COG in Ghana close to merger with UCG
By Dixon Cartwright
CINCINNATI, Ohio--The Remnant Church of God (RCG), a denomination of Sabbatarian Christians in Ghana, in West Africa, is ready to join the Ohio-based United Church of God an International Association (UCG), announced United officials here during the annual general conference of elders.
Joel Meeker, an elder from O'Fallon, Mo., said in a presentation to his fellow elders May 6 that the 13 full-time, salaried pastors of congregations in Ghana are about ready to tie the knot and become full members of the United Church of God.
Their congregations would automatically then become UCG congregations.
The RCG traces its beginnings to literature the Worldwide Church of God sent to residents of Ghana in 1974, said Mr. Meeker.
Five years later, in 1979, representatives of one of the many organizations that go by the name of Church of God (Seventh Day) ordained some men who would eventually take the name Remnant Church of God.
The RCG and United first made contact with each other in 1997 when UCG elder Fred Kellers of Nashville, Tenn., visited Ghana.
Mr. Meeker visited them in 1998. Then, in December 1999, elders Doug Horchak, now of Dallas, Texas, and Jim Franks of Houston, Texas, traveled to Ghana to meet with the RCG elders and other members.
With the approval of UCG president Les McCullough of Cincinnati and with the blessing of the 12-man council of elders of the UCG, Mr. Horchak, Mr. Franks and Mr. Meeker conducted a "seminar" for the Ghanaians in December 1999.
More recently Mr. Meeker, Mr. Franks and Melvin Rhodes, a UCG pastor from Lansing, Mich., visited the RCG brethren.
"They do consider Mr. [Herbert] Armstrong to be their father in the faith," said Mr. Meeker. "Many of them have said that. They knew him. They know his articles and writings well. Some of them even had some contact with WCG ministers who traveled through the area."
United representatives have visited the RCG members many times and conducted several seminars since 1997. The seminars serve to educate the RCG elders in the doctrines and customs of the UCG, including the feast days, said Mr. Meeker.
Others who have visited on behalf of United are Arnold Hampton of Columbia, Md., and Mike Blackwell of Harrison, Ark.
The most recent seminar, for the pastors, lasted five days in April in the city of Kumasi.
"Each time we made sure there was doctrinal compatibility," said Mr. Meeker. "We wanted to understand where our two groups were and how we could help them become part of us."
Mr. Franks also spoke to the assembled elders here concerning the Ghanaians.
"They looked around and identified us as being a continuation of the true church," he said. "They've consistently, since 1997, written to us and pleaded with us that they want to be a part of us."
The RCG plans to dissolve as an organization next month and set up a national council, which would be the governing organization of the new United Church of God Ghana.
"We would give them direction and guidance as the ministry is further trained," said Mr. Franks.
A doctrine Mr. Franks said the RCG "struggled" with was the use of wine at the Passover service.
"So they had a meeting of their executive board, and they made a unanimous decree that the use of wine is biblical, and they will all accept that in all of their churches throughout Ghana . . . This was a big hurdle, and we were very pleased that they did that."
UCG representatives have visited RCG congregations in Accra, Cape Coast, Elmina, Agona and Kumasi, all cities in Ghana.
Mr. Franks estimated the attendance at the several RCG congregations to be about 1,500.
Peaceful changes in administration
Mr. Rhodes, who lives in Michigan but resided in Ghana seven years with his family several years ago, also addressed the conference about the RCG.
Ghana, he said, is unusual in that it is the "first nation in Africa to have one democratically elected president from one party replaced by another democratically elected president of another political party--without violence."
The enthusiasm of the RCG brethren is "infectious," he said. "It was really wonderful to be with them. They're not just a group of people following us because they want to get something from us. They are a group of people desiring to understand more of God's truth."
A characteristic of the Ghanaian brethren, he said, is that they regularly stay up all night discussing the Bible.
"How many people do that in the United States or other Western nations?" he said. "Instead, we've got 175 television channels going 24 hours a day."
After the formal reports about the RCG to the general conference here, The Journal spoke privately with Mr. Rhodes and asked him some questions about the Remnant Church of God. How long had he and his wife and children lived in Ghana?
"We lived there for seven years," he said, "and I hadn't been back for over 10 years."
Mr. Rhodes was initially skeptical of the Ghanaians' motives for wanting to associate with the UCG.
"We've had this happen in Worldwide where a group would approach us and want to join us. It would turn out that many of those people were not really with us.
"But this time my feeling is that the Remnant Church of God is really a group of very dedicated individuals. They are very desirous of knowing more of God's truth."
Some Church of God groups in other faraway places--such as the brethren in Myanmar and Thailand reported on occasionally in these pages by Leon Sexton of Legacy Institute of Rowlett, Texas--have not sought to become part of an American Church of God organization.
They have invited Americans to visit and have visited America and other lands themselves, but they apparently haven't felt a need to formally affiliate with a church organization in another country.
What is different about the RCG? What made its members want to join a U.S.-based Church of God?
"In the early '90s," said Mr. Rhodes, "these people decided they wanted to be a part of something international. They have a desire to be involved in preaching the gospel to the whole of Africa. That is their focus, and apparently they believe that by affiliating with a larger organization they will be better able to do that."
Another factor could be the tendency of Ghanaians as a nation to look outward rather than inward.
"Ghanaians are better informed about the rest of the world than many other people," said Mr. Rhodes. "They're certainly better informed than the British, and in turn the British are better informed than the Americans. I think Ghanaians are a part of the world; they're not just focused on themselves. I'm not saying this is the reason they want to affiliate with the United Church of God, but that may be a part of it."
The Journal asked Mr. Rhodes what he sees as the benefits for the RCG brethren to become UCG members.
"One benefit to them would be our literature," he said, "because they don't have any literature. They're very impressed with the literature of the church."
Although 75 percent of RCG members do not speak or read English, Mr. Rhodes thinks it likely that some church articles and booklets could be translated into Twi (pronounced "twee"), the most widely spoken Ghanaian language.
All 13 elders to be reordained
After the conference in Cincinnati, Roy Holladay, a UCG council member and pastor of the congregation that meets in Gilmer, Texas, announced in Gilmer that the 13 elders of the Remnant Church of God would soon be ordained as United elders.
The Journal asked Mr. Rhodes why the UCG plans to ordain the men. After all, neither Mr. Holladay nor Mr. Rhodes was ordained by United.
United, in 1995, had recognized both men's earlier ordination as elders in the Worldwide Church of God.
"The 13 pastors of Remnant requested that they all be approved in the same way," said Mr. Rhodes.
"As not all of them have written credentials to present for recognition to the [UCG] council, it seemed best for all of them to go through the ordination process."
The UCG can cite precedents, Mr. Rhodes said, for reordaining elders.
"People were ordained more than once when raised in rank [in the WCG]," he said.
"We feel that this process is allowed in Scripture and is the most appropriate under these special circumstances."
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