Church of God (Seventh Day) president wants to see church move in new direction
By Dixon Cartwright
SAN ANTONIO, Texas--The president of the General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), Denver, Colo., says the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God need to worship Jesus, shed their legalistic focus on doctrine and not let their "distinctives" separate them from other members of the Body of Christ.
The 39-year-old Colorado-based native of Jamaica said the Churches of God should focus on Jesus and help other Christians evangelize the world.
"I think each group, each church, each congregation, has different personalities," Mr. Rose said during an interview Sept. 27 at the Christian Church of God's Feast of Tabernacles site here. Mr. Rose delivered a sermon later in the day to the assembled 140 brethren attending services in the Sumner Suites Hotel on the San Antonio Riverwalk.
"I think every group has to seek God to know what its focus ought to be," he said. "But overall I think it's important to understand that the Bible tells us what the church ought to be doing."
The ministry of Jesus defines the ministry of the church, he said. "If you want to know what the church ought to be doing, take a look at Jesus. He was meeting people's needs; He was serving; He was being obedient to His Father."
Mr. Rose is the 10th president of the Denver Conference. The church's board recently redefined the duties of the president and instituted a "CEO [chief executive officer] concept," he said. Now, rather than serve for a set term and then run for reelection, the president serves indefinitely until he resigns or is terminated by the board of directors.
"If you understand the concept of a policy board," he said, "the board sets the policy.It gives the president the freedom to chart his vision and to lead the organization.
"Of course, that [a church administrator] is scary to some people, and they keep thinking of the Worldwide Church [whose pastor general unilaterally instituted drastic doctrinal changes in the '90s], so that's something that we're having a difficult time transitioning into."
Also present at the interview with Mr. Rose was Ken Westby of Federal Way, Wash., founder of the Association for Christian Development and also a speaker at the Feast here.
Mr. Westby asked Mr. Rose if the CG7's board is free of political factions.
"Yes, we seem to be all on the same page," he said. "There is a sense of harmony and unity, and I'm very thankful for that."
The Denver Conference of the CG7, said Mr. Rose, is made up of seven districts across the United States and Canada, with 200 congregations in the two countries.
"We are currently trying to determine our actual figure for U.S. membership. We have 7,000 on the books, but we know that's not right. We figure if we take a census we would have probably 15,000 in the United States. Those are baptized members."
In other countries some 130,000 to 250,000 people attend CG7 services, the president said, and that doesn't include members of other Church of God (Seventh Day) congregations that are not affiliated with the Denver Conference.
Several organizations with names similar to the Church of God (Seventh Day)'s exist in America and elsewhere. For example, another group is headquartered in Meridian, Idaho. The Denver and Meridian conferences voted a few years ago on whether to merge, but the Idahoans decided to remain independent.
A president of the International Ministerial Congress of the Church of God (Seventh Day) resides in Mexico. He is Ramon Ruiz of Mexico City. Mr. Ruiz is not, however, president or CEO of any of the 26 Denver-affiliated conferences in 26 countries. Also, Mr. Rose, although affiliated with the 26 conferences, is president of only one, the Denver Conference.
Mr. Rose said he enjoys his job as CG7 president, although it has its frustrations as well as its joys.
"To take an organization like this in a new direction is difficult," he said.
In light of the opinions of a CG7 member and author of a new book on early Christianity whom The Journal had interviewed here the previous day, this newspaper wanted to know more about the "new direction" the CG7 is headed in. (See "Church of God [Seventh Day] Member Believes 'Primitive Christianity' in Danger," page 1.)
"Well, it's a new direction in the sense that we are wanting to move our people into what some of us have been calling a Christ-focused or Christ-centered direction," said Mr. Rose. "We consider that a new paradigm.
"I think for a long time our organization has been more doctrine-centered, doctrine-focused. We have tended to first and foremost share our faith, and by 'share our faith' I don't mean share our faith about Jesus. I mean we have shared our distinctive doctrines."
Mr. Rose said his goal for the CG7 is "to build a church that is evangelistic." He wants to "get the horse before the cart" by focusing on "Jesus Christ as the head of the church."
