Editorial: What about disorder and confusion?

The writer is founder and director of Christ Fellowship Ministries, Watertown.

By F. Paul Haney

WATERTOWN, Conn.--The puzzle of 1998 seems to be the deeper mystery of 1999. As the new year begins, splits, divisions, schisms, ruptures, withdrawals, alienation, disaffection and animosity within the Churches of God continue as before. Little has substantially changed to date. Indeed, the estrangement may even accelerate.

What's going on? Why are the people of God experiencing so much disorder and confusion? What, if anything, can we do about it?

The short definitive answer to why is incriminating in its revelation and awful in its implication: We have sinned greatly against a holy God, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Many of us have trampled the Son of God underfoot, although most did it unknowingly and ignorantly. But the time has come to repent. We are without excuse.

"For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth [whenever and however it was received], there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries [of God]" (Hebrews 10:26-27).

We in the COG collectively and individually have an outstanding sin debt with which we must deal. Indeed, we will deal with it one way or another.

Hoping against hope

However, we are not voluntarily dealing with the root of our manifold problems. Some are more interested in collecting ever more scalps to hang on corporate-church belts. Some are more interested in gaining greater control. Some are going into and dabbling with forms of Judaism that our Lord rejected. Some are ignoring our sin debt for strategies and priorities that are more pressing: restoring the old things to bring little ones into the failed COG tradition.

Many more are just hoping against hope that this or that fork from the "trunk of the tree" of "God's church" will be the one to bear real fruit and "do God's work."

However, there is no trunk of the tree in the church Jesus Christ of Nazareth founded. Jesus Christ is the vine, and we are supposedly the branches.

Self-styled teachers continue to heap to themselves praise (and tithes) of their followers. Many of those followers are willing to be led around in circles within the safety of their comfort zones like ponies with blinders, seldom straying beyond the confines of cherished traditional paths.

We are afraid of plowing new ground, of looking beyond our horizons. Consequently, our ignorance of God's will is nothing short of astonishing.

Make no mistake. Having the gift (position) of teaching does not mean you are a gifted teacher. We have teachers who trivialize the gift of teaching and who dishonor the Word of God by their lack of zeal in teaching one of the cardinal points of salvation: seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Instead, they countermand Jesus Christ, teaching that the Kingdom of God is unattainable and unavailable today.

Yet the King of Kings and Lord of Lords clearly gave a mandate to seek the same Kingdom of God that many of us dismiss, as well as His righteousness.

We have failed the mandate; we are not seeking the Kingdom, nor are we overly concerned with God's righteousness. This same Lord promises that all genuine seekers will find what they are looking for, and this includes both the Kingdom of God and God's righteousness (Matthew 7:7-8).

Milk in due season

Our profound ignorance on this basic point (and others) frequently reflects antagonistic and willing ignorance in the face of the overwhelming evidence and testimony of God's Word. Our teachers are failing to feed the brethren meat in due season; milk is easier to handle and less stressful. We are without excuse before a holy God. Judgment has come upon the house of God--and upon our branch of the house of spiritual Israel.

God destroyed the last physical temple in A.D. 70. Among other things, it had become an idol. He can destroy the physical temples and idols we build as well.

We cannot continue to foster exclusivism, authoritarianism, doctrinal idolatry and negativism and expect the Father of lights to quicken our very hearts and souls with peace and reconciliation. We have sinned against a transcendent, infinite, holy God and His Son, and that debt must be satisfied. The destructive forces among us will not abate until we confess and acknowledge that critical debt before man and God and change our ways.

We cannot continue to thrash around in Judaism in search of holiness, nor can we continue to mistreat others who, by our biased report, are ostensibly less knowledgeable and holy than we. Knowledge brings responsibility, and the COG leadership especially has, in the main, acted irresponsibly before Almighty God and Jesus Christ, our sovereign King.

Many COG teachers have changed little from the days of uncontrolled false prophecies and unruly authoritarianism. Their legalism rivals that of the Pharisees. Consequently, the faithful have accepted and inherited a form of godliness that denies the power of Jesus Christ.

Many of us have misplaced our bondservant spirit and lost the core of our holiness. But some have not. For their sake, the remnant among us, God has not destroyed us; neither have the keys to the Kingdom departed--yet.

We have ignored the little ones among us in a drive for power and personal expression. We have blocked entrance to the Kingdom of God by our very presence and our intimidating words to those who have been guilty of nothing more than desiring fellowship and discipleship with Christ. We have lost our way.

The unused keys to the Kingdom are locked up and rusting, and our trusteeship is in serious jeopardy.

Unrivaled greatness

The Pharisees of the first century also blocked entry to the Kingdom. They not only forfeited the keys to the Kingdom, but Jesus Christ even took the Kingdom itself away from them: exactly the way God may remove the keys and the Kingdom from us.

Ask yourself this: Do I delight in the holiness of God, of Jesus Christ? if the answer is no, you are spiritually dead. Does your tongue (heart) confess that Jesus is the Lord to the glory of the Father? Do your knees bend at the name of Jesus? (Philippians 2:9-10).

The holiness of God (or Christ) refers to unrivaled greatness and unparalleled goodness. It refers to awesome transcendent majestic power and absolute purity. It refers to the way of perfection that Christians are to strive to follow and emulate.

Many self-appointed shepherds have placed their standards before the sheep of Christ's pasture as though they were the chief shepherds, but Jesus Christ will judge them (and all of us) by the standards they (and we) use.

There is a good reason for the problems in the churches. The greatest enemy of holiness is sin. We understand that. We understand that, if God is holy, we are in trouble, so we have created a God that is not so holy: a God who will not mind if we take advantage of one another, if we lord it over one another or if we keep busy with the law or speculative prophecy or if we stab each other in the back.

We want to push God out of our minds, except during obligatory church services, because we are not holy and we know it. We do not want to think about God's holiness and our sinfulness. Yet we must come to grips with these two things. God will not sit still while we trash His holiness, His power or His Son.

Why are the churches splintering like wooden boats against the reefs in a vicious storm? The answer lies within: It is in our hearts and minds. What can we do about it? We can change.

Idolatry has tainted the soul of the collective Churches of God. Until the blood of Christ cleanses that corruption, our demise as effective witnesses of Christ is sure.

Until we change, we can expect ever more downward spiraling.

Look at Shiloh. See what God performed there (Jeremiah 7:12-15). He will do the same to us unless we change and change completely.

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