It is somewhat unusual in the COG tradition to “give your testimony”, which is far more common in other circles. Once per year, though, we have the Night To Be Much Observed, in which we normally gather in smaller groups (usually in someone’s home), and we remember our past. Like the Israelites were instructed to remember how God brought them out of Egypt (Ex 12:42), we recall how God brought us out of the slavery of sin (“Spiritual Egypt”). It allows us to give praise to God, and it draws people closer as we learn more about each other. I think letting you know a little about me might help the dialog somewhat, so I’ll tell you a little about “my story”. Naturally, I’m going to have to leave out some details to protect people’s privacy, but maybe this will help you can get to know me a little better in this environment.
My family wasn’t always in the Church. My father did not originally care for Christianity at all. My father was, and still is in many regards, sensitive to lies and hypocrisy. What he saw in mainstream Christianity was full of hypocrisy.
Oddly enough, he married a woman who was raised Pentecostal, so there was this undercurrent of different beliefs that occasionally clashed. Dad knew the pagan trappings of Christmas, so he would only reluctantly put up a tree in December. One year, when I was 6 or 7, Mom talked him into donning a Santa Claus suit and put presents under the tree. She brought me and my younger brother to the edge of the living room, and whispered, “Look! Santa!” After a few minutes, I said, “He looks just like Daddy!” My dad never forgot that, and he vowed he would never participate in that type of deceit again.
It was around this same age that I was looking at a purple piece of cardboard with glue & glitter letters that had the shape of 2 tablets around the Ten Commandments (the short version, anyhow). I asked Mom, “Mommy, what is a ‘Sabbath’?” “Well,” she said, “it’s the Jewish day of worship. They worship God on Saturday.” I had already been exposed somewhat to TV ministries by that time, so I had some idea most of those programs were not on Saturday. So, I asked, “How come it’s different?” Well, she didn’t know, but to her credit she looked it up. I don’t recall if it was hours or days later, but she said, “I found it.” “What, Mommy?” “Look, here Jesus’ disciples were worshipping on the first day of the week.” She then showed me John 20:19 in her big red Bible. I read it, and then I said, “I don’t understand. They had church at night? Who’s preaching?” She got frustrated, and said, “Ohhhh! I don’t know!”
My dad took a job working nights quite a ways from our home in southwest Ohio. He would get off somewhere around 1 or 2 am. One night, he heard “The World Tomorrow” program given by Herbert W Armstrong. He came home, and he was so excited he woke up Mom to tell her, “This is it! This is someone who actually teaches from the Bible!” Well, it woke me up as well, but he didn’t know it. I thought that maybe he was drinking too much again, and I didn’t think that much about it until later. Things began to change after that, though.
Dad knew some people that lived up towards Huston Woods that had a small farm. They liked to make their own beer and wine, and Dad would play chess with Dale occasionally. He noticed that they never had pork in the house, and they would politely refuse to do some things on Friday night. He finally pressed them and asked if they were Jews. They sort of chuckled, but no, they weren’t Jews. They went to a church in Dayton called the “Worldwide Church of God” (WCG). Dad finally started to put it together that this was the same group he had been listening and watching, so he started asking them more questions. Finally, they gave him the phone number of a minister.
Mom and Dad were finally baptized at home. It was somewhat uneventful in many ways, and I don’t recall that much about it. Meanwhile, I was getting older and becoming more aware. To shorten this, my dad may have never been truly converted. I couldn’t understand the hypocrisy, so I went and did my own thing. I married, joined the Army, got divorced, remarried and had a daughter. During this time, my father got kicked out of WCG due to his problems with alcohol. My mother slugged away at it until the end, though, when she died in 2002.
In the Army, alcohol was easily accessible and even seemed normal. Eventually, I was sent to the Alcohol Treatment Facility. I went there to control my alcoholism, but I ended up finding God. I ended up getting a lot more than I bargained for, but one thing I did not anticipate was being essentially forced out of the Army. During those days, they were looking for any excuse to get rid of you. “The military draw-down” is what they called it. Staff Sergeants with 16 years of service were being handed their walking papers because of a single Article 15 on their records from years prior. They had already changed my job specialty once and made it impossible to get promoted by combining 3 “Military Occupational Specialties” (MOSes) into 2. Now, they were going to take 5 of MOSes and combine them into 3. Add on top of that having just being treated for alcoholism, and the future looked grim. Then, the Army did something it had never done before or since: The Army began paying certain people to get out. The timing was too coincidental to seem real. I told my wife, “I think I’m meant to get out.”
