Beware: Doctrinal compromise is in the air
The writer and his wife, Joyce, are hosts of the Living Church of God's video group in Arroyo Grande.
By Robert J. Thiel
ARROYO GRANDE, Calif.--In a member letter from the Church of God a Christian Fellowship (CGCF) dated April 20, 2001, its president, Larry Salyer of Fort Worth, Texas, made comments that suggest that doctrinal compromise is in the air.
As readers of The Journal know, "task forces" of the CGCF and the United Church of God an International Association (UCG) have met together several times lately while pursuing a course that could lead to a merger of the two churches.
Questions and answers
In this article questions and comments from Mr. Salyer's letter appear in boldface and are preceded by "LS." Comments representing the UCG's earlier written positions, and statements from UCG members, are preceded by "UCG." My comments are also indicated.
LS: "How does UCG establish, approve and ratify doctrine?"
UCG: "No doctrine can be created by an individual or even a small, unchallenged group of individuals. Our very founding documents require doctrinal change to be ratified by a full three fourths of the entire General Conference of Elders" (Bob Dick, member of the UCG council of elders, "Protecting Our Beliefs: What Approach Should We Take?," New Beginnings, July 22, 1996, p. 1).
UCG: "Elders from around the United States said they are concerned about what they perceive as a cavalier attitude on the part of the home office towards UCG's general conference of elders and the church's constitution and bylaws" (John Robinson, a UCG elder, "UCG Elders Say Constitution, Not Blown Budget, Is the Issue," In Transition, Jan. 31, 1997, p. 8).
UCG: "Please remember that doctrines within the United Church of God can only be changed with a 75 percent agreement of all 400-plus elders" (Les McCullough, UCG president, "What Exactly Does the Council Do?," United News, July 1999, p. 15).
UCG: "Leon Walker [doctrine-committee chairman] raised an issue of concern to him dealing with sections 5.1.1 of the Constitution of the Church. This portion of the Constitution requires a three-fourths majority vote of all the elders of the United Church of God to approve any change in the Fundamental Beliefs of the Church. Our history to date shows a real difficulty in getting three fourths of the elders to participate in balloting. Mr. Walker wondered if the Constitution should be amended to require a three-fourths majority of those balloting, rather than three fourths of all elders" (meeting reports of the UCG council of elders, Sept. 18, 2000; available at www.ucg.org/a/council/Cincy9-2000/ce000918.htm).
My comment: Other than on governance issues, none of the "doctrinal changes" in the UCG were approved in accordance with the principle that "our very founding documents require doctrinal change to be ratified by a full three fourths of the entire General Conference of Elders," as stated by Bob Dick, or "Please remember that doctrines within the United Church of God can only be changed with a 75 percent agreement of all 400-plus elders," as Mr. McCullough wrote.
This puzzled me until I realized that it is now only the UCG's fundamental beliefs that require the three-fourths majority in order to be changed, even though the UCG originally stated that it believed the doctrines in place at the time of Herbert Armstrong's death!
A careful reading of those beliefs shows that only two of the 18 truths Herbert Armstrong restored to the Church of God are discussed within the fundamental beliefs, while two others are alluded to that have not yet been changed.
LS: "What does UCG believe and teach on what it means to be born again?"
UCG: "Re whether a Christian is born again now, it's plain we need to be careful about word choice so that inaccurate meanings aren't assumed by the general public. Born again conveys more to the average Bible-believing person than having his mind opened to the truth. For that reason, it is unlikely that we will use it in our publications or public speaking.
"Born from above is the accurate way to translate John 3, while linking begotten with that passage is forcing an analogy not used by John.
"However, explaining the process of salvation as like the conception of a spiritual life leading to the resurrection which is like a birth is a helpful analogy . . . The Bible does not, surprising as it might seem, say that we will be born in a resurrection" (Victor Kubik, UCG personal-correspondence department, Aug. 5, 1995, p. 2).
Transforming your life
My comment: This may be a good time to point out that the UCG's recent booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion does not teach that the Holy Spirit begets us or that we will be born again at the time of the resurrection (these were two of the 18 truths restored to the church).
LS: "Does the UCG teach that God is 'reproducing Himself,' that God is a family we are to be fully part of as God beings as are the Father and Christ? ... By the end of the meeting there appeared to be a need to further discuss three areas [the nature of God, voting and jury duty] ... We have generally agreed that we believe the same thing, but they [UCG officials] have been reluctant to state certain things as directly and explicitly as we would."
My comment: It appears that Mr. Salyer answered the question himself to a degree: The UCG does not teach the nature of God or the destiny of man the same as the WCG taught at the time of Mr. Armstrong's death.
Norbert Link (a CGCF minister) told me this about a year before the Global Church of God (GCG) takeover in November 1998 [which resulted in Mr. Salyer and associates operating the Global Church of God and Global founder Roderick Meredith and associates forming the Living Church of God].
Mr. Link said the UCG discussed this at some meeting of the higher-ranking elders and decided not to teach that God is a family and that man's destiny is to become God. Instead, the UCG teaches that God has a family and that humans will be become part of that family.
For the record, the UCG appears to consider voting and jury duty personal matters for each member to decide.
Members of the family
UCG: "At that time, those who have died in the faith will be resurrected, and those alive in the faith will be changed. Both will become spirit beings and members of the family of God" (Fundamental Beliefs of the United Church of God, 1998, p. 38).
UCG: "I believe we are to become God beings ... Yet I have not heard any minister in the Worldwide Church of God or United Church of God say that since 1992. I have heard that we are to be in the Kingdom of God, in the family of God as sons of God, but not that we are to become God" (Bruce Lyon, "Writer Reviews 'The Incredible Human Potential,'" The Journal, Sept. 25, 1997, p. 28).
