UCG elders asked to ratify association rules by Dec. 17

This article is a news article, although it includes comments by and opinions of the writer, who is publisher of The Journal.

By Dixon Cartwright

The elders of the United Church of God, an International Association, are voting (as The Journal goes to press) on the long-anticipated rules of association. The ballots of the approximately 400 pastors and other ordained men are invited to be back at church headquarters in Milford, Ohio, by Dec. 17, according to a letter sent to elders Nov. 8 signed by Bob Dick of Everett, Wash., council-of-elders chairman.

The rules have a controversial history. They were first mentioned at the founding conference of the UCG-AIA in April and May 1995 in Indianapolis, Ind. The delegates to that meeting learned they were supposed to receive a draft of the rules shortly after the conference.

The rules have been much discussed and debated. They have gone through several drafts. The current draft accompanies a ballot that invites elders to participate in a straight up-and-down vote on whether to ratify or not.

The rules, as stated in the current draft, govern the relationship of church headquarters with members of the "international association" that is the UCG-AIA.

Three categories of members of the association are defined in the document:

  • UCG-AIA-affiliated congregations in the United States.
  • National councils affiliated with the UCG-AIA in other countries.
  • Individual congregations in nations in which an affiliated national council does not reside.

In his cover letter Chairman Dick refers to the rules as a "finished product." They, he explains, are "a general listing . . . which will help the organization function more smoothly, especially in relationships between national bodies."

Although the chairman in the preceding statement places an emphasis on the relationship of the UCG-AIA corporation with "national bodies," the document does not seem to emphasize national councils over local congregations. Much in the rules pertains to local congregations, whether in the United States or other countries.

The preamble to the rules states that their purpose is to promote "Christian unity" and to "further good relationships" and to "effectively facilitate the work of the Church."

All association members, state the preamble, are presumed to be willing to submit to the "greater call of God and to each other for the purpose of pleasing God."

Controversial definition

The preamble defines the term "United Church of God," or "UCG," as a "spiritual entity."

This definition could be a controversial one because some loyal members of United (including, for example, a United member who writes an editorial in this issue of The Journal on precisely this subject; see page 3) have stated that the United Church of God or any other group calling itself a Church of God is not a spiritual entity but a man-made organization.

Many such people--many of whom are United members--have drawn a distinction between the spiritual entity the Bible calls the Church of God or the Body of Christ and a man-made organization such as the United Church of God.

The preamble states that the rules may be amended by a two-thirds majority of the elders of the general conference.

After the preamble, the rules are divided into four "chapters." Here are highlights of each.

Advisory councils

Chapter 1 states that local congregations may form "advisory councils" or "committees" that assist in organization and administration of "local programs." Chapter 1 notes that these groups are defined as "advisory" in the constitution of the UCG-AIA. "The formation of such groups should be a cooperative effort between the pastor and membership."

As has been reported more than once in The Journal, Section of the UCG's constitution allows for advisory boards and committees in congregations. Many people take this to mean that, therefore, the constitution prohibits actual governing local boards.

However, the constitution (and now the rules of association) does not specifically preclude a congregation from setting up a local board with actual power to govern the congregation. Such prohibition may be implied or stated in policies passed by the UCG-AIA council of elders, but simply stating that an advisory council is allowed is not the same as saying a board with actual governing authority is prohibited.

The rules of association do not clarify this point. They allow for "advisory" councils and committees, but, just as does the constitution, do not state that real administrative local boards are prohibited.

Since this is the sticking point that has led to many splits in United congregations, it would be a point worth making plain in some United document.

Chapter 1 defines "elders" and "ministers" as identical in meaning.

Chapter 1 defines as "affiliates" people who participate in and worship within the UCG but are not church members. A church member is defined as someone whose baptism is recognized by the United Church of God and who is in good standing with the United Church of God.

Chapter 1 defines church as referring to people who are members of the United Church of God. (The rules also state in a couple of places that church in its broadest sense refers to the Body of Christ, regardless of organizational affiliation.)

Chapter 1 defines "local congregation" as an assembly of church members and affiliates governed by the published rules of association and constitution of the UCG-AIA.

Chapter 1 defines members of the association as local congregations and national councils.

Chapter 1 confusingly defines "United Church of God, an International Association" and "United Church of God."

The former, it states, is the name of a nonprofit California religious corporation permitted to operate in other states of the United States.

The latter is defined as "a spiritual entity" and, "as such, is not intended to be registered or incorporated."