I was stationed in Germany, and it was during this time that the Berlin Wall came down. Memories flooded back about how the COG had predicted the reunification of Germany. Some even said the word “marvel” in the Bible referred more to the speed of the events than to the actual fact of the matter. Political pundits were saying it would take 15 years for East and West Germany to really unite. Then, it was 10 years. Then, it was 5 years. The reality was that it took about 18 months.
I got out, went back to school, moved to another city, settled down. I kept sober, but I still felt like something wasn’t right. I wasn’t going to church, and I was still being stubborn about some things. I actually did start surfing the web, and I discovered the church I once knew was no more (well, it existed in name only). I had missed a major rift in the church where the top leadership in the church decided it would become Protestant! This made US church history, but I wasn’t aware of it. I decided it all gave me a headache, and I just didn’t want to try to figure it all out. God has a way of getting your attention, though, and usually when you least expect it.
My daughter began attending AWANA class at a nearby Baptist Church. My wife encouraged her to go “to learn” (what I’m not sure). About a year after I had learned of the church split, my daughter one day decided to ask me some things about Christianity. I wasn’t paying that much attention, but she said, “You might go to hell.” “That’s not right!” I snapped at her. “I bet you believe good people go to heaven also, don’t you? Well, that’s not right, either!” She didn’t know how to respond to that. In fact, I wasn’t sure how to respond to that or why it came over me so suddenly. I decided I was a hypocrite, the one thing I hated the worst.
Well, I had a computer. I ordered some Bibles, I downloaded material, I read, I cross-referenced and I relearned a lot of things I knew before. I also learned a few new things. It wasn’t until I was absolutely satisfied that I even contacted a church. First, though, I wanted to go to a WCG service. I wanted to see it for myself. Everyone was “lovey-dovey”, but it seemed so fake to me. One would talk about their “freedom” and one nice old lady said, “We’re no longer into legalism.” To make things worse, the sermon was devoid of any real message. Was it a waste of time? No, I think I just had to see it for myself to accept it. The Internet is full of many strange things, and a lot of them are not true. I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that the church could turn itself inside out like that.
I had pretty much narrowed down my other choices to 1 of 3 others, and 1 of those was a little dubious. Somehow, though, I could feel God pulling me to a particular organization. I never did visit the other 2. Once I got there, I knew I was home. It doesn’t matter which one, as it isn’t the purpose of the blog to promote any certain organization.
I can tell you, however, that there are plenty of charlatans out there even in organizations that call themselves “COG”. They will enslave you in false teachings and traditions of men and then say you are “free”. They will devour you up because they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They will separate you from your loved ones, they will separate you from your money and given enough time they may rob you of salvation itself (but only if you allow it). Some will idolize a man, some will have false prophets and some will tell you that you will go into the Great Tribulation unless you belong to their particular group.
My suggestion is to not worry about your own personal safety because God will provide for your needs. God wants you to come to Him not to save your hide but because you love Him. Put Christ first and quit worrying about who the End Time Elijah is. The End Time Elijah will reveal himself when the time is right, and if he’s already come and gone, so what? It is Christ that should be leading you, not a man and not an organization. Is worshiping Christ about make-up, hair length or church government? Or, is it about growing in holiness, keeping the commandments and loving God and neighbor more and more each day?
Find a church where you will be taught the ways of God (all of them!), where people encourage each other, uplift each other and make you accountable for your actions. Find a church that realizes the family is a model of God’s relationship within the Godhead and with us, and so seeks to preserve and protect the family and not destroy it. Find a church doesn’t use an “us vs. them” mentality to divide families or brethren. Find a church that reaches out to those who need it and says, “I care.” Undoubtedly, you will find an imperfect church full of fallible human beings. However, find a church that is willing to correct itself. Most of all, find a church where Christ’s light shines and become another bulb in the lamp so the world can see that God’s way works.