Friday, January 2, 2015

Calendar Conflict Costs COGWA Couple

Calendar disagreements have plagued the Churches of God almost since their inception. Two members of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA) appear to be the latest casualties of this recurring issue.

The Shining Light blog reports that COGWA has permanently suspended members Andrew and Sarah Henderson over a paper the couple submitted to COGWA's doctrinal committee at the request of a COGWA elder. We at As Bereans Did do not endorse the doctrinal content of The Shining Light blog, but its author, James Malm, has been a fixture in the COG blogosphere for years and generally is in-the-know about drama in the splinters.

Malm says that the Hendersons began studying one of his papers on the Biblical Calendar about two years ago and later went to their local COGWA elder with questions. Malm does not name the elder, but it appears that the Hendersons at one point attended COGWA's Columbus/Cambridge Ohio congregation. This information came from COGWA's Godly Women blog, to which Sarah Henderson had been a regular contributor.

The elder with whom they met reportedly asked the Hendersons to write up a study paper on the topic for submission to COGWA's doctrinal committee. He then suspended them until the paper was presented. They complied, although the suspension remained in effect even after they submitted the paper. After a few exchanges, COGWA made the couple's suspension permanent.

We are not reporting this issue because of any ill will toward the Hendersons, or because we take any pleasure in spreading troubling news. We pray for them - COG membership is isolating enough, even before one is prohibited from attending church services or activities, or before one's "friends were being personally called." Instead, we simply wish to bring to light another episode COGWA probably would like to sweep under the rug. Another issue that damaged relationships and fractured congregations.

There are two sides to every story, but we have to wonder whether our readers' reports are true - that COGWA is returning to a more hard-line brand of Armstrongism reminiscent of the Worldwide Church of God. After the COGWA-UCG split, UCG detractors whispered that the COGWA ministry was well-rid of the more liberal UCG pastors; accusing them of turning their back on Herbert W Armstrong. While in fact, UCG does have an Armstrongist foundation, it seems to have shed much of the heavy-handedness to which it appears COGWA may be returning. It wouldn't be the first time - remember what happened to Ed Oliver in 2012? The lesson - don't try to dig deeper into the Bible than the COGWA ministry (and it's not hard). It won't end well for you.

To be fair, calendar issues are complicated, as xHWA recently explained, and they are vital to determining when to observe the annual holy days. But the modern Hebrew calendar is not the same one Israel used. In fact, there were multiple calendars in effect in Israel by Christ's time. The calendar was based on the New Moon, which Jewish law required to be visually confirmed even though astronomical science could predict when it would occur. If the New Moon was visually confirmed, the news was spread throughout Israel to the diaspora by a series of hilltop fires, from the centuries following the exile until just before the Temple fell. If it was not confirmed, they waited a day, throwing the whole calendar off. This is where postponements came into play; and is why some Jews observe holy days for two days instead of one.

In short, if observing the holy days on the self-same day established in the Sinai Covenant is a factor in salvation, we are all doomed. Christ's wedding feast will be more like an intimate dinner party for the six people throughout history who were able to accurately divine the correct dates. We can only hope that God takes pity on us for trying really hard to get it right, or that we've at least gotten enough of it correct for Him to show us mercy. But really, that is the plan of salvation, as the COGs describe it. If being "good enough" or "right enough" is a factor in our salvation, then we'd better get it right when it comes to the calendar. And everything else.

Or maybe there's another way. A way that doesn't require us to spend our lives learning intricacies of the Hebrew calendar or scanning yogurt labels for code words that mean "beetle shell scrapings". Maybe our wise Creator wanted to eliminate bickering over lunar sightings on cloudy nights, or calculating sunset times during arctic winters. Perhaps it is as Ephesians 2:8-9 puts it - that our salvation comes by grace through faith in the shed blood of our Savior, not in our works. Perhaps we are no different from Abraham, as Romans 4:5 tells us:
 "But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness."
After all, isn't this what Jesus Himself told the crowds that sought Him in John 6:28-29?
"Then they said to him, 'What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent."
There's probably more to the story than James Malm relates, but situations like this are sad nonetheless. They have played out over and over in the history of the Churches of God. And they are doomed to happen again, as long as COGWA and other WCG splinters teach their followers that their salvation hinges in part upon their observances and works. Because there will be disagreements on how to carry out those works and observances, and neither side feels they can afford to be wrong on matters of eternity.  But we know all things work together for good for those who love God, and we don't doubt the sincerity of those who go out on a limb to obey what they think God expects of them. Perhaps this incident will lead COG members to question the strife and division their doctrines often cause, and step into the New Covenant and the finished work of Jesus Christ.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11


Anonymous said...

