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Can't we all just get along?

Encouraging Communication among the Churches of God
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Can't we all just get along?

by Dixon Cartwright

LINDALE, Texas--Members of a Church of God congregation in East Texas got some advice in early January 2009 about how to deal with fellow Christians.

David Antion of Pasadena, Calif., visited Texas to speak three times at Texas Fellowship, which meets sometimes in Lindale and sometimes near Hawkins, Texas.

The 72-year-old former Worldwide Church of God evangelist and present pastor of the Church of God Southern California contributed to the 2,000-year-old discussion about communication among Christians.

Dr. Antion, who also heads up Guardian Ministries, delivered lectures on his subject here Jan. 2 and 4.

On Friday, Jan. 2, he presented "Relationships and Getting Along." His address on Sunday, Jan. 4, was "Dealing With Difficult People."

Three relationship laws

Early in his Friday lecture Dr. Antion referred to three principles that some psychologists have decided are laws.

  • The first is quid pro quo: this in exchange for that.

"All relationships," he began, "operate on an exchange basis."

  • The second is the law of symmetry. An example: If you want respect, you have to give respect. Another example: "Everybody loves people who love them."

  • The third law, which Jesus mentioned, is the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31): Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The prophet Micah, Dr. Antion continued, summarized in a few words God's requirements for mankind: to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

To be just, merciful and humble toward God, a person must "have a right relationship with people," Dr. Antion said.

Fellowship can continue for years on an even keel with Christians in their myriad groups, he continued. But at some point, "no matter who we are and how well we are getting along, something often happens.

"You make a mistake. It's called sin. You miss the mark, a faux pas, a bad word, a wrong tone of voice."

And then--voilĂ --peace in your church group explodes into war.

Even when offense is unintentional, it chafes. "You can hurt people without it being in your heart to hurt people," he said.

So what should you as a conscientious Christian do?

Matthew 5 formula

You should go immediately to Matthew 5 and read the formula:

"... If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

If you're in the middle of preparing your sacrifice at the altar--or by analogy you're readying yourself for a Christian act of worship--stop!

It's important to remember, said Dr. Antion, that if your frame of mind is such that you hold your brother (or sister) in contempt, then God "can't stand even your prayers." Why is that?

"Because your hands are dirty, you're abusing people, or you're doing this, you're doing that."

Don't bother giving that gift to God, don't even think about worshiping Him, because "it's not going to do you any good," he said. "Holy days don't do you any good if you're hurting people."

You're on hold

So you're suddenly aware that you've sinned against someone. You immediately place your worship of God on hold. While it's on hold, what comes next?

Dr. Antion: "You come to God in prayer, you get on your knees, and you realize I hurt so-and-so. Maybe I didn't mean to do it, but I did it.

"Don't forget the scripture that says the prayer of the wicked is an abomination to God [Proverbs 15:8]. I don't think your prayer would be an abomination, but you might be better off to go first and be reconciled with your brother. Go first. What's more important: giving this gift to God or being reconciled?"

But more specifically: "How do I reconcile myself to my brother?"

Here's how: "I make amends. I go and I say I'm sorry. Hey, I just thought about this, and I sort of knew you were [offended], but I just kind of didn't pay attention, and I need to tell you I'm really sorry for what I did."

Can thoughts offend?

If you've harbored improper thoughts involving your brother, does Dr. Antion think it's best to confess them to him?

"No," he said. "You don't need to tell him you had bad thoughts.

"We had one fellow who came up to another and said, 'You know, I just want to tell you I have lusted after your wife for years and I just want to tell you I'm really sorry.'"

The process of repenting

It's not important to talk about your sinful thoughts, but it is important to make appropriate restitution as a part of the repentance process.

"Unless you make restitution," he said, "you have not really repented."

Dr. Antion quoted New Testament passages about the principle of making good on material losses inflicted by harmful deeds.

When you're offended

He also noted Leviticus 6:5, which instructs followers of God to add 20 percent to monetary amounts when making restitution for tangible offenses caused by, for example, negligence or carelessness.

Dr. Antion then flipped to the other side of the coin. What if the offense happens the other way around? What if you are the injured party? What should you do when somebody plays fast and loose with your feelings or possessions?

He quoted Matthew 18, which tells the story of Jesus explaining to Peter that he should forgive a brother "up to seventy times seven."

But Matthew 18 says more than that. It's the famous New Testament checklist for what to do when you feel offended.

  • Jesus said (beginning in verse 15) that if your brother sins against you go to him privately and explain to him his "fault."

  • If your brother will hear you, if he will agree with you that he has sinned against you, then you have "gained your brother."

  • But if he will not take you seriously, much less agree with you, then leave and come back later with one or two friends who will support you in your complaint.

  • If that doesn't work, if the offender refuses to talk with and listen to you, then take your grievance to "the church."

  • If he resists even the efforts of the church as a group, then treat the brother from that day forward as you would "a heathen and a tax collector."

Just what do you mean church?

When the Scripture says take the problem of your brother's offenses against you to the "church," Dr. Antion said he assumes that "church" means "your local group in which you fellowship." If the offender will not listen to the church, whatever exactly that means, he said, then the person "doesn't care if he hurts people."

He cited as an example the apostle Paul's advice to church members that they should "disfellowship people who are extortioners" (1 Corinthians 5:10).

If the brother sees the error of his ways and repents, the principle of forgiving "seventy times seven" kicks in, Dr. Antion said. If he does not see the error of his ways, treat him as an infidel and a collector of taxes.

The Q&A

In a question-and-answer period immediately after Dr. Antion's address, someone commented that some people think that "Matthew 18 doesn't really work when you apply it" in certain relationship situations.

