Shades of opinion
Some elders, such as Tom Justus of Springdale,
Ark., in comments during the sessions advocated strict autonomy for each
Others, including Les Pope of Oklahoma City and
David McBride of England, encouraged their fellow ministers to remain independent
but consider some sort of centralized structure, or "clearinghouse,"
as one man put it, that could disseminate information and ideas to the other
congregations in the affiliation.
The ministers met Friday evening April 12 to plan
the agenda for the next two days in the building owned by the Tulsa church.
They agreed on seven areas of discussion: organization, Feast sites, local
evangelism, audio- and videotape programs, booklets, lists of congregations
and ministers and the pros and cons of local formal incorporation.
"We agreed that the information center would
be located in Hawkins, Texas, and have an 800 number," Mr. Gregory
said. "The mailing address will be in Tulsa. The reason for the difference
in locations is just that we wanted checks and balances. We didn't set up
a headquarters in Hawkins, Texas."
Saturday's sessions included Sabbath services at
1 p.m. for the visitors and Tulsa brethren, who number a little more than
100. The conference boosted attendance on the Sabbath to 193.
The Tulsa church, which meets in the northeast
part of the city, separated from the CGI just six weeks before the conference.
Since the Tulsa brethren had already incorporated locally and bought the
building, the congregation, with almost no loss of membership, continues
to meet in the same facility.
The prominent roadside sign that once said "Church
of God International" now announces to visitors that here meets the
"Tulsa Church of God."
Opposition to structure
The most vocal proponent of congregational autonomy during the conference
was Mr. Justus, who opposed a central structure that would formally and
regularly extract funds from its supporting churches.
"I am against setting up any kind of an organization
that we would funnel money into," Mr. Justus said. "We can start
off with the best of intentions in the world, but then the organization
becomes a god. Maybe that won't happen in the first year or two, but it
Mr. Justus doesn't say Christians should not preach
the Word in all nations. "We've got a job to do, and that's preaching
the gospel of the Kingdom of God. But we're already doing it on an individual
People who think the work of the Church of God
must be directed through a headquarters and a hierarchy are "brainwashed,"
Mr. Justus said. "We think we have to have a great work and a centralized
board. I'm tired of that word. The seven churches of Asia didn't have a
Mr. Justus repeatedly referred to the example of
the autonomy of congregations of the Church of Christ, saying that, though
each Church of Christ congregation operates independently, the congregations
cooperate and have grown steadily over the years. Universities and other
schools, for example, are supported by members of the Church of Christ,
but they are sponsored by individual congregations, not by the church as
Opening a can of worms
In partial disagreement with Mr. Justus were two members of a long-time
Church of God family, Les and Charles Pope, father and son.
The older Mr. Pope made a presentation and showed
an organizational chart to explain how a central structure would assist
the independent churches. Mr. Pope acknowledged that he was "about
to open a can of worms" by mentioning organization. "That word
has upset a lot of people," he said, "but there is a good side
He drew a chart on a board that represented each
independent congregation under God. A second chart showed an office structure
with lines indicating personnel assisting the independent churches.
Mr. Justus then reiterated his opposition to central structure. "I've
been a part of it," he said. "I've sat there."
Mr. Justus, who served as a member of the board
of directors and the ministerial council of the Church of God International
for several years, said: "We've created people who think they have
to have tapes and papers. They forget about Christ and Him crucified. We've
got to have a booklet for this and a booklet for that."
He quoted Ephesians 5:27 and said, "Let us
stop speaking of some organization as the church or the work. If local congregations
preached the gospel, a hierarchy wouldn't happen."
Mr. Justus, owner of a printing company, recently
reprinted an old public-domain booklet by WCG founder Herbert Armstrong.
He produced 1,000 copies, he said, "and now the Bible Sabbath Association
wants 5,000. My cost is only about 15 cents apiece."
The elder from Arkansas said he is not against
booklets, broadcasts or cooperation. But "go very slowly before we
start creating a body of elders or anything else. Every person in here has
got somebody [back in the congregation at home] who can make a good radio
broadcast. Let him do it."
Arthur Hulet, an elder from Stillwater, Okla.,
spoke next, calling for some kind of structured association. "We've
accomplished a lot," he said, "but we've gone about as far as
we can go. You have to have organization or we'll never get the job done."
Sights on the Feast
The ministers also discussed sites for
the Feast of Tabernacles, only five months away. Several had already arranged
for Feast locations in their areas. The assembly voted to support the sites
that had already been arranged for, although each will be organized by a
local church and its members, not by the information center.
Described were sites in Florida, California, England,
Canada, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Door left open
Some attenders said the proceedings got
off to a bumpy start but leveled out over the three days of meetings.