I thought it was prove all things..uh. I also don't understand the temporary and then permanent bar??? Or is it just me. Life...Hope...Truth. How do you get there unless Even if seeking may involve questioning and pondering but not in a wish list and childish way...but with intent to understand, ponder, bust a move.

Anonymous said...

Can you post their calendar paper? I currently attend with cogwa and also keep a biblical calendar, and I am curious to know what they said that was so bad. About 2 years ago my wife and I discussed this with the local pastor and made our concerns known about the hebrew calendar, but nothing came of it at all.

If you don't have their paper, then possibly a Facebook or website of theirs?

xHWA said...

We are working on obtaining a copy.

Anonymous said...

So let me get this straight?! Every time someone came to our "Lord and God" seeking forgiveness or healing, knowledge or understanding He interrogated, suspended, ostracised or condemned them until they saw whatever was on His mind at the time His way?!
So are you telling me that there were no differences of opinions among 1st century Jews?! Sadducees and Pharisees saw everything the same?! Christ's disciples, Peter, James, John and Paul had no disagreements at all? And Jewish and Gentile Christians had no opposing views whatsoever?! Come on! When are these splintering splinters going to grow up and face reality?! They think by enforcing zero tolerance on alternate views among the members and encouraging REAL major discord and turmoil by supporting parents to abandon their children, spouses to divorce and remarry, close families to be irretrievably torn apart all because someone differed on this or that they're following God and doing Him service, but in the end they'll wake up and realize too late they've been playing in the hands of the devil!

Martha said...

Well said, anonymous. I couldn't agree more.

We know members of the early church had disagreements, because Romans 14 gives specific directions on how to handle disputes over "doubtful things." The solution is as you suggested - since nothing is inherently unclean (verse 14), let each be fully convinced in his own mind (verse 5), do not show contempt for a brother (verse 10), be concerned with the account you will give to God for your own behavior (verse 12) and do not judge one another (verse 14). Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food (20) or drinking wine (21) or other doubtful things. Seek peace (verse 19) and have faith until yourself (verse 22).

The problem is, we also have Matthew 18, which describes how to approach a sinning brother. And as long as the COGs teach theSabbath and Holy Day observance as a matter of sin and righteousness, the calendar issue will be a box canyon from which they cannot escape. I have not seen the Henderson paper yet, but most calendar issues boil down to whether one is keeping the Holy Days on the correct day and whether one observes New Moons.

If one studies the calendar issue, and becomes convinced that the COGs are keeping the Holy Days on the wrong day, and Holy Days are perceived to be a matter of sin and righteousness, they feel it's incumbent upon themselves to let the church leadership know they are leading their members to sin. If you are keeping the Holy Days on the wrong day, then you are probably sinning. Consider the matter of the Sabbath - is it Holy time or not? Would COGWA approve of me keeping a "sabbath" on Tuesday, as long as I called it the "Sabbath"? The same argument applies to the Holy Days.

If the COGs at all wished to be consistent about their interpretation of Colossians 2:16-17, they would keep New Moons. Many people inside and outside the COGs can see that Colossians 2:16 is an all-or-nothing proposition. If New Moons are optional, then so are the Sabbath and Holy Days. If the Sabbath and Holy Days are required by the text, so are the New Moons. But for whatever reason, HWA and the old WCG didn't teach this, so neither do most modern COGs. So once again, those who believe New Moons are required see their brother sinning, and you know the rest of the story. Honestly, in the COG system, it's hard to imagine what issue could possibly be seen as a gray area and not a black-and-white matter of sin and righteousness. Whether a steak that's too rare qualifies as "eating the blood"? What percentage of one's church budget should be dedicated to media and "the gospel"? Not much of import, anyway.

COG leadership has always liked to keep a lid on dissension. They want to protect their flock from the wolves, as UCG's late Dennis Luker once publicly described those ministers who opposed him. To be fair, shepherds are supposed to protect their sheep, and this is what the ministry often purports to do in these cases. So they are not entirely to be blamed. It is a sad fact of COG existence, one that, as you so rightly state, tears apart families and lifelong relationships. The destructive calendar dance will be a part of the COG's legacy as long as the COGs exist. Or at least as long as they teach that observances and works are a part of maintaining one's justification before God, and therefore a factor in salvation.

Anonymous said...

We are working on obtaining a copy.

Thank you! Would you post it here in the comments? Or in another post?

xHWA said...

Here is a link to a pdf version:

A Case for the Biblical Calendar PDF

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting that!

Anonymous said...

may I ask why the above pdf link on "the case for the biblical calendar" been removed?

xHWA said...

Unfortunately, we don't quite know why it's gone. Perhaps there is another copy out there somewhere.

Anonymous said...

a lot of red flags go up when a paper is removed. What are they trying to hide? truth?