May 8, 2013
The United Church of God, an International Association, has been involved in a systematic process of selecting a new president (chief executive officer) since late February of this year.
At the current May session of the Council of Elders meetings, Council members, after prayer and fasting to gain a sense of God’s will, interviewed the final six candidates and collectively deliberated on the matter before choosing a president.
The Council is pleased to announce that Victor Kubik has been selected to fill this position for the next three years. Please remember Mr. and Mrs. Kubik as they step into this new opportunity to serve the church. Mr. Kubik assumes the presidency May 9.
Robin Webber—Chairman, Council of Elders
May 4, 2013
The annual General Conference of Elders meeting of the United Church of God began with a Sabbath service on May 4, 2013. This year’s focus is on developing spiritual gifts and providing an environment for spiritual growth in the Church.
Elders and their families from the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia gathered in Cincinnati, Ohio, to worship and fellowship on God’s Sabbath day. The service included split sermons by Bob Berendt, pastor of UCG congregations in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, and Gary Antion, an elder in Cincinnati and instructor at Ambassador Bible Center.
Mr. Berendt’s sermon focused on the need for the Church to have a strong vision of God’s coming Kingdom. His Kingdom will last forever, and it will span an eternity with no pain, suffering, grief or sin. Mr. Antion spoke about the fact that spiritual gifts flow from God’s Holy Spirit working in the life of a Christian. He stressed that any gift given through God’s Spirit must be used to serve God and other people, and never to serve oneself.
After a several hour recess for fellowship, the conference reconvened Saturday night. The chairman of UCG’s Council of Elders, Robin Webber, introduced the conference and spoke about the theme of spiritual gifts. He then led the entire conference in a question-and-answer session, which covered topics such as UCG’s gospel proclamation efforts, the presidential selection process, and how the Church facilitates parents in raising godly children.
The session ended shortly after 10 p.m. and will reconvene at 9 a.m. Sunday, May 5.
Milan Bizic—Media and Communications Services
April 23, 2013
Dear fellow elders and church members,
We are pleased to announce the final nominees being considered for president of the United Church of God, an International Association. As with everything in the United Church of God, this selection process remains a “whole church effort.” Our membership has been praying for God’s guidance upon the General Conference of Elders (GCE) to put forth names of godly men in this selection process that would be humble, loving, wise and bold in moving forward the mission of the United Church of God to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, make disciples in all nations, and care for those disciples.”
The GCE put forth the names of 27 men—of which 13 allowed their names to go forward and submitted their resumes for the Council of Elders to consider. All of these gentlemen, along with their wives, are wonderful servants of God and are out there every day in your midst sharing their lives with you. We thank them for their desire to serve their brethren.
The Council of Elders reviewed the nomination resumes of those 13 men and has each cast one ballot for a nominee, along with why each endorses that individual. The Council of Elders chairman (Robin Webber), the chairman of the Roles and Rules Committee (Gary Antion), and the corporate secretary (Gerald Seelig), reviewed the results and are pleased to announce the final lists of individuals to be considered for president of the United Church of God. They are in alphabetical order: Bill Bradford, Aaron Dean, Roy Holladay, Victor Kubik, Darris McNeely, and Randy Stiver. After prayer and fasting, the Council of Elders will interview them in person on May 6 and deliberate among themselves on May 7. Final selection for a new chief executive will be on May 8. Normally a new president immediately assumes office for a three-year term that can be renewed with Council approval.
In this discussion about men and process, let us always keep in full view the ultimate leader of the Church. Let us consider the words of Hebrews 3:1: “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus.” Indeed, our Heavenly Father has set His Son, alone, to be our ultimate guide, inspiration, example and constant companion. At the same time, we need a man to guide and direct the daily activities of a worldwide endeavor to share the good news of God’s plan of salvation for humanity.
A president does have an impact on an organization by his cooperation with the direction of the Council of Elders, his loving Christ-like example among the employees and membership, his zeal and dedication towards fulfilling the mission of the Church, his ability to motivate our members in word and deed, and his example of reaching out to all in the Body of Christ. We invite you to join the Council in prayer and fasting in the weeks to come towards this end that God will direct the selection of such an individual, among so many fine and qualified gentlemen, “for such a time as now.”
