Thank you for Ruth Tucker's article and related sidebars concerning the Worldwide Church of God ["From the Fringe to the Fold," July 15]. Tears came to my eyes as I read what God has done. I grew up in a Sabbath-keeping, dietary-law-following, no-Christmas-or-Easter home after my dad fell under the spell of Armstrong's radio preaching in the midfifties. I can still see stacks of The Plain Truth next to his reading chair and hear that voice coming over the airwaves. In spite of the faults and heresies of the WCG, I praise God for the respect my upbringing gave me for God's Word, which eventually brought me to a knowledge of God's saving grace. This is a classic example of our need to "always pray and not give up." God is indeed a God of wonders! My only regret is that Dad didn't live to see it happen.
Pastor David W. Johnson
Calvary Baptist Church
Ruth Tucker's article did not capture fully the turmoil many WCG members have experienced because of the move towards orthodoxy. I have been a WCG member for 27 years-all of my adult life. I am profoundly grateful that we have finally begun to understand the gospel. But I am like a government official who was acquitted of some serious charges a few years ago. A news reporter asked him for his reaction to the acquittal; he said, "Can someone tell me where to go to get my reputation back?" I am happy we have abandoned cult practices and have found Christ, but can someone tell me where to go to get my life back?
Los Alamos, NM
I grew up in Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, attended its "seminary," and eventually became a pastor and writer for The Plain Truth. CT's May/June issue made reference to the workshops I facilitated on spiritual healing.
Along with Ruth Tucker, I applaud the changes in doctrine toward orthodoxy (although the WCG still observes Jewish festivals of Unleavened Bread, Atonement, and Tabernacles, rejects eternal punishment, and teaches a hybrid postmortem evangelization). However, its leadership continues to operate according to the damaging, deceptive, and cultic practices of past administrations. This fact led to my resignation in May 1996 and an open letter asking for the authoritarian abuses and financial exploitations to be addressed.
Contrary to Tucker's assertion that "a board of directors now leads the church," in actuality, the pastor general retains near-dictatorial powers, as the by-laws will confirm. But these have not been available to the membership. As in the past, local congregations still send 100 percent of their funds to the Pasadena central body but receive few services in return. And, while wcg pastors are asked to cover three and four congregations in distant cities and take pay cuts, the pastor general recently was given a raise-a fact not disclosed to the membership.
My hope and prayer is that the WCG will indeed become a healthy part of the evangelical community. However, itwill take more than the doctrinal revision Tucker describes. Meanwhile, I am thankful to see growing numbers leaving the WCG, not for offshoot groups, but for membership in healthy Christian churches where they can find healing and be fed with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Two things in Tucker's article were different in our experience: (1) The standard was not three tithes but basically two. We sent our first tithe to headquarters; we saved our second tithe for feasts (which were really our vacations). Once every seven years we paid a third tithe for the care of widows and orphans. (2) At least in the region we were in, no one would have been disfellowshiped for something as insignificant as having dinner with relatives for Christmas. That kind of infraction might have called for a stern, private talk from the preaching elder/pastor, but not disfellowshiping.
It's interesting that Camilla Kleindienst, author of the sidebar article, is not bitter about having grown up believing things she is now finding are wrong. My experience with people who have left the WCG is that they become very bitter, against God, and against the WCG leadership.
More dialogue, less rhetoric
There is a middle ground to this issue of the church and politics, and Richard Mouw has pointed it out ["Tolerance Without Compromise," July 15]. Actually, neither John Woodbridge [ct, Mar. 6, 1995] nor Ed Dobson ["Taking Politics Out of the Sanctuary," May 20] ever said Christians should abandon the public square, as their critics charge. What they and Mouw are addressing is the all-important attitude-of triumphalism and intolerance instead of humility and patience. This is the heart of the problem, which is being ignored by many of the respondents. This message needs to be drummed into the evangelical church until they finally get it. Our job is not to "teach [nonbelievers] to obey" through political force so we can have control, but to obey and set examples ourselves. We need more dialogue, less rhetoric.
Mouw has not clearly defined what we should be tolerant of and how. As Christians who name Christ as Lord, we should not be tolerant of credos and systems contrary to the revelations of Scripture on which we base our faith. We should, on the other hand, be tolerant of people who, as human beings and as sinners such as we all were and still are, have different beliefs. To "love the sinner and not the sin" has unfortunately for some become a discarded cliché instead of a fundamental insight basic to understanding these issues, though this precept comes straight from God himself (Rom. 5:8).
