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CG7 Meridian elder in talks with
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

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Churches of God Seventh Day Meridian elder in talks
with Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

by Dixon Cartwright

A longtime Sabbatarian Christian recently began a dialogue with a bishop in the traditionally Sunday-observing Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church.

Tom Roberts of Weiser, Idaho, is a former member of the Worldwide Church of God and current member of the General Council of Churches of God Seventh Day, the CG7 group based in Meridian, Idaho.

Dr. Roberts, who until recently was employed as the Meridian CG7's lead theologian and ministry director, is still a committed Sabbath keeper and elder of CG7 Meridian (not to be confused with the larger CG7 headquartered in Denver, Colo.).

In an interview with The Journal Dr. Roberts, who earned his doctorate in theology from Hellenic University, Athens, Greece, talked about his latest communication with the Wesley Synod of the CME.

The Wesley Synod, headquartered in Britain, is associated with the CME movement and 70-some congregations in the United States, which are historically black offshoots (dating from the 19th century) of the Methodist movement.

Many members of the Wesley Synod's congregations hold to traditions that Dr. Roberts explained are open to the concept of observing the seventh-day Sabbath.

Some American members of the Wesley Synod who support an office in Toledo, Ohio, "began to keep the Sabbath and the holy days in 1994 under the leadership of Bishop S.R. Sanchez, who lives in Toledo," Dr. Robert said.

Hebrew roots

"As the Hebrew-roots movement was blossoming all over the United States, they began to link their liturgical practices with those early Hebrew-roots practices," and thus began their interest in the Sabbath.


Some leaders of the Wesley Synod began to wonder, said Dr. Roberts: "Why don't we keep Sabbath, and why don't we keep holy days and some form of the Torah in its spiritual application?"

He first learned of the Wesley Synod from the late Samuele Bacchiocchi, a Seventh-day Adventist scholar and author who lived and taught at an SDA university in Michigan.

"So I E-mailed the Wesley Synod, and that's how this began to develop," said Dr. Roberts. "That was a year ago last October."

Church of the East

Dr. Roberts is making other contacts. One of his interests is linking up with traditional Christians who happen to have a regard for the Sabbath as part of their relatively recent church history.

An example is the Church of the East, which originated on the Malabar coast of India.

"They came over to America," Dr. Roberts said, "and they used to have two seminaries, one at Davis, Calif., and another at Philadelphia. They're centered now out of Chicago, with about 40-60 churches around the U.S.

"They meet for the Feast of Tabernacles. They have vespers on Friday night. They have Sabbath and Sunday services.

"And they're related to the tradition of the Nestorian churches of India, founded by Martoma, or St. Thomas, after the days of Paul, when the Syriac church migrated to India in the 1st century."

During Dr. Roberts' studies for his master-of-divinity degree in Washington state, "many Church of the East professors were at Covenant Bible Seminary in Tacoma, Wash., so it was through my academic training that I became aware of them.

"Of course, they want in return to see a sort of liturgical blend of the Hebrew-roots movement with the early apostolic practices applied across Sabbatarianism so we can get to know each other a lot better."

Many don't realize

A recurring phenomenon in Sabbatarianism, Dr. Roberts said, is that Sabbath keepers don't realize that many branches of Christianity have a belief in or practice of keeping the Sabbath as a part of their tradition.

For example, "we don't understand that some Methodists keep the Sabbath, such as the House of God group under Bishop Johnson.

"We don't really seem to understand that the early Adventists, such as Ellen and James White, were former Methodists and that the Methodists to this day talk about the Sabbath day.

"Then there's the Disciples movement. There is kind of a movement within the Disciples of Christ to acknowledge the benefit of a Sabbath rest.

"They've even written about that recently in their magazine."

Many Sabbatarians, he said, have no idea that Episcopalians, the American equivalent of Anglicans, "practiced Sabbath observance right on up to the 13th century, along with the [doctrines of the] sleep of the dead and the Kingdom of God on earth."

