Cornerstone publisher Jim Rector
exhorts to 'live the book of Acts'

By Dixon Cartwright

HAWKINS, Texas—If you hadn't seen Jim Rector in a few years, you would notice that he has lost some weight. There is a good reason for that: He's battled cancer since 1994 and, besides body fat, he has lost a stomach, kidney and gall bladder.

But 53-year-old Mr. Rector, who lives with his wife, Rita, in Texarkana on the Texas side of town, is feeling better than he was a few months ago, and he's doing anything but slowing down.

"I'm going faster than ever," he said June 13 after a Sabbath service with 40 members and friends of the East Texas Fellowship Group, which on that day met in the home of Tim and Angie Kelley north of Hawkins.

Mr. Rector operates an independent ministry called Cornerstone Publications. Cornerstone publishes a newsletter and mails out audiotapes and sponsors his travels to meet with many mostly independent fellowship groups.

He conducts Sabbath services occasionally in a rented hall in Texarkana, although he doesn't formally preach anymore. He also likes to conduct services during camping trips, as he recently did near Lake Texoma, in southern Oklahoma, with some Church of God brethren.

What he's about

The Journal asked Mr. Rector about his ministry and to comment on a rumor: that he is seeking a "speaking-in-tongues" experience.

But first he spoke about Cornerstone Publications and its growth.

"We are certainly growing as far as numbers go," he said. "I do an extensive amount of traveling and speaking just about every weekend. We still are putting out tapes, and the magazine is coming out maybe every other month."

Mr. Rector, who was never ordained by a church organization, talked about his view of formal ordination.

"My general feeling is that ordination in the early church was probably not what the Worldwide Church of God and the Roman Catholic Church and other churches generally view as ordination; that is, the ceremony and that someone higher up has to put hands on you or it's not official.

"I think God primarily ordains. I think the apostle Paul, when he instructed Timothy to ordain elders in the various cities, probably was giving him instructions to go and make certain that this was done, not necessarily that Timothy hand-picked everybody and suddenly made them the leaders of every church. There's nothing to remotely imply that that type of selection was done."

Ordination is an "office of service," he said. "All of us should be servants. I think there's room for teaching, some preaching and recognizing and encouraging gifting and growth through the church across the board as God so equips us individually."

Specific-purpose statement

What does Mr. Rector believe is his calling? What is the specific purpose of his ministry?

"The crux of my ministry is not just simply to be another one of many people saying the same thing, seemingly after the same thing. I would rather take a job doing anything, no matter what, and try to obey God the best I could if I felt that my calling was simply to join the cacophony of sound that's being poured out in the name of religion."

Mr. Rector's message, he said, is "not unique or new," but "it is focused." He tries "to stir the people up to let them know that there is more than what churches and men offer them, that there is an individual calling in a believer's life and that that needs to be emphasized by the individual.

"We need to seek God, start letting Him prepare us and empower us, and not just simply sit in an organization letting someone else do whatever there is to be done."

He says the brethren need to "live the book of Acts" as well as peruse it. "There is a tremendous future for a believer if they can sever the binding ties of men and traditions and convention and really start wanting to be like God."

He believes that much of what has passed for Christianity down through the centuries "is primarily the efforts of men," even though many of the men have been sincere.

"I don't see many vestiges of the early church and its uniqueness and its power and its devotion and its sacrifice extant in most of the churches," he said, but he believes that situation was specifically allowed by God. "That is why we have only a little segment of time as far as church history goes that is in the canon of Scripture. It's the Church of God for about 40 years; that's about all we know."

Since the church through the centuries has "just drifted through time," a Christian must look to the first-century church, apostles and early ministry of Jesus and follow those examples.

"I believe the Bible has the solution to every one of the church problems that exist today, and I think one of the greatest problems of all is that [the brethren] have modeled their churches after the model of men. They've been humanly modeled and humanly run, and they have not let the Spirit of God show them how the church should operate."

