Well, by now I’ve probably offended just about everyone who takes church government “seriously”. Meanwhile, I’m still looking for the verse in the Bible that says believing in a one-man rule is a requirement for baptism.
However, no discussion of church government would be complete without including UCG in the mix. Most notably, they have a different governance than the other large groups, at least on paper. Also note that this is not an “insider” view, so I can only report on what I’ve heard and seen.
When it was founded in 1995, after some tumultuous times in WCG, it became evident to some that a one-man type of rule had one serious disadvantage. Namely, that one individual can change doctrine whenever and however he felt like. So, the idea was put forward that a council should have doctrinal power, and the rest is history.
Or, sort of. In actuality, it seems that there were those of two different mindsets at that initial conference and there are still differing opinions to this day.
The first camp came away from Indianapolis with the notion that local churches would have a lot of say in their daily and weekly functions. It seems that those in this camp believed local churches would have a lot more autonomy in the past and that a central HQ would be a weak centralized government.
However, it seems that others came away thinking that the centralized government would still be a strong centralized government. To them, the only real difference is that you are replacing “one man” with a committee.
I am oversimplifying the arguments, of course. In reality, there are probably as many shades of opinion as there are elders. However, they more or less polarize between the weak central government and the strong central government. In theory, the first would mean more power to the local congregations and its membership, while the latter would be pretty much business as usual.
As a result, UCG has not been totally immune from attempted power grabs. David Hulme comes foremost to my mind here, but he hasn’t been the only one.
With the more power-hungry having left, you would think the UCG would have “liberalized” or “loosened up” somewhat, but in reality there have been those dropped on both sides of the fence. In fact, one of the most disappointing episodes in its short history, from my standpoint, is when 2 ministers were let go for pushing evangelism. It just sounds so odd. Ministers let go for saying evangelism at a personal level is important.
When you consider the role that the Great Commission should play in the mission of the Church, you cannot help but scratch your head about that one. I just want to interject here that my 2 biggest complaints about UCG center on 1. Evangelism, and 2. Change in the Born Again doctrine.
This seeming continuing level of control brings up possibilities as to why there is a small undercurrent of cynicism about “branding”. By definition, to bring “consistency” into branding means bringing something else under control. This is probably going to be one of those things where the average member is simply going to say “marketing” and roll their eyes, so I cannot imagine an uprising over this. However, the more cynical are inevitably going to view it as another attempt at gaining yet more control. To be fair, I could come up with more positives than negatives to this, though.
However, viewing it qualitatively rather than quantitatively, there is one huge negative: It is one more instance of distancing the spread of the Gospel from the membership at large. When the product is the message and branding is the presentation of that message, then ownership of the message is held by the one in control. The members are less likely to feel that they own the message.
That is why I brought up the organization of the SDA Church and its councils. Whatever disagreements we may have with SDA beliefs, they are effective at spreading their message. Their membership has a fairly firm view of the mission of the church. They encourage growth and active involvement of its members. They train their lay people to carry their message. They centrally control their doctrines through a representative committee (or, “council”, if you prefer). They centrally control their branding through use of copyrights and logos. However, they “franchise” out the carrying of the product – the message – to every member of the church, lay and ordained alike.
Let me put these questions to you:
1. If HWA can look at worldly organizations and borrow ideas that work (or, at least they did at that time), then what’s stopping us from learning from our cousins in the Adventist community about how to effectively organize to preach the Gospel?
2. What is the difference between a hierarchy ruled by “one man” and a hierarchy ruled by a committee?
3. How difficult would it be to adapt a model already with councils set up so that the membership feels like part owner in the preaching of the Gospel?
4. How difficult would it be for an organization that preaches excellent messages about loving your enemies, being good examples to your neighbors and lending a helping hand to the poor and needy to show its good works through the world in an organized manner to show the effect of the Gospel message to others?
