Dec. 23 Letter to Ministers and Members
December 23, 2010
Dear Ministers and Members,
As the firstfuits in God’s plan of salvation, we have an awesome calling. What God has promised to His faithful sons and daughters is beyond our fullest comprehension. We are promised if we remain steadfast to inherit incredible promises! (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).
This is why we in the United Church of God have the vision of God’s Kingdom firmly planted in our conscience. Every day the dedicated servants at the home office and in church offices around the world work many long hours to ensure the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God is preached with increasing effectiveness, and that each of you have a place to worship God each Sabbath—with faithful ministers to serve you. Please know that this will continue, despite the internal challenges we’ve faced of recent months.
Writing to our brothers in the faith around A.D. 60, the apostle Peter told the brethren that he recognized that “you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). He noted that these types of severe trials proved “the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold” (verse 7). We earnestly pray that you, too, are becoming that precious gold in our Father’s treasure.
We recognize the faith—the faith in God and His purpose—that is being produced in you and in the United Church of God. This faith is produced as we hold fast to the precious truths and principles that He, through Christ, has revealed to us. We see that faith expressed in several ways: by your continued selfless service and commitment to Jesus Christ, who is the living Leader of this Church; in the thousands of signatures on the much-appreciated card to the Council of Elders; and in the many e-mails, letters and phone calls of support. Such expressions humble us and help us sustain and grow our own faith in God through these turbulent times. For that we thank you deeply, well beyond what simple words like these can convey.
We believe that the current long and hard trial within the United Church of God is nearing its end. In the past few days we have received a number of resignations of ministers and former administrators. We do not rejoice in seeing these resignations. In fact, as the apostle Peter noted, we are grieved. It remains deeply painful to see new church groups start up in some pockets of the country and former ministers still publishing or putting on the Internet statements that have little or no basis in fact. Based on recent information sent to us from a number of sources, we now know with certainty that former trusted ministers have been and are now actively and openly trying to draw away faithful members, like yourself, to new groups. As they will find, separating into other groups will not solve their problems.
The Council of Elders is in possession of irrefutable documentation that demonstrates complicity by certain ministers and members in secretive efforts to undermine and destroy the very organizational fabric of the United Church of God. We are greatly saddened to see this, as it hurts to know as a fact that some have essentially said one thing regarding reconciliation or resolution of differences while working behind the scenes with a completely different agenda.
This documentation, authored by a former home office administrator, lays bare organized efforts at a very high level to break away. It distorts the record and generally reflects a grievous state of mind among those who are fracturing current relationships and trying to influence members of the United Church of God into following them.
Sadly, if past events are any guide to the future, documentation will soon appear online, together with varied “analyses” of various stripes and colors, trying to again spin this documentation somehow into one more quasi-“proof” of the alleged evils of the Council of Elders. It is being said that we demand personal loyalty to men. This is not true—as we would not even sign a document that required that. We simply ask for the faithful service of our employees and ministry to the Church that employs them, recognizing that not everyone thinks alike but that we all need to work within the structure we all agreed upon in 1995.
Brethren, please understand that we have acted to protect the spiritual flock. As we know from history, separations and splits within the Church of God have occurred far too often—even one is too many—over the past centuries. In His final prayer before His crucifixion, Jesus Himself prayed for His disciples: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11, New International Version, emphasis added throughout). As recorded by the apostle Paul, we as ministers are commanded by God to “guard what was committed to your trust” (1 Timothy 6:20). We believe this deeply underscores our sacred responsibility to safeguard the peace of the congregations of brethren we have been entrusted to serve.
We firmly believe—now as much as we did 15 years ago—that God the Father and Jesus Christ directly led hundreds of ministers to assemble together in Indianapolis, Indiana, to form what is now the United Church of God, an International Association. We believe that God Himself established the assembly that became the United Church of God and placed His name on it, desiring that through the power of His name that we would become one, even as Jesus and God the Father are One. Becoming one with God and Christ through love—a powerful and moving divine gift that must permeate every ounce of our being—remains the goal of each and every one of us. We are told by Jesus Himself that the first and greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) and secondly, to “love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 39).
We all, ministers and members alike, have this command from Jesus Christ: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, NIV). That’s a high standard, one that we all fall short of. But we must never stop trying to achieve that standard, even to the end of this human age.
We are a small flock, but we have unbreakable and mighty promises from God Himself! As we all know, with God it’s not about our size or numbers. Through the inspired and unshakable Word of God, we know that we, like the apostle Paul, “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). That may be a familiar verse to us, but every word is true! Like the author of Hebrews wrote, we “have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:36). He speaks here of the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, the very message that we proclaim through the power of the Holy Spirit!
To achieve success as we move forward, we have this direction from James, the brother of Jesus: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).
If this time indeed marks the end of a long and sore trial within the Church, we must be prepared to humbly learn from our mistakes, of where we have fallen short of the perfection that is the Father, and we must be prepared to move forward. We have much work before us. We believe that Jesus Christ has set before us an open door (Revelation 3:8)—a spiritual door that includes what we are doing through television, our printed publications and our online presence. This door leads to ways where we can powerfully preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God, using every tool available to us. This door leads to us becoming more like God the Father, becoming one with Him and Jesus Christ, by diligently and earnestly preparing ourselves for service, both here in this physical age and in the wonderful world tomorrow! People in the world should be able to see openly this hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:15), and our own examples should serve as living testimony and proof of this divine hope (Matthew 5:16).
We maintain our founding belief and conviction that “in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). We believe and maintain that, coupled with spiritual maturity, our system of governance gives us powerful tools to move forward to accomplish the will of God. Under Jesus Christ’s direction, the General Conference of Elders remains in place to promote the stability of the Church. The Council of Elders remains in place to guide and direct the Church. The administration of the Church remains in place to fulfill the day-to-day operations of the Church as was originally designed and intended some 15 years ago. And, all these governing bodies are in place to edify and serve you, our precious brethren, and to preach the gospel.
Please be comforted in knowing that we will continue to provide pastors and shepherds so that you have a peaceful and spiritually nourishing home in which to worship on each Sabbath and Holy Day. You have multiple sites to choose from to attend and participate in the annual Feast of Tabernacles. Your children have summer and winter camps available, where they can learn the truths of God and how to apply them as they grow and mature. You have the Ambassador Bible Center, where members can attend to obtain in-depth knowledge of biblical truth. You have a vast array of literature—available in print or online in increasingly interactive formats—together with a growing Beyond Today program that is reaching thousands of new people on television and through the Internet.
And that, we believe with all of our being, is only the beginning. Moving forward, we believe that we are being prepared by Jesus Christ for growth. How and when that appears is up to God and the living Leader of this Church, Jesus Christ. We must ready ourselves in renewed prayer, deep meditation and earnest fasting.
As we prepare to advance, what are we to do as members—those called-out ones who make up the United Church of God? Read here the answer from the prophet Jeremiah: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it’” (Jeremiah 6:16, NIV).
Let us all rededicate ourselves to unity, to love for one another, to seeking and achieving God’s perfect will!
Sincerely, in Christ’s service,
Melvin Rhodes—Chairman, on behalf of the Council of Elders Dennis Luker—President