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Christian Educational Ministries
moving away from Tyler Church of God

 
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Christian Educational Ministries
moving away from Tyler Church of God

by Dixon Cartwright
 

TYLER, Texas--Christian Educational Ministries (CEM) and the Tyler Church of God (TCG) have altered their relationship after the 13 years of existence of both organizations.

Ronald L. Dart of Whitehouse, Texas (who with his wife, Allie, founded CEM as their personal ministry in November 1995), resigned Aug. 18, 2008, as a member of the TCG's Theology Committee, sometimes known as the Pulpit Committee.

On Sept. 6 Larry Watkins of Big Sandy, CEM's business manager, resigned from the same committee.

Also on Sept. 6 John Reedy, a Tyler businessman and the unpaid pastor of the congregation, resigned as pastor and from the committee.

The two men from CEM, Mr. Dart and Mr. Watkins, had an informal agreement with the TCG that allowed them to deliver sermons to the congregation.

For years the agreement was viewed as a favorable arrangement for both parties.

CEM, which Mr. Dart did not found as a church, had the Tyler Church of God as its main location for Mr. Dart to give sermons that CEM in turn offered for sale to people on its mailing list. Mr. Dart also audiotapes his sermons when he travels to visit other congregations.

In return for the CEM representatives' use of the Tyler location, the TCG benefited from regularly hearing from two experienced preachers employed by CEM (Mr. Dart and Mr. Watkins).

Questions arose

Recently some TCG members began questioning the level of involvement of Mr. Dart and Mr. Watkins in the oversight of the congregation's speaking schedule and expressed their preference for a change in the handling of the list of speakers.

As far as who makes decisions in the TCG, church members on all sides of this situation acknowledge that the TCG's style of governance is "congregational."

According to the constitution and bylaws, approved in 2003, the congregation elects a five-member board called a "church council" that deals with specified matters on behalf of the congregation.

The nomination phase occurs annually on a specific Sabbath in December, and the election occurs on a specific Sabbath in January. Council members are elected to two-year terms.

The current councillors are Tricia Anderson of Tyler, Linda Benton (secretary) of Wells, Jon Coffee (president) of Sulphur Springs, Barney Lewis (treasurer) of Tyler and Gerald Saul of Tyler.

Council members and other TCG members have recently voiced major disagreements concerning the role of the congregation and three-man Theology Committee in deciding who should formally speak to the congregation.

According to Mr. Watkins, the church formed the committee for two specific purposes: to consider doctrinal papers and oversee the speaking schedule.

Mr. Dart noted that the committee formed in 1998 when the congregation voted unanimously to have Messrs. Dart, Reedy and Watkins serve on it.

Mr. Dart's resignation

To avoid what he said could be the perception of some in the congregation that he, as a representative of CEM, was exerting an unwelcome influence within the congregation, Mr. Dart composed a letter dated Aug. 18 about his resignation from his position on the committee. He wrote:

"The leadership of the TCG have expressed a desire to reverse the decision of the church and manage their speaking schedule, which I am more than happy to accommodate.

"To further clarify, I have not cast a vote in the TCG business meetings for some time, and usually don't even attend [the meetings].

"It has never been my desire to exercise any control over the affairs of the church. I love the brethren of the church, have drawn many people to the church, and do not want to interfere in any way with the direction the church decides to take. I never have.

"But the Holy Spirit has been making it plain to me, for some little time, that the needs and interests of the TCG are diverging from those of CEM, so I have reached a decision that it is time to take another tack in serving our scattered friends and supporters around the country. They are my calling and first love. This means I will be resigning any inputs into the TCG speaking schedule, and will be looking for other ways to serve the scattered brethren.

"This has come to a head at this time because I have been reliably informed that there are some here who feel CEM exercises too much control over the TCG. Since the only thing I can be responsible for is input to the speaking schedule, I formally, and with no reluctance, withdraw.

"If you are ever in need of services that CEM supplies, I hope you won't hesitate to ask. We are, after all, a service organization, and we love you all as brethren."