5. Are you really organizing where you should be organizing and allowing freedom where you should be allowing freedom?
UCG, I have a message for you. It is from one who would like to see you succeed in your mission to create disciples. It is one from the heart:
Out of all the corporate churches that split off from WCG during the 1990s, your organization stands head and shoulders above the others in many respects. Many, if not most, of the members and elders I have met in UCG show a love and respect that I really don’t recall seeing in WCG. You show your love in many ways, but one of the most undervalued is the Good Works Program. Your use of the Internet is excelled by no other COG organization, pre- as well as post-1990s. It is obvious that you have done well with managing a centralized effort in many areas.
The time comes, though, when all children grow up. When my daughter was an infant, my wife and I controlled within reason when she slept and when she ate. We chose her clothes. As she got older, we protectively watched her or turned her over to others we trusted. She was given a list of rules, such as when she could go out to play and when she had to come in. We would watch her do her homework, and we would decide what was good to eat and what was not and in some cases even limit the amounts. However, as she got older, it became less of “May I go outside to play?” and more along the lines of “I am going outside to play.” It wasn’t always easy, but we gradually let go of the control of her. Then, one day she was an adult.
Under WCG, sugar was bad, honey was good, processed white was bad, whole wheat was good, makeup was either bad or bad in excess, long hair for men was bad, long sideburns were good, and there were a multitude of other rules and regulations. We were treated like children. You know what? We often acted like children too. Could there be a correlation?
I have no doubt that some type of centralized governance existed in the times of the early Church. Even during the scattering under the persecution of Saul, we are told the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem. Later Saul, then renamed to Paul, went to Jerusalem himself. Exactly why he did this isn’t all that clear, as he had already been preaching for some time. However, his actions did reflect the thinking that they had some type of authority. Yet, as you read it, you notice their authority was not of the type that can beat anyone over the head. At most, then, it appears that the early Church, whatever form of governance they had, was organized with a weak central control.
You say you are building disciples and discipleship. What are you building them for? What will become of the Church during the coming Tribulation? Will those who are scattered be mature enough to be able to hold up? Will they be good witnesses ? Will they be able to give a “word of their testimony”, that is “the testimony of Jesus Christ”? Or, will they be so dependent upon a central HQ that they will be unable to spread the word at all?
Please weigh carefully the type as well as the level of control you exert upon the organization. Remember, while appearances to the outside world are important, God weighs the “heart”, the internals, of any organism, physical or spiritual. The growth of the Church, spiritually and not just in numbers, is what is important.
Speaking of outside world, also don’t forget that you are living in a glass house. It isn’t just that it’s fragile, but many eyes are upon you and can see inside to some degree. Undoubtedly, some are watching because they would like to see you fail. However, how many more need you to not fail? How many more from the outside should be saying, “If allowed myself to believe in these doctrines, I would want to be part of that church”?
Consider that politics is a messy business. You cannot get two people together without some form of politics. As events occur, situations change and people come and go, people will voice their opinions and people will talk amongst themselves. When they do, they will try to influence one another. Therefore, the question isn’t if people will try to influence one another but how. The problem, though, is that people will often disagree even on how to do things as well as what to do.
Lucifer did not fall because he had an opinion. Lucifer did not fall because he tried to influence others. If that were so, Abraham and Moses would have been cinder blocks. Rather, Lucifer fell because he insisted upon doing things his way, and he was determined to do it no matter the cost. Rather than responding with an attempt at empathy, he responded with criticism and the imputing of motives.
It becomes way too difficult to impute motives, does it not? Isn’t that why we are to “judge not”? Be careful about throwing mud. It gets all over you. It splatters on the glass walls.
If I may be so bold, might I suggest something else? An organism is only as good as its head and its heart. Might I suggest a day of fasting for the COE? Then, if I may be so bold again, a follow-up day of fasting for the entire membership? You’ve done something similar before. By having the COE fast twice shows the membership you really are serious about resolving any perceived difficulties and problems. By asking the membership to fast shows that they too are part of the larger organism. After all, are they not affected by your decisions and actions?
John D Carmack
COG Perspective Blog