In Christian Love,
Gary Antion—Chairman, Roles and Rules Committee
March 14, 2013
Dear Members of the United Church of God,
This letter is to inform you that United Church of God president, Dennis Luker, died today, March 14. He spent his last physical days residing in his hometown of Seattle, Washington, surrounded by his loving wife, LeeAnn, and their immediate family.
Thank you for your prayers and fasting during this challenging time for them, and for God’s blessings on this transitional period for the United Church of God. Our Heavenly Father’s will for Denny has been made known at this time—even though it is not news that we humanly desire. At the same time, I am reminded of his constant encouragement to reflect on the promising words of Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
Mr. Luker knew “that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25) and now awaits the trumpet call with so many other faithful saints down through the ages (1Thessalonians 4:13-18). I know that LeeAnn would ask us all to continue to pray for others who are challenged with spiritual, emotional and health issues—and that God will grant His peace to them (Philippians 4:6-7).
Dennis and LeeAnn, as a pastoral couple, have given 50 years of their lives in service to others. And yes, they truly came as a “couple.” They are loved far and wide beyond our own Church sphere, throughout the entire Church of God community. He brought an enthusiasm for speaking of the always-present love of God and the necessity of having Jesus Christ as the center of our lives.
Denny’s service to the United Church of God had a dynamic impact not just recently, but also in our formative years. He served on the original Advisory Council of Elders in 1995. Since then he has served as a member of the Council of Elders, as a church pastor, as a regional pastor, been part of the Ministerial Services team and of recent years, our Church president.
Please remember LeeAnn, the children, the grandchildren, the great-grandchildren and all their family members—in our prayers that God will grant them comfort in this most challenging of life’s chapters. More details will be forthcoming regarding pending memorial services.
In my role as chairman during this transitional time, I have maintained frequent contact with the Council and the home office operation managers to ensure stability. Now, in accordance with our governing documents (Bylaw 9.5, Vacancies in Offices), the chairman of the Council of Elders becomes the acting president of the United Church of God, an International Association, until a new president is selected by the Council and assumes office.
I look forward to working with the Council of Elders in the presidential nomination process currently underway. As Council members, we appreciate your prayers for God’s guidance for all in the weeks to come.
May the God of peace and comfort be with all of you at this time,
Robin Webber—Chairman and Acting President
November 8, 2012
Long-time church pastor and member of the Council, Robin Webber, was selected to be chairman for a term that will continue through May 2014. He and his wife, Susan, live in Southern California. Mr. Webber will serve as chairman of the Council, and also of the General Conference of Elders.
President Dennis Luker told the Council that he looks forward to working with Mr. Webber, and reminded everyone that their long friendship goes back to the time when they both served in the Southern California area.
August 20, 2012
The exciting Feasts of God are drawing very near as we end the month of August. As we often see during the fall Holy Day season, world events seem to speed up during this time of the year.
In 1973, Israel was attacked on the Day of Atonement, in what has become known as the Yom Kippur War. In 1987 an international financial crisis took place, along with another in 2008.
This year the secular press is predicting the likelihood of another major financial crisis, euro-centered, sometime between now and October. In the Middle East we are witnesses to the ever-worsening Syrian conflict—a growing clash between Sunni and Shia Muslims. At the same time there are increasing predictions of an Israeli strike on Iran before the November U.S. presidential election. The speculation is that the current administration in Washington could not be too critical of Israel just before the election!
With impending world-changing events likely to take place in the next few weeks, what should we be focused on?
“Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) reminds us of where our priority should be at all times. “Thy Kingdom Come” (verse 10) should be a part of our daily prayers. We all know just how desperate this world is for the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
But for us, especially, it’s even more personal.
Preparing for the Marriage Supper
Revelation chapter 19 looks forward to Christ’s return and the marriage supper—the time when Jesus Christ marries His Bride, the Church. “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready” (verse 7). Our priorities are clear—to seek first the Kingdom and to make ourselves ready for that very same Kingdom!
The prophet Daniel spoke of this time as a time “when many shall run to and fro” (Daniel 12:4). The literal meaning in the Hebrew here is “to lash at sea with oars”—implying travel. It’s only in recent decades that people have been able to travel extensively, a development that has led to us all feeling exhausted as we rush around trying to fit in way too much. The result? We neglect the spiritual priorities that are essential if we are to focus on what is most important.
