IBLC holds seminar about the Church of God (Seventh Day)

The writer, a resident of Carrollton, Texas, is president of the International Bible Learning Center, Los Angeles, Calif.

By Linda Hardy White

HOOVER, Ala. -- As a young field pastor, Robert Coulter was invited to visit members of a family who were members of the Worldwide Church of God. When he showed up at their front door, the husband invited him in and called loudly to his wife, "Oh, honey, the Sardis minister is here!"

This anecdote was the introduction to a four-hour IBLC seminar April 25 on the history of the Church of God (Seventh Day) presented by Mr. Coulter, former president of the General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day).

The seminar, sponsored by United Church of God Birmingham (not affiliated with the United Church of God, an International Association), was attended by about 60 people the afternoon of April 25.

As a boy in the Church of God (Seventh Day), Mr. Coulter's family joined the Salem organization, with which Herbert W. Armstrong had been affiliated. He personally knew Andrew N. Dugger and witnessed the reunification of the Stanberry and Salem factions: a merger that is perhaps unique within the Sabbatarian community.

He later worked with the Meridian (Idaho) Church of God Seventh Day to effect another merger. Although retired, he serves on the "Board of 12" for the general conference.

Access to documents

As president of the conference for 24 years, Mr. Coulter, who lives in Mentone, Ala., had the opportunity to interview many of the principal players in the 1933 split as well as family members of some of the founders of the Church of God (Seventh Day). He also had full access to the original documents that have been archived by the church, including correspondence between Mr. Armstrong and the Salem Conference.

Thus began Mr. Coulter's interest in putting together a history of the Church of God (Seventh Day) that in his view would more accurately reflect its origins and progress than did A History of the True Religion, by Mr. Dugger and C.O. Dodd. That book was widely circulated in the Worldwide Church of God during the '60s and '70s and formed the basis for certain misconceptions, said Mr. Coulter.

To set the stage, Mr. Coulter dealt at length with William Miller's teachings and those of an association of laypeople called the Christian Connexion. The Adventist movement, which resulted in the Great Disappointment of 1844, had a profound effect on Gilbert Cranmer, founder of the Church of God (Seventh Day), and Ellen G. and James White, founders of the SDA Church.

It was a common belief in the second coming that ultimately led these people to the Sabbath. When Mr. Cranmer was associated with the Whites, the Seventh-day Adventist Church had not yet been formally organized. Mr. Cranmer, Mr. and Mrs. White and several other ministers initially served as itinerant preachers who raised up small congregations adhering to the Sabbath and other key doctrines.

In tracing the historical development of the Church of God (Seventh Day), Mr. Coulter discussed the concept of apostolic succession, the acceptance of the name Church of God, interaction with the Adventist church, the growth of the Church of God (Seventh Day) during the '20s and the impact of the allegedly divisive personality of Mr. Dugger.

It was Mr. Dugger, for example, who was the first to claim that God's people could be found only within the Church of God, and it was he who was preoccupied with organizational form and structure. As an interesting sidebar, Mr. Coulter noted that Mr. Dugger was Mr. Armstrong's mentor.

In discussing Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Coulter said he wanted to clear up several erroneous views that have been held by Worldwide Church of God and ex-Worldwide Church of God members. As several of the seminar participants noted, it was one of the most eye-opening presentations they had seen on the history of the church.

Seminars for pastors

Along with that presentation, the International Bible Learning Center is in the process of preparing a related series of seminars on pastoral leadership and development. With the growth of numerous independent congregations of Sabbatarians, the IBLC has been repeatedly asked for college-level courses on pastoral training.

The IBLC, in the opinion of its administrators, is the only Sabbatarian organization that remains truly nondenominational in its approach, with no special agenda or mission other than providing top-quality biblical instruction.

The first set in the series of seminars, which has already been prepared by Ray Wooten, pastor of the United Church of God Birmingham and founder of United Christian Ministries, deals with the concept of "servant leadership" and provides practical applications for those who need guidance in assisting with a congregation.

The old model of the Worldwide Church of God's Spokesman Club, while valuable for speaking skills, is only a small part of the skill set that a church leader needs, Mr. Wooten said. He details the attitude of humility and self-sacrifice that has been so frequently overlooked.

The IBLC has asked Mr. Wooten to give the presentation because of his many years of service as a field pastor.

In addition to this seminar, the series will include sessions on homiletics, taught by a former speech instructor at Ambassador College; pastoral care and counseling; and personal ministry.

The next free IBLC seminar is tentatively scheduled for the Dallas area later this summer. It will focus on Galatians and the New Covenant, continuing a theme that was begun earlier this year by Dr. Ralph Levy when he gave a presentation on Jeremiah 31 and the New Covenant.

For more information about these seminars, contact the IBLC at (818) 951-IBLC or (818) 951-4252 or by E-mail at

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