PCG clarifies disfellowship policy,
In an hour-long sermon before the headquarters congregation of the PCG, Pastor General Gerald Flurry, 70, expanded church policy to prohibit any kind of fellowship with former PCG members and all "Laodiceans," even if they are members of a church member's immediate family.
PCG members may no longer associate with their own children, parents or siblings if their children, parents or siblings are disfellowshipped PCG members or members of the WCG or any of its splinter groups other than the PCG.
Mr. Flurry defines Laodiceans as Church of God members who are part of the Laodicean "era," based on his interpretation of verses in Revelation 2-3 that talk about a congregation in ancient Laodicea, in Asia Minor.
Gerald Flurry, pastor general of the PCG (right), visits with an unidentified attendee at a stop on Mr. Flurry's Texas campaign; of 1999.
That congregation was the last of seven churches that John quotes the risen Jesus as evaluating. The Savior variously praised and admonished the seven groups, beginning with the Ephesians and ending with the Laodiceans.
According to some Bible interpretations, the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 represent, or are prophecies of, Christianity down through the ages until the Second Coming.
The sixth of the seven churches resided in the city of Philadelphia. Jesus praises its members, while criticizing the seventh, situated in Laodicea, for its lukewarmness, or lack of zeal.
Some Church of God commentators, including Mr. Flurry, who founded the PCG in 1989, see themselves as zealous "Philadelphians," that is, Christians who live just before Jesus' return, coexisting in the end time with lackadaisical Laodiceans, whom Jesus threatens figuratively to spew out of His mouth.
Even though the writer of Revelation refers to members of all seven churches as believers and followers of God and Jesus, some interpreters, including Mr. Flurry, in some of their writings and speeches, characterize Laodiceans as not much different from and no better than nonbelievers.
Indeed, Mr. Flurry, along with several other modern-day Church of God leaders, seems to see Laodiceans as worse than abject heathens. PCG members are permitted to have friendly contact with supposed heathens--those who have never been Sabbath-keeping Christians, including members of Sunday-observant churches--but not with their fellow Church of God members whom the PCG judges to be Laodiceans.
"I want to clarify the Philadelphia Church of God's policy on contact with disfellowshipped family members," Mr. Flurry told the brethren in Edmond Dec. 3. "This issue has not been clear among all our ministers and members. We need to become more unified on it."
Just before Mr. Flurry's sermon, elder Wik Heerma announced the church's latest disfellowshipping.
"It is our unfortunate duty," Mr. Heerma read, "to announce that local church elder Donald Smythe and his wife Frances, both of Pendleton, Ore., are disfellowshipped. According to the principle outlined in Romans 16 verse 17, we should avoid contact with Mr. and Mrs. Smythe, and we should not bear them any ill will but rather pray that they would repent and return soon to the inner court of God's one true church."
Immediately after that announcement, the Edmond Children's Choir, conducted by Carolyn Coats, sang "The Kingdom's a-Coming," written by Ross Jutsum, a WCG member who wrote many of the hymns in the 1993 edition of the WCG's hymnal.
In his sermon Mr. Flurry, a native of Oklahoma City, explained the new, or at least clarified, policy on fellowshipping and disfellowshipping.
"In the past," he said "some members" have operated under the mistaken notion that "relationships" with family members are permitted "as long as religion is not discussed." But "that is not what God says."
The Bible "makes it clear that there should be a complete cut-off" of contact with any family member, no matter how closely related, with only two exceptions.
A wife who is "pleased to dwell" with her PCG husband is one who is willing to live peacefully with him, with no tendency toward hostility or contentiousness.
"But if that mate becomes hostile or stirs up contention, it [the marriage relationship] should be cut off," Mr. Flurry said. "Where there is hostility you must cut off every time."
Mr. Flurry noted that Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, in whose footsteps Mr. Flurry conscientiously endeavors to walk, "had a relationship with his daughter" only because Mr. Armstrong "believed she was never converted."
The fruits of Mr. Armstrong's daughter's lack of conversion "were there," said Mr. Flurry.
