Bridge Building Revisited

John Plunkett
April 28, 2012

Back in December 2009 I gave a sermon entitled “Islands and Offences” in which I likened the various islands along the northwest coast of the United States and Canada to the various branch organizations of God’s true church.  Also, I likened and compared the smaller, sea-bound rocks up on the coast with the members who are worshipping God as "independent" or "non-aligned" Christians.  

Since that time I have been thinking a lot about those spiritual islands – those scattered individuals and groups of the Church of God – and also about the many church members with whom we once had wonderful fellowship but whom we have lost contact with over the years. 

Today I want to talk about "building bridges" between the islands of God’s true church.  

Yes, I have been thinking about those spiritual islands and rocks; but I have also been thinking a lot about exclusivism in God’s church.  We do have a certain amount of exclusivism in some – if not all – of the Church of God groups.  I have been guilty of exclusivism in the past.  Perhaps some of you have been too. However, happily, it seems that many or most of us are okay with having at least some fellowship with members of Church of God groups other than "our own." 

Some Church of God leaders merely discourage their members from attending with other groups and encourage loyalty to their group, claiming that their brand of preaching is the best.  Other Church of God leaders go even further and forbid "their" members to attend anywhere else, on pain of disfellowshipment.  Some even forbid any association at all with any people outside their own groups – and in some bizarre cases, even members of their own families!  We know that these things do take place.

Divided or Scattered?

One of our granddaughters has a favourite hymn: "Onward Christian Soldiers."  Some members of God’s church do not like singing this hymn and take exception to the lines that read, “We are not divided; All one Body we; One in hope and doctrine; One in charity.”  The people who do not like singing this hymn feel that God’s people should not sing it because they feel that God’s church is divided, that we are not one Body and that the Body is not unified in hope, doctrine and charity. 

If you do not remember anything else from this sermon, please remember this: The spiritual Body of Jesus Christ cannot be divided!  The division of the spiritual Body of Christ is a total impossibility – especially not by human beings and certainly not by human corporate organizations.  It is absolutely impossible. 

Yes, it is true that God’s true church is scattered organizationally.  But scattering is different than division.  Look the words up in your dictionary.  They are two different things.  I will show you why as we go along.

The corporate groups of God’s church seem to becoming more and more scattered as time goes along.  I am sure that you will agree with that.  I am not picking on the United Church of God (UCG); but I just want to use them as an example in this regard – just to mention the recent troubles and splits that they experienced in that group.  

Many or most of those who recently left UCG moved to the newly-formed Church of God - A Worldwide Association (CoGWA).  But there were other members who left UCG who did not move to COGWA.  Some probably went to other existing Church of God groups and probably, new Church of God groups were initiated from that split.  Probably, still other members, when they left UCG at that time said, “That’s it!  I've had enough!  I'll never again follow another man!  From now on, I'll worship God on my own!" 

Does this fragmenting of God’s church mean that the Body of Christ is divided?  The answer is No!  Again, the Body of Jesus Christ is undividable!  

Yes, it is true that members can leave the Body of Christ.  But this does not mean that when you move from one Church of God group to another that you are leaving God’s church altogether.  But if you leave God’s church altogether, yes, you have left the Body of Jesus Christ.

It is true also that there some Church of God leaders will agree that Christ’s Body is undividable; but then they erroneously conclude that theirs is the only true group that truly represents the Body of Jesus Christ.  To this I respectfully say, “Baloney!” 

I have two analogies for the scattered Church of God today:

The first one is that God’s church can be likened to a china plate. God took that plate and, for His own good reasons, He smashed it on the kitchen floor where it broke into 400 or 500 pieces.  Is it reasonable that any one of those pieces
even the biggest piece could put its hand up and claim, “I am the plate”? 

The other analogy is not mine, it is God’s and comes from the scriptures:  that the various groups of God’s church are like tribes or sub-tribes of ancient physical Israel.  God inspired the apostle Paul to refer to God’s church as the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).  Conversely, He also inspired Stephen to refer to ancient, physical Israel as the Church in the Wilderness (Acts 7:38).  So yes, God’s church can be likened to Old Testament Israel.  Did any of the twelve tribes of Israel try to claim that they were the only true representative of Israel?  Absolutely no, they did not. Even the Jews today know that the scattered descendants of the other tribes are still out there somewhere.

Who Scattered God's Church?