Pastor Reedy read Mr. Dart's letter at the church service of Aug. 23.

On Aug. 24 Mr. Coffee, as president of the council, replied in a letter of his own.

"I was quite saddened and disappointed when your letter of August 18 was read to the congregation after our worship services yesterday," Mr. Coffee wrote to Mr. Dart.

"The Tyler Church of God (TCoG) has for many years depended on Christian Educational Ministries (CEM) to manage the church's schedule of speakers and on you in particular to deliver sermons as your own obligations allowed. Your contributions to our congregation will be missed.

"We certainly understand your desire to direct your attention and efforts to serving CEM's scattered friends and supporters around the country. Technological advances and increased use of the Internet now allow the dissemination of your messages to an audience spread throughout the nation, indeed around the world. Now CEM has the capacity and systems to record and distribute Sabbath services independent of our congregational setting ...

"We genuinely appreciate the guidance and direction that you provided to our church during its formative and transitional years ...

"We on the church's council hope that you will still consider speaking to us occasionally, as your schedule allows. We expect to occupy our new church building by the Feast of Trumpets on September 30, and plan to invite other local congregations to join us for worship that day. Please consider this an invitation to give a sermon at our new building on the Feast of Trumpets, or to simply join us for worship ...

"Our prayers and support for the success and growth of CEM and for your health and strength to conduct your ministry will continue. We hope that you will honor us with your attendance at our worship services as your schedule allows, because you remain our brother in Christ, the respected founder of our congregation, good friend, and entertaining companion."

The congregation held a meeting of its members on Saturday, Aug. 30.

The agenda items listed for the meeting included discussions about whether to apply for formal recognition from the Internal Revenue Service as an incorporated 501(c)(3) tax-exempt religious organization (this question was discussed even though churches in the United States are not required to incorporate to gain tax-exempt status or any other benefits enjoyed by churches); a proposal to establish a formal membership registry for the church; a proposal to begin drafting a declaration of membership; and a review of the constitution and bylaws.

"We followed the agenda for our business meeting, then turned the meeting over to Mr. Reedy," Mr. Coffee said.

Two more resignations

A week later, on the Sabbath of Sept. 6, came Mr. Watkins' and Mr. Reedy's resignations.

Instead of delivering a sermon on that particular Sabbath, Mr. Reedy spoke for only a few minutes and then read two statements of resignation, Mr. Watkins' and his own.

Mr. Watkins said that

"last week [Aug. 30] there were a lot of hurt, upset and even angry people after the congregational meeting. I would like to apologize for any part I had in causing any of that hurt, because that is the last thing I want to do.

"Several years ago and before many of you joined the TCOG, the congregation voted to ask Mr. John Reedy, Mr. Ronald Dart and myself to assume the duties of determining the schedule of speakers for the TCOG ... By default, for convenience' sake, it fell my lot to coordinate the schedule ...

"Because of these accusations [alluded to in the Aug. 30 meeting], it was felt by Ron, John and myself that now was the time for the Church to either confirm this prior decision of the congregation or reject it ..."

The "accusations" Mr. Watkins alluded to included allegations that CEM is overly concerned with money matters. In his letter he noted his desire to remove himself from the congregation's discussion about determining its future.

"I personally felt that my presence could be seen as trying to influence a vote," Mr. Watkins continued, "and I think it is time for the members of the congregation to make a decision on where they want to go from here without undue influence from the elders serving the congregation.

"I will fully support the Tyler Church in whatever decision it makes, but effective today I resign from any and all duties relating to coordination of the speaking schedule."

(Mr. Watkins, for an article in last month's issue of The Journal, said the TCG-CEM situation was a "nonstory." But a few days ago he acknowledged that he was "certainly wrong about this being a nonstory.")

Mr. Reedy's resignation

Mr. Reedy, who owns R&R Lawns, a landscaping business, had served as the unpaid pastor of the congregation since 1996. He became the pastor when the congregation voted unanimously for him to assume the pastoral function.

