How God Desires to Be Worshipped– Revealed At Shechem for the Church Today

(Click Here if you wish to listen to the article read by myself)

(Part 3 in a 3 part series on How God Desires to Be Worshipped– Revealed at Shechem)

As with part 2 in this series, this part is written particularly for those attending Sabbath services where many there were once members of the old Worldwide Church of God and for those Sabbath keepers with a similar background who are no longer attending any church of God congregation.

As we previously saw in part 2 of this series, loving one another as brethren, regardless of any organizational differences between us, first begins with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We can’t have a loving relationship with other brethren until we first concentrate on our own relationship with God our Father. Only then can we have a heightened awareness of the very existence of other brethren all around us– brethren who are also running the race set before them and fighting the good fight. Our common relationship with our Father and with His children is through His Spirit as we are all new creatures in Christ. By His Spirit we should recognize one another as God’s fellow workers, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth. We can then see one another from God’s perspective. In this 3rd part we’re going to look at some of the reasons why brethren have been hesitant or reluctant to visit other church of God congregations and why some brethren today are simply choosing to stay at home each Sabbath and watch or listen to sermons online.

As we previously saw, worshipping God in spirit and in truth isn’t dependent on where you fellowship, but on who you are (oil in your lamp). Often times what separates us from one another is our perceived compatibility and our comfort zones. Some brethren today may feel uncomfortable visiting with other congregations because “once upon a time” those brethren left the old WCG on the wrong year during the 1970’s or in the late 1980’s or in 1992.  Others don’t want to visit certain other congregations because once upon a time there was a corporate decision made by some selfish ministers insisting on having their own way. Another person is independent or is staying at home and doesn’t want to even visit one of the larger more centralized church organizations because once upon a time in the 1990’s he saw ministers behaving like hirlings of a corporate church. He has stereotyped all church organizations as being untrustworthy– especially those who appear to be perpetuating a somewhat hierarchical type of church government. Yet all of us should never forget that God is a God of second chances and we all have regrets over past decisions we all have made.  We should allow for changes and continuing growth in others (as Paul did with Mark), including those within the ministry. We all have different experiences and it may take time for some wounds to heal, but when individually the time is right for each of us, we should feel free to occasionally visit with one another in the various churches of God, even if it begins just socially.  We are all God’s people and joint heirs with Christ.

Ask yourself what your own reasons might be that you have been avoiding other brethren within the greater body of Christ. Sometimes our avoiding one another can be nothing but a carryover of that familiar tradition of men created in the old WCG where for decades brethren were taught to avoid visiting any other group outside of what we had called “the one true church”. Back in the 1970’s leaving the WCG made you a “persona non grata“– someone to be avoided. Many brethren back then who went with the Church of God, International (CGI) or various independent groups, were fired, disfellowshipped, marked and were told by the WCG church pastors that the brethren were to have nothing to do with them. Predictions were made by some ministers and members in the WCG that “those liberals who are no longer with us were becoming too Protestant and they would soon be doing away with keeping the Sabbath and the Holy Days” (actually just the opposite happened). When I left the WCG in 1978 there were people taking down the license plate numbers in the parking lot of the local CGI congregation so anyone attending there could be fired or disfellowshipped (some even by mimeograph). I was told by the college security at the Pasadena campus that I was no longer welcome to set foot on the Ambassador College campus. My aunt never spoke to me again until 10 years later briefly with a polite nod at my grandmother’s funeral and then I never saw her again because I had left the one true church. Back then, by leaving the WCG each of us in the CGI and other groups had become a “persona non grata” and lost many of our church friends and some family members in the process. Yet, although I can’t speak for all of the old timers like myself who experienced that ostracizing, we hold absolutely no animosity toward those who ostracized us or spread rumors or made accusations or false predictions about us. We know that the fault wasn’t with any one man, but with a church system of governance and a corporate culture exercising unbiblical power & control over others which is the reason why most of us left.

Like ourselves, each Christian at different times in their life comes to have their own understanding and reason for leaving the WCG. Some saw the handwriting on the wall and left the WCG in the late 1980’s or in 1992. Others did so in 1995, while still others waited until 1996 or later. We are all on a sojourn and at different times in our lives we have our own “Ah ha” moments for leaving the WCG. We can also at different times in our lives get distracted from hearing our Shepherd’s voice. It’s when we hear His voice, we can also then from our heart forgive one another for any trespasses against us (Mark. 11:25). We understand that we should never let any bitterness or resentment reside within us. It can also be too easy for some who have been wronged by overbearing ministers in a corporate church organization to get in a mental cycle of victimhood and thus avoiding all organized religion. It can be kind of like someone going through a bad divorce because of an abusive or uncaring spouse and thus singing the old Eric Carmen song, “Never gonna fall in love again… no, I never wanna feel the pain”. Many brethren who may have felt hurt or betrayed or saw their families torn apart by certain ministers or misguided Pastor Generals are feeling like “never gonna be a part of any organized religion again.” They don’t want to feel the pain. They had practically dedicated their entire lives to the old WCG which betrayed them. Those of us who left the WCG earlier during the 1970’s understand the concerns of many scattered brethren who are still avoiding organized religion or anything resembling the old WCG corporate culture. We understand having suspicions, yet we also fully understand the importance of Christ’s personal guidance in our lives. What can often keep some brethren at home is a subtle fear of being caught up in another organization of controlling men or that they might be deceived by them. This needn’t be the case once you fully realize that no man (or church organization) has any control or power over you except the power that you give him. I feel free to visit anywhere because we aren’t to put our trust in men like we did in the old WCG organization, but we are to hear our Shepherd’s voice and act accordingly. We as a family should treat one another as loving family members and hear our Shepherd’s voice. Jesus said in Mark 3:35 “Whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” We are family members.

