Representatives tell requirements for congregation membership in COGOM
By Dixon Cartwright
WAGONER, Okla.-Twenty-eight elders representing independent congregations of the Church of God met here May 30 through June 1 to make decisions that will affect the direction and goals of the Churches of God Outreach Ministries.
The 28 elders decided on that name halfway through the meetings; before the conference the association of independent churches was known simply-but a little confusingly, in the context of other congregations-as the Churches of God.
The Churches of God Outreach Ministries operates offices it calls service centers, but members of the association insist it has no headquarters; it is an association of sovereign congregations.
Each congregation can decide, in whatever manner its members agree to, to preach the gospel to the world and locally, to publish printed materials or not publish printed materials, to tailor its efforts to its environs and priorities-within the bounds of furthering the commission to go into all the world.
A little history
Most of the association's congregations at one time were part of the Church of God International, headquartered near Tyler, Texas. Thirty-five CGI elders left as a group in February 1996 after a disagreement with the CGI's board of directors over its handling of events surrounding a lawsuit involving CGI founder and president Garner Ted Armstrong.
Since leaving the CGI, the congregations have sent elders and other representatives to meet formally three times, in April 1996 in Tulsa, in November 1996 in Oklahoma City and now here.
The founders of the association say they have resolved never to set up or become part of another humanly devised hierarchy: to cooperate with each other but build in safeguards to maintain their independence as congregations.
Five information centers
The association did authorize some of its own members to set up an information center; in fact, the COGOM has five such centers, in America, Australia, Canada and England. Center duties are split up to serve congregations in widely removed geographical areas.
One information center, principally for taking care of the financial end of things, is in Tulsa. Members of the independent Tulsa Church of God, including pastor Lawrence Gregory, volunteer to handle double-entry bookkeeping and other procedures needed because of donations sent by the association's member congregations and individuals to the COGOM.
Another center is near Hawkins, Texas, where Ian Hufton, his wife, Thalia, and Rosy Halley assemble articles for a newsletter and handle requests coming in over an 800-number telephone line.
Plans for the Feast of Tabernacles are in some cases handled by local congregations, in others are shared by the information centers and the congregations.
For example, the San Antonio Feast site is sponsored and will be staffed for the most part by members of the San Antonio church, pastored by Julian Cruz. (See Feast of Tabernacles listing, page 10.)
The Sunriver, Ore., site is sponsored by the San Francisco, Calif., church, served by elders Bruce Barrett and Jeff Henderson.
Other functions of the churches are handled in a similar consensual manner. Member congregations individually sponsor radio and television broadcasts and publish booklets and magazines. Some pay stations to air the Born to Win broadcast provided by Ron Dart of Christian Educational Ministries. (Mr. Dart, although also from a CGI background, isn't affiliated with the COGOM.)
Other individuals and churches, especially in Oklahoma, are funding a new broadcast by Tulsa pastor Mr. Gregory.
Literature is produced by the congregations, including reprints of old articles written by Herbert W. Armstrong published by Springdale, Ark., pastor Tom Justus and his congregation and New Horizons magazine, published by the Churches of God U.K. and edited by James McBride.
Organized but no pecking order
Many independent churches, assemblies, fellowships and stay-at-home members of the Church of God live scattered across America and in many other countries. The association called the Churches of God Outreach Ministries says it wants to serve the brethren of the Church of God who want to maintain their independence and who are put off by the thought of involvement with another hierarchy, but who want to cooperate with other congregations on a regular basis and in an organized way.
The Churches of God Outreach Ministries is governed by committees: four of them, to be exact. They, along with their chairmen, are as follows: the budget committee, chaired by Bill Fowler; doctrinal-research committee, James McBride; evangelistic committee, Pat Dennis; and member-services committee, Ian Hufton.
An ad-hoc committee of Julian Cruz, Mr. Hufton, Bill Luecke, Loren Stuart and Tom Whitson met to write a mission statement for consideration by the conference. After discussion, the mission statement was approved as follows:
"The Churches of God Outreach Ministries provides leadership, information and biblical teaching in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Matthew 28:19-20."
Some confusion had arisen over the mailing address for the association. The delegates decided to make the Oklahoma address the principally advertised one. The Tulsa office, at P.O. Box 54621, Tulsa, Okla. 74155 (manned by the Tulsa Church of God), will process information it is set up for and forward other mail to the Hawkins, Texas, address.