"This letter will serve as my official resignation as pastor of the Tyler Church of God," Mr. Reedy wrote.

He expressed his concern about a few doctrinal ideas and discussions that he believed could unhealthily influence the congregation.

"For many weeks I have tried to warn you about the dangers of opening your doors to new doctrines, but I have been unsuccessful," he said. "Many in the Tyler Church of God are rejecting the advice and counsel from three ministers [who] have about 100 years of combined service.

"The ministers have all [three] resigned, and now is the time for the membership to decide which road they want to travel. We will have no presence, input or vote in the outcome of your decision. This must be your decision." (A fourth elder of the congregation, Brent Kern of Frisco, Texas, did not resign.)

"I will not pastor a congregation which is starting to believe differently than I do,"

"The issues in question are: Christian Judaism, sacred names, festivals in different months, and minimizing the importance of the divinity of Jesus Christ and His position in the Godhead.

"Opening the door to any speaker or leader in the congregation who does not believe in our confession of faith is asking for a different spirit. [This is] a door you will find difficult to close. When these issues are resolved, we can talk about the future if you so desire.

"My last act as your pastor will be to request you consider these Scriptures I have copied before you make any choices in the congregational meeting.

"I love you all."

Meeting Sept. 6

A previously scheduled congregational meeting took place the evening of Saturday, Sept. 6.

"We discussed the issues that Mr. Reedy presented in his resignation letter," Mr. Coffee said, and "distributed copies of the church's constitution and bylaws, confession of faith, Mr. Dart's resignation letter and the church's response to Mr. Dart."

At the meeting the congregation voted unanimously to support the current statement of beliefs (which is similar in intent to many other COGs' statements). Although the vote was unanimous, apparently some people in attendance did not vote.

An organizational meeting was scheduled for after the church service on Saturday, Sept. 13, but the arrival of Hurricane Ike in East Texas prompted the cancellation of the service and postponement of the meeting.

The Sept. 20 Sabbath service marked the first time the congregation had met in its new 8,200-square-foot building on the southeast side of Tyler.

The congregation had bought a building in Tyler back in 1997. Nine years later, in October 2006, the church purchased land at a new location to begin work on a new structure.

The group sold its old property in July 2007 but continued to use that facility by agreement with the new owner until February 2008.

To get ready for the building project, the congregation formed the Building Committee in May 2007.

The eight members of that committee are Charles Black of Big Sandy, Mr. Coffee, Bonnie DeBerry of Flint, Dennis Hughes (chairman of the committee and general contractor) of Arp, Mark Jauch of Tyler, Dave Kern of Tyler, Jim Robinson of Wills Point and Gary Woodring of Flint. Construction began in September 2007.

Simultaneous studies

On the Sabbath of Sept. 20, 2008, two simultaneous interactive Bible studies convened at 1 p.m. The Bible-study facilitator for the group of men was Rich Glasgow of Garland. The facilitator for the group of women was Paula Hughes of Arp.

The subject was a follow-up study of the scriptures that Mr. Reedy in his Sept. 6 sermon had recommended that everyone seriously consider.

The church service began at 2 o'clock. Mr. Coffee made some opening comments and gave a sermonette. Jim Harding of Longview followed with a second sermonette.

A congregational organization meeting and potluck meal began at 3:15.

Mr. Reedy (by now the former pastor) attended the study and the service but did not attend the organizational meeting or potluck.

At the meeting the congregation continued discussing the situation.

"We distributed drafts of proposed amendments to our constitution and bylaws" and "copies of resignation letters from Mr. Watkins and Mr. Reedy," Mr. Coffee said,

Visit with Mr. Dart and Mr. Watkins

On Thursday, Sept. 25, two writers for The Journal drove the 20-some miles from Big Sandy to the CEM office building to take its picture. While there the writers asked Mr. Dart and Mr. Watkins about the CEM-TCG situation.

Mr. Dart told The Journal that, from his perspective, there resides in the TCG a "strong minority that believed we [members of the Theology Committee] had too much authority, [that] we exercised too much influence in the local church."

