When my column under the title “What will life be like after the church wars?” appeared in a recent issue of The Journal, a letter poured in taking me to task for some of the things I said. I responded to the letter, and that was followed by two more letters insisting that I make it right. Upon consideration of the three letters, and after reviewing my column, I decided to do just that.
In my column, I suggested that the Churches of God Pod, as I call it, was analogous to an “after-the-war” world in which war lords had seized power in various areas. I wrote, “The largest of the small groups are run by ecclesiastical war lords who cling tenaciously to the Armstrongian legacy, having made it their own.” When I wrote that, I had certain “one-man-show” groups in mind – not the United Church of God. In fact, I hadn’t even thought about United in that context. Technically, United, as far as I know, is the “largest of the small groups.” The way I wrote it, one would think I had United in mind when I referred to “war lords.” I did not. I therefore apologize to Journal readers, and to the United hierarchy, for my ill-thought-through comments.
In reality, I believe that United is probably the most well run of the spin-off churches. It has a Board that is elected, and elections are held each year. That is a major advance over the old autocratic style that many of us once experienced. This is not to say that I agree with United’s still largely Armstrongian doctrines, or with the way ministerial dissent has sometimes been handled. But then, as I have written many times, no denomination is perfect. Each has its blind spots and idiosyncrasies. These are of course a reflection of leadership.
In the bullet point section of my article, I also wrote that we should “stop the name calling.” Then I called some church leaders a name: “war lords.” I guess that makes me much like the name-callers to whom I was referring. It’s just that my names are better, and more appropriate, than your names. (That was a joke.) Sorry about the name-calling. I should have left that sentence out in order to sell my analogy.
Apart from that, I don’t retract any of my words in that article, except possibly one question that needs qualifying: “What’s a sincere Christian to do?”
I don’t doubt for a nanosecond that the majority of Pod people are entirely sincere. They either believe they have the truth, or they sincerely want to find it. I too am utterly sincere. But, as a compulsive generalist, I tend to be loose with details, and we all know who’s in those. Loose ends often tie me up. I’ll try to be more circumspect in the future.
I do believe than many in the Pod are confused. The situation, as it exists, is confusing. It was confusing to me 27 years ago when I left the WCG. As yet, the dust still has not settled. Many are still sorting and sifting, trying to “hold fast to that which is good.” For about 25 of those 27 years, I’ve been attempting to determine for myself precisely what I should believe about many things – and what I should practice. I’ve shared some of my insights with Journal readers – sometimes to cheers, sometimes to jeers. Perhaps the time for commenting has past. Each of us has to work out his or her salvation “with fear and trembling.” The pages of time are quickly turning. Some of us are moving ahead, others are still dependent upon their links with the past when all seemed so cut and dried. It isn’t easy for most of us to sort out the complex theologies that have been developed over 2000 years of Christian history. We are drawn like iron filings to a magnet to our comfort zones. Without much thought, we snap back into default modes – to places where it’s all laid out for us and we don’t have to think for ourselves.
Whether we sink back into authoritarian epistemologies, or whether we choose the more challenging course of ferreting out truth for ourselves, is an individual decision. The Gospel and the process of salvation are relatively easy to understand. The Bible is not. If we want to progress beyond the basics, we have to accept the challenge of becoming a spiritual “workman” laboring for comprehension.
So long as God in his grace grants me life and breath, I’ll continue to forage for those nuggets of truth that bring me closer to understanding God and the Bible that talks about him. I will continuously strive to be a better Christian and to live more fully the life that the Lord has willed that we all should live. I will seek a deeper and more powerful leading of the Holy Spirit.
In my quest for truth, I’m simply one of many Pod people trying to find his way amidst the smoke and confusion of ecclesiastical chaos. The Journal’s pages are full of assertive statements made by those who believe they understand the truth. My voice is just one more in the cacophony of confusion. There’s no reason for anyone to pay any more attention to my words than to anyone else’s.
Many years ago, in the 60’s, Art Craig gave a sermonette at the feast in Squaw Valley about “spitting into the wind.” I now believe that that’s exactly what I’ve been doing in writing my column for The Journal. It’s time to withdraw and relinquish the space to someone else. Consequently, this is my last column for The Journal.
Those who may wish to follow my occasional rants can find them at www.godward.org and occasionally in the pages of The Sabbath Sentinel and The Bible Advocate. I want to thank Dixon Cartwrite for the opportunity to grind my axes in the pages of The Journal over the past few years. As I’ve said many times, The Journal is the closest thing the Pod has to a free press. It is performing a valuable service to thousands who are still seeking to find their way.
A word of encouragement from Paul: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:3-6).
I believe that for you, and I believe it for myself. God isn’t finished with us. Leaders and denominations come and go, but the Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever. What he started in each of us, he will finish. Our lives are tied in a bundle with Christ’s life. He alone is the captain of our salvation. He is the only mediator between God and us. He alone is the head of the Church, which is his body. In all things, Jesus has preeminence. We must cling to him with great tenacity.
As we run our individual races, we must run them “in Christ.” No matter how many “after-the-war” scenarios we have to live through, if we cling to Christ, it’ll all come out right in the end. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” It’s true; he is all of that and more.
To what I suspect is the great relief of many, and the minor sorrow of perhaps a few, I am now exiting the pages of The Journal. Several friends have been urging me to do it for years. It is now time – not because of the letter I mentioned at the beginning — but because the time is right. I consider this bridge burnt. May God richly bless those Journal readers who honestly and objectively follow truth wherever it leads.