Thursday, July 23, 2015

Gary Benjamin RIP

It is with profound sadness and respect that ABD announces the death of Mr. Gary Benjamin of Mount Blanchard, Ohio. Gary died yesterday, Thursday July 22, 2015.

If it weren't for Gary, there would be no xHWA.
You showed me what Ron Weinland really is. You taught me to think for myself. You taught me it was OK to ask questions and to dig deeper. You taught me there was more to faith than what is printed in a booklette from Pasadena.

Gary was fond of witty sayings, like, "Walk slow and drink cold water," or, "On the other hand, she had warts." He loved a good gag.

There are a very few people from the COG days who were so genuine that they retain my respect. Gary was one. He was among the best of them.

Rest In Peace, old man. And Fly to Jesus.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why Pleas for COG Unity Will Always Fail

This week, a letter titled “An Open Letter to Leaders in the Church of God” started traveling the Internet. The letter’s anonymous author originally posted it on the social media web site Tumblr, but it has made the rounds on other social media sites as well. 

It is an intelligent, well-written letter, and I agree with it, (obviously aside from its doctrinal stance). Generally, the letter laments that the splintered Churches of God share so many core beliefs; yet are divided into scores of competing, conflicting corporate organizations. That leaders from these fractious groups act like they are God’s only true church and disparage those with nearly identical beliefs in other COG groups, often from the pulpit. That such behavior is NOT relegated only to the few “extremist” groups in the community; and that it is unacceptable and displeasing to God. 

I sympathize whole-heartedly with the author and with others who support it. I’ve made pleas like this myself in the past. You see, most of our leaders and older brethren had all the things you guys seem to be seeking – big, active congregations with physical support and meaningful relationships – at the phase of life they needed it. They don’t like the splits, but they’re used to them, and they still have enough folks left that started this journey with them 30-plus years ago to make their church life somewhat meaningful for their remaining years. 

But you, you’re just starting out in life. Years of failed COG prophecy has taught you Jesus might not be coming as quickly as Rod Meredith tells you. You want the things your older brethren had back in WCG – larger, vibrant congregations; social opportunities for you and your children; and lifelong friendships with people upon whom you can rely.  Instead, you are forced to drive at least an hour to to church each week to watch a video sermon with 23 other people. While people you know and love are meeting 20 minutes away. But they're meeting with THAT group of Laodiceans. Or at least that’s how your pastor explains it. 

Don’t let anyone tell you that you are shallow or weak in the faith because you want those things. The folks minimizing your needs obviously thought they were important when THEY were in your shoes, because went to great efforts to create them. And don’t forget that The New Testament – especially Ephesians – makes it clear that the Christian life should be lived in a community so that believers can support, encourage and help one another. That 23-member congregation of people you see maybe three times a month qualifies as a community only in the strictest definition of the word. Remote, infrequent contact does little to create and cement the kind of relationships you will need to weather life’s toughest storms. 

So I get it. But I’m sorry to say, it’s not going to happen. And not just because of the egos and pride of your leaders, although the author is correct that it’s the major cause of the splintering. But even if Rod Meredith, Victor Kubik, Jim Franks, Gerald Flurry and the like set aside years of pride and infighting, repented in ashes and started working together next week, it wouldn't be enough. The problem is, the doctrinal foundation upon which the COGs are based can’t help but cause division

On the whole, the COGs teach that salvation is a gift from God, but that we must perform works of obedience in order to maintain our relationship with God.  Failure to obey can jeopardize our salvation, although no minister I know has ever been able to quantify what percentage of obedience I must maintain in order to enter the Kingdom of God. But that a minor point in this discussion. The bigger issue is that if our right standing before God is maintained through works of obedience, then we better make sure we have the correct list of works. 

The author of the Open Letter lists a number of core beliefs and signs of the “true church” – things like the name “Church of God,” keeps the Sabbath, keeps the Holy Days on the “proper days,” has a “correct” understanding of the nature of God and several others. The author then asserts that any church who stays true to these beliefs is a true Church of God. The author describes other beliefs over which some COG groups have separated “non core issues” that are nothing more than “political footballs” used to cover up their own agendas. 