Added to this is the other prediction in the same verse, that “knowledge shall be increased.” This implies a multiplication of knowledge that is overwhelming. It’s impossible to keep up with it all, but many try by reading books, papers and magazines, or surfing the Internet, or watching television—all at the expense of our seeking the Kingdom and making ourselves ready.
It’s ironic that at the same time knowledge is increasing, the knowledge of God is decreasing. Paul wrote Timothy that in the last days many would be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). That reminds us of another priority we have: the need to preach the gospel with great fervency and zeal throughout the world so that others may come to the knowledge of the truth.
How Do We Make Ourselves Ready?
One way to be ready is mentioned immediately after the reference to the marriage supper. “And to her [the Church] it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8). My New King James Study Bible says this in the margin in explaining this verse: “The bride of the Lamb wears a garment of precious fine linen that symbolizes the good works of believers. In other words, the white garment signifies faithful obedience to God.”
In Matthew 22 we read of a guest attending the marriage feast in the parable “without a wedding garment” (verse 11). When asked why he was unprepared “he was speechless” (verse 12). It’s sobering to think that some of us may one day be in that same situation. How could that happen?
Earlier in the parable we read that some of those called to the wedding supper “made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business” (verse 5). In other words, the “cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19).
But we are exhorted to be spiritually very fruitful: “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples” (John 15:8).
We will have no excuse when that day comes. There’s plenty of warning in the Scriptures about the need for us to “walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). As we obey God’s laws and live as Jesus Christ lived, so we will increasingly understand His Love.
We cannot boast that we have ever lived up to Christ’s definition of a true Christian as explained in John 13:35. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Preparing for the marriage supper means that each one of us has to become more like Jesus Christ—this is part of making the bride ready. Just as a bride prepares for her marriage by learning to please her future husband, so we must learn how to please our future husband, Jesus Christ. Just as a wife should submit to her husband, so we must learn to submit to Christ.
Much of this comes down to time management. What are our priorities? We must “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16). Our priorities were laid down for us two millennia ago when Jesus Christ walked the earth. Asked by a lawyer, “Which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:35), “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind’” (verse 37). Put God first. It’s that simple! But how many do that? “This is the first and great commandment” (verse 38). “And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (verses 39-40).
It really is that simple. We are instructed to live our lives according to the two great commandments—love toward God, which includes obedience to His commandments; and love toward others. Living according to the two great commandments is “the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8).
If we want to be in that wedding supper we need to change our priorities to ensure that we are not preoccupied with the cares of this world, but rather we are focused on living in accordance with the two great commandments.
Have a wonderful, uplifting and truly edifying Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles.
May 9, 2012
The General Conference of Elders (GCE) of the United Church of God met in Cincinnati, Ohio, May 5 through 7 for their annual meeting.
Amongst other business, the GCE chose two new members for their Council of Elders: Carmelo Anastasi and Mark Mickelson. They will each serve a three-year term. Two incumbents, Scott Ashley and Melvin Rhodes, were returned for another three year term each, and two councillors decided not to run for office again: Bill Eddington and Roy Holladay.
All items on the ballot were overwhelmingly approved by the General Conference this year. This includes the annual Strategic Plan, Operation Plan and Budget, plus a number of amendments to our governing documents. In addition, one of the approved amendments prescribes that Council of Elders’ three-year terms begin this week, so the two new members are taking office almost immediately.
More details will be written up for you in the June issue of United News.
Peter Eddington—Media and Communications Services
April 20, 2012
Dear Fellow Ministers,
I’ve just returned from a very positive and uplifting trip to Zimbabwe and South Africa. It was really good to be with the members down there.
I spent Passover, the Night to be Much Observed and the First Day of Unleavened Bread with the brethren in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.
Members in Zimbabwe are scattered all over the country—a nation that is over three times the size of the state of Michigan—where I live—so it’s always a joy when everybody can get together for a couple of days. It costs us about $1,000 to bring them all into a central location. It would cost far more for me to travel around and visit everybody. They also benefit from being with each other.
In a country that not so long ago suffered from severe food shortages, the ladies put on a really nice meal for us on the Night to be Much Observed. Thanks to the generosity of a teen in Lansing, Michigan, I was able to give every single household a box of scripture cards prepared as a fundraiser by our Ambassador Bible Center.