Robert C. Vanstrum
Censoring the Psalms
As a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, which still sings only the Psalms in worship, I was greatly interested in the article by Kathleen Norris on "Why the Psalms Scare Us" [July 15]. I appreciated her sharing her interaction with the vibrancy of the Psalms as she came face to face with the feelings and emotions of her own heart in the expressions of the psalmist. Building on her premises of the relevance of the Psalms for our daily experiences and the fact that the Psalms were meant to be sung, I press the question: Why have the great majority of churches today censored most of the Psalms out of Christian worship? Why do we sing entertaining or sentimental ditties in worship when we could be echoing the expressions of our deepest needs and capacities, which God has preserved for us in the hymnbook of the Scriptures? The Psalms are part of God's inspired Word. Singing them in worship is a means of bringing glory to God and of developing spiritual awareness and growth in the worshiper.
Bruce C. Stewart, President Emeritus
Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary
The Psalms scare us because they clash with our distorted "sweet" Christianity and clash with our "sentimental sympathy," which we mistakenly call "divine love." They clash with our perverted need to have everyone like us, our selfish desire to put our "sweet image" first and the well-being of others second.
The Scriptures clearly teach that we cannot love "good" if we cannot hate "evil." Jesus felt deep indignation against insensitivity, indifference, faithlessness, prayerlessness, disrespect for God, unteachability, legalism, hypocrisy, selfishness, self-elevation, materialism and pride. Can we have his mind and sensitivity and not feel the same?
Thomas L. Reid
Codified charity is not welfare
I read with great interest Everett Wilson's article "Saving the Safety Net" [July 15]. As the director of one of the largest social ministries in our state, the Wisconsin welfare initiative is of profound interest. We share Wilson's concern for the thousands of our neighbors who will be dramatically affected by this legislation.
However, I take issue with Wilson's presuppositions. I think both the Religious Right and the Religious Left expect far too much of our secular republic. It is time for the church manifested in local congregations and ministries to reassume a role we abrogated a generation ago.
On a practical level, Wilson's use of the gleaning rights that ancient Israel's poor enjoyed is not helpful to his argument. This was, in fact, codified local charity, not bureaucratic centralized welfare. Our present system of federalized entitlements has had a disastrous effect on millions in American cities. Local compassionate charities, on the other hand, have offered real help and direction to those caught in the web of dependency.
Chiding a secular government for a meager attempt at fiscal restraint is moot. Instead, we should seize the initiative to minister with compassion to our neighbors in need in the name, and for the glory, of Jesus Christ.
Patrick H. Vanderburgh
Milwaukee Rescue Mission
When we discuss the welfare "safety net," why do we never discuss human nature? The fact is that some people need and deserve a handout, and others are undeserving and do not. Any system designed to separate these two classes must be designed and run by sinful human beings and is thus doomed to gross inefficiency at best and outright failure at worst.
A prominent economist once observed that, according to current statistics, our country could make an annual cash payment to every person below the official poverty line to bring that person out of poverty, and we would spend only 33 percent of the federal welfare budget! The problem is that those in the "undeserving" part of the underclass would squander the money, and they (and their children) would then be in the same state as before. Would our moral duty then be satisfied? If the bottom 5 percent of the "undeserving" underclass starved, would the other 95 percent be changing their ways? Harsh stuff perhaps, but it's generally admitted that we've done severe harm over the past 20 years to that 95 percent.
Rendering God harmless
I found myself nodding wearily at the review of The New Century Hymnal, by Donald G. Bloesch [Books, July 15]. As a United Methodist, I have often sung the old-and perfectly suitable-lyrics to hymns I have heard from childhood. I am convinced Wesley and Watts would spin in their graves if they had any idea how the words of their hearts and rivers of praise to God the Father had been neutered and perverted to please every single group of people in the church. Something is wrong when people toss away the very essence of God in order to create him in their own image!
People are rendering God harmless and impotent-too far away to do anything and too preoccupied to care. Although I totally agree with Professor Bloesch, I don't think he was emphatic enough.
Bloesch seems to overlook the massive changes that take place in hymns in the passing years. The New Century Hymnal, contrary to its name, seems to look back and echo the ancient Christian witness. For instance: Saint Francis of Assisi referred to the sun as his brother and called for a sacred relationship to God's creation, particularly in the singing of praise to God. Juliana of Norwich, a medieval nun, shared the idea of God "mothering" us (apparently with the blessing of the church). Early church Fathers frequently referred to Jesus as "Child of God." Like any book, The New Century Hymnal is not for all people. If it is simply an effort to be politically correct, as Bloesch maintains, it is to be pitied. But equally pitiful is the response that fearfully rejects change because "we never did it that way before."
