or even toward the Kingdom.
The last words we heard Mr. Armstrong say were, "Keep the commandments of God, and follow Joe Tkach!"
We soon discovered it wouldn't be easy to do both. Eventually we found it was impossible, and we were forced to make a choice. The Church of God had left the truth. When we pointed this out to Church of God leaders, they threw us out.
Where do I begin?
Leaving the church, and sorting out a direction for our future, has been a difficult transition for us. We knew the elect must still exist, and we searched for them.
The logical place to begin was with the other groups who called themselves the Church of God. It was a disappointing search. We found those groups to be no better, and in many cases worse, than the one we had left. We were looking for the Church of God. We thought it would be a group, yet none of the groups measured up.
Since then, for more than a decade, we have been fiercely independent of them all. During that 10 years of forced independence, we have come to understand many things we could never have understood from within the church, any church.
The first and most important of these things is that the Church of God is composed of those people who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in their minds--and only those people, wherever they are, whatever group they attend or don't attend. ("If you have not the Spirit of Christ, You are none of His" [Romans 8:9].)
We have also come to understand that God has placed His name wherever two or more people who have His Spirit are gathered "in His Name" (Matthew 18:20).
The work of God
Still, being an independent Christian is not the ideal. It can be lonely being separated, not only from the world, but even from those who call themselves the Churches of God. You long to see God working somewhere.
Well, we went back to the Feast of Tabernacles this year. In fact, we went to seven Feast sites.
We were not searching for the group that is the Church of God. That beautiful dream is gone. We have moved on to a more beautiful and more realistic dream: the return of Jesus Christ and the realization of the meaning of the Feast: the establishment of the Kingdom of God over the earth.
No, we were hoping to see evidence of where and how God is working today. We are not speaking of the famous "work of God." We heard a lot about that. Everyone is doing that. At least they all talk as if they are.
In the old days, during the decline of the WCG, we heard many important men of God thundering from the pulpit, "There is no such thing as an independent Christian!"
Yet we found that this is simply not true. A true Christian must ultimately come to be independent of all men. He must learn to stand apart from them and their organizations and their governments. When and where these men and organizations and governments conflict with the Scriptures, he must stand on the side of truth. Nowhere is this more true than governments within churches.
Do not think we are saying government is bad. We are not. Government is one of the gifts of God.
What a Christian must come to understand is that God provides government only as a tool for good. It is like any other tool or any other thing in the universe. It can be used for good or evil. When God's tool of government is used to do evil, a Christian is bound before Almighty God to stand and say so and to resist it. God does not use the power of His Spirit to support that which is evil, and He does not expect His children to.
Remember, one third of the holy and righteous angels were placed on earth. These perfect beings were duly placed by the Eternal God within the jurisdiction of the authorized government of God on earth, but they followed that government into rebellion against their Creator--and became demons. We should keep this in mind.
God at work during Feast
It was a good Feast, better than we expected. We saw what we hoped to see: God working during the Feast of Tabernacles 2000. Amazing though it was, we saw Him working in every site we attended. It was a great feeling.
But God wasn't the only one we saw working during the Feast. We saw many old friends who were angry, even venomous, because children or parents or brothers or sisters had joined the wrong splinter group. An attitude of superiority was apparent everywhere we went.
We saw men standing in the pulpit preaching silly, arrogant, mindless doctrines designed to lift their church above all others while gullible friends of ours sat in the audience swilling it down.
Members of the Church of God are not grounded in the Scriptures as they once were. Still, because of the things we saw, we are convinced God is working with His people. But Satan is also working with them.
Yes, the elect do exist, but they are scattered. They are in many organizations. Some of them, or--who knows?--perhaps most of them, are in no organization at all. Many have been greatly wounded by the very shepherds who were so well paid to care for them.
Many of these people have been deeply hurt. The church was their life. Some are bitter. Some think God has let them down. They are even angry at God, but they cannot admit this, even to themselves, much less take it before God. This type of wound can take a long time to heal. But God is patient.
At various sites this year we sat and heard these people called church-hoppers, stay-homers, gypsies, nomads and roamers. We heard some being told: "Make no mistake about it. You have no part in the work of God."
After these poor people finally mustered the courage to stick their head up out of their hole, men of God stood up, in God's name, and stuffed them right back down into it.
Perhaps these men of God should be reminded of the value Jesus Christ places on the one lost sheep.
We in the Church of God are only now learning what so many generations have learned before us. Churches are filled with men, and men are filled with error.
If men have the Holy Spirit dwelling in their minds, it will soften their error a little. If they are yielding to that Spirit, it will teach them and inspire them and help them inspire others.
But they are still men. They are still filled with error.
We must keep in mind that, simply because they yield to the Spirit of God today or in one area of their lives, this does not mean they will yield to it tomorrow or in all areas of their lives. Jesus Christ was converted through and through. All of us are at best a little converted.
This is our generation. It is our turn to learn that God does not want us to place our trust in men or an organization built by men. We are to trust Him, His Son and His Word--and nothing else.
We should listen and learn what we can from the gifts and experience of others, but those who are to be in the Kingdom of God must learn to place their full and complete trust in Jesus Christ and His Father and His Word. They alone are without error. They do not change.
Take a test
Men can be of help, but they can mislead us, and they do. If what men tell you does not make sense, then consider at least three possibilities:
As we visited the Feast sites of various church groups, we thought of Acts 18:10. We grew to believe as Christ told the apostle Paul, "I have much people in this city." We saw God working with people in each of the groups.
We believe God will guide a few from each of them toward the single truth that Christ is bigger than a church.
He was crucified for people; the church was not crucified for them. As they are individually guided toward Him and develop more of His mind, the petty differences between them will disappear.
We also believe they will become more and more independent of groups built by men: not hostile toward them, supportive of them wherever possible, but independent of men.
Where has God placed His name?
He has placed His name wherever two or more are gathered in His name.
Yours can be a narrow and difficult road.
Nevertheless, it is the road to a solid confidence in what you believe. It is also a road on which you can develop a genuine and sincere love for the brethren as well as your enemies: a love based on reality and truth instead of pretense and guilt and empty Protestant platitudes.
An eternal and abiding faith in Jesus Christ alone lies at the end of it.
We realize that many people, including most of the leadership, will take great howling exception to this conclusion, but . . .
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