The Hawkins center, at Rt. 2, Box 114, Hawkins, Texas 75765, maintains the association's toll-free phone number: (800) 611-8080.
Delegates tackled other business:
nThey voted to transfer funds from a Feast of Tabernacles holding fund into a general fund.
nThey tabled the addition of more office personnel. The association has no employees but pays two people, Mr. Hufton and Mrs. Halley, under contracts. The budget committee plans to make a review and a recommendation within three months.
nThey decided to continue as a voluntary association of independent churches, with each having the "sovereign responsibility" to govern itself through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
nThey determined to make no decisions that dictate the internal workings and governance of any of the independent member churches.
nThey plan to continue to serve people and groups of people with information, biblical teaching and leadership through a "multitude of counselors" to accomplish the spreading of God's truth.
nThey directed that the minutes of past and future conferences be edited and condensed into a form that clearly states decisions made and policies agreed to and be available to the membership on request.
nThey decided that chairmen of committees should report to the general membership through the association's publication The Churches of God Newsletter.
nThey resolved that the statement of beliefs should be available for distribution.
The most heated discussion during the three-day conference had to do with what some people call "sacred names." Most members of the association and the member churches follow the practice of referring to God the Father and Jesus the Son in their native languages.
However, members of some congregations have adopted the practice of referring to various versions of the tetragrammaton, the four letters that form the name of God in Hebrew that are sometimes pronounced Yahweh, Yahveh, Yahowah or Jehovah and names for Jesus derived from Hebrew such as Yeshua, Joshua and Yahoshua.
During a discussion of "Hebrew names" of God and Christ, Pat Dennis, elder from Coffeyville, Kan., moderated.
"This is a subject with a lot of ramifications," he said. "It's polarizing. It affects attitudes. It may affect some of our attitudes. I believe that we ought to be open and honest on how we can proceed with the concerns that we have."
Mr. Dennis said he had baptized three people "into the name of Yeshua Messiah," rather than Jesus Christ, because those people requested that wording.
During the same discussion Mr. Gregory gave a brief Bible study on why he believed the better course was for Christians to speak God's and Jesus' names in their native languages. He quoted Psalm 138: "Thou hast magnified thy word above thy name."
"His Word is more important than His name," said Mr. Gregory. "What is more important: God's Word to live by or just to be able to pronounce the name?"
He asked his audience: "How do we pronounce the name of the Son in English?"
Someone from the audience called out: "Joshua."
Undeterred, Mr. Gregory responded that "everyone in the account in Acts [on the first Pentecost] heard the apostles preach in their own language, not in Hebrew, not in Greek."
He concluded his statements with a question: "Can we not forbid, but also not require, the pronunciation of God's names in certain languages?"
He reintroduced Mr. Dennis as moderator of the remainder of the deliberation on names.
Mr. Dennis called on Mark Rattee, representing the Assembly of the Eternal, Delta, B.C., Canada. Mr. Rattee, from the floor, said the group he was representing as an observer at the conference had brought the question of God's names before the conference.
Arthur Hulet, elder from Perry, Okla., then gave, as a lesson to show that the use of God's names in other languages is not necessary, the account of his healing from prostate cancer four years ago.
"I went to Mr. [Les] Pope [from Oklahoma City]," said Mr. Hulet, "and he anointed me in the name of Jesus Christ and I was totally healed.
"I do have a problem when people tell me that I have got to address Him in a certain way, and especially since I've been healed, and I think I have a leg to stand on."
Mr. Rattee replied that his congregation and others in the Churches of God who use the tetragrammaton are inaccurately lumped in with what he called "sacred namers."
"There are many people who don't hold to any strange doctrines but they do use alternative names. I use Yahashua [for Jesus] and Yahoya for the Father. That's not Hebrew; I'm speaking English."
Mr. Rattee said Yahashua and Yahoya are English because they are transliterations from the Hebrew, not translations. Translations would be practically unpronounceable for English speakers.
"I'm simply transliterating to the best of my knowledge the YHWH, the tetragrammaton, but I'm transliterating it into English, not into Hebrew. Why don't we call Joshua the son of Nun Jesus the son of Nun?"
Mr. Rattee said he didn't believe in any "mystical quality" of the names.
Mr. Gregory asked Mr. Rattee why was Yeshua more divine than Jesus?
"That's not the issue," said Mr. Rattee. "It's like saying the stake or the cross. The truth is He died on the stake. It's simply a case about a clear, known description and dealing with the names."