"We worship Him," he said. "That worship should be lived out by people sharing their faith and winning souls to Christ; that's first and foremost.
"So we have embarked upon an aggressive evangelism-training program. We have ACT [annual conference training] seminars across the nation, and we have a team of practitioners who travel across the nation and are training our people on how to evangelize."
Most of the "practitioners" are elders, said Mr. Rose, and by evangelism he means personal evangelism, not preaching via TV, radio or magazines.
Mr. Rose admitted that not everyone in the CG7 agrees with him that the church is only now beginning to evangelize.
"There are people in the organization who will say: 'Oh, we've always done evangelism. How do you think we raised up all these churches?' They'll point to older men in the organization, John Kiesz and E.A. Straub. They [the late Mr. Kiesz and Mr. Straub] went across the nation with very little means and spent two, three, sometimes 10 weeks in a certain community preaching every night and raising up churches. That was great, and I'm not discounting that."
But, said Mr. Rose, God hasn't called the rank and file of the Churches of God just to "faithfulness" but also to "fruitfulness."
"Just the fact that we have existed for almost 150 years in this nation, and our membership is what it is, tells us we haven't really been doing the things He's called us to do."
If the CG7 had been doing its job properly, he believes, it would be a "massive organization." That's why, he said, the church needs a new direction.
Mr. Westby asked Mr. Rose how his message differs from, say, the standard Protestant or fundamentalist evangelical message?
"In the vision that we have been sharing across the nation, we've talked about wanting to build a church that is Christ-centered, evangelical and Sabbatarian, and the word evangelical throws everybody," he said. "It's such a broad word, and we see so many disappointing things out there connected with that word."
Mr. Rose said his message differs from mainline evangelicalism "in that there is an emphasis on Christ and the gospel, proclaiming the gospel and sharing your faith, with an understanding that He calls us to freedom, but that that freedom has responsibilities and that we're not saved by works but that we are saved to work. We're called to obedience."
The Journal asked Mr. Rose about "antinomianism." Critics of Mr. Rose, including Alan Knight, quoted in the other article, say words such as obedience sound good but obscure the goal of "antinomians" (those who believe that the need or requirement to keep God's commandments was abolished) to move away from God's law under the guise of walking in grace and focusing on Jesus.
"Well, they are buzzwords for the antinomian point of view, and we can't deny that," said Mr. Rose. "We've heard people say these very things and take people down a path with which they're not comfortable. But that doesn't change the facts. People have asked me, 'Will the Sabbath save you?' and I say no."
Could Mr. Rose elaborate?
"I mean that Jesus saves. We can't, in our attempt to safeguard that and that and that, be dishonest about the truth."
Comments on WCG
Mr. Rose says he is disappointed with the WCG, even though he sees that church moving closer to "grace" and away from "legalism."
"I'm disappointed in the Worldwide Church because I believe that becoming Christian and discovering freedom and grace in Christ does not necessitate throwing the Sabbath and the Commandments in the trash can. That is not necessary."
So the new direction for the Church of God (Seventh Day) is not one of throwing out the law?
"It is not," he said. "In fact, I have been saying that I want to wage a campaign for holiness and righteousness in the church because we live in a day when the Ten Commandments have never been more relevant. People have come to realize--witness the events [students killing students] at Columbine in Littleton, Colo.--that we have raised a whole generation of people without morals, without consciences, without any sense of responsibility to God."
Mr. Rose said he does see a "basis" for "paying attention to the Commandments."
"They don't save you," he said, "but in God's economy they constitute a beautiful picture of morality and responsibility, and we have to pay attention to them."
Would Mr. Rose say they define sin?
"Yes, indeed. But they don't define all sin."
What sin do they not define?
"Well, there are things that we deal with every day to which they do not apply. In fact, this morning [in a sermon] I'm talking about the role that the Holy Spirit plays in our lives, teaching us and guiding us and convicting us of sin. In a given day I guarantee you you'll come upon so many things you'll be convicted that you shouldn't do, yet you can't point to one of the Ten Commandments specifically that applies in those situations."