The relevant passages of Scripture repeatedly say "if, if and if," the questioner noted, as in "if your brother repents, then you have gained your brother." The Scripture never says "when" the principles are successfully applied.

In other words, Christians should apply the Matthew 18 principle, but they should not necessarily expect that it will accomplish anything, stated the questioner.

Another audience member commented that Jesus in Matthew 18 enumerated principles that apply to "community."

However, the same commenter said that "in our experience [in the present-day Churches of God] we have unequal community, where some people could be thrown out but other people are off base or off limits" and cannot be disfellowshipped, even if church members in general conclude they are the source of the problem.

"I hear you," responded Dr. Antion. "Unequal power, yeah. That's a situation where ... you go to this minister and he [the minister] says, 'I think your behavior toward me was not right, and you did this and did this,' and he says, 'You're disfellowshipped' ...

"That is unscrupulous power, there's no doubt about it. And in some cases there's no remedy for it until the whole thing kind of blows up ...

"If the other person is angry and they won't listen, then there's nothing you can do about it."

Get along

In his lecture two days later Dr. Antion again took up the subject of people's attempts to get along with people.

He described a technique called "fogging" to help deal with difficult people. But before his comments on fogging he asked a pertinent question:

Is it possible that two people can look at the same thing and come to two different conclusions?

"You see through a set of filters that are already in your head," he said. The filters are "your beliefs, your experiences. You have to put everything in the set of your experiences."

To make his point about filters he wrote a string of letters on a board: LOVEISNOWHERE.

Some people, he said, read the set of letters as LOVE IS NOWHERE. Others, however, see LOVE IS NOW HERE. The same combination of letters is understood in two entirely different ways.

So how does someone who desires effective and honest communication deal with someone who seems to have trouble comprehending and communicating?

Fogging may be the answer. It is a technique that seems to be a way to implement the scriptural principle "A soft answer turns away wrath" (Proverbs 15:1).

Two ways to react

Dr. Antion first heard about fogging in a book called When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith, published by Bantam in 1975.

The technique boils down to two ways to answer accusations:

  • If an accusation is factual, simply acknowledge it.

  • If an accusation is not based on fact but on an inference, then mention that you are willing to overcome the general deficiency that is implied in the accusation.

Dr. Antion's example of his use of fogging involved himself and his "boss in another organization." The boss called Dr. Antion on the carpet because of a Sabbath sermon he had delivered that some people had complained about.

Dr. Antion didn't say who the boss was, but The Journal had the distinct impression it was Herbert W. Armstrong, his employer back when he was a member of and worked for the Worldwide Church of God.

Dr. Antion told a story about a close encounter with his employer in 1976.

The boss was upset

"I got called in," he said.

"He [the boss] was very upset with me. I had given a sermon. Somebody had taped it."

Not only had someone taped it, but the taper had complained to Mr. Armstrong (assuming the unnamed boss was indeed Mr. Armstrong) about it.

A friend called Dr. Antion to inform him that he had overheard locker-room chitchat during which Mr. Armstrong said he planned to reprimand Dr. Antion and if Dr. Antion made excuses for his unfortunate behavior he would fire him.

"Now, my sermon was about whether or not it was okay to have self-esteem or care about yourself," Dr. Antion explained. "Or do we always have to hate ourselves as Christians?"

The Sabbath discourse, Dr. Antion remembered, was "considered heretical, I guess."

It just so happened that Dr. Antion, before he was Dr. Antion, was studying fogging techniques in a class while working toward his master's degree.

"I thought: You know what? I'm going to try this. I am going to try it under fire."

If Mr. Armstrong said something about him or the sermon that was factual, Dr. Antion would say: "That's correct."

If Mr. Armstrong said something that was not a fact but merely an inference, Dr. Antion would mention that he would resolve to do better in the future.

"Now I'm going into his office and he's got a dossier of papers, okay? And he says, 'I heard you gave a sermon a couple of weeks ago.'"

What was he thinking?

Here's an excerpt of the rest of the conversation as Dr. Antion described it:

Q: "I heard you gave a sermon a couple of weeks ago."

A: "That's true."

Q: "And you spoke on self-love or self-esteem."

A: "That's correct."

Q: "And you went an hour and 20 minutes in that sermon."

A: "I believe that's right."

Q: "That's entirely too long."

A: "Well, I'm sure I could speak a shorter time than that."

Q: "I heard some of that sermon, David. I heard some of that sermon. That was the most disorganized sermon I ever heard."

A: "I'm sure I could prepare a much more organized sermon than that."

Q: "And you were very arrogant, David. You were arrogant in that sermon."

A: "I know I could be more humble when I speak."

Q: "You slanted the facts, David."

A: "Well, I'm sure I could be fairer with the facts than I was."

Moving target

"It was interesting," Dr. Antion remembered. "The longer we went on, the more powerful I felt ... Wow. He's shooting at me ... but I'm in a fog bank and he hasn't hit me."

After many minutes Mr. Armstrong concluded: "You know, I've done the same thing myself. I understand it. I've been criticized for similar things, you know.

"I know your heart. Your heart's right. We need you here in the organization. You're very valuable to us."

Dr. Antion replied: "Thank you."

Mr. Armstrong then asked: "How long since I've taken you and your wife out to dinner? ... I'll have the limousine come over and pick us up."

Contact information

Write Dr. Antion at P.O. Box 50734, Pasadena, Calif. 91115, U.S.A.

Visit Guardian Ministries' Web site at For information about Texas Fellowship go to

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