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I know where the one true church is

The writer pastors the Church of God Big Sandy and is a regular columnist for The Journal.

By Dave Havir

BIG SANDY, Texas--One of the most popular litmus tests used to condemn other people is to evaluate if they are in the "one true church."

That concept is prevalent in most religious systems. That concept is not found just in the Church of God movement.

Let me tell you about a conversation I recently had with Diane, a friend in the Big Sandy area who provides Christian counseling for members of the public. Although she helps abused women, she also helps people with their general relationship with God.

Don't ask, don't tell

We were talking one evening in general terms about someone she was counseling who was floundering spiritually because of his reaction to the doctrinal shift of the Worldwide Church of God (the shift started building momentum in the early 1990s).

Diane and I never talked about the identity of the person. I would not ask, and she would not tell.

Diane and I did not talk about our doctrinal differences. Those considerations were irrelevant to our discussion. Besides, we have much in common including the desire not to debate our differences.

Trying to be helpful, I said something like: You know, Diane. When I was a part of the Worldwide Church of God, we used to believe we were the one true church. Many WCG preachers used to say that if you left Worldwide you were going to the lake of fire.

I appreciated Diane's response. She said something like this: I was raised Church of Christ. Many preachers used to say that if you left the Church of Christ you were going to hell.

We chuckled. We both saw that these two religious organizations that had been a major part of our lives were placing an undue emphasis on membership with them.

Even though we temporarily chuckled at the folly of such notions, we both understood the danger that such an environment creates for a group. More important, we both understood the danger that such an approach creates for a sincere individual.

Brilliant marketing strategy

Although the theory of the one true church is not limited to the Church of God movement, it is obvious that such an unhealthy notion has been a part of our past and remains a part of the present for some.

Since the old Worldwide Church of God previously viewed itself as the one true church, is it any wonder that its major offshoots also believe they are the one true church?

Some offshoots are bold in their exclusivism. They remind me of Saul before he had his road-to-Damascus experience. Truth and logic do not seem to penetrate a closed mind.

For other offshoots, exclusivism turns into elitism. Being the one true church turns into being the best true church. Hey, that's called good marketing in the business world.

And, of course, you know what theory encourages the best-true-church idea, don't you?

That's right. The good Philadelphian era and the bad Laodicean era.

It's a brilliant marketing strategy.

o First, identify your group as the Philadelphian era.

o Second, label all the more-established competition as the Sardis era and label the newer competition as the Laodicean era.

Each of these groups has a problem, though. According to Herbert Armstrong (founder of the Radio/Worldwide Church of God), his church was the Philadelphian era and his legitimate successors would logically be the Laodicean era.

Each of the offshoots claims legitimacy by voicing loyalty to Mr. Armstrong. Yet, as the dozens of offshoots wage a war of words to claim the title of legitimate successor (with the "mantle" or "baton"), they are battling to be the Laodicean era (according to Mr. Armstrong's theory).

I realize that they claim that Mr. Armstrong was wrong about some of the timing of prophecy and therefore was wrong in recognizing his successor as the Laodicean era.

But do they really want to go down that road? Since the church-era theory is his theory, do you really want to tinker with it?

If the major proof of the theory is that Mr. Armstrong presented it, do you want to undermine his credibility by showing where he and his theory went wrong?

A recommendation

I have an idea. How about accepting Jesus' words at face value? How about accepting what Jesus told His disciples when they were demonstrating exclusivism? (Mark 9:38-40).

How about believing the Good Shepherd? (John 10:1-16).

Can you accept that the Church of God is a spiritual organism?

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