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Wayne Cole announces retirement, gives advice based on his experiences in life and the church.
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Wayne Cole announces retirement, gives advice based
on his experiences in life and the church.

By Dixon Cartwright

BIG SANDY, Texas--Wayne Cole, known specifically to thousands of present and past Worldwide Church of God members as C. Wayne Cole, in a sermon here Jan. 22 listed lessons he has learned in his 50-year Church of God ministry.

The address was officially Mr. Cole's farewell sermon, although the 75-year-old former Worldwide Church of God evangelist did not rule out the occasional religious discourse or other speaking engagement.

He did say, however, that he wanted to quit while he was ahead: end his formal ministry while he could still competently speak and expound Scripture.

Mr. Cole's preaching over the past 10 years has consisted of sermons delivered before the members of the Church of God Big Sandy but also at numerous other geographically wide-ranging venues.

In the beginning

Mr. Cole was active in speaking and other ministerial responsibilities beginning with his graduation from Ambassador College, Pasadena, Calif., in 1954. His duties continued in various but uninterrupted forms for 25 years, until his sudden and unexpected exit under a cloud when WCG founder Herbert W. Armstrong relieved him of his church responsibilities in 1979.

Mr. Cole's last assignment under Mr. Armstrong was to assist the WCG pastor general as chairman and president of all church operations everywhere in the world.

As reported in several articles over the years in The Journal recounting the history of the WCG especially in the 1970s, Mr. Armstrong suddenly fired Mr. Cole not long after officials of the State of California assumed legal control of the church through the office of the California attorney general.

Mr. Cole, while carrying out what he said were Mr. Armstrong's specific directives to cooperate with the state in its search for what it said were instances of financial malfeasance in the church, suddenly found himself out of a job, disfellowshipped and banished from church property.

In Mr. Cole's place Mr. Armstrong elevated church attorney Stanley Rader, thus beginning a church era marked by a highly visible resistance to the intrusion by the state that included church-member sit-ins and other demonstrations.

Mr. Cole, with his wife, Doris, found himself sucked into the usual black hole of obscurity reserved for disfellowshipped WCG members. Known to hardly anyone but close family members was their move to Texas and their joining up with the new Church of God International ministry of Garner Ted Armstrong.

But their career with the CGI was short-lived, only about six months. Beginning in 1980 the Coles dropped out of sight even of the CGI and reemerged in the parallel universe of the non-Church of God . They began successful careers brokering real estate in the Tyler area, not returning to formal Sabbath-service attendance until 1995.

That year marked the beginning of the crackup of the Worldwide Church of God--continuing to this day--prompted by its major doctrinal and administrative changes.

The Coles in June 1995 began attending Sabbath and feast-day services of the Church of God Big Sandy and have continued to attend with that fellowship. But Mr. Cole has also frequently visited with and spoken widely in congregations affiliated with other Church of God ministries, mostly with brethren who would describe themselves as "independent" or "interdependent."

For example, in 2004 the Coles assisted Guardian Ministries, based in Pasadena, with its Feast of Tabernacles observance. Guardian sponsors the Pasadena Church of God, pastored by David Antion.

In his farewell sermon here Mr. Cole also announced his and his wife's plans to move to Arizona, to live closer to their children, whenever they can find a house and land there to their liking.

The Cole history

In his final sermon Mr. Cole talked about his experiences as a student at Ambassador in the 1950s and his founding, over the years, of seven congregations on behalf of the Radio/Worldwide Church of God.

He "raised up" new congregations in Corpus Christi, San Antonio and Houston, Texas; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Akron, Ohio; Memphis, Tenn.; and Little Rock, Ark.

He also pastored RCG/WCG churches in Tacoma, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; St. Louis, Mo.; Chicago, Ill.; Milwaukee, Wis.; and Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

As an administrator in the RCG/WCG, he served as regional director for Australia and New Zealand for 11 years and as vice president for financial affairs, church administration and ministerial services for Australia, New Zealand and the Far East.

He served as regional director for the church and college in Canada for two years.

He conducted baptizing tours in Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and other countries.

He was a founder of the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation.

His last position in the WCG was as assistant to Mr. Armstrong for all operations of the church and college internationally.

"I was weighted down with that responsibility," Mr. Cole said. "Mr. Armstrong was very ill, living in Tucson, Ariz. Our contact was principally by telephone and visits to Tucson."

Then came the "trauma and shock of sudden alienation" in January 1979.

"Without as much as a hearing on the circumstances and without any financial consideration whatever," Mr. Armstrong fired and disfellowshipped and consigned to outer darkness C. Wayne Cole.

The move was so sudden that "I didn't receive my last paycheck, in fact," he said.

After attending Sabbath services of the Church of God International for six months in East Texas, Wayne and Doris Cole attended church nowhere from 1980 to 1995.

"Then," he said, "on Pentecost 1995 we began to attend with the Church of God Big Sandy." He delivered his first sermon in 25 years on Sept. 16 of that year.

The Church of God Big Sandy had begun as an independent congregation in April 1995 and was affiliated with the United Church of God from May 1995 through May 1998.

"You have made us welcome," he said to the assembled Church of God Big Sandy members in January 2005.

"You have shown us much respect. You have shown us much love and consideration, and for that we thank you every one."

Big desk

Mr. Cole told his listeners that a major lesson he has learned is not to think too highly of himself.

He quoted Mr. Armstrong as warning Mr. Cole about this very subject.

"Wayne," Mr. Armstrong had counseled him, "one of the things that can spoil a person quicker than anything else I know is a big desk and a high-back chair."

Mr. Cole structured his farewell sermon around nine lessons life has taught him.