At the same time, Marshall Takaindisa, a long-time member from a remote rural area, received his “new” (used) battery operated wheelchair. Marshall teaches at a sprawling school complex and, so far, has depended on others to push him around. But now he can get around by himself.
He asked for a wheelchair a few months ago. Finding a wheelchair was one thing—getting it into the country was quite another. Freight charges and customs duties are only part of the problem—the paperwork is quite daunting. It was suggested that I “ride” it into Zimbabwe. For this, I needed a letter from my doctor saying that I needed to use a wheelchair in Johannesburg where the new airport requires a lot of walking. For once the wound in my foot was advantageous!
I asked the office in Pretoria, South Africa, if they could help find the wheelchair. Finally one was found, but when our office employee’s husband, Neil Wallis, went to pick it up, he realized there was no foot-rest. That meant I would have to keep my feet up while using the chair. A foot-rest could be added once it arrived in Zimbabwe.
At the airport the battery ran out so I had to be pushed with my feet up, but we got it on to the plane and into Zimbabwe and into the hands of Marshall, who was absolutely thrilled to receive it. As LifeNets paid for the wheelchair, there was no cost to the church for a wheelchair that will make a big difference in one man’s life.
After Sabbath services on the first Holy Day, I was able to travel to Mutare, a four-hour drive away, where our deacon, Mike Mukurati and his wife Primrose, live. This beautiful mountainous area is close to the Mozambique border. I spent the remainder of the weekend with them. On the Sunday Mike and I visited a new member who lives in Mutare, an 83-year-old lady originally from South Africa, Claudia Harrison. Mrs. Harrison is the only person of European descent in the Zimbabwe congregation. If you’re ever in Mutare you must visit—she makes a really good cup of tea! (I can’t speak for her coffee!)
Following my visit to Mutare, we returned to Harare, and I then flew back to South Africa. I was able to spend the Last Day of Unleavened Bread and the weekly Sabbath with the members in East London, a congregation that recently returned to the United Church of God after they became more aware of recent events.
Their enthusiasm and the spirit of love, joy and peace (the first three fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians chapter 5) was an exhilarating experience for me personally. I longed for my wife to be there to share the time with me, but she was not able to make this trip. Once again, it was a real joy to be with the members in an isolated part of the world.
After returning to Johannesburg, the three ministers serving in the region were able to get together Sunday morning to discuss future plans for serving the area. At the present time, there is just one elder resident in South Africa, Roy Demont, who was ordained last year exactly one week after his wife Jean died. Roy is in his seventies and has been speaking in all four congregations in South Africa, once a month in each. The churches are so far apart that three require flights to get there. While we were talking he offered to go to Zimbabwe a couple of times a year, which will help me out greatly, as I can only make it there twice a year from the United States.
Roy’s son in law, Grant Chick, was also present. Grant lives in Australia and, with the support of the Australian National Council, was able to help out in South Africa during the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. He and his wife will be returning to the area for the Feast of Tabernacles, where Grant will speak in both Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Also present at the meeting was Jason Webster, who has been doing an outstanding job taking care of the church’s needs in the Johannesburg and Pretoria area.
In both Zimbabwe and South Africa I had the very real sense of being on the frontline of the work that God has called us to do, the work of preaching the gospel and preparing a people. There are currently 120 attending with us in South Africa and about 30 in Zimbabwe.
South Africa does not need a great deal of help from the Cincinnati home office. They are self-sufficient. But we in the U.S. do take care of their magazine and booklet printing and some of their mailing costs. Occasionally they need help in other areas. For example, Richard Kennebeck, our information technology (IT) manager, was there during Unleavened Bread helping them with their computer and office system. His wife, Emma, also helped their office manager and treasurer in South Africa, Isella Wallis.
Zimbabwe requires slightly more help. The members in both countries are excited at the prospect of preaching the gospel in their areas—it is hoped to hold a Kingdom of God Bible Seminar in Harare next time I visit.