In fact, said Mr. Rose, "I believe there are things that the Holy Spirit will hold me responsible to do or not to do that He's not asking you to do or not to do."
The problem in Church of God circles, he said, "is that we all want one set of rules, one set of standards, and we just march to the drum, and that's where our legalism all starts. We have to realize that Jesus has called us to a much higher standard of accountability."
(Later that day Mr. Rose delivered a sermon, titled "Singleness of Heart," about the Holy Spirit, which he referred to as the "umpire" within a Christian.)
Mr. Westby said he acknowledges that the Ten Commandments aren't the goal of Christianity, "but they should point toward the goal."
"I believe that," said Mr. Rose. "Unfortunately we find people today who are coming to Christ and believing that to demonstrate their commitment to Christ they need to throw out the law. In fact, they say you can't go to church on Sabbath anymore; you've got to go on Sunday to show your commitment. That's nonsense."
The Sabbath as an option
"It is nonsense," agreed Mr. Westby, who then asked Mr. Rose another question:
"As I'm sure you know, Whaid, there is a concern, when anybody starts talking about a moderate path, that someone's going to take the path that the Worldwide Church of God took, especially when that person uses some of the same code words. The fear is that pretty soon the day of worship in your church is going to be optional. Can you ever envision the day when the Sabbath is optional in the Church of God (Seventh Day)?"
"Well, I hope not," said Mr. Rose. "I hope that we will always have a very strong commitment to our Sabbath heritage, our Sabbath tradition. In fact, I keep emphasizing that.
"But I do believe there are some things we do need to deal with. I think we have seen the Sabbath as a sign, a sign that we're the people of God. That's an old passage from Isaiah. And we have seen the Sabbath in light of the mark of the beast in Revelation.
"We have somehow tied so much theology to the Sabbath, and so much hinges on it. I think we need to deal with the fact that the law is not the object of our faith and should not be. It should be something that leads to the real object."
When people realize that the law is not the object of their faith, said Mr. Rose, they might understandably conclude that the Sabbath is only an option for them or even something that would be better not to observe.
"But I don't consider it an option," he said. "I consider that I am a Sabbath-keeper, and I keep the Sabbath because of all the precedents set in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It's a command; it's one of the Commandments. Is committing adultery an option? Is stealing an option?"
Better reasons exist to keep the Sabbath, said Mr. Westby, than holding to the concept of the Sabbath as a sign or Sunday as the mark of the beast.
"The real pillars of Sabbath observance," Mr. Westby said, "are that the Sabbath points to a deliverer God who pulls us out of sin and captivity and that God is the Savior. We have both Creator and Savior pictured in the Sabbath. That's how we know our God, as Creator and Savior, and the Sabbath embodies that more than any other teaching I can think of in Scripture in one event. These are pillars."
"They are," agreed Mr. Rose, "and even people outside the Sabbatarian community are agreeing on those pillars, that the Sabbath is a symbol of creation, that God is Creator and deliverer--except that those people are choosing to apply those concepts to Sunday."
Mr. Rose said he finds that practice among Sunday observers "disappointing," because "the Sabbath continues to be Saturday." The historic change from Sabbath to Sunday was "made by man," he said, "and there was no basis for doing that. We all know when the seventh day of the week is."
When Mr. Rose uses such Protestant-sounding terms as grace alone and faith alone, does he feel a need to define them?
"I think I need to define them," he said, "but I am comfortable with them. I think they're scriptural and true. I think that saying you're saved by grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone does not do away with the fact that one needs to turn around after having been saved by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone. One needs to realize that that concept calls you to walk in conformity with the things that God expects of us."
So does Mr. Rose consider that "walk" to be a lawful walk as far as obeying God, and becoming like Him, is concerned?
"Yes. What I think people fail to understand, what I am talking about here, is really a higher standard of obedience. Read the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. That is Jesus' platform statement of how He's going to build His Kingdom.
"The Beatitudes are not eight separate sayings of Jesus; they're all connected; they paint the picture."
