Leaders who won't lead should pull over

The writer identifies himself as "one of the sheep, the brethren," of the Church of God. This is an excerpt of Mr. Walker's original open letter.

By William Allen Walker

SAUCIER, Miss.--An open letter to the ministry of the United Church of God, an International Association (UCG), and the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship (CGCF):

Several months have passed since your announcement regarding talks to explore possible arrangements to work together (and by implication a possible merger).

After considerable reflection, I do wish to add some personal thoughts to your private discussions and to the public discourse that already has ensued. So please be advised that a copy of this letter will be posted in the public forum for as many brethren as may be interested to read. [See also "Two Task Forces Talk Over Joint Projects," The Journal, Aug. 31.]

As many of us did on Jan. 7, 1995, I sat attentively in a congregation of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) and heard a presentation I never expected to hear. Being a little nobody from nowhere, without connections in Pasadena or elsewhere, I was unprepared for what I saw and heard that day.

Afterward our local pastor, who had transferred only recently to our area, approached me and discreetly opened a discussion on the subject matter presented. At the time I did not know where he stood (since he was new), but I do remember my first comment to him. I looked him in the eye and asked, "What would you die for?" I told him I did not believe a word of it, in just about as many words.

That evening was unusual as well. My wife and I found ourselves at dinner with another couple and that same pastor and his family. For me that night was probably only the second or third time in two decades of fellowship in the WCG that I shared a meal with a minister.

The turbulence of 1995

Still, not knowing the man, I did not know where he stood. But I do remember making my position clear. In fact, my wife told me as we drove home that, if I told him once I told him 10 times: "If Tkach is walking down the road I think he is, I am not walking with him.

I held the firm conviction that, if the pastor happened to believe that garbage and began throwing people out, he could just start with me.

During those turbulent first few months of 1995 I remember hearing rumors that somebody somewhere actually might do something--whatever that meant. Of course, we lay members generally were kept in the dark as to what, if anything, was planned.

By the time the bulk of the WCG ministry that rejected the "new understanding" had found the courage to meet publicly in Indianapolis, my wife and I already had become associated with the Global Church of God (GCG).

Once the UCG was finally formed by that ministry, I remember with amusement the early efforts of the brethren who chose to affiliate with the UCG to recruit us--and their petulance when we did not come to their party. I remember hearing more than once their refrain: "We just want everybody to be together."

But what I wanted was the church to finish the work of God we were given to do. I still smile when I remember telling some people at the time, "It is hard for me to follow men who are walking behind me."

Since that time we have watched the organizations come and go, the splits and resplits, all primarily attributable to the antics of the ministry (just as the upheaval in the WCG started at the top!).

Now the children of God again face a decision, depending on what you ministers choose to do. I use this wording deliberately, because in the case of virtually every relatively large corporate "Church of God," you the ministry have done the organizing according to your perceived needs, desires and beliefs.

Set apart

You have continued to set yourselves apart from the rest of us, who are supposed to be your brethren. In effect, we, your nonordained brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, continue to be reduced, almost cynically, to little more than tithe-paying supporters of your organizations, supporters who really have no status in said organizations and who are "welcome" as long as we do not cause any "trouble."

So, at the risk of being declared unwelcome, I ask you men to remember a few more things, to consider the implications of what you already have done and to explore with me some ramifications of what you may decide next.

You might say that, as a courtesy, I am going to give you some feedback on how you look to a nobody from nowhere.

I remember when we were doing the work of God, when we believed in the way of life we learned from Scripture when we earnestly sought to preach the gospel of the (soon-) coming Kingdom of God--and when we pursued the prophetic implications of that last phrase.

The text of Scripture has not changed in almost 2,000 years, since the last addition (a prophetic book) was penned. The Bible is the same; God's calling is still His prerogative.

His Spirit is still the only true sign of a Christian and is given only to those who obey Him (and by implication can be taken away). The basic truths of Scripture are unchanged. Will we remember them?

As I have watched the rupturing of the WCG, the development of the UCG, the upheaval in the GCG and the formation of the CGCF and its recent struggles, I have seen certain themes repeat and mature. Perhaps the theme most significant to me is the one I identified earlier: the obvious class distinction you have created and maintained in the Church of God.

Presumed right

Without question the most onerous and abusive aspect of that class structure is your arrogated right to disfellowship your brothers and sisters unilaterally without challenge or appeal.

I once asked a regional pastor to explain to me the logic behind the process that God can call a child to repentance and lead him to Jesus Christ for salvation, yet one mortal flesh-and-blood human being can expel that child and declare him unwelcome, without any other resource, redress or review. Would one of you like to take a shot at explaining it publicly?

Another theme I have observed and have found humorous is the insistent and apparent belief among the ministry that somehow, because you get to speak before us and talk with so many of us, you understand and know all there is to know about us.

You project an image that you are superior to us, evidently because you control the organizations and, hence, the money.

Perhaps because of your extensive academic knowledge and training you seem to think that somehow you are closer to God than we are--even to the point apparently of believing that we lay members are helpless little sheep that need your constant management, supervision and leadership.

In a recent sermon I heard one of you literally use the phrase "the sheep, the brethren," in referring to the laity of the Church of God. The class distinction in the man's thinking was palpable.