"I think the conference was an excellent example
of men coming together without deferring to only one leader," said
Norman Edwards, publisher of Servants' News, Springdale, Ark. "While
there was some confusion in getting started, the overall result was certainly
better, I believe, than if just one man had run the conference."
Mr. Norman thinks the new affiliation called The
Churches of God can work with other ministries in the near future. "They
have left the door open to do that once they're stabilized. I think they
have a system that could easily work with people who are not from a CGI
Steve Andrews, an elder in the Tulsa church (ordained
during the conference's Sabbath services), said after the final session
April 14 that, "yesterday we were still spinning our wheels, but we
made good progress today."
The upshot of the three days of discussions is
that the independent churches will not set up a formal centralized organization
but will voluntarily support a service center, to be set up and operated
by Ian Hufton in East Texas, where Mr. Hufton lives. He will be assisted
by Rosy Halley, who worked with Mr. Hufton when he was employed at CGI headquarters
as mail-processing manager.
The ministers appointed a committee to oversee
the information office and financial procedures made up of Les Pope, Mr.
Justus and Tom Whitson of Houston, Texas.
The conference charged the service center with
providing communication through a newsletter, compiling an inventory of
tapes and printed materials, coordinating communications about the Feast,
drawing up congregation and members lists, handling personal correspondence
and directing inquiries to the appropriate churches, facilitating communication
between individuals, host groups and congregations, ensuring its own financial
accountability and drawing up financial-policy statements.
Most tithe money is to stay in local churches for
evangelistic efforts. Congregations may support tape and print ministries
of their choosing.
The conference wants ad-hoc committees to look
into youth services and missions.
Who was there
Attending the conference were the following men. Each is an elder unless
designated "host." "Observers" were nonparticipating
attenders of the conference, some ordained, some not:
Mike Anderson, Springfield, Mo.; Steve Andrews,
Tulsa; Charles Beyer, St. Joseph, Mo.; Julian Cruz, San Antonio, Texas;
Pat Dennis, Coffeyville, Kan.; Floyd Dodson, Arkansas City, Kan.; Don Duchene
(host), Chatham, Ontario; Norman Edwards (observer), Springdale, Ark.; Bill
Faith, Florissant, Mo.; Bill Fowler, Wichita, Kan.; Lawrence Gregory, Tulsa.
Also Jeff Henderson, San Francisco, Calif.; Ian
Hufton, Hawkins, Texas; Arthur Hulet, Stillwater, Okla.; Jim Ingle, Eldon,
Mo.; Tom Justus, Springdale, Ark.; Ron Kearney (church representative),
Phoenix, Ariz.; Eugene Lamb (host), Denver, Colo.; Clarence Lucas, Bedford,
Texas; Bill Luecke (host), Hays, Kan.; Frank Marang, Coffeyville; Robert
Malone (host), Shreveport, La.; James McBride, Billinghay, England; Donald
Miller (host), Summersville, Mo.; Ed Nelson (observer), Carterville, Ill.
Also Earl Newkirk (host), Smithville, Mich.; Dave
Nix, Fredericksburg, Va.; David Palmer, Vancouver, B.C.; Charles Pope, Midwest
City, Okla.; Les Pope, Oklahoma City; Gary Porter, Pocatello, Idaho; John
Shavers, Albuquerque, N.M.; Keith Slough (observer), Manassas, Va.; John
Trescott (observer), Anadarko, Okla.; James Ussery, Little Rock, Ark.; John
Waller, Piedmont, Mo.; Darryll Watson, Mary Ester, Fla.; and Tom Whitson,
Local mass evangelism
Tulsa pastor Lawrence Gregory, who is employed full-time as family-services
manager for Rose Hill Memorial Park here, expressed excitement "at
the possibilities ahead of us as we look to God to open doors and allow
men of gifts to be used.
"It's no longer just one man doing television
or one man doing radio, but the door is open for God to show how many people
can do these things. And we haven't lost the vision of mass evangelism locally
and mass evangelism internationally."
Mr. Gregory, who with his wife, Janice, has seven
children and nine grandchildren, says he believes the churches "are
going to do everything we can to allow Christ to direct us. It's easy to
send money in for one person to sit in front of a camera, but now we've
got our work cut out for us."
"If you want to look to the original church
and the commission and the way the early Christians operated, going out
two by two," said Mr. Andrews, "I think the individual churches
can function in the same way all over the world.
"We may be independent, but we know people
in Canada, in England, in Australia. It's just a matter of all of us working
toward the same ends."
There is also nothing that says the independent
churches cannot each do tape, radio, television or publications, said Mr.
"It's just a matter of God's Spirit leading
godly men and women who have the will to do His work wherever He wants it
to be done."