Yes, agreed the writer for The Journal. But Jesus is talking about the eternal law, the law of God as originally revealed in the Old Testament.
"Yes," said Mr. Rose, "but it's a much higher standard. The Pharisees had their way of getting around all of those things. Jesus says there ain't no more getting around.
"It's a hard issue. It's the Holy Spirit and personal commitment. It's not meant to make it easier so you can just do whatever you want to do."
Obedient to what?
Mr. Westby commented that some "grace-alone" advocates see God's law as the adversary.
"You know, Whaid, that's how some of the grace-alone, faith-alone theologies have worked," he said. "Basically they've taken the law and set it aside and in fact almost made it an enemy. Yet the whole idea of repentance is that you become obedient to God and obedient to God's law and have His laws written in your heart.
"But, the way that theology often works, they can set aside a lot of the law's requirements if they're inconvenient or politically incorrect.
"And they've done this, because somewhere along the line they've jettisoned the standards with this grace-alone, faith-alone justification. That's the fear many people in the Churches of God have."
"It's a real fear," agreed Mr. Rose. "I recognize it. I understand it. We need to define what we mean by certain things, given the culture of our church, and more and more I'm attempting to do that, to reassure people that some of our important foundations are not being destroyed."
The Journal asked Mr. Rose about the importance he places on members of the Churches of God working with and acknowledging people apart from Sabbatarians who profess Christianity. Is such recognition a priority for him?
"That is my primary reason for using the word evangelical," he said, "because we've established ourselves over the past century as a group of people who don't have anything to do with the mainline church. We can trace our roots back to the book of Acts. We're removed from everything, which automatically places us in a position of always firing shots.
"The word evangelical says that, No. 1, we have a place in the broader Body of Christ, that we have an important message."
Many in the Churches of God have an "identity complex," Mr. Rose believes.
"In this regard the Worldwide Church was different. I think Mr. [Herbert] Armstrong in his own way sought to establish a church [the WCG] that had to be reckoned with by having the most TV airtime, the Ambassador Auditorium, and other things. Those were impressive. He did establish a certain identity, and that's a different story.
"But our people have felt they're just so small, the little flock, that I think we need to encourage them to come out and really share our message--clean it up and share it. And I think we need to work with the broader Christian community."
Mr. Westby asked Mr. Rose about Church of God members working with other professing Christians while holding to their "distinctives." Could it pose a problem that some of the error--the antinomianism--of Protestants and other groups could rub off on the Church of God folks?
After all, commented The Journal, evangelicals as a class do not believe in God's law; they believe in what they call a "higher standard," which is a buzz phrase for no law.
"If coming to Christ and coming to a higher standard make you live a loose life and grow unconcerned about holiness and make you want to just kind of do your own thing, then that's cheap grace, and that's not what I'm after," said Mr. Rose.
"Cheap grace," broke in Mr. Westby, "is actually a heresy. It's one of the first heresies in the church, as you know."
"Yes," said Mr. Rose. "It will rub off on you. It could rub off on you.
"But my concern about relating to the evangelical community is more the fact that I don't think they'll tolerate us. I think there is more and more a circling of the wagons in terms of insisting that people believe in the Trinity, and you've got to believe in the Christian Sabbath [Sunday], like Hank Hanegraaff [voice of The Bible Answer man on radio].
"To me that's where the problem is. There's a growing intolerance in a lot of evangelical circles, which I resent. I think there are things they have come up with to use as a basis of a test of true Christianity that are not scriptural."
"Well, the word evangelical is a biblical word," said Mr. Westby, who then posed another question:
"You mentioned earlier that you were disappointed in the direction the Worldwide Church of God has taken, or at least how it's advancing. How would you have preferred to see it go?"
"I would have preferred to see them go in a direction where they understand grace and they come to worship Christ and become Christ-centered with emphasis on a walk of obedience," said Mr. Rose. "Somehow I think we can balance the two, and I think that's important because if we don't understand our history we won't know where we're coming from and we won't know where we're going."
So much of the culture of the Worldwide Church of God, said Mr. Rose, was built on "the law and obedience, on doctrinal correctness."