Be careful

So is Mr. Rector suggesting that the brethren not be a part of organized Church of God groups?

"I think the independent church movement is a step in the right direction, generally speaking," he said. "It is not an automatic solution to all problems. In fact, you can have more problems out of the big churches than in if you're not careful."

But the independent Church of God movement "is a place where some, if not all, of God's people will be put to a test and refinement and preparation that they could never get in a large church organization where they blended in, simply kept the Sabbath and went on."

The independent movement poses a challenge to the brethren: "We are being brought to a point where the only thing we lean on is becoming more clear to us. God has pulled us out of so many confining situations that were extant in organized religion and placed us out here where we have to meet problems head on. We don't have anybody to say take care of this or that. It's more challenging, but it's more productive, without intermediaries."

The situation among the Churches of God—with its splits and factions and movement away from the traditionally organized groups—is a "positive, fantastic thing that God is doing," Mr. Rector said. "I want to be a part of it as long as I can live and just keep looking to God to extend the horizons and revelation and insight and understanding of what He wants us to do."

Bottom-line considerations

A continuing discussion in the Churches of God is how best to—and some ask even whether to—preach the gospel. The Journal asked Mr. Rector about his approach. How should one spread the Word?

"I agree with the Scriptures when it comes to the commission to the church, but I don't necessarily think that the preaching of the gospel in the manner that it has been preached has for the most part been for the best reasons. I think in the infancy stages of various groups it may have been preached, but the emphasis of doing a work very quickly gets down to a physical thing where people are doing it, where the agendas of men are involved and where bottom-line considerations are the thing.

"You ultimately end up getting a lot of people, money and programs, but how many are converted, and how many are going to actually take on the image of the Messiah and walk in power and the Spirit?"

Mr. Rector said he agrees with brethren who teach that the "most powerful manifestation" of preaching the gospel "has got to come from individual believers living their lives by walking in the Spirit and by walking in faith. I think that's the biggest impact you can make, because that kind of impact is an impact of quality and spirit.

"It's not trying to get somebody to agree with you, to become part of your empire. It's just a personal witness that the Spirit of God can use positively and capitalize on and make something out of."

Mr. Rector said he feels a "strong calling" to deal with "converted people."

"That is the thrust of our ministry. I think there's room for those who wish to preach the gospel [to the public]; I think all of it is needed. But you must have those who speak to and teach converted people, just as you must have those who reach out to the unconverted to bring them.

"I'm not against any of that, but I know where it's led and how it's been used and misused. I don't see a lot of evidence in the New Testament that God ever intended huge megalopolises of churches developing with all kinds of centralized government and heavy financial burdens and all the things that are part of the trappings of religion."

The tongues question

The Journal asked Mr. Rector about the rumor that he is somehow involved in "tongues." He responded to a question about tongues by asking the Journal writer to be specific about the rumor.

The rumor has it that Mr. Rector has not "spoken in tongues," but that he is investigating the subject and would like to speak in tongues.

"I'll just give you the quick, honest, straight answer here," he said, "and I'll let you be the judge of what you want to print."

The rumors probably started, he said, as a result of events that took place at a Feast of Tabernacles site in 1996 at Snowshoe, W.Va.

"We sponsored a Feast of Tabernacles site there, and there were about six or eight people who apparently wanted to speak in tongues. Nobody knew anything about their desires or intentions. It was an open Feast site; there was no screening ahead of time. It got out on the Internet after the Feast in Snowshoe that this had happened. It was basically brought under control rather quickly, but it has dogged my heels for a year and a half now."

Mr. Rector said he has "absolutely no interest" in "speaking in tongues."

"I'm highly in favor, however, of discussing the gifts of the Spirit and encouraging people to realize they are gifted by God and it behooves them not to bury their talent and just assume that there are much-more-gifted people in the church. I feel like in my past religious affiliations the average joe in the church was not really in touch with what the Scriptures teach about the gifts of the Spirit."