Mr. Watkins expressed his view, similar to Mr. Reedy's, that the issue with the TCG centers on doctrinal matters.

"There has been a growing number of doctrinal issues within the church," Mr. Watkins said.

"Every church in the United States has somebody in its congregation who has some sacred-names leanings, some calendar leanings and Hebrew-roots leanings and, more and more now, unitarians, one-God stuff. We have had that within our congregation.

("One-God stuff" was Mr. Watkins' reference to the growing movement within the Churches of God and other Christian groups that believes that, although Jesus is the Son of God, Messiah and Savior, He is not God, in that He has not lived from past eternity. See many Journal news and opinion pieces over the past decade that touch on this subject, including reports of the annual One God Seminars of Ken Westby of Seattle, Wash.)

Mr. Watkins continued: "And there's been some people probably for the last number of years who have had some feelings in that regard, but it [the one-God, or unitarian, concept] has never been an issue at the church from a teaching or theological standpoint.

"Unfortunately, it began to really rear its head, and all three of us [Messrs. Dart, Reedy and Watkins] have been giving sermons and Bible studies because, when this Theology Committee was formed, it had no authority other than to receive papers or information from someone if they wanted to make some kind of doctrinal discussion or speaking schedule.

"We cannot go out and disfellowship someone, but we tried to give sermons and Bible studies that would address the various doctrinal issues, and it was going right over the head of people and being ignored.

"We felt we--John and I--had all we could do in the positions we were in, and the church itself needed to make the decision without undue influence from us. So we resigned to let the church form whatever they were going to do to address the problems, both organizationally and doctrinally. That's where they are now."

Avoiding polarization

Mr. Dart interjected: "I was thinking as this developed that those of us who were elders in this particular situation were not in a good position to really lead in this without further polarizing."

When The Journal asked Mr. Dart if he had traveled to any congregations to give any sermons since he stopped attending with the Tyler Church of God, he mentioned he had not traveled but had recorded a few sermons from his office in the CEM building.

He taped those sermons on days other than the Sabbath and therefore has been able to enjoy resting privately at home on the seventh day.

He concluded: "The approach I'm taking is I know what I've got to do tomorrow and next week. My focus is on CEM, Christian Educational Ministries, and that's what I'm going to do."

Meeting with a TCG council member

After the meeting with Mr. Dart and Mr. Watkins, the Journal writers had lunch with CEM employee Gerald Saul in a Mexican restaurant in Whitehouse.

Mr. Saul, 20, is in an interesting situation because he is currently an employee of CEM but, as was mentioned earlier in this article, also a member of the governing council of the Tyler Church of God.

"The church as a whole does not want Ron and Larry just to leave; it does not want them to disappear," Mr. Saul said. "We want them to be a part of the church and to be there shepherding the congregation."

Another TCG member, Eddie Fischer of Tyler, echoes Mr. Saul's sentiments.

Mr. Fischer said Mr. Dart is "well loved and respected in the church," but Mr. Fischer is offended because Mr. Dart, Mr. Watkins and Mr. Reedy have resigned their positions rather than sticking around to shepherd the flock.

"Ron, John and Larry had the nerve to pulpit-pimp and say the wolves are at the door of the church," Mr. Fischer said, "yet they were not man enough to protect the flock, and instead they all walked away. In so doing they showed no character, no dedication and no love for the church. I have a huge, huge, huge problem with that."

Mr. Fischer acknowledged that some in the congregation have explored unorthodox (for a Church of God) doctrinal teachings.

But, he said, "people always have differences," so "why not set ground rules for the church and either force the problems to conform or leave?"

Mr. Saul, as a member of the TCG council, acknowledged he plans to leave the employ of CEM at the end of October, but "my reason for leaving is not related to the church. I tendered my resignation before all this broke."

Questions for the president

A few days after the interviews with Mr. Dart and Mr. Watkins, lunch with Mr. Saul in Whitehouse and correspondence with Mr. Fischer by E-mail, The Journal contacted Mr. Coffee by phone and E-mail and asked him some questions.

