Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Disciple Identity: Writing a New Book! Part Three of Four

Disciple Identity Part Three: Writing a new book

In 1933, Herbert Armstrong started a movement that would be later identified as the Worldwide Church of God. The primary publication was The Plain Truth, sent free to every household that requested one. At one time the movement boasted 147,000 members with over 1,400 ministers. Due to its unusual doctrinal beliefs that served the church very well throughout the early part of the 20th century, the church grew numerically and financially. It had started colleges, seminaries and educational institutions throughout the world. As it grew, many of its beliefs came under scrutiny by other denominations and by the late 70’s it had been designated by most denominations as a “cult” due to its unusual beliefs about the Trinity, observance of Jewish festivals and views of salvation. Armstrong died in 1986 and after a weak leadership by his replacement; the church selected Joseph Tkach, Jr. as the new Pastor General in 1995. Over the next few years, the church made over 40 changes in its doctrine and practices and no longer is viewed as a cult, having recently joined the National Association of Evangelicals. In his book, Transformed by Truth, Rev. Tkach Jr. states simply that it was not an issue of growth or finances that prompted the changes, but a clear revelation of what was true and the need to embrace a biblical, orthodox faith. The Worldwide Church of God has suffered. With a current membership of 67,000 and over 850 churches, it has had to sell assets to survive, but reports that its financial and membership number have begun to stabilize. One result of this radical change was dozens of new denominations were founded in response to this “across the board” re-definition of the identity of the Worldwide Church of God.

Rev. Tkach Jr. may have thought writing a whole new book was what was necessary in order to be what he viewed as a faithful church. Unfortunately, in the process of “writing this new book,” figuratively and literally, he lost over 80,000 souls for whom the changes were to fast and without explanation. These changes, which in my mind were the right things to do, were done in a fashion that was neither pastoral nor wise. What is the goal? Is the goal to prove oneself correct and demand everyone adhere to the new thought? Is the goal to bring about true conversion? My goal is always to bring conversion. I don’t want people to follow Christ out of compulsion, but conversion. My desire is for a change of heart and mind, not rules and regulations. There is much that we Disciples of Christ can offer to the rest of Christendom. There is also much we could “re-member” from other families and other times of Christendom.

I pray that the Worldwide Church of God’s new book will bring great success to the mission of Christ, but I don’t think a new book is the answer. Maybe there is another option…

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