Bone of contention
Mr. Pope said his congregation has lost members over the issue.
"We lost five families over this very thing," he said. "I find it to be a bone of contention."
What bothers him, he said, is that "all these people know something you don't know, and I'm too dumb to understand it. That's a bunch of baloney, and they're slicing it pretty thin."
Mr. Martin, from Dallas, asked the elders to turn with him to Exodus 23:13: "Be circumspect and make no mention of the name of other gods, nor let it be heard from your mouth."
"What is the source of the words Iesous Christos [Jesus Christ]?" he asked. "Are they not the names of other gods? Those are the questions I've been asked."
Neutral statement on names
The conclusion of the discussion was a de-facto agreement to disagree and the unanimous approval of a statement that members of the association churches could refer to God and Jesus in any language but would not be required to refer to Them in any particular language. The resolution reads as follows:
"The names of God are important. They describe who He is and what He does. He is responsible for the different languages of man.
"It is not required, for salvation or communication, to use only the Hebrew (a transliteration of an uncertain sound) tetragrammaton YHVH, YHWH, JHVH or other forms of His name.
"To understand and live by the character of God's many names (such as the Eternal, Self-Existent One, I Am, Salvation, Healer, Righteousness, etc.) is more important than the sound of one name.
"We do not require or forbid the pronouncement of His name in any language."
Clean and unclean
Another subject under discussion was the wording of a statement regarding clean and unclean meats. The discussion centered on whether Christians should avoid unclean meats for dietary reasons or simply because the Bible said to avoid them.
The elders decided on the following:
"We believe the body is to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. We believe in the dietary laws found in the Bible concerning clean and unclean meats. (Leviticus 11:1-47; 20:25-26; Deuteronomy 14:1-20; Mark 7:14-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-8; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17)."
Richard Gawith, member of the Tulsa Church of God, presented a financial report showing the association's income to be about $15,000 for the current year. Much of individual members' tithes and offerings is used in the congregations and is not sent to the association; some is being held until the congregations decide what to do with it.
"We encourage the brethren to contribute their tithes locally," said Mr. Hufton, "then, if the congregations choose to do so, send a portion of the contributions to the Churches of God Outreach Ministries at the Tulsa address."
The conference took up the question of deciding whether to publicize other groups' Feast of Tabernacles sites. Feast-site publicity for other groups is "to be considered on an individual basis, with one criterion being their willingness to reciprocate in turn by advertising our sites in their publications."
On a related matter, the association decided to recommend the Tyler (Texas) Church of God to its congregations as a good place to visit. The association publishes a list of congregations, not necessarily part of the COGOM association, called "Churches to Visit" in The Churches of God Newsletter. The Tyler Church of God had requested to be included on the list. The delegates approved the listing and said that future such requests would be taken up by the member-services committee.
Matthew Steel, a member of the Tulsa church, reported on Fountain of Life magazine, with its circulation of 2,500, including 300 going to non-church members. The conference elders agreed to continue funding and other support of the magazine and annually review its progress. Future decisions concerning the publication will be handled by the evangelistic committee.
The elders decided on the status of other elders and "stewards" (nonordained people who conduct Sabbath services and Bible studies) who might attend future conferences. They will be welcome to attend, but they will not sit at the main conference table, and they will not qualify to vote unless they are elders and until they are granted full membership in the COGOM.
To gain acceptance as a voting delegate to the conferences of the Churches of God Outreach Ministries, an elder "must first be sponsored/recommended by a current minister recognized by the COGOM and have attended/observed a previous conference," according to a written summary of the conference.
The elders sitting at the main conference table and casting votes must sign off on the statement of beliefs and "have the Holy Spirit," agreed the elders. (See the box on page 9 for excerpts from the COGOM's statements of belief.)
Betterment of the whole
"A lot of the things we've accomplished here through the Holy Spirit meant a certain amount of compromise, giving up positions for the betterment of the whole," said delegate Jeff Henderson of San Francisco. "It's obvious to me, just hearing remarks of people around the table, that we don't always see eye to eye on every nuance. Does that mean that we let those things harbor in us, and we don't love each other?
"No, because love can cover a lot of differences in our own personalities and in how we see things. We have to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, focus on the things that we hold in common. For the record, I love you all."
Dennis Martin, an elder from the Dallas Church of God, said he began as an observer at the conference last year in Dallas.