Bedrock understandings

If people on both sides of the discussion can keep in mind the Sabbath history of these varied groups, "I think this knowledge can provide a framework for some bedrock understandings and show that both sides are a part of the historical Christian faith in some respect, and not always in opposition to each other."

Members of the churches Dr. Roberts communicates with are not unanimous in their regard for the Sabbath.

"It does create some tension among members of the groups," he said.

"But, through time and through tolerance and just giving each other the freedom to function in a way that they see is beneficial for their growth, I'm sure in time things will iron themselves out."

Hopeful liaison

While Dr. Roberts remains an elder of the Church of God Seventh Day based in Meridian, he hopes to serve as a liaison "between Sabbatarianism in general" and the other groups.

"The direction I personally am going is clearly Sabbatarian coupled with liturgical studies: the early apostolic Jewish church as well as the history of the church into Persia, India and the Coptic church.

"That's the direction I'm taking rather than an exclusive Church of God-only approach. My approach is ecumenical as well as Sabbatarian."

Online university

Dr. Roberts, who serves as a member of the faculty and chancellor of an online university, St. Elias School of Orthodox Theology, Hamilton, Va., wants "to root the Sabbatarian approach within the stream of Christian thinking, as opposed to being adverse to it."

Such an approach, he hopes, "will ultimately lead to more--we would hope--peace."

Such an approach might also "bring mainstream Christians to an understanding of Sabbatarianism, and that would, you know, help Sabbatarians to understand their Hebrew roots and that they are within the Christian contemplative tradition."

Methodist counterparts

Dr. Roberts said belief in the earth-based Kingdom of God, the "sleep of the dead" and the "definition of the soul" were all tenets that had their counterparts in Methodist and other traditions.

"We just aren't in touch with them well enough to know that."

Surprisingly enough, some Christians of the "Methodist tradition" have a burning interest in "foot-washing" and related practices, Dr. Roberts said.

"In fact, there's quite a return to that right now in conjunction with their Communion service.

"And there's a publication within the Methodist movement right now that asks what's wrong with the Fourth Commandment."

Syrian orthodoxy

There's more. Dr. Roberts has ties to the Syrian Orthodox Church of America, some of whose members have an interest in the seventh-day Sabbath.

"One of my students [at St. Elias] is an Orthodox priest, but he believes in the Sabbath.

"I've just reviewed a paper on all of Polycarp's Sabbatarian descendants. That led me to the Desert Fathers' writings about how to keep the Sabbath."

Dr. Roberts has connections to Sabbatarians in the Old Calendar Hebrew Church in the Congo and the thoroughly Sabbatarian True Jesus Church, with 10 million members around the world. The China-based True Jesus people have 48 congregations throughout America, with an office in Southern California.

Ancient traditions

Scholars such as Englishman N.T. "Tom" Wright in the Anglican tradition "uphold the sleep of the dead and the coming Kingdom into our sphere," Dr. Roberts said.

"But people do wonder, well, why are the Episcopals [and other Anglicans] talking about these things?

"The reason is that ancient Anglo-Catholic tradition and the Wesley [Methodist] and Episcopal and Presbyterian traditions believed in those concepts."

Systematic theology

For the past few years one of Dr. Roberts' projects has been to help develop a systematic theology for the Meridian CG7.

"I still hope to complete the systematic-theology project, at least put it on my Web site so people can download it and make it available for the Church of God Seventh Day and other Church of God members.

"That way they can avail themselves of some of the deep research we've done. But we're still looking for a vehicle or a venue to put it out to the general public, and we don't really have that distribution method yet."

Contact info

Dr. Roberts organizes his studies, activities and communications out of his residence in Idaho, where he lives with his wife, Barbara, and son, Billy.

"We're willing to relocate if we need to, but we're leaving our options open in regards to where we go," he said.

Write Dr. Roberts in care of Acts magazine, General Council of Churches of God Seventh Day, 1827 W. Third St., Meridian, Idaho 83646, U.S.A.


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