He said that he expects someday to see a church "with somebody in it who truly has a gift of healing, a gift of whatever the case may be. I would rule out none of them. Paul didn't rule any of them out."

Torah observance

At the time of this interview Mr. Rector was attending a "Torah-observant" Sabbath service with a home fellowship. Does he consider himself to be Torah-observant?

"No, not as that is understood or perceived. We were in Wagoner [at a conference in Oklahoma that included many Torah-observant members of the Churches of God last December; see The Journal of Jan. 30], and we are here, and we've attended one other service. We enjoy being around these folks very much, but I do not consider myself to be what people mean when they say Torah-observant."

He said he is also not a "sacred-names" adherent. "I do believe that Jesus' given name was Yeshua or something like that. We are respectful of one another, and we make an effort to speak the personal names of people as they pronounce them. But I also say Jesus Christ."

He said that he—as does Norman Edwards of Charlotte, Mich., publisher of Servants' News—tries to use terms, including names for God and Jesus, that his audience is comfortable with, but that doesn't mean that he believes a Christian must not use non-Hebrew versions of names for God and Jesus. "I think there is a great value in knowing and understanding all the names of God."

Mr. Rector said he has also been accused of being a "conspiracy nut," because he has distributed tapes on which he discussed government and international politics and the history of banking systems. But people who had heard and decided he was a conspiracy theorist were not aware, he said, that the tape was the eighth in a series that included many more subjects that had nothing to do with conspiracies.

"If you do anything at all that seems to be the least bit unconventional, a tag is put on the Internet about you so quickly it's just amazing. You're faced with a mountain of information that can be raised against you that has nothing to do with reality."

Time of the end

Mr. Rector said he believes the return of Christ is not far away. Of course, many people—in and out of the Church of God—believe that. Prophets and prognosticators who predict Jesus' imminent return are a dime a dozen on the airwaves, in books and on the Internet.

That's true, he said, but "there are several prophecies, particularly one in Ezekiel 4, that talks about the 390 days that Ezekiel lay on his right side. To me I think there's reason to believe that the chronological fulfillment of that may be close at hand."

He also believes that recent events in the Churches of God, along with the end of a millennium and the culmination of 6,000 years of history, "may have something to do" with the end of the age.

"I don't want to get too carried away here, but I believe that we've become almost numb to what's happening because of the splintering of what we held onto for years as the only true church on the face of the earth. The changes are so incredible and profound today that a man could be a prophet by simply standing up and saying to any church or any group that a year from now your church will be split.

"I agree even with many evangelical and other writers who comment on [the WCG splintering] as one of the most unique events that they've ever witnessed: the breakup of this particular people. If I have any reason to believe that what Herbert Armstrong was involved in and you and I were involved in for many years was of God and that the things that were taught there are true and to be highly prized and handled, then I have to believe what's happening to this people is significant, that this is not just the result of someone's sin or just the result of mismanagement.

"If we are—or if we form—a large segment of God's people, then suddenly the most incredible changes shake us to our very foundations, to me the hand of God is in it. There's something very unusual going on.

"God is no longer allowing His people to be corralled in sleepy churches. He's making many people free. This wasn't done early on. Before, it was different, limited, restricted.

"Now an amazing change is taking place, and I personally believe—and I'll sound like a kook—that I perceive in my own spirit that this is tantamount to a wilderness type of experience that the church never allowed us to go into before because they never took us on a journey; they never let us move.

"God's plan is for us to come out of Egypt and go directly into the wilderness, to be purged, tested and prepared, then enter into faith into the Promised Land. That's God's plan for Israel."

The established churches "do not take you into the wilderness," he said. "They prevent you from going into the wilderness.

So the brethren "are hardly prepared spiritually; they're not pruned and straightened. They are taught primarily by men and formed and shaped on an oasis over here on the side.

