A Question of Loyalty and Love?

OKAY, here’s the deal:

Unfortunately, when you are “defenDING” something it can be misinterpreted as being”defenSIVE.” And from a debate standpoint, the degree to which an observation or viewpoint can be proven to be subjective (defensive)…then the validity of that viewpoint is diminished substantially. What a masterful shift is accomplished at that point.

For years there has been a call from the pastors on the front lines of the Church of God to downsize the COG administrative mechanism in terms of International Headquarters. Whether or not that is a justifiable request, I do not know. However, motions have been submitted unto that end. What is absolutely amazing is the “redirect” that is handed back again and again in the last two General Assemblies:

Here it is, “You want a cut? Here’s your cut: World Missions.”

The financial findings I submitted in the “Souls for sale…cheap” article/post was simply a comparison of dollars received into the various funds from the mandatory contributions of local COG churches. I submitted this comparison not because I am attacking anything. I/we have been handed the task of responding to an issue I/we didn’t invent.

So, here comes my leap. I am no COG World Missions poster child per se. I am simply defending World Missions because that is the only discussion I am allowed to have. I didn’t invent the debate about COGWM.

I am simply answering to the issue executive leadership has presented to us over and over: “cut the mandatory contributions to World Missions.” And this, all the while we, the pastors who are summoned to approve this action, are summarily refused the financial information that would allow an informed decision to transpire (not to mention the Minutes of the General Assembly makes provision for us to receive them).

A couple weeks ago I met with the Executive Committee and registered my concerns openly. I was told that we have a systemic problem (I agree). I was given a similar presentation of the finances that we were given at “the forums.” I was told that the first step to addressing the systemic problem was a unified budget. I was told that world missions is terribly top heavy and needs desperate restructuring. I was told that World Missions had one man deciding where all the money went and needed more accountability.

I was also told that I could not have a detailed copy of the General Church finances similar to the one I had received from World Missions.

At this point someone invariably runs the flag up the pole that says, “Loyalty, loyalty to the Church of God. We are one church…why are you trying to divide us?” Or as in another online forum the question is asked, “What’s wrong, don’t you love the Church of God?”

Loyalty, is the conversation I have been trying to have. Let’s talk loyalty to the covenant we have in place written in the Minutes of the General Assembly.

And love?… I think it is well established that one of the greatest avoidance techniques when confronting a dysfunctional reality is to call in to question the matter of love. “You don’t really love me…”

Israel apparently questioned God’s love in that same fashion. He responds to and through the prophet Hosea and offers the parameters of the covenant:

“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord. (Hosea 2:19-20 NASB)

Tom’s paraphrase: God said, “Yes I love you and have proven it. And, I will honor my covenant still. But, our covenant has an order (righteousness) and equity (justice), a deep commitment to your highest potential (lovingkindness/compassion). But, it is one measured in constant actions and not just words (faithfulness)…then we will have intimate trust between us.”

Loyalty and love? That’s another discussion I would like to have.

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15 Responses

  1. I’ve said my peace on the subject of loving the church–and reciprocation–at

    http://www.vulcanhammer.org/?p=720

    One other discussion I’d like to have related to this is internationalisation. The whole issue of the relationship that the CoG in North America has with the rest of the world and COGWM’s relationship with both North America and everyone else are inexorably tied together. But that’s not on the table either.

  2. It all comes down to having an understanding that we are all accountable to God for what we say and do.

    Knowing that I will literally stand before Him one day certainly carries some weight in the decisions that I make.

    As far as “loving the church” goes – loving the church and loving the direction that it’s heading are two different things. If someone you love is walking toward a cliff, wouldn’t love compell you to do everything possible to stop them from walking off of it?

  3. I hope I am not stoned (no pun intended) for what I am about to say, but loyalty is not a core value of mine. I believe in faithfulness, but in our day and culture the word loyalty means nothing positive to me. In fact, the first thing I think of when I hear the word is someone who backs and defends somethings at all costs, which includes things like lying, covering up, putting programs and institutions before people, etc.

    I’m glad Tom S. brought in the issue of covenant in this post. As far as I know I have only entered into two of them in my entire life, one with my wife and one with my Saviour. I do not equate loving and serving the Lord’s church with loving and serving the 501-C-3 registered in the USA state of Tennessee with the D.B.A. “Church of God.”