Spiritually, the visit to both countries was also a big boost for me personally. In Zimbabwe I very quickly realized my new iPhone did not work at all, which meant I was cut off from the rest of the world. I could not receive calls, text messages or e-mail—and it was wonderful! Very relaxing. I had more time for prayer and Bible study and more time to talk with the members—a reminder of the importance of living by the two great commandments, love toward God and love toward neighbor.
“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:35-40).
Our priorities should always be our relationship with God, first and foremost, and then our relationships with other people—with our spouses, our children and members of God’s spiritual family. Electronic gadgets can get in the way—they don’t save us time, they consume time—sometimes at the cost of neglecting those important relationships. In the Western world our spiritual lives are constantly threatened by modern technology. It’s a joy to go to areas that are not yet spoiled in this way and where people still matter. It is not surprising that Africa is the only continent where the number of people claiming to be Christian is actually increasing.
“Look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest” said Jesus Christ in John 4:35. In the previous verse He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.”
That work continues to this day and we have a part in finishing it. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The African field is indeed “white for harvest.” Those turning in hope to Jesus Christ need to understand the need to be like Him, to keep His commandments, to walk as He walked, to live His way of life. Simply calling yourself Christian doesn’t do this. There’s a need for the truth of God to be revealed and for people to take God’s commands to heart. “You shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:18). “And you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Africa is an exciting place to be, especially when you are visiting those areas where God has called people to be a part of His spiritual family. Remember your brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Africa; and, if you are ever able, be sure to visit them and be inspired—and take a break from all those electronic gadgets!
Melvin Rhodes—Chairman, Council of Elders, United Church of God
[The following letter was sent to the United Church of God ministry on March 2.]
March 2, 2012
Dear Fellow Ministers,
The Work that God wants us to do is moving forward! Four days of Council of Elders meetings have just ended.
For the first time in recent memory we managed to cover all the items on our agenda. This is testimony to the incredible spirit of unity and cooperation that exists on the Council of Elders at this time. This does not mean there was no discussion before decisions were made. There are 12 men on the Council and they have 12 different opinions, but we all share the same goals. Our purpose is constant—to preach the gospel and to prepare a people.
We began as usual with reports from the Administration—from the president, Dennis Luker; from the operation manager of Ministerial and Member Services, Victor Kubik; from Media and Communications Services operation manager, Peter Eddington; and from our treasurer, Aaron Dean.
After the regular reports, Darris McNeely, chairman of the Media Committee, outlined a new document establishing Media Guiding Principles, replacing the old Media Philosophy Statement. We then moved on to discussion of our vision and the Strategic Plan and Operation Plan.
After a great deal of discussion we were able to agree on the Strategic and Operation Plans that will be presented to the General Conference of Elders (GCE) in May.
We spent considerable time on the proposed Budget for the coming fiscal year—2012-2013.
We were thankful to note that God has continued to help us through a calendar year of financial challenges. In serving our many congregations around the world we had to step out on faith, asking God to provide. And He always did and continues to do so.
Our new budget for the coming fiscal year includes a “faith line” like last year. When it is presented, you will see that 30.5 percent of our income is now devoted to preaching the gospel. In spite of suffering a loss in income just over a year ago, we have been able to do more—going through doors as God has opened them. We do not want to let up on these efforts. While our current income will not supply all our needs, we are asking God to call new people into the Church to help finance further efforts.
The Father calls people (John 6:44). We preach the gospel as Jesus Christ told His disciples to do (Matthew 24:14; 28:19). We preach the gospel through our varied media efforts including our website with over 300,000 unique visitors per month; our flagship magazine The Good News; Vertical Thought for our young people; the Bible Study Course for in-depth biblical teaching; and our dozens of booklets and other literature. All our beliefs are clearly answered in our literature, which is freely available to everybody who wants it anywhere in the world.
All of this costs money. With more money, we can do more. Please pray that God will add more people to His Church—people who can help contribute to our efforts.
In order to devote more to our increased media efforts, our home office expansion proposal is “on hold” until our finances enable us to expand without borrowing. It is hoped that we will soon be able to expand the video studio—without which we are limited in what we can accomplish in keeping up with advanced technology like Internet television and an even more professional program. We would like to expand our production of short topical videos for our website that deal with the latest news and items of interest. Our goal is to make the United Church of God, an International Association, website the first Christian website people will turn to for biblical answers and a deeper explanation of what’s going on around the world. We have a long way to go, but are confident that this is the direction in which God is leading us.