Here is another question: Who scattered the Church of God?  Some say it was the Tkach’s.  Some say that it was Satan and his demons.  I do not deny that these were all used as pawns; but I truly believe that it was God who scattered spiritual Israel; and for similar reasons as He scattered physical Israel
as a punishment for idolatry, treachery, Sabbath-breaking and other major sins as well.  From the beginning, He warned physical Israel that He would do so.

As we go through these "scattering scriptures, please keep this scripture in mind:

I Corinthians 10:11:
Now all these things happened to them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the world are come.

Again, please keep this in mind.  As we read these verses, please apply them in your mind to spiritual Israel.

Leviticus 26:27, 33:
And if you will not for all this listen to me, but walk contrary to me... And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.

After the northern House of Israel was taken into captivity and ultimately scattered, were they no longer Israelites, even though they were scattered all over Europe and beyond?  Or were they just one tribe i.e. the Jews of the tribe of Judah?  No, they were not just one tribe.  That would not make historical sense.  After the captivity of the northern tribes had taken place, God inspired Jeremiah to repeat His same warnings to the southern House of Judah: 

Jeremiah 9:16:
I will scatter them also among the Gentiles, whom neither they nor their fathers have known.  And I will send a sword after them until I have consumed them.

Jeremiah 13:24:
Therefore will I scatter them as the stubble that passes away by the wind of the wilderness. 

Then, after Judah’s return from captivity, Nehemiah (amongst others) repeated this same warning from God:

Nehemiah 1:8:
Remember, I beseech you, the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, "If you transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations."

He is warning the Jews who had come back from captivity not to make the same mistake again; and that if they did, they would receive the same punishment of scattering.

for what?  Nehemiah says for transgression for law-breaking (I John 3:4). 

Another question:  With regard to scattering, what responsibility does the ministry have? 

Jeremiah 10:21:
For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the LORD: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.

The ministers have a grave responsibility.  They are not to become brutish.  A minister is not supposed to be a brute!  And a minister is to set the proper example of seeking the Eternal.  By failing to comply with both of these things, God, through Jeremiah, tells us that the result will be even more scattering. 

We have seen that God has the responsibility to do the scattering, but also that if His ministers become brutish and fail to seek Him, there can be more scattering.  So then, is God pleased with His ministers when they scatter His people?  Do such ministers think that they are somehow helping God?  I don’t think so!  But what does God think?  Does He think that they are helping Him? 

Jeremiah 10:23:
Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; "You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit on you the evil of your doings, says the LORD."

God certainly is not pleased!  Why not?  Because He alone retains the right and the authority to scatter His people.

Who Should do the Regathering?

Another question: Is God’s punishment of scattering a permanent penalty?

Jeremiah 30:11:
"For I am with you," says the LORD, "to save you: though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a full end of you: but I will correct you in measure, and will not leave you altogether unpunished."

God’s punishment of physical and spiritual Israel is not permanent.  He promises that He will forgive the repentant and, in His own good time, He will bring about a regathering both of physical and of spiritual Israel.

But, again, in the same way as God reserves the right and the responsibility to scatter His peoples, please note that only He has the right and the authority to regather His peoples.  Jeremiah has a lot to say about scattering and regathering:

Jeremiah 31:10:
Hear the word of the LORD, O you nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, "He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd does his flock."

Here are some more shepherding and regathering scriptures for us today, these ones from Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 11:17: 
Therefore say, "Thus says the Lord GOD; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel."

Ezekiel 28:25:
Thus says the Lord GOD; "When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they are scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Jacob."

Again, God maintains the right to both scatter His people and to regather His people, according to His perfect will and timing.

It is obvious that no human being has the power or the ability to even identify and find the scattered people of physical Israel, let alone reunite them.  Imagine if anybody had the power to be able to reunite physical Israel from all of the countries that they had been scattered to!  

But do we think that somehow the reunification of spiritual Israel God’s church would be any easier than the reunification of physical Israel?  It really would not be.  God’s Word is clear.  No human being has any power or authority to try to reunite spiritual Israel.  There are well-meaning brethren and ministers who have made sincere attempts to reunite various Church of God groups.  I heard one story about a person who tried to reunite two Church of God groups and the result was three Church of God groups!

It is obvious that this is not what God wants us to be doing.  Mark 10:9 is a well know marriage scripture, which warns: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”  But the converse must also be true.  Please permit me the liberty of changing the order of these words
just to illustrate the point: “What therefore God has put asunder, let not man join together”... or even attempt to! 