    As I’ve said before, I’m not planning on seeking credentials and affiliation with another organization. I feel pretty confident that I would be asked to leave before I would ever leave on my own initiative. And if that ever happened it would be sad, as I have been born, raised, educated, and supported in this organization, but it would not be the end of a covenant.

    I think I come closer to breaking covenant, and certainly closer to breaking the Lord’s heart, when I break relationship with real people, not with non-profit organizations. That is such a deeply ingrained part of my worldview and value system that I think that I tend to assume that everyone views it that way. But perhaps I’m wrong about that.

    Do others see this differently?

  4. I hear you Tom- or perhaps more correctly “I feel you.”

    My survival instincts tell me, “keep your head down, keep quiet- there’s nothing you can do.” Meanwhile, my spirit is screaming, “the hour is late, many pastors are coming to this Assembly looking for either ‘the last straw’ or ‘a seed of hope’- silence is selfish when so much is at stake.”

    Sometimes it feels like we are the kids speaking fervently in the dark to one another while listening to the parents fighting downstairs- the words aren’t clear, what we hear is muffled, and angry.

    When we get up in the morning, it will be “breakfast with the Cleavers” as mom says what a wonderful guy dad is and kisses him on the cheek. Dad chuckles and says, “I don’t know how she can cook so good and be so pretty too.”

    Sitting at the table, we exchange glances at one another- some even roll their eyes. We are old enough now to know the truth: we are living in a house we can’t make the payments on, and the strain is causing those who lead our house to stop trusting each other and play the “blame game”…and now we’re wondering who to trust.

    For some, the problems at home are causing problems at school, others at work, and some are “acting out”- even running away from home. Others are attempting to ignore it all and throw themselves more into our their own pursuits. We all say, “it’s their problem, I’m going to live my own life”- but we’re afraid of how much of this is getting in our genes- how will it affect our kids? Will our family survive? Where is “home”?

    The metaphor isn’t perfect- no metaphor is. We are all adults sitting around the table- but all of us should be thinking of the next generation and not just ourselves.

    Did World Missions fail to honor the EC? Did the EC try to force WM to “submit”? Who started the fight- who is “right”? NONE of us knows (not me, and not Tom R.) and it can’t be nailed down because even “they” don’t know- but everyone is certain that the “theys” are to blame.

    This is a family system and here the metaphor holds true- IT DOESN”T MATTER who “started it”…it is time to STOP. (And by all means, stop pretending it’s a perpetual honeymoon) There are mistakes and knee-jerk reactions on all sides. It’s time to get some counseling, take responsibility for missteps, and ultimately forgive so we can all become the family we are supposed to be…the neighbors are talking.

    Unless I’m confused, according to our centralized structure, the ENTIRE church (and all departments- including WM) is under the Executive Council between Assemblies and the Executive Council (including the Executive Committee) is under the General Assembly.

    The General Assembly (all of us able to attend) is to be the ruling body- and should be able to put to rest family squabbles, as it has in the past.

    However, and let me know if this is “just me,” but it feels like the authority of the GA has been diminished to the point where it cannot bring resolution. How did we get here? Again, it is really hard to point the finger.

    How do I know the authority of the GA has diminished?

    -The GA passed a motion to reduce the 15% to 10%… and anyone who is honest about where we are on that has to admit that the will of the GA in passing the motion has yet to be honored. The GA has not been given the proposal it asked for and it doesn’t really matter whether you blame WM for voting it down or the EC for not bringing it to the GA…the effect is the same.

    -Members of the General Council appear to be confused as to where they are and the seriousness of the responsibility to represent the church on the floor. The Assembly floor is NOT our pulpit, and our pulpits are NOT the Assembly floor- I’ve seen preaching where we should be talking about the business of the church and talking about the business of the church where we should be preaching.

    …and I’ll stop there because now I’m weeping (no, there is not an offering plate coming around). Honestly, this BREAKS me- I’m walking into this Assembly broken and weeping for where we are, and where the road we are on leads us. We MUST repent, forgive, and rechart the course…TOGETHER.

    Do we realize what is at stake if we don’t? May God open the eyes of every minister, and especially every leader who is heading into this Assembly with the thought, “if we can just make it through this Assembly.”