Mount Vernon, Ohio
Presbyterians and scriptural authority
Reviewer Robert Patterson [Books, July 15] cites Edmund Clowney's book The Church as warning "of the precarious situation in denominations like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which since 1967 has not required officers to affirm the authority of Scripture or subscribe to any church creed." I greatly respect Clowney, but I think he is mistaken.
In the 1995-96 edition of the PCUSA Book of Order, all Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, Elders and Deacons are expected to answer in the affirmative the following questions at the time of their ordination and/or installation:
G-14.0207-b. "Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God's Word to you?"
G-14.0207-c. "Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed by those confessions as you lead the people of God?"
There are 11 historical creeds and confessions in the PCUSA Constitution, including the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the recent Brief Statement of Faith. In theory, at least, the Book of Order does require us to hold our officers to these standards.
Rev. M. Blair Cash III
The ministry of reconciliation
In certain aspects, the editorial of Robert A. Seiple ["Ministry in the Real World Order," July 15] could be misleading. Truly Christians have been given the ministry and message of reconciliation. This consists in bringing the lost to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, which reconciles them to God. The ministry of reconciliation is not bringing people of different ethnic or religious backgrounds to peaceful relationships with one another. It may be admirable to bring such reconciliation to groups in Bosnia, Somalia, and elsewhere, but this is hardly the concept of reconciliation in Scripture. To be engaged in conciliatory efforts in such places is commendable; but let's not confuse that with the ministry of reconciliation of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.
Ralph H. Isensee
Stand for and with the persecuted
Kim Lawton has done an excellent job of capturing two elements vital to the fight to overcome and eliminate persecution ["The Suffering Church," July 15]. First, we must take a stand for our persecuted brothers and sisters. Public pressure, letter-writing campaigns, and so on are vital and often (not always) effective. Second, we must stand with our brothers and sisters. Meeting their needs, praying for them and with them, going to them, and encouraging them are vital and give them support and courage to stand in their own societies.
In order to stand both for and with, we must also understand that while systems and ideologies are anti-Christian and the enemy, the people who live under those systems or believe the ideologies are people for whom Christ died. Standing-for will attack and put pressure on the systems and ideologies. Standing-with will provide the church with the support, courage, and resources to reach those outside of Christ.
Peter Torry, President
Open Doors with Brother Andrew
Santa Ana, Calif.
I was surprised that neither the article nor your listing of organizations working in the field mentioned the Rutherford Institute. In addition to handling about 85 percent of all cases of religious discrimination in the U.S., the Rutherford Institute has a substantial presence internationally and has assisted innumerable individuals and churches throughout the world. In the last few months, the institute has provided legal representation (including his appeal) to Robert Hussein in Kuwait. We recently published a comprehensive Handbook on Religious Liberty Around the World, with case studies of over 40 countries. Moreover, the institute has presented a defense of religious liberty at all recent United Nations conferences and visited representative countries in all regions of the world.
Pedro C. Moreno, Esq.
The Rutherford Institute
(804) 978-3888; fax (804) 978-1789;
home page: www.rutherford.org
When David Neff discussed "hired pens" in his "Inside CT" column [June 17], he observed that "Christian celebrities should have a higher standard." He reported that Charles Colson asked that his ct columns include the byline of Nancy Pearcey, who apparently writes many of these columns.
Neff correctly points out that "Colson has set a good example by giving credit in his books to staff whose contributions are substantial." But Neff's observation that "It is trickier to acknowledge teamwork in magazine columns and radio programs" doesn't stand the test of a comparison with those in the secular media who properly acknowledge their contributors. Bylined columns in science magazines routinely give guest columnists a byline. To do otherwise would subject the columnist to charges of misrepresentation or worse.
Though ghostwritten books credited to Christian celebrities may be due to "Publishers eager to sell books," the failure to acknowledge assistance or, worse, placing one's name on the work of another, is ultimately the responsibility of the person listed as the author. No Christian writer or publisher should misrepresent authorship. And no Christian author should acquiesce to a publisher's demand to do so.
Christianity Today can set the standard for Christian writers, publishers, and broadcasters by establishing a "No Ghostwriting" policy. If a columnist doesn't write the columns that appear over his or her name, then at the very least the columnist should begin each column with a few sentences introducing that issue's topic and writer. Making exceptions for a few "celebrity Christians" is unfair to the many prominent Christians who actually write what appears under their names and to those of us who read what they write.
Forrest M. Mims III
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