On another occasion I sat in services as a different regional pastor declared to the congregation that we should not read our Bibles to find scriptures to verify and prove our beliefs. Imagine that: lay members being told not to read the Bible.

Rather, he seemed intent that we should listen to and follow the lead and teaching of the ministry.

By the way, each man is currently employed by one of your major ministerial organizations.

Identifying descendants

In the UCG I see a group of men who seem determined to do anything but preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God and especially do anything but actually warn the Israelites. Is it possible that the UCG will ever even identify the modern descendants of the Israelites officially and publicly?

I was impressed after reading the UCG's new definitive book on prophecy with the evident technical accuracy of the writing. But, by the time I had finished it, I was disturbed.

Literally, I found nowhere in the booklet a statement identifying the modern descendants of the Israelites, especially the birthright tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.

The booklet discussed prophecies of Israel but would not identify the peoples by their modern names. What was the point, gentlemen?

CGCF jury

Unfortunately for the CGCF, the jury is still out. I was impressed with the general level of integrity and courage of the men who stood up to an obviously pompous apostle wanna-be. Discussions of "mistakes" made on both sides have appeared in the public forum. But in the heat of battle, so to speak, I think overall the ministry of the CGCF has conducted itself well in the upheaval that began in November 1998.

Well, almost. You ministers in the CGCF may be having a difficult time because of the recent spectacle of a ridiculously foolish minister crawling and sniveling back to his renegade cult master, but I am having a good belly laugh. This is especially telling since as a class, across organizational lines, the ministry seems unable to be completely forthright and honest in its publicly stated beliefs and positions, its dealings with one another and its dealings with God's people.

More specifically with regard to the CGCF, I detect a growing and disturbing resentment in the CGCF ministry toward brethren who discuss matters openly. Do you men actually think that we "the sheep, the brethren," still believe that you have the right to rule us?

The real question, however, is what will you gentlemen actually do now? What do you really believe? Do you really desire to finish the work of God? Are you willing potentially to be led off in chains to new corporate masters who obviously do not?

Whatever decisions you ministers make in your organizations ultimately are up to you. I am sure you will tell us what, if anything, you think we need to hear, whether it is the complete truth or not.

You will decide based on what you believe to be true and, more significantly, what you believe to be in your best interests, however you define your best interests.

What to die for

So the question for all of God's people remains: What will you die for?

I will not die for summer youth camps, spring holy-day dances, monthly church socials, fancy Feast cruises or do-good projects to demonstrate our love for our fellowman. I absolutely will not die for the work of the church. I will not die for ministers (or other brethren) who have forgotten how to tell the truth and, in some cases, what the truth is.

Even though most of us are aware of the aging of the ministry, we have the UCG's solemn assurance that its new Bible school was not created to train potential candidates for the ministry. We have the CGCF's public assurance that the press and the brethren would not have found the proceedings of its recent ministerial conference of sufficient interest to warrant admission--never mind the events and public statements of the last few months!

We have all watched a minister serve in the leadership position of one of your organizations, draw a relatively large salary and then, apparently without guilt or integrity, depart in a well-orchestrated exit with little or no warning, even to his fellow ministers.

Three such cases, at least, fit the scenario. Each man sniveled and whined all the way out the door in a bid to justify his actions and possibly to draw as many "little sheep" after him as possible.

Obscenely, each man then gave credit to God!

Does anyone in the ministry (or the church at large) remember how to tell the truth or even what truth is? I'm thankful that some of "the sheep, the brethren," still do.

God has staked His eternal name and reputation on the prophesied facts that the house of Israel shall be warned, that the gospel of the Kingdom of God shall be preached to all nations as a witness, that the bride shall have made herself ready.

Issuing a challenge

So I issue a challenge to the ministry of the Church of God. Any one of your organizations, or any minister, for that matter, is welcome to respond. As each of your organizations was formed, I watched with amusement as, every time, one of the first evident tasks undertaken by the ministry thereof was to assert its claims of primacy and leadership.

Here is the challenge: You want to lead me? You can lead me by finishing the work of God, especially the warning of the Israelite nations. Can you do or say more than the typical Christian evangelist?

Some of us are tired of watching the apparent obsession in the ministry with constantly discovering new truth and reproving established doctrines.

You can lead me by dealing with ministers who teach heresy or corrupt the trust they are given in the church. Can you brand a renegade minister as such? Or is your strongest language limited to complaining that he violated your internal rules and procedures? You deal swiftly and publicly with us, "the sheep, the brethren." Why can you not discipline yourselves publicly and swiftly?

You want us to follow you? Where in the world are you going?

Start your engines

I do not need your chairman to stand in front of me, waggle his index finger and utter his favorite absurdity that we are the work of God and hence all God expects us to do is the work of the church--whatever that means. I shake my head when I hear you men whimper that you need more money (to pay salaries?) before you can start to finish the work of God we were given to do.

Gentlemen, if you do not plan to finish the work started decades ago, you will not be leading me. If you plan to finish the work of God, then hurry up, because, at least in spirit, I am still ahead of you--and getting just a little tired of waiting.

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