    There is a “tipping point,” a threshhold…and we have crossed it. I’ll just go ahead and say what we don’t want to admit: “Our church is NEVER going to be the same.”

    Whether by gradual attrition, or a “coming-to-Jesus” turn-around, the Church of God IS changing…and though ultimately that is a good thing, the path we chose to change will determine whether the pain of change is extended torture or a sharp (but shared) jolt. I’ve said it a hundred times the past two years, “you can lead change, or wait until it hits you over the head like a 2×4.”

    I’m praying, and hoping.

    Blessings…

  5. Jonathan,

    I don’t see it any differently than you. I echo your sentiments exactly! I, too, owe so much to the organization and family of the CoG. I ‘cut teeth’ on CoG pews and understand the ‘family’ aspect of this church. However, I fully agree that it is not anything close to being a ‘covenant agreement.’ I would not, of my own choosing, leave my home organization. Even when I find myself feeling like I am so different than the average CoG pastor / minister and that some of my views may not be appreciated by the general church, I still want to stay aboard the ship because… God placed me here. And, if change is needed, I have absolutely no influence if I’m on the outside. Who knows, maybe God made me what I am to have at least a little influence for positive change in the CoG. If we keep losing our younger ministers and missionaries, the CoG will absolutely become irrelevant. It will remain an institution, but it will be so very irrelevant. That…I cannot stand to think about.

    Matt Jett (former Lee professor) mentioned something in one of his threads… Most of the missionary students we educate through the CoG are not joining hands with COGWM. Most are leaving and working with other groups. Many of our progressive and motivated young pastors are working outside their home denomination . Why? I don’t know for certain. But, this I know, if they believe that our general church is more concerned with running the ship (and perpetuating the organization at all costs) than with supporting them in ministry, they will not stay around. If they see us as being ‘top-heavy’ while asking the local church to absorb their expenses, they will find a group that is not. We’ve got to wake up.

    If God DID want to change the CoG and the way we do things… how would He do it? Could it be that that is exactly what is happening now? Remember the definition of insanity… “Doing the same things and expecting different results…”

    Thanks for the chance to vent. I very much want our church to change and not to become another dead institution… and, I want to be a part of it!!

  6. Jon, your bringing up the matter of “covenant” makes me think of an ongoing discussion in the Anglican/Episcopal world: the business of the “baptismal covenants.”

    If we look back at the earlier Anglican prayer books (such as the 1662 one which John Wesley was enamoured with)

    http://www.vulcanhammer.org/anglican/bcp-1662.php

    there is mention and emphasis on the promises that God makes to the believer, and those (such as forgiveness of sins and eternal life) are far greater than those the candidate for baptism makes.

    When the Episcopalians rewrote the baptismal ceremony for the 1979 BCP, they make the candidates (or their sponsors) go through a long list of promises they make to God, while there are no promises the other way.

    In other words, as scholars such as Peter Toon point out, the older ceremonies have promises going both ways, with God’s being the far greater ones. The newer ceremony is a decidedly one-way street.

    I think that the older formularies are more reflective of God’s way with his people. Pentecostals make a big deal–and rightly so–about God’s promises to us, but that didn’t originate with the original or modern Pentecost. That’s why I like to refer to the newer formula as “the contract on the Episcopalians,” as I detail here:

    http://www.vulcanhammer.org/?p=114

  7. Jon,
    Wow! Can I use your stuff as my own. That post you left blew me away. Man! Now that is some good stuff.

  8. Jonathan:
    You gave us more than a metaphor…it’s a parable! I pray that the same broken spirit pervades the G.A., as that type of brokenness truly ushers in the Spirit that restores!

    Jim:
    Thanks for what you shared. You are exactly right, we are losing people. I have several friends right now that are planting non-denominational churches with organizations like A.R.C. and Acts 29. These are couples that were born, raised, and educated in the CoG. They’re not bitter towards the CoG. They just do not see that it is the most “life giving” approach to building a church. We too have thought long and hard about church planting, and have tried to count the cost in so doing. I don’t know if we will ever plant a church. But I have looked at it long enough to be able to say that I can’t really blame my friends for their decisions. With some of these other organizations you get critical resourcing, mutual support, and the authority of covenanted relationships without the authoritarianism of controlling relationships. While I personally have not given up on the CoG, I have no good basis in which to try to talk someone out of planting with one of those networks.