The term "spiritual entity" is confusing for reasons stated earlier in this article. That "United Church of God" isn't intended to be registered could be because so many church groups, quite a few of them not affiliated with the UCG-AIA, already use the name United Church of God. Two examples are the United Church of God Birmingham and the United Church of God Big Sandy, both of which predate the founding of the UCG-AIA.

The apparent intent of this section is to differentiate between the UCG-AIA (the association) and the UCG (the body of people who are members of congregations affiliated with the association). The confusing part is calling the UCG, which is an organization that the rules acknowledge does not constitute the entirety of the Body of Christ, a "spiritual entity."

Chapter 1 specifies the official acronym of the United Church of God, an International Association, as "UCGIA." The Journal to date has used the acronym "UCG-AIA" for several reasons:

It was the original abbreviation in 1995; variants of the abbreviation are still used (including UCGaIA; UCG-IA; and UCG, IA) in the church's internal communications; and many people in the Churches of God refer to the UCG-AIA as simply "AIA." The Journal may change its mind, but for now it will continue with "UCG-AIA."

Chapter 1 speaks of doctrine. All local congregations, it says, must "accept and uphold the basic doctrines" as listed in the constitution of the UCG-AIA. Each congregation "must be willing to abide by the process for doctrinal development as outlined by the Council of Elders and adopted by the General Conference of Elders."

Chapter 1 defines the four qualifications a congregation must meet for membership in the association:

  • A congregation must accept and uphold the UCG-AIA's fundamental beliefs as stated in the constitution.
  • A congregation must abide by the decisions of the general conference and council of elders with respect to goals and purposes.
  • A congregation must abide by the decisions of the conference and council with respect to matters of governance.
  • A congregation must work within the structure of the UCG-AIA if it wants to effect "changes or improvements in doctrine, goals and purposes, or matters of governance."

Chapter 1, when speaking of "affirmative duty of devotion," says that "each member of this association agrees to support all others who are members of this association in complying with these rules."

This sentence strikes this writer as confusing because it uses the pronoun who to refer to members of the association. The word who implies the rule is referring to individual human beings. Yet elsewhere the rules of association say the members of the association are congregations or national councils. Who doesn't properly apply to congregations and councils; pronouns such as that and which apply to aggregate entities.

Local collection of money

Chapter 2, among other things, concerns collection of funds and ownership of assets in congregations.

The rules allow that tithes and offerings may be collected by congregations and by the home office. Congregations that collect such funds locally are "asked" to pay their operating expenses and then send the "excess" to the home office "to assist in funding the mission of the Church, including salaries for those employed in the ministry as well as the other administrative and service obligations of the Church worldwide."

The same paragraph specifies that an "appropriate balance" may remain in a local bank account if agreed upon by the home office, the management team (the corporate officials who run certain departments within the association), the council of elders and the congregation.

Chapter 2 states that congregations, through their pastors, shall report the "annual total of locally collected tithes and offerings" to the home office in a procedure established by the UCG-AIA treasurer.

Chapter 2 talks about buildings for congregations and states that a congregation that wants to build or buy a building for church services and other activities must abide by the "Local Church Building Policy" of the UCG-AIA (which, it notes, is available from the home office).

Chapter 2 talks about ministerial transfers. All elders on the payroll of the UCG-AIA are subject to transfer or change in job description.

Chapter 2 talks about local incorporation. Congregations may choose to incorporate or not to incorporate. As the chapter points out, no law in the United States requires a congregation to be incorporated to collect funds. Whether a congregation is incorporated or not, it is subject to the documents of the UCG-AIA, including the rules of association.

National councils

Chapter 3 discusses national councils, such as the United Church of God British Isles, which is a legally separate entity but affiliated with the UCG-AIA.

A section of chapter 3, regarding coordination of resources, states that a national council, to affiliate with the association, must agree to provide the home office with a "complete database listing" of all members, donors and subscribers" unless prohibited by national law.

National councils are to send the home office an update of such records twice a year, in January and July.

Dissemination of doctrine

Chapter 4 speaks of "dissemination of teachings." Congregations agree to "participate in" and "support the development and teaching" of doctrines through the general conference and the council of elders to the people in the congregations.

Regarding ordination and acceptance of elders' credentialing, congregations and national councils agree to recognize only ordinations and credentials approved by the council of elders.

Under the heading "Discipline," chapter 4 specifies that the council of elders is authorized to "interpret the meaning" and "provide for the enforcement" of the rules.

The last paragraph in chapter 4, which is also the last paragraph of the rules of association, specifies that the "home office" is the "corporate headquarters" of the UCG-AIA. This could also prove to be a controversial concept because at the founding conference in Indianapolis in 1995 several of the delegates averred that the UCG-AIA would not have a headquarters. Instead, it would have a home office.

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