Several of the Council sessions were recorded, including the home office expansion proposal, and you can view them online at coe.ucg.org/videos. In addition, full reports from the Council reporter, Randy Stiver, should be available next week.
At the home office we have a group of very talented young people who are tech-savvy and full of ideas—together with enthusiasm for preaching the gospel.
In other Council business, for some time the Ethics Committee has been working on a revised Ministerial Code of Ethics, which will reflect concerns that became apparent in recent months. It took a while to go through the new code with Mario Seiglie, the chairman of the Ethics Committee, who has been guiding this process. The new Ministerial Code of Ethics is attached for our ministry. Ministerial and Member Services will be following up on this with you.
In our Executive Session, we were pleased to approve the ordinations of four men. Three are in the United States and one in West Africa. Please continue to pray for our ministry as they serve you and as they serve God. It is a challenging job, especially with the many and varied responsibilities that our ministry have.
Our meetings ended mid-afternoon on Thursday, enabling most Council members to get home before the Sabbath so that they can speak in their own church areas. The two Australians won’t be back until early next week. They are Bill Eddington (Melbourne) and Bill Bradford (Brisbane). Please remember them and their wives, Rae and Jenny, in your prayers—long flights are grueling and take their toll on the body.
Please pray for us as we constantly do for all of you.
Melvin Rhodes—Chairman, Council of Elders
February 23, 2012
Diane and I recently returned from a trip to the United Kingdom where I had been invited to present the first Kingdom of God Bible seminar in the nation’s capital, London.
Over a thousand invitations had been sent out. Eighteen new people came, which is quite a good attendance. I don’t think anybody had driven there—they all used public transport, as we did. It remains the best way to get around the city.
There was a great deal of enthusiasm among the new attendees. A number of them asked many questions afterwards. Most of the people present were from Commonwealth countries, nations that were formerly colonies of Great Britain. These countries all inherited the common bonds of the English language and freedom of religion, which have enabled us to preach the gospel in so many parts of the world.
Our visit came shortly after the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible in 1611. An exhibition at Westminster Abbey commemorated the event. This has been described as the most influential book in history, after the Bible itself, as the British, in time, took the book with them to all their overseas possessions including the American colonies that became the United States of America. There was an incredible enthusiasm for the Bible for centuries. The historian Jacques Barzun wrote that this enthusiasm “did not cease for 350 years; 1900 was the first year in which religious works (at least in England) did not outnumber all other publications” (“From Dawn to Decadence,” page 10, 2000).
How times have changed!
A fellow minister, Mike Caputo, who serves in the Toronto, Canada, area, pointed out recently that most websites devoted to atheism are based in Britain. And, certainly, many of those will be in the London area.
I have five brothers in England. Four of them have never owned a Bible, let alone read one. I reflected on how best we can reach a nation when most people are unfamiliar with Scripture. It’s not just Britain as most of Europe is the same. It’s also increasingly the case in the United States. It’s a challenge, but it’s one we must face. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). It is clear that God is calling people in all nations. “For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
On the Sunday we had a ministerial conference in the former Imperial Schools building in Bricket Wood, a small community north of London. Amongst other items of business, we welcomed our latest addition to the overstretched ministry over there, Alex Preston, who was recently ordained. Alex and his wife Christine live in Scotland. I joked about visiting them before I need a visa—Scotland is set to hold a referendum on breaking away from the United Kingdom in 2014.
We spent a great deal of time in the meetings discussing future Feast sites. As well as choosing locations easily accessible to church members in the British Isles, consideration is given to attracting visitors from overseas who are always welcome, and a reassurance to the small church in the British Isles that they are very much a part of an international association. This year the Feast will be in Llandudno, North Wales.
The following day John Ross Schroeder and I were back in London for a press conference on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Although February 6 was the actual anniversary of the Queen’s ascension to the throne in 1952, official celebrations will take place the first weekend of June when the weather is better. At least, it should be! Britain’s weather can be notoriously unpredictable.
This will be only the second diamond jubilee in British history. Queen Victoria, the present Queen’s great-great grandmother, celebrated hers in 1897 at the time of Britain’s ascendancy, when the map of the world was dominated by the color red, all the nations that made up the British Empire.