    Don:
    That’s very interesting. For some reason it reminds me of Jesus’ saying, “You travel the world for a single proselyte and make him twice the son of hell as yourself.”

    Steve:
    That was Jonathan Augustine who wrote that incredible post, and it blew me away too!

  9. To Jonathan Augustine…

    …your post….wow!

    ….anymore like that and I’ll just call you by your last name.

  10. Jonathan A,

    Thank you for the passionate post. And it is true that where are a family system.

    Sometimes being a parent scares me. I mean, it’s serious stuff. God has entrusted me and my wife with the present and future of three precious human beings. And we don’t want to mess these kids up.

    As you know, I have twin boys – 12 going on 16. And they are concurrently each others best friend and worst enemy. As a dad, I’ve often said, “I don’t care who started it, just STOP IT” It it weren’t my own kids, it would sometimes be comical. After ten minutes of fighting, they have forgotten what they’re fighting about – they only want to win the fight.

    We are in an unfortunate position in that we (ordained bishops) received an agenda and have limited background information. Of course, I tend to see things through the eyes of a World Missions missionary on the field. Others who live in Cleveland may hear things from a different perspective. And of course, those who propose the unified budget see things in a different light than I can. I’m sure there will be a passionate sharing of opinions/perspectives next week in Texas.

    As parents, we often have to speak the final word without having all the facts. We do the best we can, and try to get all the needed information in the shortest amount of time possible. But sometimes we simply have to take decisions with limited knowledge and time. We announce our decisions – try to show to both kids that we have their best intentions in mind.

    No parent wants to make bad decisions for their kids. In such moments, Claudia and I have often tried to comfort each other with those seven little words: “It will all come out in therapy.” 😉

    But no matter how much we try, often one (if not both) of the boys will feel like they lost and life is not fair. Claudia and I are fortunate. Our twins get over their spats pretty quickly. Give them a couple of minutes to cool off, and they quickly pick up their friendship where they left off. Deep down they know that we love each of them equally. And when it’s said and done – we are family!

    The Church of God is experiencing growing pains. As any organization grows, ages, matures, faces new challenges from its environment, it will go through such growing pains.

    In this analogy, which definitely also has its shortcomings, the General Council/Assembly plays the role as parents. And this is one of those scary moments.

    Again, Jonathan – thank you for an incredible post!

  11. Jonathanstone,

    Conflict is the doorway to intimacy. Anywhere you find a place where people are getting real with their stuff and each others stuff; you know they got there by addressing and pressing through some level of conflict. It’s that way with my wife, my kids, my job and my friends. Now you might come across a little sarcastic….but no harm done, that’s just classic Jon Stone that we all love. I’ve always been a loyal person, but as you’ve said, it has probably always been the expression of my covenant to God that I’ve served and honored and been loyal to those God has put over my life. Your right, the greatest tragedy would be the breaking of Gods heart by breaking real relationship with real people. The key to this whole thing is not about what we do but who we are. It’s an issue of MOTIVE & ATTITUDE. Any time God as called me to deal with someone else’s stuff, He’s always had me to deal with my own stuff first, to get my motive and attitude right. Here is the path we all must put ourselves on before we get to the GA. …BROKENNESS, REPENTANCE, HUMILITY. That is the road to God, and we must all find ourselves on it. When we get to that place our flesh dies and our spirit lives. We must remember that only the flesh can be offended, and there’s no place for it at the GA.

  12. Grant, thanks for your leadership in the “motives and attitude” department! You’re a great example for guys like me.

    What you stated is well-said and true…except, of course, me being sarcastic! 😉

  13. jon,
    luv ya friend…
    g

  14. Tom S, Jon, Tom R, et. al- thanks for the encouragement. After putting my heart out there, getting “covered” by sharp guys like you is edifying.

    I’m processing as I write- putting it down in dialogue with you and others has both sharpened my perspective (painful) and focused my prayers (hopeful…and powerful).

    Blessings…

  15. My friend on Facebook shared this link and I’m not dissapointed that I came here.

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