Mr. Armstrong had two daughters, Beverly Gott, who died in 1992, and Dorothy Mattson, who lives in Sun City, Ariz.
Mr. Flurry did not say which of the two he was speaking of, but Mr. Armstrong did have working relationships with both his daughters in his lifetime.
Mrs. Gott frequently traveled with her father on his trips to visit world leaders and the Ambassador College campuses in Texas and England, even though many members of the Radio/Worldwide Church of God did not consider her to be a member of the church.
"As long as they [unbaptized or invalidly baptized former church attendees] were unconverted, we can have a relationship there," Mr. Flurry said, "but we do have to be awfully careful."
If church members aren't cautious in their dealings with these kinds of relatives and friends, they can fall into grave error by promoting fellowship--ungodly fellowship--with somebody who really had been converted.
Therefore church members must make sure anyone they have contact with who formally attended the PCG was never converted--that is, was either never baptized or was invalidly baptized--because "we don't want to use this as a cop-out."
Mr. Flurry said it again, just to make sure the brethren understood:
Although they may associate with their children as long as they were never converted, "if your children have been baptized and left [the PCG], that relationship should be severed. We must obey God's command."
He explained what he meant by "God's command" in this context by quoting the apostle Paul in Romans 16:17: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them."
He also quoted from an article Mr. Armstrong wrote that appeared in the April 1980 issue of The Good News, published by the WCG. That article bore the title "If One Is Disfellowshipped, Which Family Comes First?"
Mr. Flurry quoted Mr. Armstrong as declaring that "if we try to be more kind, more righteous, than God and disobey that command, we convict ourselves of disobedience of God's command."
Definitions are important
Mr. Flurry also clarified the working definitions of two related terms familiar to every Church of God member over the last half century. The terms are "marked" and "disfellowshipped."
In some Church of God groups, to disfellowship is to put somebody out of a church organization or congregation and forbid members in good standing to have contact with him, and to mark is to announce the person's name from the pulpit and issue an order that church members must avoid him.
The exact meanings of the terms vary from church group to church group. In some congregations, someone disfellowshipped is not necessarily to be avoided at all costs. The action of disfellowshipping in those groups simply means the offending person will not attend church until the directive is lifted.
In the same congregations, "marking" may be a different story. Someone marked may be publicly named as someone who is no longer welcome in church services and someone who must be avoided.
But Mr. Flurry says he sees no distinction in the two terms. Whether a person is marked or disfellowshipped, he is to be avoided.
He did mention that the PCG could encounter some legal problems if church members prevent their Laodicean parents from visiting with their children; that is, the Laodiceans' grandchildren.
In such cases, the PCG ministry could evaluate the situation and might allow the Laodiceans some contact with the members' children, as long as the Laodiceans are not hostile and contentious toward the Philadelphian church members.
Mr. Flurry also talked about church members who work for Laodiceans. To preserve their livelihood, the members may continue their employment with Laodiceans (or, analogously, with employers who have been disfellowshipped), but they should work toward finding a new job as soon as possible.
"The principle, remember, is this," Mr. Flurry said: "There should not be any contact with converted church members who have left, and that includes family members other than a mate."
Mr. Flurry did say that, when shunning disfellowshipped and marked former members and Laodiceans, PCG members should take care to be "as inoffensive as we possibly can and as kind and loving and as considerate as we possibly can, regardless of what attitude even they may have."
The exception to this rule would be if the ex-members or Laodiceans began "attacking" the PCG members.
In that case the PCG members do not have to be as inoffensive, kind and considerate as they would normally be.
Mr. Flurry noted that he explained this principle in an article in The Philadelphia News of May-June 1998.
"I wrote . . . that we avoid certain ones in love," he said.
Shunning, disfellowshipping, marking and avoiding Laodiceans serve the higher purpose, said the PCG leader, of sending an important message.
"Avoiding these people . . . get[s] a message across to them that they are influenced by the devil and we don't want to have anything to do with them."
If situations come up that he did not cover in this sermon, Mr. Flurry said, then members can check with their regional directors for more clarification of church policy. If a regional director cannot answer a question, he will pass it up the line to Mr. Flurry for a final resolution.