In turmoil?

Does Mr. Coffee, as president of the TCG council, believe the congregation finds itself in turmoil because of ideas about sacred names, the feast-day calendar, Hebrew roots and the ontological nature of God and Jesus?

"No," answered Mr. Coffee.

Mr. Coffee said he is "not aware of any member who is involved in a Hebrew-roots movement."

On the other hand, Mr. Coffee says he believes that, if people who are interested in the four hot topics are in attendance at the TCG, they can peacefully coexist in spite of their doctrinal differences of opinion.

He also said he does not believe that people's concerns about the speaking schedule are just a smoke screen for people with unusual doctrines to gain control of the congregation.

He further said he does not believe anyone within the congregation is trying to further any particular doctrinal agenda.

How does Mr. Coffee think the congregation should handle the hypothetical discovery of someone trying to promote a doctrinal agenda within the congregation?

"One of the proposed amendments to our constitution and bylaws that was distributed at our meeting of Sept. 20 included procedures for addressing such issues consistent with the directions of Matthew 18:15-20," he said.

Optimistic about future

Mr. Coffee said he is optimistic about the future of the congregation, even though he is sorry to see anyone, including the three resigned elders, leave or otherwise cut back on their involvement with the church.

"We are humbling ourselves and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit and God's will in these matters," Mr. Coffee told The Journal.

"We have a plan for addressing the issues that our former ministers have raised, including reaffirming our commitment to our confession of faith, making amends to our former ministers for any offenses that we might have given, incorporating grievance-resolution procedures consistent with the principles of Matthew 18 into our constitution, and establishing responsibilities for the office of the pastor.

"Our congregation has a strong core of devout, deeply committed Christians who have yielded themselves to God and who look to the head of the church, Jesus Christ, for unfailing leadership."

Sabbath and Trumpets

On the weekly Sabbath of Sept. 27 Mr. Ritchey and Mrs. Hughes facilitated two simultaneous interactive Bible studies followed by sermonettes from Mr. Saul and Mr. Coffee.

Mr. Dart kept the Sabbath at his home and three days later, on Sept. 30, observed the Feast of Trumpets as the guest speaker of a Church of God congregation in Fort Worth, Texas.

That same day the Tyler Church of God observed the Feast of Trumpets in its new building.

Speakers were Mr. Coffee, who gave the sermonette, and Wynn Skelton of White Oak, who delivered the sermon.

Contact information

The TCG's building is at 14151 Rhones Quarter Rd. (the street is also known as FM 2964), Tyler. The mailing address is P.O. Box 132290, Tyler, Texas 75713, U.S.A. The phone number (when it is eventually connected) will be (903) 581-2125.

The Tyler Church of God's Web site, still "under construction," is at www.tylercog.org.

Services at the TCG begin at 1 p.m. each Sabbath with children's activities and Bible studies for adults. The worship service begins at 2 p.m. on the Sabbath and feast days.

"We are an open fellowship, and all are welcome," said Mr. Coffee.

Write Christian Educational Ministries at CEM, P.O. Box 560, Whitehouse, Texas 75791, U.S.A., or E-mail anyone at CEM by filling out a form at www.borntowin.net.

The same Web site has a log of stations and times for Mr. Dart's popular Born to Win radio broadcast.

Phone CEM at (903) 839-9300.



For further study, Mr. Reedy recommends some scriptures

TYLER, Texas--On John Reedy's last Sabbath as pastor of the Tyler Church of God, he recommended that the sides in the recent disagreement between the TCG and Christian Educational Ministries consider a list of scriptures.

As mentioned in the accompanying article, which begins on page 1 and continues on this page, the Tyler Church of God brethren split into two groups during the service and went over the scriptures.

Mr. Reedy's recommendations were as follows:

1 Timothy 3:14-16; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; John 1:1-14; Colossians 1:13-20; Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 1, 2 and 3 John; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:7-16; Jeremiah 5:30-31; Jeremiah 23:1-40; Proverbs 29:18.



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