The mysteries of God

  1. It is wiser to simply "accept the mystery of God" rather than demand understanding of it, Mr. Cole began.

Believing in God, he elaborated, requires accepting mysteries.

On the other hand, someone who chooses not to believe in God must accept "a great deal more mystery than I have to accept in my belief in God."

What's unity and what's not

  1. Life has taught Mr. Cole "what Christian unity is all about."

He used to believe that dwelling in unity meant believers worshiping together as part of the same "large group of yellow pencils, all looking pretty much alike."

But he no longer accepts that notion as the best definition and outcome of unity.

"We can still dwell together with love and respect for one another and not have contention and strife," even while retaining membership in various groups, he said.

"I have learned much more about tolerance of other people, but I also believe that we need to be very careful how we use the word tolerance and how we define it."

Toleration, he said, does not have to include acceptance of "every weird and crazy, liberal, far-off-the-wall" doctrine.

"My tolerance is more toward people than it is toward ideas.

"I can tolerate people who may not believe what I believe, and I may not be correct but I don't entertain their ideas.

"But I have learned that at one time I was not so tolerant."

Trust no man

  1. Mr. Cole said he has learned what the Bible means when it says not to trust any man.

"We've learned the hard way that we cannot trust in men," he said. "We once put our trust in men and organization, then found that the organization betrayed us--or maybe they would say I betrayed them."

Speaking of the events of 1979 again, Mr. Cole said that, even had he been "totally wrong" in the actions he took in carrying out the administration of Mr. Armstrong, his nearly 30 years of loyal service to the church "should have been sufficient that I at least be granted a fair hearing before any such precipitous and decisive action [that is, his firing and disfellowshipping] was taken."

Trust, he concluded, "requires careful monitoring and control."

Doctrine not as important

  1. Mr. Cole has concluded that "doctrine" is not nearly as important as he once thought it was. Doctrine is indeed meaningful, he said, "but I don't believe it's at the top of the list."

He quoted an unnamed leader of one of the splits from the WCG as saying that, when founding a church, the most important thing to do is "get the doctrine right" in order to "establish and stabilize the church."

But "I would much rather have heard that we get the relationships right and the personal protections right and then, if we have any time, we'll work on what we believe. That's what I would rather have heard."

As long as human beings live, Mr. Cole said, they will "contend over one thing or another, each claiming the Bible for his final authority, and I don't believe that that kind of dispute is profitable, and I have no intentions of engaging in it."

The most important

  1. Mr. Cole said he has come to believe that the "most important issues to our Creator" are "our relationships."

He quoted John 13:35, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another," and Deuteronomy 6:4, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!"

Both scriptures deal with relationships, he said: human beings with each other and human beings with God.

In the early days of Mr. Cole's ministry, the church--his employer--seemingly spent no time worrying about the effects on relationships that its myriad directives would work on its members and employees. The church would make personnel decisions with no apparent thought to the disruptions of lives and families that such decisions would effect.

In that regard, if Wayne Cole had his life to live over, he would not agree to some of the geographical moves Mr. Armstrong directed him to make. For his family's sake he would refuse some of the transfers. Such disruptive changes of location exacted too great a price on, for example, the relationships of his children with their friends.

He also said he disagreed with what he characterized as the church's disruptive and damaging practice of attempting to Americanize church members in other lands.

To do things over, for example, Mr. Cole would not try to "Americanize" the brethren in Australia.

"That's what we did in those days in the WCG. We thought our practices, our beliefs and our way of doing things, were a lot better than theirs. We were superior, smug and arrogant, and we were wrong. I wouldn't do it again. I would not try to build a house that looked like an American house in the midst of a foreign land. We would enjoy the people, building with them, appreciate their cultural differences, rather than feeling superior and more with-it and mature than they were."

Just what do you mean Christianity?

  1. Mr. Cole said he has learned that "religion" is not necessarily "Christianity."

"In fact, I have discovered that religion often blinds the eyes so that one cannot see or practice true Christianity. Religion is man-made, and Christianity as I define it is Christ-centered and Christ-founded."

The test of religion is not "religiousness but love," he said.

"It could not be otherwise, for the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of Christ, the proof that we never knew Him, that for us He lived in vain."

A principle of spirituality

  1. A big lesson for Mr. Cole over the years, he said, was learning the difference between legalism and spirituality.

"For so many, many years my view of the Commandments of God was as of a legal code. My view today is that they are a spiritual guide."

The Commandments are indeed "to be written in our minds and in our hearts. I may have known this intellectually down through the years, but only in the past few years has this spiritual principle set in."

Addiction to sin

  1. Mr. Cole has realized the powerlessness of mankind in the face of temptations. This is because the carnal mind is enmity against God, he noted while quoting Romans 8:7.

"Put in terms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I believe that I have learned that man is indeed powerless" and is addicted to "sinfulness.

"I have learned what it means to pray 'Thy will be done and not mine' much more effectively."

What if there's no tomorrow?

  1. Mr. Cole, in imparting the last of nine major life lessons he has learned, said he concludes that people should live like there will be no tomorrow

"Don't assume you have another day. Don't put off something you want to say to your loved ones to let them know what they mean to you."

He referred to a kidnapping a few days earlier in Tyler that ended in the brutal murder of Megan Holden, a 19-year-old college student from Henderson, Texas, at the hands of her abductor.

Miss Holden, he said, "left work at the Wal-Mart Store in Tyler the other night to go home to her family in Henderson. She never got a chance to say anything more to her mother, to her family."

Don't leave such important communications until "later," Mr. Cole said, "because you may not get the chance. And certainly don't put off having your relationship with your Creator."

He concluded his farewell sermon:

"Live so that when it comes time to die all you have to do is die."

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