One of the people presiding over the press conference remarked, with incredulity, that 400 years ago people actually believed that the monarch was chosen by God, a reference to the idea of the Divine Right of Kings. But you don’t have to go back four centuries. When the present Queen was crowned the majority of the British people believed the same.
Comparing Britain at the time of Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral in January 1965, a momentous event that I still profoundly remember, with the country 32 years later at the time of Princess Diana’s funeral in September 1997, the writer Peter Hitchens wrote that in Churchill’s time: “The country was a profoundly Christian society, in which religion was part of the language, of the state and of daily life in a way quite unique in Europe…Through its great literature, its verse and its hymns it had obtained an idea of itself that was comforting and powerful. It believed in the family and the home, that great zone of private life in which the state has no business” (“The Abolition of Britain,” page 347, 1999). A profound change took place between these two funerals!
This change began earlier, as Jacques Barzun observed. It’s due to a number of factors, one of which is the increasing secularization of society. In turn, this has led to outright hostility toward religion—and this is true on both sides of the Atlantic and in other western democracies.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Britain has lost it way spiritually—and this has a great deal to do with increased secularization and the rejection of the Bible. But it’s also increasingly true of the United States, where we see growing rejection of the country’s biblical roots.
American historian Benson Bobrick wrote: “Englishmen carried their Bible with them—as the rock and foundation of their lives—overseas” (“Wide as the Waters,” page 12, 2001). It was the very foundation of their lives. Those Englishmen eventually became Americans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans, founding other nations originally on the British model. As Hitchens put it: “Religion was part of the language, of the state and of daily life in a way quite unique in Europe.” The Bible had little influence on the continent of Europe, where the church and its traditions controlled the minds of the people. It wasn’t until after England broke with the church that King Henry VIII was able to lift the ban on the Bible.
When God told Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing this must have been one of the blessings He had in mind—that the Word of God would go out to the world through his descendants, the British and American peoples: “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
It continues today. God’s Church in the British Isles is very small. Compared to mainstream churches, God’s Church in the United States is also small. But thanks to the tithes and offerings of the people in the United States, the United Church of God is able to preach the gospel to the world, out of all proportion to our size.
Our ancestors four centuries ago embraced the Bible with great enthusiasm, so much so that King Henry VIII had to tell the English people to curb their enthusiasm, as he had heard that people were even reading their Bibles in the pubs, which he felt was highly inappropriate (Bobrick, page 160).
As our ancestors took their Bibles with them everywhere, we should also take the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God everywhere we can, going through doors as God opens them.
Next month our minister in Nigeria, Oludare Akinbo, will be presenting the first Kingdom of God seminar in Accra, Ghana. Seminars have already taken place in Australia, Canada, the United States, Germany, England, Nigeria, Kenya, Brazil, Chile, the Philippines, Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Ireland, Zambia, Bolivia and the Isle of Man.
In the U.S. a new series of seminars will be held in May. We hope to continue the program with a new series three times a year.
As we reach out to the world with a renewed vigor, sharing the good news of the coming Kingdom, we see our Western nations increasingly turning their backs on God. Atheists are becoming more militant with a planned mass march on Washington, D.C., next month. Court decisions on both sides of the Atlantic reflect anti-Christian sentiment.
It is not just coincidence that as Britain turned away from the Bible the nation declined, having lost its way. Now we see clearly the same development in the U.S. Deuteronomy 28 shows a clear connection between our nations’ obedience to God’s laws and the blessings that were received; also the negative consequences of turning away from the laws of God. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
German-Foreign-Policy.com noted on February 20: “According to an expert of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAB), it had already become apparent at the last G-20 Summit that ‘the enormous power of the US’ had ‘noticeably diminished’ because of its economy’s chronic weaknesses.”
Britain’s rapid decline followed two world wars that effectively bankrupted the nation. The U.S. is set to follow after fighting two big conflicts in the last decade.
At a time when we see our nations facing all kinds of serious problems and clearly in terminal decline, it is our responsibility to bring a message of hope to the British and American peoples and, indeed, the whole world—hope in the promised Kingdom of God, the good news that Jesus Christ gave to us, the news of His return to establish a world ruling Kingdom that will never be destroyed.
Melvin Rhodes—Chairman, Council of Elders