UCG: "The United Church of God's general spirit has been to treat the nature-of-God question as largely irrelevant since it has no practical effect on outward behavior" (Eric Snow, "Tolerance of Heretics Disrupts Discipline," The Journal, July 31, 1999, p. 7).
My comment: Although Mr. Lyon is a former member of the UCG, he did write this while a member. Mr. Snow, I believe, is a current member of the UCG. I have included their comments here because the UCG still has not clarified its position in written form on this matter. I was told that it was debated before the UCG's booklet titled Fundamental Beliefs of the United Church of God was produced.
That booklet was an opportunity to officially declare the UCG's commitment to the teaching that existed at the time of Mr. Armstrong's death. Instead, it confirms that the UCG does not officially teach that God's people will become God beings in His family, nor did the earlier UCG booklet by David Hulme titled What Is Your Destiny?
The beliefs booklet also confirms that the UCG does not teach that God is a family, rather that He has a family.
Seven church eras
LS: "Does UCG believe and teach church eras?"
UCG: "As Mr. Herbert Armstrong said in the past, there were seven churches in Asia minor during the life of the apostle John that had certain strengths and weaknesses. Those same strengths and weaknesses could be evident in any church congregation today.
"Some believe that they also described church eras that began with the apostolic age and until Jesus Christ returns. Since some have disputed this idea, it is a subject that needs more study to see what we can know for sure and what remains in the unknown" (Internet correspondence from the UCG [email@example.com] to this writer, Nov. 13, 1997).
"Since seven represents completeness, these seven lampstands seem to portray a composite picture of the Church of God, the light of the world. Paul explains that the Church is one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Ephesians 4:4). However, it has multiple congregations and members scattered throughout the nations. Therefore, these seven specific assemblies of believers appear to effectively represent the totality of the Church. It appears likely that the prophecies of the Church in Revelation 2 and 3 have multiple meanings and applications" (Roger Foster, "God's Church in Prophecy," The Good News, expanded edition, July-August 2000, p. 8).
My comment: I am fully aware that many members and even ministers in the UCG believe in church eras as the WCG used to teach and as the Living Church of God (LCG) currently teaches them.
A safe place
LS: "Does UCG teach that there will be a 'place of safety?' "
My comment: Yes.
UCG: "He [Dr. Don Ward, a UCG council member] explained, turning to several scriptures, why he does not believe Petra will be the place of safety, although he acknowledges that Revelation 12:13-16 refers to miraculous protection of God's people.
"'Petra has been used, unfortunately, to manipulate God's people,' he said. 'I don't believe God's people will be protected in Petra during the tribulation.'
"He referred to verses in Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Revelation, Micah, Zephaniah, Amos, Matthew and 1 Corinthians to back up his belief that the present area of the nation of Jordan, which includes Petra, will not be a place anyone should want to be anywhere near during the tribulation.
"He said the focus on the place of safety, as opposed to the Kingdom of God, has diverted Christians' attention and energies from the activities that should be their first priorities" (Dixon Cartwright, "IBLC Kicks Off With On-Site Seminar, In Transition, an independent Church of God newspaper published from 1995 through 1997 by UCG member John Robinson, Aug. 19, 1996, p. 3).
The tithing question
LS: "We also discussed a document prepared to answer questions previously raised in the Task Force meetings. It contains brief summaries of various doctrinal teachings not mentioned above, including tithing . . ."
UCG: "... The Council of Elders has resolved that where governments provide programs, the intent and purpose of which is to provide for the needs of those that the biblical third tithe was designed to assist, and that where such programs are funded by an annual rate of taxation greater than the biblical third tithe, members are not obligated to pay what amounts to an additional third tithe to the Church" ("Third Tithe Policy," New Beginnings, published by the UCG, Nov. 4, 1996, p. 4).
UCG: "[Elder] Greg Sargent . . . reminded the Council of its 1996 resolution regarding members' contributions to the assistance fund. As stated at that time, the Church acknowledges that government taxation in areas biblically identifiable as assistance to the needy amounts to more than what God requires of His people through the third-tithe administration first given to ancient Israel.
"As Mr. Sargent said: 'Third tithe--where did it go? Uncle Sam took it. We must find it.' The Church has less income in this area than it uses for member assistance. Through the central administration of assistance funds (through the home office), a little more than $200,000 of member assistance is given from the operating fund, in addition to using the $469,000 in assistance donations received for this purpose. Additional shortfalls are experienced in local church accounts that administer assistance. There are, of course, legal guidelines to consider. A charitable purpose must be established for the donation. Aspects of member education and ministerial education are involved. Mr. Sargent suggested three action steps:
LS: "If we believe and teach the same doctrines, is there any other biblical justification for our remaining separate organizations?"
My comment: The UCG does not teach the same doctrines that the WCG taught at the time of Mr. Armstrong's death. If CGCF members wish to make the same doctrinal compromises, that is up to them.
LS: "Virtually all of these subjects were talked through to a point of mutual satisfaction. That does not mean that every minister present was satisfied with every conclusion. Interestingly, several supposed differences were quickly cleared up as it became obvious that there was little question that we believe and teach the same thing on them, though sometimes using different expressions in our publications, which could lead to misunderstandings."
My comment: In other words, doctrinal compromise should be fine for those in the CGCF who wish to merge with United. It appears that some in the CGCF may disagree. The bulk of the rest of us who were once part of Global now reside in the Living Church of God.
Endure sound doctrine
All may wish to consider Paul's words: "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (2 Timothy 4:2-4).
Beware! Doctrinal compromise is in the air.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God