"I think that's what has thrown so many people. It has been devastating to them.
"I understand that there were some very serious changes that had to be made. I appreciate some of the changes that they have made. I just would rather see them not come to where they feel they have to shed all semblance of obedience, Sabbath worship and all that.
"Of course, [WCG pastor general] Joe [Tkach] has mentioned that they're continuing to worship on the Sabbath, and we continue to be friends."
God's hand in the splits?
Mr. Westby asked Mr. Rose if he can see the hand of God in the splits in the Churches of God.
"Yes, I think so," he replied. "I don't believe that God has caused these splits, but I believe that God is certainly working through them to bring people closer and closer to an understanding of who Christ is and our relationship with Him."
Mr. Rose would like to see the Sabbath-observing Churches of God cooperate with each other on evangelistic efforts and "joint missions efforts around the world."
Since Mr. Rose advocates more emphasis on Jesus in worship by members of the Churches of God, "is the Father being neglected a little bit by this?" asked Mr. Westby. "He's still the Father; He still is God and the one that Jesus teaches us to worship and not to supplant worship of the Father by worship of Himself. Do you see any danger in that direction? Is this something you've discussed?"
"Yes, this is something we've talked about," said Mr. Rose.
"It's a big theological discussion, but I don't believe there is anything about putting Christ in front that takes away from what the Father gets, because when you worship Jesus you worship the Father, because They're one."
Mr. Rose cited Colossians 2:9, which says, according to the New King James Version, that in Jesus "dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."
"Jesus is the head of the church, and if He's the head of the church what should we do with Him? We worship Him. All hail the power of Jesus' name."
Mr. Westby said his question came to mind because of a verse in Deuteronomy.
"The Shema [Deuteronomy 6:4] seems to justify a belief in pure monotheism, as well as Paul's confessions in 1 Corinthians 8:6 that there is one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ," said Mr. Westby.
"This formula is repeated many times, and it's no put-down of Christ whatsoever because He is worthy of everything you say and more.
"But at the same time He is the one who taught us to worship the Father and to revere the Father."
The Journal asked Mr. Rose if the CG7's official stance on the nature of God is a belief in what has been called binitarianism, or two members in a God family.
"We have a loose leaning toward being binitarians," said Mr. Rose, "but it's not on paper. It's just something we discuss."
Elder Kiesz, noted the Journal writer, was a unitarian, or a believer in a literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:4, so unitarians have historically been represented in the Church of God (Seventh Day).
"Yes," said Mr. Rose.
The CG7 in 10 years
Toward the end of the interview, Mr. Rose painted a picture of where he would like to see his church be 10 years from now.
"I would say we're moving in the direction that is more and more Christ-centered and that as we look to Christ we're wanting more and more to be like Him, to serve Him and to love Him. That leads us to where we're working and doing good works.
"The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians talks about a man building on wood, hay and stubble. These things will be tried by fire, and the day will come when every man's work will be tried. That's a doctrine of rewards.
"Are there rewards in the Kingdom? If you're saved by grace, and there's nothing you can do to be saved, what are you going to be rewarded for?
"I believe that we'll be rewarded for our works: not works that save us, but works that we do out of love for our Savior. That's where I am.
"To me, the big issue of the church over the past 100 years, and maybe over the past 50 or 60 years with Mr. Armstrong and all these groups we see now, is that they have never really given the focus to Jesus, and the stone--Jesus--has been a stumbling stone rather than steppingstone."
Mr. Westby agreed but concluded the interview with a comment about false messiahs.
"You would have to agree that there have been false Jesuses out there," he said, "and there have been caricatures drawn of Jesus that have to be exposed and stripped away so we can come to understand the real Jesus, so when we say that following Jesus is all that's required of people they will know what we're talking about. It's an educational job, you know."
"Yes," said Mr. Rose.
Mr. Rose and his wife, Marjolene, have been married for 14 years. They have a daughter Arvella, 12, and a son, Nathan, 9.
Contact the General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day) at P.O. Box 33677, Denver, Colo. 80223, U.S.A.
The CG7 receives E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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