It has been four years; isn't that long enough?
The writer is pastor of United Church of God congregations and a regular columnist for The Journal.
By Melvin Rhodes
DEWITT, Mich.--During the Days of Unleavened Bread this year, I will think again of the events four years ago that led to my resignation from the Worldwide Church of God and the formation of the United Church of God, an International Association, in this area.
It was a visit from an evangelist at WCG headquarters on the first holy day that precipitated the "split" locally. To him it wasn't a holy day; to most of us it was. His message upset many people, some of whom came to me and other ministers present and said they would never be back. The time had come for us to go, and we went.
Of course, we had known this was going to happen for some time. Only the timing was in question. Leaving the church during the Days of Unleavened Bread seemed appropriate. We still believed the Sabbath and the holy days should be kept. We also felt the need to come out of sin, the sin of a church clearly rejecting parts of the laws of God it found to be inconvenient.
"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." So wrote Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, his book set around the events of the French Revolution 200 years ago. The same could be said of the events in the church four years ago.
It was the best of times because those of us who truly believed came together as never before (or since), because we had an opportunity to stand up for our faith against those who wished to destroy it and because we were determined to set up a church structure that would make sure nothing like that could ever happen again.
But it was also the worst of times because it divided so many friends, even members of the same family, sometimes even husbands and wives. Many of the brethren we had known and loved are no longer with us.
Four years later
It was the worst of times because we were stepping out into the unknown, with the uncertainties that accompany such a step. For those in the full-time ministry came the additional uncertainty about future employment, providing for family.
Four years later we are still not over the worst of times. And the best of times, that early euphoria, seems forgotten by many. Here the analogy with the French Revolution is quite appropriate. Then, too, things did not go according to plan. Many problems materialized afterwards, and it was to be a full 26 years before any sense of normalcy returned to France.
In some respects, things were never to be the same again. Is this going to be the case with the church?
One problem that we did not anticipate was the lingering sense of resentment and bitterness that resulted from the disillusionment with the leadership in Worldwide. I for one did not see this coming. Perhaps that was because I did not have those feelings. As the changes in doctrine came one after another, I grew to expect more of the same and was not surprised when the big one came at the end of '94.
To me, "they" simply didn't understand the truth. I had some thoughts as to why they didn't, but the point was they were rejecting the beliefs that tens of thousands of us had embraced when we left mainstream Christianity. Now they wanted to go in the opposite direction: back to what we had left.
On the move
I shrugged my shoulders and said, "They just don't get it." It was time to part, to separate, to move on.
But many have a problem doing that. Some have still not moved on. They are still angry: angry at churches; angry with the ministry in general or their own pastor in particular; angry with friends; angry with other members of their families who have gone their own way; angry at God for allowing this to happen, thereby weakening their faith; angry at themselves for getting involved with the church in the first place; angry at Herbert Armstrong now that they know of some of his faults and weaknesses; angry at Ambassador College for wasting four years for a degree that is virtually worthless; or angry because they were taken in by some of the changes out of loyalty to church government before finally waking up when the big one came.
Whatever the reason for the anger, we should remember that anger is not a Christian virtue. It is not a quality listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.
To the contrary, it is covered among the works of the flesh mentioned in the same chapter.
Anger contributes to "hatred, variance, emulations [rivalries, a wrong desire to be equal], wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders . . ." When people are angry with God, their anger can be a contributory factor in some of the other works of the flesh listed: "adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, . . . drunkenness, revellings and such like" (verses 19-21).
Whatever your anger, you need to deal with it. As Paul adds in verse 21: "They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
When we look back over this decade, we can see a great deal of anger. Anger contributed greatly to the rejection of our beliefs more than four years ago, anger that had built up among some of the leaders who had been brought up in the church and resented restrictions on their lives that made them different from their peers.
Others became angry as a result of those changes. Others have since developed anger as loved ones have dropped out of the church or gone elsewhere or as the new dispensation failed to live up to their expectations. Anger, like a cancer, like leaven, spreads.
Anger puffs up
As we approach the Days of Unleavened Bread, we need to get anger, like leaven, out of our lives. We need to examine ourselves, as Paul instructed us in 1 Corinthians 11, so we do not make a mockery of taking the Passover.
How can we partake of the Passover when our minds are twisted by anger and resentment; when the feet we may wash belong to somebody we harbor feelings against; when we do not even come close to fulfilling the words our Savior used to describe us, His spiritual people, in John 13:35: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another"?
Imagine just for a moment that the events of the last few years had gone somewhat differently. It was fundamentally four people at the top of our former church that rejected the truths of God: four people out of 150,000 attending at the time. What if the other 149,996 had determined to stay loyal and faithful to God and to each other no matter what those four said or did? Just imagine how powerful a work of preaching the gospel could have been done. Imagine what an example of love and commitment we could have sent the world.
Instead, we disintegrated into dozens of warring factions, many self-righteously claiming to be the sole repositories of truth, the only true believers, with the one true prophet, or apostle, or pastor general, or whatever. Many others, the majority, just ran away as the disciples did the night Judas betrayed Jesus.
Others, losing faith, have begun lives of "uncleanness" and "lasciviousness."
Four years on, what a sorry state we find God's people in!
Somewhat against you
The apostolic church found itself in a similar state also as a result of apostasy in the first century. The words of the angel in Revelation 2 must have resounded in the ears of those who stayed faithful to the truth.
In verses 2-3 we read: "I know your works, and your labour, and your patience, and how you cannot bear them which are evil [remember how you felt four years ago?]: and you have tried them which say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars [remember?]: And have borne, and have patience, and for my name's sake have laboured and have not fainted."
So far so good. These words could be describing those of us who stayed loyal and faithful to the truth, rejecting the authority of those over us who claimed to be apostles but were not. But read on.
Verses 4-5: "Nevertheless, I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love. Remember therefore from whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of its place, except you repent."
The last two verses describe the Churches of God today as assuredly as the first two. The events of the last few years have knocked the wind out of many of us. The zeal has gone in so many. Some may claim they still have it, but often it's just a self-righteous delusion. Can anybody say he does not sense a Laodicean spirit at this time in the church?
Laodicea is the seventh and last church mentioned in the message of Revelation 2-3: "the last and worst," as it says in Matthew Henry's commentary.
"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot" (Revelation 3:15). To this Matthew Henry adds: "Lukewarmness or indifference in religion is the worst temper in the world. If religion is worth anything, it is worth everything. Here is no room for neutrality. Christ expects that men should declare themselves in earnest either for him or against him."
In need of nothing
Strong language appears in verse 16: "So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth."
It is possible to be in God's church and not make it into the Kingdom. What's the main problem? Note verse 17: "Because you say I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked."
The main problem with the Laodiceans is self-delusion. As Henry puts it: "What a difference there was between the thoughts they had of themselves and the thoughts Christ had of them. The high thoughts they had of themselves."
"The heart is deceitful [self-deluding] above all things and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9).
These sobering messages to the first and last of the seven churches should make us reflect as we approach the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread.
It is time we deleavened ourselves of anger, bitterness and resentment. Four years is long enough: four--dare I say it?--mostly wasted years. Little has been accomplished, unless the proliferation of churches and the further scattering of the people can be described as an accomplishment.
If we are Christ's disciples, then we will do everything within us to fulfill John 13:35: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, If you have love one to another."
Let's work on it.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God