Church president says fear God, avoid cafeteria Christianity

By Dixon Cartwright

GILMER, Texas--An important part of learning to fear God is realizing that God does not want people to worship Him any way they choose.

So said Les McCullough of Cincinnati, Ohio, president of the United Church of God, an International Association, in Sabbath services here July 24.

Indulging in cafeteria Christianity may be fun, he commented, but God is not happy with it. The spectacle of Church of God brethren picking and choosing what and whom they will believe is a reflection of the loss of a healthy fear of God.

"Things began to change about 10 or 15 years ago [in the Worldwide Church of God]," he told the audience assembled in the Upshur County Civic Center. "And we were told we shouldn't be finding fault and condemning other churches and individuals."

Mr. McCullough has no problem with being less judgmental, but the brethren have gone overboard.

"In becoming more balanced in one way," he said, "we seemed to lose our balance in other ways."

As a result, some people have "wrenched away from us vital doctrines." The brethren have become disillusioned. "Many have lost their naivete. The church has lost members and ministers.

"But we lost something more vital."

No fear of consequence

The brethren in the Church of God have lost a "deep, solid fear of God," he said. "We say we're Christians, but so many times people claiming to be Christians are doing anything but what they ought to be doing as a Christian."

People have lost their fear of consequence, specifically the consequence of opposing God. "They've lost the fear of being on the wrong side of God."

Some of the brethren have replaced the fear of God with "the cafeteria of Christianity."

If you partake of the cafeteria of Christianity, he said, "you go where you wish, choose the church you wish, think the things you wish and believe what you wish, whatever appeals to you . . . You don't let anybody tell you how to worship. You have a mind. You can read. You have a Bible. You can decide how you're supposed to worship."

In other words, you subscribe to the "religion of the sovereign self." Someone who practices that religion is apt to say: "I make up my mind. I do what I want. Jesus has liberated man from standards and rules, and He is there to forgive."

Such a perspective is "comfortable," Mr. McCullough said, "but of course it's a terribly wrong thing. God does not accept man worshiping Him any way he chooses."

Then Mr. McCullough defined godly fear. He quoted Proverbs 1:7: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." He stated that the fear of the Lord means "the reverence for God which leads to obedience because of one's realization of His power as well as His love of man."

Fear, he said, "can be defined as awe, wonderment, reverence and honor, or it can be defined as dread, alarm or just plain fear."

Fear means "the concern about the consequence of your actions in going contrary to the magnificent and wondrous God."

Self-appointed ministries

Since people are no longer as concerned as they once were about maintaining a healthy fear of God, he said, they are susceptible to the influence of people who set up their own ministries.

"We have a problem in some areas with people who set themselves up and say: 'I'm going to be my own boss; I'm going to make decisions, and nobody can tell me what to do. I am a child of God. I have my Bible. I can read. And I don't need a minister to tell me anything.' "

But God says through the prophet Ezekiel (he cited Ezekiel 44:23) that "the priesthood, or the ministry, are to teach His people how to discern between the holy and unholy and between the clean and unclean."

Granted, said Mr. McCullough, the modern counterparts of priests have, on occasion, "defiled themselves" and "counseled inappropriately."

Yet God can right wrongs, and the brethren must have the confidence that God will right wrongs. The conviction that God will make things right among the human leadership of the church is "a terrible thing to lose."

"People do not automatically know the difference between the holy and the profane," emphasized Mr. McCullough. "They must be taught, and that's the job of the ministry. It's something that needs to be done."

He quoted from Hebrews 5, including verse 4, which says no man takes on himself the honor of being a priest unless he is called by God, as was Aaron.

"I know this is talking about the high-priesthood, yet at the same time the ministry, being a calling, is something that God elects and chooses and brings to the attention of those who are responsible in selecting a ministry.

