How long will the scattering and disillusionment continue?

The writer is a pastor in the United Church of God in Lansing and Ann Arbor, Mich.

By Melvin Rhodes

DEWITT, Mich.--April saw the birth of yet another Church of God-as if we don't already have enough. It's not as if the proliferation of churches reflects growth in the numbers of people God has called. Quite the contrary. Not only does another church mean fewer people in the organization it broke away from, but additional others will fall by the wayside in total disillusionment.

When will it all end?

Indications are that this scattering will continue right up until the second coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Note the words in the message to the church in Philadelphia:

"Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which you have, that no man take your crown."

This verse says a great deal. It reminds us that we must always be ready for Christ's return. It also warns us about other men, particularly at the time just before His return. "Hold that fast which you have, that no man take your crown" (Revelation 3:11).

I have noticed an incredible tendency within the Churches of God for people to follow men. This may be a reflection of society. In the Western world, people want news of celebrities, which means the rich and famous. Democracy encourages this, especially nowadays with intensive media coverage of elections.

Once every four years Americans vote a man into the White House, many firmly believing he is the answer to the country's problems when hindsight should inform everybody that whoever holds the office makes little difference.

Television evangelists have encouraged this way of thinking. Instead of going to church, people seek a religious experience in their living room and become devotees of whatever guru is the flavor of the month. The money pours in-at least until the first scandal hits the headlines. Never learning, followers switch allegiance to the next "man of God," firmly believing that he is the one and only.

All of this has had an effect on the Churches of God. Some of it goes back to Mr. Armstrong's time, when the system of government was monarchical. As with any earthly monarchy, when the monarch dies people want another monarch. The king is dead. Long live the king.

But there is no king, at least no earthly king. There is the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. He is the one we have to look to. Through Him we have to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). When this King died, the veil of the temple was rent in two, signifying that each of us now has direct access to God the Father, with Jesus Christ as our mediator.

This does not mean that there should be no ministry. After His death and resurrection, the apostles preached the gospel throughout the Roman Empire, establishing churches and ordaining elders. But they did not seek a personal following.

The apostle Paul shows clearly in his first epistle to the Corinthians that this is wrong. In verse 12 he writes: "Now this I say, that every one of you says, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ."

He continues: "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I baptized in my own name."

Notice how Paul showed that he did not want people following him. Instead, he pointed them to Christ.

Of course, all religious leaders, whether Church of God, Evangelical, Protestant or Catholic, will claim that that is what they are doing. But in reality many men like to be in charge; they want people to follow them. Putting it bluntly, they are on an ego trip.

True humility demands that leaders follow the example of Paul and make it clear that they do not want a personal following. Before the above-quoted passage, Paul wrote, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you" (verse 10).

Ending division should be a priority. This can be accomplished only with true humility. In practical terms, this means that all those who claim to be Mr. Armstrong's successor should publicly state their willingness to stand aside for the greater good so that reconciliation can take place.

The fact is that nobody claiming to be God's apostle or Mr. Armstrong's successor or appointing himself pastor general has any legitimacy. Mr. Armstrong appointed a man who is already dead. Even before his death he disqualified himself by rejecting biblical truth. (Yet most were persuaded by his change of belief, again following a man.)

So there was no successor. The chaos and confusion that we have experienced during this past decade have exposed people's true characters, including their weaknesses. We have seen men struggle for power, for preeminence while the Body of Christ suffers. But they could do this only with the support of those who look to a man rather than to Christ.

When two of Christ's disciples sought preeminence, they were quickly put in their place, by Jesus and by the other disciples (who probably had similar ambitions at the time). You can read about it beginning in Matthew 20:20. In correcting the self-seeking disciples, Jesus instructed the 12 that they should not be like the gentile rulers, always involved in power struggles, wanting absolute authority over their people.

"But whoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant; even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (verses 27-28).

In another passage Jesus warns about offending people: "It would be better that a millstone were hanged around his neck . . ." (Matthew 18:6). Continual splits, by definition, divide the brethren. They confuse and upset people.

This is not to say that no split should ever take place. The apostle Paul said we should follow him as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). If a church leader turns away from the truth, then it would be right to separate. But most of the division within the Churches of God is not over doctrine. It is because of differences in personality and style of governance.

This is inexcusable. Those responsible should remember Paul's words in Philippians, "Let each esteem the other better than himself" (Philippians 2:3).

God's Word shows the way to end the scattering and the way to reconciliation.

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