Please allow me to to repeat for emphasis that in a similar way as it is God’s responsibility to reunite physical Israel in His own good time, it is also His responsibility to reunite spiritual Israel in His good time. 

How Should We Contribute to Church Unity?

If we believe that the various Church of God groups are sub-tribes of the scattered spiritual Israel of God, what are we to do about it?  Are we to try to reunite them?  No!  We have already seen that God retains the authority to do that.  So what then are we to do?  And how are we to be looking upon our fellow-members in the various spiritual sub-tribes of spiritual Israel?  First of all, we should be treating one another with respectful recognition as God’s called-out people.  And secondly, we should be treating our fellow-brethren in all of the various groups with truly sincere "agape" and "phileo" (brotherly) love.

Let’s go back to the islands again!  Some of us have found it necessary to separate ourselves from our former Church of God groups.  For those of you who have done so, since your separation from your group, what have you been asking God for?  If you are anything like us when we left our former church organization, we asked Him for a new spiritual home
for another Church of God group to attend and to fellowship with one that would be acceptable both to God and to ourselves.

We considered all of the local Church of God groups on Vancouver Island where we live: United Church of God (UCG), Living Church of God (LCG), Church of God International (CGI), Pacific Church of God and the small Intercontinental Church of God.  We looked at them all, thought about it and prayed about it; but we questioned whether God wanted us to permanently commit to any one of these groups and to "hang our hats" there. 

For some time before this I had been groaning in prayer, thinking about our children and grandchildren being cut off from personal fellowship.  We have been in the Church for quite a long time and, over the years, we have enjoyed lots of fellowship.  But to think that our children and our grandchildren had had virtually no face-to-face church fellowship for a full thirteen years, except for the Feast of Tabernacles and the occasional visit to another church area!  

Our young people and our children have a need for such fellowship with others of their own age within God’s church.  I prayed that God might either bring some young families to us, or that He would lead us to a church group with young families already in them.  That was our first option for what we might do.  The second was not really a viable option; but some members and friends expected us to start a new Church of God group of our own.  God certainly does not want yet another splinter group!  We resisted the temptations to go with either of these two routes.

What we did do right away is to initiate a new website:  Also, to keep in contact with our brethren, we initiated a teleconference call each Sabbath and ran a little Sabbath service from our home, just to help bring some of the scattered, non-aligned brethren together electronically
just so they would not be totally isolated every Sabbath. 

But then I asked myself and prayed and asked God too, “Is this the manner in which we mean to continue on a permanent basis?”  More importantly, the question was, “Is this the manner in which God wants us to continue?”  And I became convinced that it was not. 

One day while I was working on the new web-site, changing some of the wording, wanting to stress to any "visitors" to the site that we are "not just another Church of God splinter group."  I didn’t mean that in a vain way; but that we are just a bunch of associated members, that we are not a church group per se, and that we don’t have anything for people to join. Again, I'm quite sure that God does not and did not at that time need another splinter group.  There are more than enough of them already!  But I was struggling through this, praying about it and asking: “What does God want?”

Psalms 90:10:
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

I am sixty three years old right now; so if God were to give me seventy years, then I have seven years left.  Or if I were to live till I am eighty, then I have seventeen years.  My wife and I have been in God's church now for the best part of forty years, and we have begun asking and praying what should we be doing with the remaining years of our lives.  More importantly, what does God want us to do with the remaining years of our lives?  Does He want us to seek out another Church of God group, "hang our hats" there on a permanent basis and continue doing basically the same things that we did in our former church groups?  Does God want us to dedicate ourselves to one single group, give our undivided loyalties efforts to it, thus shutting out and neglecting other brethren and by doing so, support the status-quo of separation between God’s children.  Or does God perhaps want us to make some efforts to be "building bridges" between His children in different Church of God groups?  These thoughts are what led to our "Building Bridges" web-site.

As the months passed, I started thinking to myself, "Building bridges is fine.  But bridges are useless unless they are used and crossed!"  Of course, I have no authority to compel God’s people to come to our website and to cross the little bridges that I hope and pray God has used us to set up via the links that we have there.  God’s people must want to cross those bridges! 

What Would Jesus Do?

Have you read the book, “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon?   It is somewhat "Protestanty" but its concept is really good and is well-worth us all considering.  The punch-line all the way through the book repeatedly asks the question, “What would Jesus do?”  With this in mind, I asked myself, "What am I doing personally in this regard with regard to the crossing of Church of God bridges?"