"I have to realize that, yes, I may not totally agree with everything," said Mr. Martin, who said he had not encountered any insurmountable obstacles in his congregation's association with the COGOM.
Two points to keep in mind
Mr. Luecke, from Hays, Kan., who was instrumental in writing the mission and vision statements for the association, advised other elders to remember two points:
"We must embrace the same basic doctrines," he said, "and we need to be sure never to set up a hierarchy."
Mr. Hufton noted that "a lot of people out there are watching us today. They're wondering if this Acts 15 style of leadership can really work in the 20th century. And I think we have a pretty good grasp, in general terms, of where we want to go."
Mr. Hufton believes the COGOM's system of an association of congregations without a governing hierarchy includes built-in checks and balances that would prevent an attractive leader from rising in prominence and power over the churches.
"Proverbs 11:14 talks about where no council is the people fall," Mr. Hufton said. "But in the multitude of counselors there is safety. Never before in the history of the Churches of God has there been a greater crying need for a multitude of counselors in a leadership role to provide as much safety as the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us to give to people.
"We are here making decisions through a multitude of counselors. What I'd like to suggest is that we continue using a multitude of council week end, week out, week end, week out, into the future.
"If we ever develop a hierarchy, the independent churches will just not follow it. It's, therefore, a beautiful self-correcting system."
The elders talked about evangelistic goals of the association itself and evangelistic efforts back home in the congregations.
Efforts in the congregations have included radio broadcasts, a musical ministry, distribution of printed materials, a women's club, visits to nursing homes and other churches (of all varieties), providing guest speakers for public and private events, erecting and maintaining signs in front of church buildings with the Sabbath-service schedule in plain view, prison ministries, paid newspaper advertising, free newspaper publicity using press releases, and providing food for the needy.
The association as a group sponsors Fountain of Life magazine. The Dallas church, for one, recently sent out 50,000 fliers that were included in newspapers in the Dallas area. Churches in the United Kingdom produce New Horizons magazine. Mr. Gregory, the Tulsa pastor, broadcasts his Churches of God broadcast over several radio stations in the Southwest.
One of the elders, Arthur Hulet from Oklahoma, cautioned that perhaps the association was going too far to make sure that a hierarchy could never develop and that the result of an overly developed aversion to hierarchies and dependence on committees was disorganization.
"We need to consider what the Word of God says," said Mr. Hulet. "We need to say something on church government. That would not change what's in this Book. What are we going to do when God adds an evangelist to our group? What's going to happen? I feel that we have one among us right now [an apparent reference to Mr. Gregory because of his broadcasting activities.]
"Let's not get so encumbered in so many committees that we never get anything done. We're getting so many committees that, by the time you get everything sent out and sent back, Christ will be here. We've got to be able to trust that God will direct what needs to be done."
Call for leadership
Mr. Hulet said that, even with no hierarchy, the association needs leadership.
"If we don't have leadership," he said, "we're not going to make it."
A steward, Bob Marlowe of Shreveport, La., echoed Mr. Hulet's sentiments and elaborated on them.
"You're overcoming the big O," he said. "You're beginning to organize, whether we want to call it that or not, and I think that's a good omen."
Mr. Marlowe spoke of congregations in the association that don't know what to do with their tithe and offering money.
"Our folks down in Louisiana have been in limbo about what to do with their tithes," he said. "I would like to encourage our folks to help the Churches of God Outreach Ministries, because, regardless of your good intentions, without money in your organization you're not going to accomplish much.
"I was wondering: What have you done to encourage your people in your congregations in a monetary way to help this Church of God group?"
Mr. Gregory noted that, out of the churches maintaining contact with each other through the COGOM, only 18 are monetarily supporting the association. Several elder delegates expressed hope that after this conference the amount of voluntary support from the churches will increase.
Just before adjournment, several elders and observers made short farewell addresses to the assembled delegates. One was Dennis Horlick, an observer representing Canadian members in Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener, Windsor and Ottawa, Ont., and in Winnipeg, Man., and Vancouver, B.C.
"They asked me to come to observe," Mr. Horlick said, "to give comment when applicable, to find out and gather up information, to determine what you're all about, then go back and give that information back to the four people on our board. I plan to go back now, and we'll decide whether we want to apply to join up with this group."
"We're still defining ourselves," Mr. Hufton told THE JOURNAL. "We don't have all the answers. We try to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and keep in mind the principle of in a multitude of council, and we do the best we can as we grow."
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