What is the future of the Church of God?
By Bruce Porteous
AUCKLAND, New Zealand--It is approaching 10 years since the beginning of the mass exodus from the Worldwide Church of God after the the sweeping doctrinal changes the WCG introduced. This article takes a timely review of what progress, if any, has occurred since that time in the Church of God and in fulfilling the commission of bringing the gospel message to the world.
If one honestly looks back over the last decade, the Church of God, the Body of Christ, has failed the membership and failed to fulfill the commission of bringing the gospel message to the world. It has failed to have any real impact in warning the house of Israel of the curses for rejecting the law of God.
The leaders of the 300-plus Church of God groups continue to deceive themselves and their members into believing God is blessing their efforts in preaching the gospel.
Does the evidence bear this out? Some groups have experienced a little growth, but it has been undermined by splits and division within the ministry. Some claim--by including groups from India or elsewhere in the third world--their numbers have grown. If they are honest with themselves, few admit to any real growth; many have declined in their membership numbers.
Increasingly, COG organizations have reverted to the techniques adopted by the WCG to sustain control over their members.
When groups such as the United Church of God were established, there was much made of "new beginnings," where members' input and participation would be encouraged within a new organization. Church boards were encouraged, with member participation. But the ministry soon drifted back to their old comfort zones, preferring the top-down hierarchical structure in which individual initiative is muted and members are programmed into mincing along like dumb sheep.
As a result of this programming of church members, The Journal is now viewed by many in the ministry as something evil, described by some as a tool of Satan. They criticize this newspaper for publishing articles or carrying advertisements expressing doctrinal views not shared by a particular branch of the Church of God. Rather than using this material to teach the membership why a particular doctrine is incorrect, members are encouraged not to read The Journal, claiming that it is divisive.
Yet, whenever there are splits within their organization, they are often keen to use The Journal to publish their version of why there was a split.
While the ministry continues to divide up the Body of Christ through establishing more and more splinter groups, The Journal is the only independent church newspaper through which the members of the Body can remain informed and in contact with one another. Rather than dividing, it provides an independent overview of the church. The Journal is essential reading for the membership to keep the ministry honest.
Failure of media efforts
The Churches of God need to ask why the response to their media efforts has been so dismal. There is little to distinguish their media efforts from those of countless other Christian groups. Most articles are little more than a summary of world news or Christian-living-type topics.
It appears the church is so afraid of making a mistake in warning about the disaster about to strike the house of Israel that everything has become watered down and wishy-washy and has little impact on the readers.
No longer does the church have the dogmatic leadership of Herbert Armstrong, whose preaching brought so many to the understanding of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today, if I want to learn about the fulfillment of prophecy, I read Time magazine or some other reputable news publication, not COG publications. The COG practice of writing about a world-news topic by throwing together a few scriptures and doing a commercial for a booklet does not achieve results.
Failure to warn about defeat in Iraq
One of the greatest tragedies of the church in recent history is in its failure to warn our nations of the consequence of invading Iraq without UN Security Council approval.
When the Bush administration enthusiastically prepared for the unnecessary invasion of Iraq on trumped-up charges, edged on by the Christian right, where was the Church of God warning the house of Israel that this would result in defeat for America? While the pope and Middle East leaders continued to warn President Bush of the consequences of invading Iraq, the Churches of God have been deafening in their silence.
Even worse, some COG ministers before the illegal invasion openly preached that America should invade Iraq, as if this would be doing the will of God.
Rather than preaching that our nations should look to God for our protection, some ministers actually preached that America should go to war to destroy its perceived enemies, rather than preaching that America should repent of its sins and trust God for protection.
Recently a COG radio preacher, Ronald Dart, wrote on his Web site concerning the U.S. invasion of Iraq that his readers and listeners might as well face up to the fact that "you fight a war with whatever brute force is necessary to ensure that you don't have to do worse later. You brutally pacify a city like Fallujah in Iraq, and you do it the first time you threaten it. You don't back down or negotiate with criminals and terrorists. You kill them."
Mr. Dart then acknowledged that his comments didn't "sound very Christian."
"Well, so what?" he continued. "Isn't the United States supposed to be a secular nation? Why should our military be guided by Christian principles? Our foes are fighting a religious war based on perceived Islamic principles. Shouldn't we be allowed to fight the war by their rules if that is the way they want it? And don't tell me these fellows don't represent true Islam. If that is true, why don't the billion or so good Muslims rise up against them?"
Mr. Dart concluded: "I will not apologize for sounding harsh. These are harsh times, and these are harsh truths. They should not be sugar-coated."
I quote Ron Dart because his opinions express the more-extreme nationalistic, right-wing ideology of the COG community.
But he is by no means alone. Many in the COG have become influenced by the increasing nationalism expressed in the American media.
Some would rather look to Rush Limbaugh than the Word of God for how America should conduct itself. Many still believe the propaganda and lies told by the Bush administration to justify the illegal invasion of Iraq, the ridiculous claims that Iraq was a threat to the United States, that invading Iraq was a part of the war against terrorism (as Mr. Dart claims) and that the Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction.
Ministers like Mr. Dart have wrongly encouraged members to believe that America has the answer to the world's problems. They somehow believe that, because President Bush claims to be a Christian, God will bless whatever America does.
Another failure of the church is the failure to warn of the consequence of the collapse of the American dollar.
Why have not the churches warned the house of Israel about the coming economic collapse and what it will mean to our people?
Recently I wrote an article I published on the Internet on the coming collapse of the dollar and was swamped with inquiries and requests to post it on news sites. People around the world seek direction. They want to know what will happen and why.
What will happen to the church?
Man-created church organizations are about to end. The collapse of the dollar will mean there will simply be no funding for them to continue. We rapidly approach the time when "the work" will be finished.
While some groups teach that life is likely to continue for another five to 15 years, economists warn of the imminent financial collapse of the Anglo-Saxon economies, which would result in the end of the COG organizations as we know them.
This time is described in Amos 8:11-12: "Behold, the days come, says the Lord Jehovah, that I will send a famine in the land; not a famine of bread nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the Words of Jehovah. And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they shall run to and fro to seek the Word of Jehovah, and shall not find it."
The Church of God organizations will no longer exist, and many of their paid ministries will desert their flocks. Yet we know that the Good Shepherd will eventually return to gather His scattered sheep from throughout the world (Ezekiel 34: 1-15). It is in Jesus we should put our trust as we approach the time of Joseph's troubles.
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