One day we were visiting family and brethren in the Portland, Oregon area, and just outside our hotel, I saw a sign-board which read, “A good example says a lot more than good advice.” So again, I asked myself, “What is my example?  Am I crossing these bridges that I am writing about on our web-site?"  I don’t just mean checking other Church of God websites.  That doesn’t require much effort at all.  No.  I asked myself, “Am I actively extending the hand of fellowship to my spiritual brothers and sisters in the various Church groups?” 

I thought about my answer.  OK, yes, Trish and I would occasionally get together for coffee with our friends in UCG or in David Hulme’s group.  Also, sometimes when we were on vacation in the UK, we would attend services with other Church of God groups over there.  But as soon as we went back to Canada again, we fell right back into our usual habit of exclusive participation with our own group; and the communication with those other groups was swept under the carpet until the next time we went to the UK.  Was this a good example of bridge building?  No, it was not!  It was quite abysmal actually!  

So, what am I suggesting?  Am I suggesting that we all expend great efforts in trying to reunite the scattered branches of God’s church?  No!  We have already seen that God retains the authority to regather and reunify His church. So, what then is our responsibility?  What can we be doing, specifically regarding our brothers and sisters in other church groups? 

For those of you who are attending other groups, I am certainly not in any way, shape or form implying that you should walk away from those groups.  But I believe that what we all can be doing is that we can extend the hand of sincere Christian fellowship to as many brethren, in as many groups as will welcome it.  We cannot push in where we are not wanted, of course and there are some groups that, if you do not give some level of commitment to their group, would not let you attend anyway. But I do  believe that we can establish or in some cases, re-establish friendships with as many brethren in as many Church of God groups as is feasible.  Yes, even by attending their Sabbath services or their Feast sites.

Some of you might be thinking, "But all of those groups are so imperfect" or "All of those groups are so fraught with problems."  This may be true in some cases.  But please think about this: Do the problems and imperfections make the brethren in those groups any less the sub-tribes of spiritual Israel? Do those imperfections make them any less groups of the children of the living God?  Again, let’s ask that question again: “What would Jesus do?” Better still, “What did Jesus do?” in regard to the imperfections of the groups out there?

Luke 4:16:
And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up: and, as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day, and stood up for to read.

That is what Jesus did!  Did He immediately start a new Christian synagogue when He first came on the scene?  No! We know that He didn’t do so and that that came much later.  There are lots more scriptural examples of Jesus attending the synagogues.  Here is just one:

Matthew 13:54:
And when He was come into His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "From where has this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?"

That is interesting!  He says “their synagogue.”  There are eight scriptures in the gospel accounts referring to "their synagogues." Jesus recognized the Jews' places of worship; but somehow He seems not to have taken full ownership of them.  On the other hand, in John 2:16, when He went into the Temple, He called it “my Father’s house.”  But when He talks about the synagogues, He calls them "their synagogues."

I think we are probably all familiar with the shortcomings of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes; and how far from the truth they had strayed.  We know also how often Jesus disagreed with them, with what they were doing, despite what they were teaching (Matthew 23:1-3).  And of course, they disagreed with Him too.  Nevertheless, it was still Jesus’ custom to attend Sabbath services at their synagogues. 

What about the apostle Paul?  What did he do?  We know that he strove to emulate Jesus in everything (I Corinthians 11:1), including Jesus’ Sabbath keeping practices:

Acts 17:1-2:
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.  Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures.

By this time Paul had been converted and baptized for quite a long time; but still, “as his custom was, he went in to them" – into the Jews' synagogues.  Other scriptures in the book of Acts confirm that it was Paul’s regular custom, wherever possible, to keep the Sabbath Day in the synagogues of the Jews.

What am I saying then?  Am I saying that we should all attend our local Jewish synagogues?  Some Church of God members have gone that route and become pseudo-Jews or Messianic Jews.  But in our day and age, if we tried to keep the Sabbath each week in a Jewish synagogue, without agreeing to convert to the Jewish religion, their leaders would probably have us thrown out.

The idea I wish to put forward here is that, just as Jesus and Paul were willing to attend the imperfect synagogue services of the imperfect Jews, so we can be confident that God would not be adverse to us attending with bona-fide Sabbath-keeping Church of God groups – yes, even if they are not perfect in every aspect.  And let's face it, there is no Church of God group that is perfect in every way.

