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Churches of God aren't God's church,
United Christian Ministries founder declares.

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Churches of God aren't God's church,
United Christian Ministries founder declares

by Dixon Cartwright

BIG SANDY, Texas--Ray Wooten, a familiar name to many longtime Church of God members, made several startling statements in an interview here the Sabbath of March 15, 2009.

For example, he declared that none of the COGs are God's church. Furthermore, he said, they're no more God's church than are Methodists, Baptists and Catholics.

He said something else that could startle Church of God members: He doesn't believe the Sabbath Commandment is the Test Commandment.

Not only that, Mr. Wooten thinks he's located the Ark of the Covenant.

Mr. Wooten, here with his wife, Peggy, for a special Sabbath March 15, 2009, during the annual Women's Conference sponsored by the Church of God Big Sandy, enlarged on these themes during a conversation with this writer after Sabbath services.

Since 1995

Mr. Wooten, at age 75, has, with his wife, operated United Christian Ministries since 1995, first in Alabama and now in Roanoke, Ind.

He's no stranger to controversy, having helped found the United Church of God in 1995 and left that organization because he believed it quickly departed from the founding principles he thought it was advocating in favor of more of a centralized, controlled ministry than he was comfortable with.

A native of Huntsville, Ala., and former singer of gospel music for more than 20 years with several quartets, Mr. Wooten raised four children while working in customer relations in insurance, manufacturing and, finally, a credit bureau.

He became a member of the Worldwide Church of God in 1968 and attended Ambassador College in '68 and '69.

Good-humor man

Mr. Wooten observes the situation the Churches of God find themselves in with an overlay of humor and irony.

He mentions that just about any church or ministry you can think of nowadays is shrinking in its numbers and apparent effectiveness, from the WCG to its splits and even his own effort since the mid-1990s, United Christian Ministries.

But he tries not to let shrinking numbers and people's current indifference to the Bible and religion bother him.

"No. 1," he said, "I've had to realize what my role is in life and in the lives of other people. I believe I have a God-given responsibility and talent to teach God's way of life. I do not have the ability or the desire or commission to enforce God's way of life on anybody."

He does feel a responsibility to teach an understanding of the Bible message that he believes is God's will for God's people.

But, even if his listeners don't agree with it, "I still treat them as if they are okay, because Christ died for us when we were in that condition ourselves. Ultimately we are all brothers through and in Christ."

Who's on track

He mentioned during the interview that allowing people to find their own way, to make their own decisions, is as important as teaching them correct doctrines.

"I don't know of anybody who has all the doctrines right," he said. "If doctrines were salvation, there would be no possibility of salvation.

"In fact, I don't believe there's even a Test Commandment."

No Test Commandment? Mr. Wooten doesn't believe the Fourth Commandment is the proper litmus test to determine who's on track and who's not?

"Right. I don't believe any one Commandment is the test. I think the attitude and the spirit are the test, and we will grow in God's way of life. All of God's commandments are important, for they express God's way of love.

"I'll even go this far: I believe that when you're looking at a person who has God's Holy Spirit, who has--you know--accepted Jesus Christ and received God's Holy Spirit, when you look at that person you're looking at the Ark of the Covenant."

Just what does Mr. Wooten mean when he says a Christian is the Ark of the Covenant?

"The Ark basically held God's law, God's demands, in it. Well, the Bible says that under the New Covenant 'I will write My laws and My ways in your heart and in your mind,' so they are contained in our minds and hearts.

"So why would people spend all this time hunting for a physical ark and tablets of stone, except for historical reasons?

"Nothing physical, nothing earthly, even including the literal physical Ark of the Covenant, is eternal. It's our spirit, it's God's, it's God's way that's eternal. The real repository of God's laws and His Spirit is us as God's people, so we are the real Ark of the Covenant."

Onward and Spiritward

But couldn't a critic reasonably conclude that Mr. Wooten is spiritualizing away the Bible and God's truth?

"Yes, but, well, duh, that's what Christ was doing. He was showing that these physical things are profitable only in a physical way. They're profitable only because they can lead us to the spiritual. Christ is the culmination, the fulfillment, of all these things, the fulfillment of everything in the physical realm."

What they picture

Does Mr. Wooten see the keeping of certain physical practices and rituals as profitable?

"Yes, I do," he said. "Let's face it. Not all mankind is saved, and my interest is not just in me. My interest is in all mankind.

"These annual festivals that we observe, we don't just observe them as days. We observe them for what they picture. The important thing is they picture salvation not only for me but for all of my fellowman."

Jesus, he said, stands as the "personification" of everything God inspired to be written in the law and the prophets.

"That means the whole Old Testament, by the way. He doesn't mean just the Ten Commandments or certain prophets. He means everything in the Old Testament.

"I believe He even includes the writings of David and so on. Christ is the ultimate fulfillment, the personification, of all of these things."

Self-fulfilling prophecy

In years past Mr. Wooten frequently predicted that any specific Church of God ministry would decrease in size as it aged. The Journal wondered if he believes time and events validated him as a prophet in that regard.

"I have based that prediction on what I've observed. It's a prophecy, I guess.

"But it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"By that I mean that we sow the seeds of our own negative growth by our approach to evangelizing.

"The church corporations and organizations are trying to build. They evangelize to try to get people in their church.

"But true evangelism is trying to get people to accept Jesus Christ and let Him decide where they'll be and where their fellowship will be and so on.

"We try to make these people our people, but Jesus Christ never makes them our people.

"We should be trying to enable people to see that they are to become His people. We should not be trying to make them our people. After all, they do not belong to you or me."

Piled up together

Mr. Wooten said Christians are not obliged to support the work of one public speaker to travel the world preaching the gospel.

