On Jesus Loves Fellowship, I am hearing that at least the United Church of God is growing up on the issue of New Year’s or at least giving greetings for the New Year according to recently returned UCG member Richard Burkard,
“May you all have a blessed New Year….” So I heard a UCG Pastor say this afternoon, at the end of his sermon. (The last one of 2008; he’ll be away the next two weeks on a trip to Europe.)
The sermon topic was so familiar, it was practically a rerun. But this sentence was a stunner to me — so much so that I asked the Pastor afterward, “Is it OK for us to say that now?!”
I reminded the Pastor that for so long, COG’s refused to acknowledge 1/1 as New Year’s Day — the “calendar year by man’s reckoning” stuff. But he assured me that a phrase like “Blessed New Year” would be all right.
Wow! May I wish you….. uh, errr, grrrerer…. well, I have four days to work on it….
I am sooo glad that this actually has been a non-issue for me for a long time. Even Church of God (Seventh Day) long time thought that New Year’s wasn’t AS BAD AS Christmas but the killjoy nature of Armstrongism always had to look for the worst in anything and everything. A pastor-friend whom I have on facebook.com did exactly that to wish people a “blessed and prosperous new year”.
I did mention that Richard Burkard had returned to the United Church of God. How do I feel? I was one of the first cheering him on to leave and I make no apology for it. To be blunt the only Church of God I wanted him to go was the Church of God (Seventh Day) where I believe that under it’s President Whaid Rose, the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached which includes his life, death and resssurection. The kingdom of God is important for it is God’s solution to all evil and injustice in the world but the kingdom of God cannot be forgotten with the one who brought it forth, Jesus Christ. Richard has long protested that distance to another city was a factor from him joining. I even suggested that he could have started a small CG7 group in his area but I guess for reasons unknown to me, he wasn’t game. Richard describes his recent journey in his article Dividing from United http://www.angelfire.com/ga4/wwwcg/dividing.html at his webpage:
The Search is On (NEW November 2008)
So what did our year of searching show us? That many cities have plenty of other options available for Sabbath-keepers. Some turned out better than UCG, while others did not….
+ The largest “mega-church” in my city has a Baptist background, and a Saturday 6:00 p.m. service. That’s after sundown, for practically all of the weeks we’re on standard time. And the pastor struck out in most of the other weeks, especially when he talked about going to heaven when you die (note Jhn. 3:13 and Acts 2:34, among other verses).
+ A non-denominational church with a similar Saturday 6:00 p.m. service also talked often about going to heaven. It also allowed women to speak during services, usually from their seats.
+ The major Seventh-Day Adventist church in my city has services every Sabbath morning. But I found other doctrinal issues where the SDA’s seem to conflict with Bible statements.
+ The Messianic movement (called “Hebrew Roots” by many inside it) has attracted some people disaffected with COG’s, who either disagree with a group’s leadership or believe they’ve advanced to a deeper level of Bible knowledge. I attended a Feast of Tabernacles site where scattered local fellowships came together. They had some things in common, but clashed openly on other doctrinal points.
+ On the other hand, a former WCG Pastor has developed a ministry with everything from a children’s school to an outreach in Africa. It offers telephone conference-call “Bible discussions” three times a week, including Sabbath mornings. The views there are wide-ranging at times, but at least callers are allowed to compare Scripture with Scripture to draw conclusions. The discussions are successful more often than not, by allowing for that divergence — but worship services in the Pastor’s home city (which we attended on some Holy Days) lack that, and often strike out.
+ The biggest surprise for me during the search was the denomination Herbert Armstrong once dismissed as “dead” and “Sardis-era.” The Church of God Seventh Day turned out to be Biblically sound, and focused on practical points that really matter — not chasing after prophetic revelations or playing self-justification games with other sects. Podcasts by a couple of congregations let you hear for yourself. Alas, the lack of a COG-7 congregation near my home forced me to settle for those.
One Lap Later
When the year of searching ended, we were confronted by Hebrews 10:25. “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing….” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance indicates “meeting” means a Christian gathering for worship.
Can you really “meet for worship” through a podcast? That seems like a stretch of the definition. Can you do it through telephone conference calls? In a way, but some dispute it. A top UCG official declared at one 2007 Feast site it’s not the same as face-to-face contact – yet UCG admits it uses Internet webcasts to present live weekly services to scattered brethren in South America.
I concluded my only real option for worshiping personally with other people was at the place where I started. I returned to the United Church of God service in my city, completing that lap around the race track. My personal disagreements with UCG teachings remain. But to borrow from golf, UCG is simply “closest to the pin” in the place where I live. If God moves me to a different location, things could be very different — so I continue to listen to podcasts and conference calls, for balanced instruction from God’s Word.
If you’re searching for the right place to worship, may you let God be your guide. And be attuned to what the ministers of the various denominations and congregations say. Double-check the things they preach, and you could find they’re giving clues to the right answer.