There might be some groups that we might prefer over others; and that is fine.  There might be other groups that, in all good conscience, we could not attend.  But if you continue searching for the perfect Church of God group, I can guarantee that you will be terribly disappointed.  If you keep on with that search, expecting to hang your hat permanently with one group – then one group after another – it is likely that you will become so frustrated and discouraged that you will drop out again, crying. “That’s it!  I’ve had enough!  I’ll never follow another man!”  And again you will become a non-aligned Christian – a lonely non-aligned Christian! Do you want to be a lonely non-aligned Christian?  I'm sure you don’t!

Bridges Between Islands

Let's go back to the islands again – the physical islands.  Some people prefer the relatively peaceful island life.  But island life has its positive and negative points.  Trish and I live on Vancouver Island in western Canada.  Whenever we need to travel off our island, we have a either a flight or a ninety-minute ferry ride, both of which can be quite time consuming and expensive!  Since 1872, various people have been proposing a bridge from Vancouver Island to the mainland; but it has always been rejected for various reasons. 

Here are two other examples of bridges between islands:

The first one, still in Canada, is Prince Edward Island (PEI), a beautiful little island in eastern Canada, well-known by girls who like the "Anne of Green Gables" stories.   Since 1997, PEI has been connected to the Canadian mainland by the Confederation Bridge.  This huge bridge was opposed by many residents of the island who wanted to maintain their peaceful, remote, island lifestyle.  A plebiscite was held, they didn’t get their way, and the bridge was built anyway, despite their objections.

My other example is that of Venice.  This beautiful Italian city is often referred to as "the city of bridges," and for good reason.  Believe it or not, the city of Venice is built on 117 islands on the Adriatic Coast, all connected by 409 bridges!  These bridges connect the people living on the islands with each other and with mainland Italy.

What about us?  Are we like the Vancouver Island residents or those Prince Edward Island residents who didn’t want a bridge?  Do we desire to maintain our spiritual island status?  Or, like the people of Venice, are we desirous to have communication with our fellow Christians living on other Church of God islands?  They are God’s people.  They are our spiritual brothers and sisters. 

What about you?  Do you like being spiritually isolated?  Do you prefer worshipping alone every Sabbath Day, or in a tiny living room group?  Do you prefer to restrict your Christian worship and fellowship to your own limited group? 

No Man is an Island

You have probably heard the saying, “No man is an island.”  It comes from a beautiful poem called "Meditation XVII" written by the English poet, John Donne (1572-1632).  If you take the time to read the poem in its entirety, you will find that the author somehow felt himself inextricably one with all mankind.  He felt that every human being was his brother.

We members of God’s church must be inextricably one with all of our fellow church members.  No, not just saying that we have unity, not just claiming that we have unity; but as the apostle James tells us we must be doers of God’s Word.  We must actually practice unity.  We must do something about it.  Is it a priority?  Yes it is!  

The prayer of Jesus Christ in John 17 – the true Lord's Prayer – is so filled with inspired information, it is almost like it could be used in every single sermon.  When Jesus Christ prayed to God the Father, can you imagine the electricity in that communication?  Can you imagine the power? 

John 17:11, 21-22:
Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to you.  Holy Father, keep through your name those whom you have given me, that they may be one as we are...  That they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.  And the glory which you gave me I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one.

Here we see a very high priority for a desire for – and an active pursuit of – unity with our spiritual brothers and sisters.  

Have you been putting the pursuit of unity on the back-burner for way too long?  I know I have!  I admit it and I know that I need to do something about it!

Outreach and Light-shining

I would like to switch metaphors for a few minutes and talk about Outreach.  For many years in the Church of God we have used this term, "outreach."

Most of us are familiar with Solomon's account of "the Proverbs 31 wife," who appears to have been symbolic of God’s true church.  She was a wonderful biblical example of true outreach:

Proverbs 31:10-12, 20:
Who can find a virtuous wife?  For her worth is far above rubies.  The heart of her husband
(symbolic of Jesus Christ) safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain.  She does him good and not evil all the days of her life...  She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy...

The Proverbs 31 wife truly reached out.  Usually in the church we have used the term "outreach" with regards to giving to the poor – to charitable programs.  In the Church of God groups many of us have been with for many years, we usually direct the charitable efforts to brethren within our own church group via Third Tithe programs and that kind of thing.  It maybe true and fine that "charity begins at home"; but is this all that true outreach really is?  Is it just charitable assistance?  Is charitable assistance the only good deed that the Proverbs 31 wife does?  The answer is No.  She does lots of other good things as well:

Verse 14:  She is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar... 