"I believe the responsibility is for all of us to shine and show and glow the gospel in our lives, and that's why we're scattered. We're scattered so we can do that.

"See, it's too much for us to all be in one place and just be piled up together and send one man all around the world to preach the message.

"All of us who are a part of that spiritual organism called the Body of Christ are preaching the gospel where we are. We don't even have to open our mouths to preach the gospel."

Future and past understanding

Mr. Wooten thinks Christians in general are too worried about the past and the future.

"The present moment, the now, is all we have. Tomorrow, when it comes, is now. Yesterday, when it was here, was now. For now, now is all we have. God has never lived in the past or the future. He is now. Jesus confirms this in Matthew 6:34."

State of eternity

On that note The Journal asked Mr. Wooten for his thoughts on the subject of eternity.

"You see, past, present and future are spatial terms," he said. "God lives in a spiritual life, and He just is. I know we don't like to say 'God is,' but He is.

"See, eternity is not a period of time. Eternity is a state. I believe the primary purpose of the Sabbath is to picture the state of total peace and total--just total--life and the state that God lives in.

"That's why it's so important for us to observe the Sabbath--not because of the time element, but it gives us an opportunity to stop and really consider and, you know, even meditate on the fact that this is God's life."

Instrument of peace

Mr. Wooten tries to function as an "instrument of God's peace," he said. "You see, I even love those people who don't like what I'm doing, who hate me, who say I'm out here on my own.

"But I'm not on my own. My Father and my Lord and Savior are with me all the time. They live with me through the Holy Spirit."

The churches aren't God's church

A man called Mr. Wooten the other day to say he'd just left one of the splinter groups and wanted to check out United Christian Ministries as a possibility for a ministry to support and associate with.

"Do you believe in a headquarters and a head of God's church?" he asked Mr. Wooten.

Mr. Wooten's response: "I said, yes, I do, and I believe that He's with us wherever we are. He is Jesus the Christ. He is the one who was Jesus. He's Messiah, and He's with the Father, and I believe the church is a spiritual organism. It is not an organization of man."

That wasn't the answer the man was looking for, Mr. Wooten mused.

"I'm convinced institutionalism doesn't work. It makes sick people out of people who weren't as sick when they got there, and that includes church institutions, all of them.

"The ones that we thought were God's church are no different. Look. The Churches of God, the organizations, are no more God's church than Baptists, Methodists or all others. That's my personal belief.

"I think we forget that God's church is a spiritual organism. It is not a corporation, organization or institution. It is God's family.

"And it consists of people who are possessors of, and who are led by, the Holy Spirit, not by the particular institution they attend."

Keeping things simple

Mr. Wooten concluded by mentioning he likes to keep things simple.

"I believe when we talk about God's work--that has always been kind of a buzzword in the Church of God--I believe Ephesians 2:10 tells you what God's work is."

He quoted the apostle Paul as remarking in that verse that Christians "are His workmanship."

"Let me ask you," Mr. Wooten said, "what is your workmanship? A newspaper. You're the workman, and that's your workmanship.

"If a carpenter or builder builds a house, that's his workmanship.

"God said in Genesis 1:26 that man was his workmanship, that He is making him after His likeness, His kind.

"We are God's work."

Antidote to fear

Mr. Wooten thinks many people are afraid to simplify their lives and look at things as basically as he is attempting to see them.

"But love is the antidote to fear, and it's the antidote to being offended at everything, the antidote to hate and anger and strife and war.

"Look, it just is. I believe that love is the most powerful force in existence.

"Fear, on the other hand, is the result of a focus on prophecy and almost all other teachings of religion, isn't it?

"Any work that you do must be based on the love for God and the love for people."

Gospel quartets

After the interview Mr. Wooten talked a little about his life before his membership in the Worldwide Church of God.

In 1963 he was 30 years old and had sung in gospel quartets for 21 years, starting as a 9-year-old in Alabama.

"When I was baptized I had learned enough that I knew I had to give that all up because it was pagan.

"I could use some talents for some things, but I could not use the musical talent God had given me to bless people with music, because gospel music was about the Trinity or heaven or hell, and that's not really the primary thing the gospel is about. It really isn't.

"Rather, it's about loving God."

Mr. Wooten had sung with a group called the Delmore Brothers, which also called itself the Brown's Ferry Four.

"The Brown's Ferry Four had originally included the Delmore Brothers, Red Foley and Grandpa Jones. My brother J.O. and I replaced Red Foley and Grandpa Jones when these guys came back home to Alabama from Nashville to live and retire. We sang with them."

He also sang with the Tidesmen Quartet and with Wally Fowler, who was a member of the original Oakridge Boys and the leader of the Oakridge Quartet.

"I feel probably that God put it on us not to be involved in the world of music because He knew that gospel music was basically show business," Mr. Wooten said.

"But there's nothing wrong with the songs, other than--

"Well, I even changed a word this morning [when singing at a memorial service for Jack Lehman, a member of the Church of God Big Sandy] from 'Jesus' to 'Savior': 'when I see my Savior' instead of 'when I see my Jesus.'

"Changing a few words around in a song can make it just fine.

"Music should be for blessing and helping people. It's not something you should commercialize, any more than you should commercialize the preaching of the gospel.

"That's why we at UCM don't sell anything we have, by the way."

United Christian Ministries is in the process of expanding through public-access television.

"If that works, okay, then we may try to go on stations that you have to pay for. But right now we're considering that, and I don't know if it's going to work."

He and his supporters are also revamping UCM's Web site, at

For information about The Christian Beacon, a quarterly publication, phone Mr. Wooten at (888) 985-9066.

Write United Christian Ministries at P.O. Box 608, Roanoke, Ind. 46783, U.S.A.


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