I understand the sentiment. But even defining "core" and "non-core" issues is polarizing. And could be viewed as spiritually reckless by some within the very community the author is trying to unite. If the COG’s teachings on maintaining one’s justification through obedience are correct, then these “non core issues” matter. Then EVERY issue matters. Then all the “non core issues” that vary from church to church must matter, and members are right to take a stand for what they believe God requires of them.  James 2:10 tells us that if we’ve broken one portion, we’re guilty of breaking the whole thing. If we break just one “jot” or “tittle,” then we’re guilty. Slip-ups are one thing. But if every word spoken at Sinai is binding upon us (a considerably larger list than just the ones “God’s true apostle” Herbert W Armstrong cherry-picked) and we regularly ignore New Moons or many other points that most of today’s COGs consider minutia, then we are ignoring the word of God and risk of failing our Christian obligations. Man does not have the authority to parse the Sinai Covenant into manageable, modern bites.   

It’s true that power and pride are at the root of most COG splits. But there are ministers who honestly believe they are condemning their brethren to Gehenna fire when they endorse eating in a restaurant on the Sabbath or celebrating Passover on the “wrong” day. Whatever is not of faith is sin, right? How can they sleep at night if they are leading their brethren astray? They are supposed to be protecting their flock. And this is how the division will persist. If salvation is at stake, there is no room for each to be convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5). There is no such thing as foolish disputes about geneology or striving about the law (Titus 3:9). It all matters.

So the Living Church of God and others will claim that proper church government is a matter of salvation, the United Church of God will disagree, and neither will accept each other as Christians. Those in UCG will eye ministers from the Church of God, a Worldwide Association as the “spiritual wolves” UCG leadership described them, and never trust them enough to be under their authority. COGWA members will both continue to disparage their former UCG pastors and try desperately to contact their children in the Philadelphia Church of God. Who will keep pretending that they and the rest of you don’t exist.  Pride, fear and grace-less legalism will continue to feed the splintering machine. And those scattered in the COG community, increasingly disgusted with what they see, will stay scattered.

Deep down, you know what I'm saying is true.  Or else you wouldn’t be trying to fight it. You can see your future in the COGs, and it isn’t pretty. I understand. I'm not writing these things to mock anyone or to cast stones - I'm reaching out because many of you are my friends and my family. I suffered through these same feelings. My suffering is done now, but yours isn't. Still, it wasn’t so many years ago that I was locked in my own bathroom, praying, so that no one else in my family would see my tears. So that no one would see me doubting and questioning what we had been taught about God since childhood. My prayer was simple: God, lead me where you want me to go, and show me what you want me to see. Over the coming months, He helped me see that there were only three choices when it came to salvation: 

A). God requires you to find which COG group has the correct list of doctrines and then “keep” them to maintain your relationship with Him.

B). God will examine you and find you have met the “good enough,” threshold, wink at any remaining sin or doctrinal misunderstanding in your life, and usher you into His Kingdom.

C). God promises salvation to those who place their faith for salvation in Jesus Christ, not in their own efforts or record of obedience. 

I know it's hard to believe, but C really is what the Bible teaches about how we receive eternal life. It was hard for me to believe, too. In spite of what your COG leaders have taught you, believing C doesn’t mean I am anomian or antinomian. It doesn’t mean that I believe I can live my life any old way I want. It means that I no longer try to live with a foot in each covenant and that I thank God that my salvation depends upon the work and strength of the one who offers it, not the work and the strength of the person who needs it.

Until your leaders accept that they are saved by grace through faith in Jesus and nothing else, nothing additional, they will fight and divide over what needs to be done to attain salvation. Until they properly understand the doctrine of regeneration, they will keep struggling and striving to make sure they are in the Kingdom. And you, your friends, family and brethren can't help but suffer the fallout. 

God knew exactly what He was doing when He established salvation by grace through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It was His perfect solution, and it short-circuits the lamentable, destructive religious environment in which the COGs now find themselves.  The only remaining question is, do your leaders know what they're doing? 

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