Could this perhaps be symbolic of obtaining spiritual food from afar?  Perhaps spiritual food coming from our fellow bona-fide sources in other Church of God groups?

Verse 18:  She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night.

Her lamp is her light source; but it is also her good example shining forth.  This naturally leads us to a different symbolism - but still related and still very relevant:

Matthew 5:14-16:
You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

So what does our Elder Brother want us to do?  What does God the Father want us to do?  They want us to shine their light. 

But how?  Do they want us to keep their light to ourselves by burning it under a basket?  Mark's parallel verse adds “under a bed.” If you have a lit candle or oil lamp, would you put it under a basket or under a bed?  What would the result be?  It would be a very negative result, resulting in damage, fire, smoke, and destruction, the spiritual counterparts of which are very obvious. Also, such confined light-shining only serves to blind the shiners with their own light. 

Is this what God wants?  No!  He wants us to shine His light to the world.  He wants us to set up our lamps high up on lampstands in our houses; and He wants us to set our houses and our cities high up on top of a hill. 

While we are "in the house" – in church with one another – He wants us to set our spiritual lamps high up on a lampstand.  What or who represents "the house" that Jesus mentions here?  Is He just talking about our own brethren in our own Church of God group? No!  The house He mentioned is the House of God – all of it!  Not just the kitchen or the living room or the garage!  There are no artificial boundaries in the Household of God.  There are no walls between brethren.  Jesus Christ constructed His house open-plan!

What Should We Do?

So, what is the bottom line?  What am I suggesting to you?  Again, for those of you who are happy and active in one Church of God group, that's great!  I am not suggesting that you abandon it.  But if you do make that choice to stay in one group, please resist the temptation to hoist your group and/or your ministers up onto a pedestal and look down on the many dedicated brethren in other groups. 

For those of us who choose to remain non-aligned, my suggestion is that we all need to be putting in some real effort.  I don’t have another Church group for you to join.  We look upon ourselves as brothers and sisters in God’s true church – the greater Church of God.  We all need to put in some real effort, to get out there, and be willing to attend services with various Church of God groups – as many as are available in our individual areas and who will accept our attendance.  When we attend church services, we don’t go to be unhappy. Of course we don't!  We don’t want to go there to be arguing with the other brethren.  We want to go where we will be sharing good, loving fellowship with the brethren there.

Again, when we attend with the various Church of God branches, we should be willing to accept their imperfections.  I am not saying that we should condone sin; but that we should accept their imperfections for what they are – their imperfections – theirs to sort out between them and God.  Please resist the temptation to try to go in and correct all of your differences with them.  Your association  won’t last very long if you do that!  It is not our job to go in with a group of brethren we may not know very well and tell them that they are doing it all wrong.  That approach doesn’t work.  We need to ask God to sort out any problems they may have.  

When you visit a church group, we should accept their leaders’ authority.  As visitors we have no right to deny the authority of their leaders over their corporate groups.  Although God looks down and He doesn’t agree with those corporate divisions, it is not our job to try to correct it.  On the other hand, be willing to serve – to help out as much as you possibly can and in whatever ways are mutually acceptable.  We cannot visit with a group, push our way in and start trying to change things.

Bridge-building is a two-way mission, and it has two-way benefits.  We will benefit from fellowship with our brethren in those groups, and they will benefit from our fellowship and efforts too.  Reaching out in this way does take effort; it takes much more effort than settling for always worshipping at home.

What I am telling you here is really nothing new. Others have taught and practiced these ideas for many years and have been pioneers in reaching out and building bridges.  Such brethren have been and continue to be inspiration to me.  There are many out there that have been doing this for a long time.  I am just passing it on to you and encouraging you to do it too. 

Yes, reaching out and fellowshipping with others takes much more effort than just worshipping at home.  But our experience so far has convinced us that, if we diligently pray for God’s help and if it is His will – and so far He seems to be blessing what we have done – not that we are anything special, but He seems to be smiling on what we are doing – if we do our very best with it, then our Christian light and example will shine and, through God’s Holy Spirit dwelling within us, His light will be shined through us.

Finally, we can all be confident that, if we are really doing our part in a very real and practical way, we will be contributing to the unity of the true Church of God.