"But now they're in the wilderness, and they feel it, and they don't like it. They wish they had the old system back, the good old days of the Worldwide Church where everything was in place and secure and comfortable."

But the "coming-out experience" will allow "a work" to emerge, he said, "that falls right in line with ancient Israel's pattern when the Israelites came out of Egypt. They rebelled and had to die. It was that life, the new life, that God could work with when He moved them in faith across the Jordan and into the Promised Land."

When God moves Christians into the wilderness "something dies," he said. "We die in the wilderness. I do not believe very many people in the organized churches have really died to themselves. I think that happens in the wilderness, not in a comfortable church, most likely. I think many people are going to come to see this in the next few years and begin to be tested in the wilderness or desert areas, and I think from that is going to come new life."

Mr. Rector said that no longer can the brethren afford to let others do "the work" for them. "We're no longer going to turn everything over to a small caste to do it for us. We have a powerful calling, and I think we're only beginning to glimpse the reality that can and should be a part of us if God enters in more and more in our lives."

Before concluding this interview, Mr. Rector said he wanted to register for the record his discomfort when people tell him how wonderful he is and that they couldn't have spiritually survived without him.

No videotaping allowed

"For that reason," he said, "we don't actively cultivate people. We do not send out videos so that a video group can form. To me that's like planting your flag. I can see audio, because people can listen to audio on their own. Video tends to have a group form around it."

He doesn't take up collections and does not send out donation envelopes. "We never get involved with money, nothing financial." He does accept donations, he said, although he doesn't solicit them.

Tim Kelley, in whose home the interview took place, was present for the last part of Mr. Rector's comments. He asked him:

"What are the New Testament roles in 1 Corinthians in which you place yourself: evangelist, teacher, pastor?"

"I'd hesitate to say," Mr. Rector replied. "I certainly do some teaching, I suppose. Do you know Todd Drawbaugh [a Church of God member from Myersville, Md.]? Todd told me at the Feast a couple of years ago that he'd been thinking about where we might fit into the scriptural pattern of things. He said he thinks I am a visionary.

"He said, 'You seem to see people and concepts and you just simply start sharing them with people, hoping that they will catch some of the vision too, then move on and see where God's working and leading.'

"Now, where that fits in Ephesians 4 or 1 Corinthians 12, I don't know. I haven't thought much about it, but I know God knows."

But "I absolutely have a ministry," he said. "I have an arena of service. We should all have ministries. God has a service for you."

In Sabbath services in people's homes "I used to give an hour message every Sabbath," he said. "People could ask questions at any time, and we had a lot of discussion afterwards.

"I finally came to a point about a year ago where I told everybody I wasn't going to do that anymore, that I would be shutting up quite a bit and listening. I would always have something to contribute; I would never be with a group of believers and feel like I wouldn't be able to share something that was helpful or meaningful or of value with them. But I would only want to be a part of the experience, that it would come from many people."

Since Mr. Rector doesn't solicit donations, and since he has had serious health problems, how does he make a living?

"Up until recently I was in hotel and restaurant management, but now I do this full time. I do take some money.

"I had a group of people encourage me to do this, and I was very reluctant and put it off for a long time, but finally the workload [on his previous job] was so great that it had become impossible.

"I was taking off all kinds of time from my job, and my health had declined greatly."

Writing and researching

Mr. Rector was born and raised in North Carolina and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He moved to Ambassador College in Pasadena, Calif., in 1969. He had traveled to Pasadena to work for the WCG, not study at AC, but ended up attending school as a married student for a year and a half.

"Then I went to work, writing and researching, for The Good News magazine, the old Tomorrow's World [magazine] and the booklet department."

He left the WCG in 1978 and, back in Texarkana, didn't attend with any group until the mid-1980s when he discovered that a Church of God International congregation was meeting near his home.

"I was with the CGI for several years and did a lot of speaking and wrote for their publications. Since early '91 I've been independent, and I intend to stay that way."

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