I enjoy movies – or at least I used to. They’re not making many of my kind of movies these days. One film that left an indelible impression on me was the original version of On the Beach starring Fred Astaire, Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Anthony Perkins.
The movie centered on a U.S. nuclear submarine that had survived a nuclear exchange that destroyed most of the northern hemisphere. Slowly but surely radiation drift was killing off the human race. In one memorable scene, the sub docks in San Francisco Harbor. The once populated streets of San Francisco are now devoid of people. Not a soul is seen. A toxic wind blows papers around. The city is a giant tombstone for a once-vibrant population.
Quite a number of after-the-war films have been made since 1959, when Stanley Kramer directed this adaptation of a Neville Shute novel. The Mad Max series comes to mind. Then there was Steel Dawn and a few others. In most of these after-the-war scenarios, at least some people survive. They may live underground. Their offspring may have mutated as a result of radiation exposure. The strongest among them cling to power often functioning as war lords, controlling some vital factor such as water, food or weapons.
A way of viewing the Pod
I sometimes think of the Worldwide Church of God Pod as a miniature after-the-war scenario. By “Pod,” I mean all of the churches and individuals that have somehow been spun off the original parent church, which has now incrementally metamorphosed into something quite different than the original. Even the name is largely gone as leadership searches for a new name to match the new face. Systematically, virtually every vestige of the memory of the old WCG is being stamped out of existence. Something new is emerging in its place. The chimeras of the Armstrongs are being relentlessly exorcised from the new ecclesiastical entity.
Meanwhile, the landscape is littered with the bodies of spin-off organizations, home churches, fellowships, and individuals who turned out to be casualties of Der Schplit. More than 300 organizations, small and smaller, have been formed, and in some cases deformed in the wake of the mini-war. The largest of the small groups are run by ecclesiastical war lords who cling tenaciously to the Armstrongian legacy, having made it their own. Each Armstrongian group claims to be the true inheritor of the Armstrong mantle – the true Philadelphian “era” of The Church. All others are deemed “Laodicean,” “pagan,” “false,” or “Satanic” or worse.
Scattered home groups and smaller congregations under the leadership of disenfranchised, maverick, pastors seek to find their way amidst the blowing dust of ecclesiastical warfare. Thousands have given up on Christianity altogether. Most have lost confidence in leadership and seek to find their own path to God on the basis of independent study and personal preference. Some have become cynical atheists, agnostics and humanists, as I once did. (I got over it!)
Point is: the Pod landscape is bleak indeed. It is analogous to one of those after-the-war movies. The Journal continues to function as the sole reliable news source for what’s going on in the Pod – what’s left of it. It is a chronicle of war and its aftermaths. Shepherds have been smitten and sheep scattered. What’s a sincere Christian to do?
Strategies for spiritual survival
Let me share with you some things that have helped me negotiate my way through the bleak “after-the-war” landscape of the Pod.
- Make God, not men, the object of your faith and confidence (Jeremiah 17:5&7; Mark 11:22; Psalm 37:3-4).
- Actively seek the daily leading, gifting, empowerment and fruit of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; I Corinthians 12:4-6; Galatians 5:22-25)
- Lower your expectations of human leadership. “Pain in life comes from unfulfilled desires and expectations” – Dennis Prager. (Proverbs 13:12).
- Don’t expect to resolve all doctrinal or theological problems yourself, or in this lifetime. It “ain’t gonna happen,” as they say. Go with what you can know (Deuteronomy 29:29; I Corinthians 13:12).
- Always remember that God does not wish for you to perish (II Peter 3:9) and that he will complete the work he has started in your life (Philippians 1:6).
- Be open to change. Expect surprises. Be prepared to abandon cherished beliefs when the Holy Spirit deepens and enlarges your understanding (John 16:13).
- If something is truth, it will not bring you into bondage; it will set you free from bondage (John 8:32).
- Forget trying to sort out theological arguments and devote your life to doing good in the world and meeting people at their real points of need. Do what Jesus and his half-brother James taught us to do (Luke 6:46; 10:25-37; James 2:14-18).
- Take every burden you have, no matter how heavy or painful – whether it is a physical, emotional or mental affliction – to Christ in prayer and leave it there. Don’t be an “Indian giver” – giving some burden to the Lord, then taking it back (Matthew 11:28-30).
- Stop condemning those with whom you disagree. We are all learning. In the past, we took pride in “knowing” things we didn’t really know (I Corinthians 8:1b; 10:12; Matthew 7:1-5). It is better to walk softly before God, in humility, than to be a puffed up pouter pigeon who thinks he or she has a corner on the market of truth (Psalm 34:18; Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2b).
- Learn to co-exist with those with whom you disagree. In this life, we will never find ourselves in perfect agreement on every point of doctrine with every other Christian. When it comes to understanding, we are all works in progress (Romans 14:1 ff.).
- Stop the name-calling! Don’t go around labeling fellow believers “Laodicean,” “heretics,” “tools of the devil,” “Sardis,” etc. etc. Don’t be a self-appointed heresy hunter – chances are, you don’t know what you’re talking about (Proverbs 6:16-19; Matthew 5:9; I Thessalonians 5:13; James 3:18).
There are many more things I could add, but this article has already run overlong. If you do the things listed above, you’ll have the pump well-primed. We don’t have to see the Pod landscape as bleak, battle-scarred and inhospitable. God is wherever His people are. He is as near to us as the next prayer. Paul said of God to the Athenian philosophers: “…he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27b & 28a). No matter how divided and subdivided we Christians may have become humanly and organizationally speaking, there is only one Body of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that makes us a part of it (I Corinthians 12:13). So long as we have the Holy Spirit, we are never spiritually alone. The Holy Spirit is God’s comforting Presence in our lives (John 14:16, 26).
Church leaders and organizations will always have their wars. Christians will always be caught in cross fires of withering rhetoric between ecclesiastical warlords who covet the tithe and the power to control lives. This is petty. It is spiritual children playing king of the mountain in the sandbox here below. God and Christ are above all that. If we draw near to God, he will draw near to us (James 4:8) and when we’re with Him, that’s all that really matters.