"And, yes, I imagine there are occasions where maybe they haven't been as perceptive as they should be. Yet, if the individual gives himself to the thing that he's been called to, he can certainly do the job. And, if he goes in opposition, he goes in opposition. But God's still the one in charge. He's still the one to make the decisions and still the one to go ahead and deal with the circumstances that come up."

Critical judgment

Mr. McCullough quoted James 3:1: "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment."

"You have to realize," he continued, "that if you do become a teacher of the Word of God you also are subjected to a more-critical judgment as to what you say, the way you say it and the way you conduct yourself."

Even though God, through James and other Bible writers, warns people of the great responsibility He places on the heads of teachers and preachers, "in recent months there have been quite a number of individuals who have taken to themselves the responsibility of being a spokesman for a small group."

Mr. McCullough quoted from 2 Timothy where Paul tells Timothy the time would come when people would not want to hear sound doctrine.

"I've been amazed in the past year at the number of ideas, the number of thoughts and things that come up about, well, what do you want to talk about? About keeping the Sabbath, about whatever. And people have come up with the idea that they've come across this brand-new idea and they're all enthralled about it."

Yet, in 1957, when Mr. McCullough first attended Ambassador College in California, WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong was in the process of settling these same issues.

"They were put aside, forgotten, over. They were done with for 40 years."

The questions Mr. Armstrong put to bed have come back to haunt the brethren, Mr. McCullough said.

"It's the same all over again. It's the Passover on the 14th or 15th or whatever the argument might be. Chances are it was dealt with, it was resolved, it was answered. But of course people are new, and they don't know those things were dealt with and answered."

Such people, he said, haven't discovered new truth. They are only rediscovering old errors.

Learning to compromise

He quoted Deuteronomy 10:12, about fearing God and walking in His ways and serving Him with all one's heart and soul.

"I honestly feel that some in the Body of Jesus Christ and the Church of God are wandering from that," he said. "We have people deciding to go off and start their own Feast sites and do their own things. You can come if you want, but we're going to have our own thing. We're not going to do it the old way anymore. We're going to come out with new things.

"Well, that's sad. Certainly there can be some new things at the Feast, but at the same time it needs to be properly directed and properly guided."

People who learn to fear God learn to hate evil, said Mr. McCullough.

"That's a learning process because the world and society make it [evil] look so very, very appealing."

The brethren of the Churches of God, at least too many of them, have learned to compromise with regard to "consequence."

"They don't see an immediate reaction [after doing something wrong]," Mr. McCullough said. "Therefore it looks like it doesn't make that much difference."

He believes members of the Churches of God have neglected scriptures such as Jeremiah 10:23: "O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps."

"Do we believe that?" Mr. McCullough asked. "Do we honestly accept that as a part of our state of life, that we're not capable of directing our own steps?"

Fear has its good points, said Mr. McCullough. "Fear keeps us from being hurt. As children we learn very quickly that a hot stove is hot. It'll burn your fingers." Yet "some never learn the lesson, I guess."

Fear "helps us to appreciate the fact that we can be injured and suffer as a result of taking unwise actions. That's what we're talking about in regard to the fear of God."

He quoted Romans 13:7 and talked about policemen. People know law-enforcement officers walk their beats for their benefit, "yet there are those hardy souls who just simply don't think anything about talking back toward a police officer, and they almost always end up getting handcuffed and put in jail and suffering whatever indignities are involved."

Power to destroy death

Mr. McCullough concluded after quoting from Hebrews 2:14-15 about Jesus, who has the power to destroy the one who holds the power of death: Satan.

"We go through life with a certain fear that one day we're going to die, until we come to an understanding of God and know what our calling is and what the future has in store. Then we're perhaps a bit more comfortable with life and also a bit more comfortable with the fact that one day we have to die."

The proper fear of God, he said, "releases us from the fear of death and fear of consequence."

For comments on the fear of God by another long-time Church of God member, see the articles quoting Tom Justus beginning on pages 1 and 15.

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