Unfortunately, some brethren who previously avoided others outside of what they once considered to be “the one true church” are now applying the exact same practice today concerning those brethren outside of what they consider to be “the best true church” or “the most compatible true church.” It’s as though some brethren feel like they’re somehow being disloyal and feeling guilty if they occasionally visited elsewhere. Also, if they aren’t careful some church Pastors can find themselves behaving as though they are part of a corporate franchise like being a manager at a McDonalds restaurant not wanting to be seen having lunch at a Burger King. They are ministers of Jesus Christ, not of the XYZ corporation or a competitive church franchise. While we should function in a primary congregation (bloom where you’re planted), there’s absolutely nothing wrong with occasionally visiting brethren at other nearby church of God services or Feast sites. It doesn’t mean we should visit congregations that are teaching heresy (we can often identify them by seeing their online YouTube messages) or are divisive. Likewise there are also some extremely controlling churches and organizations out there where you or I wouldn’t even be allowed to visit them. Even there, however, we also recognize that some brethren in those groups may for now feel more comfortable in that controlling environment and may need to spend some time there. We should still recognize them as our brethren though and maybe, when possible, we should consider reaching out socially to those attending there whom we may already know and love. Let’s always avoid being “out of sight, out of mind” with any believer in Christ no matter where they attend services.

Over the years, in some of the church divisions that have occurred, there have been men in leadership positions who behaved carnally or politically rather spiritually. Pride can get the better of any of us. For some, during various emotionally charged church divisions, it may be difficult and take time for us to forgive from our heart a brother who trespasses against us, but if we draw near to our Father, seek His help and hear our Shepherd’s voice, we can do that. The process begins with humbly drawing close to God and seeing our brethren as He sees them. As time and years go by, especially as we age, I think all of us older members and ministers who are now living in our 70’s and 80’s can look back on our lives and have regrets about our own past actions or inactions. Remember, it was the oldest ones who dropped their stones first when Christ asked about he who has not sinned casting the first stone. Even old animosities between family members, like the examples I gave in Part 2 of the overbearing mother-in-law or the arguing uncles, tend to mellow with time. Some may call it “sanctification through senility” but it’s really when older people look back on their lives to prioritize what is really important that old wounds are healed. How your daughter-in-law organizes her kitchen is no longer important and there’s an irrelevance of a used car your brother once sold you years ago that’s been keeping the families apart. As the years go by we likewise should give up any unforgiveness or resentment that may still reside in our hearts that’s been keeping our spiritual families apart and love all of the brethren as Christ does. The continued practice of avoiding at all costs any brethren outside our own organization (an old WCG church policy) needs to be seen for what it is and end. By 1995, this practice of avoiding other groups decimated the WCG. In the early 1990’s there were loving ministers in the CGI and the Global Church of God (some are now even pastoring UCG and LCG congregations) along with other ministers in various independent congregations, giving messages about the true meaning of law and grace. They were speaking out against the trinity doctrine being promulgated by the WCG leadership, but most WCG members never heard them or even knew the other groups existed because of the unscriptural “us vs. them” WCG tradition of avoiding other groups. Again, this carryover tradition of men needs to be seen for what it is and eliminated.

The old WCG tradition didn’t tolerate many (if any) differences in secondary doctrinal beliefs, church traditions or official church policies. Unlike how it was in the churches of God under James, Peter, John or Paul, back then in the old WCG, all truth regarding all matters no matter how big or how small came through church headquarters. In the old WCG system, many of those serving in the ministry or those working at church headquarters in Pasadena had to carefully navigate a fine line, even when they rightly disagreed with any official church policy or teaching. For decades there existed for those in the ministry working at the church headquarters in Pasadena an atmosphere of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. To question the actions of a particular church attorney might either get you fired or maybe transferred far away from church headquarters. I know of one particular WCG church pastor who back around 1993 wrote a letter to a church leader at headquarters respectfully questioning the validity of the trinity doctrine and he was immediately fired and put out or the church. The church that Jesus said He would build was considered by many to be a particular one true church institution or organization and there would be no room for someone like a Polycarp or anyone else who disagreed with anything coming from church headquarters.

Unlike how it was in the NT churches of God, they were to all believe (or speak) the same thing or risk being fired and maybe even disfellowshipped. The old WCG system we observed back then actually more resembled the system created by Constantine and his bishop of Rome in the 4th century rather than anything practiced by the NT churches of God. In the old WCG system, the churches of God were to be like #2 yellow pencils with all directions and all truth coming from the church headquarters so all would speak (or believe) the same thing. By 1995 this tradition of men, that was supposed to protect the brethren from false ideas, decimated the WCG and scattered thousands of brethren all over the place. It fostered a ministry behaving like hirlings and codependent brethren, who weren’t reading their Bibles for truth, but relying on information coming from church Headquarters.

Another reason why brethren separate from one another and avoid seeing each other is a misconception or application of the idea that “we must all speak (or believe) the same thing.” That’s very true for things that involve our salvation. Paul spoke out against those who preach another gospel or teach heresy and those who were practicing major sin, but on secondary doctrinal issues or teachings or things not affecting our salvation, he allowed for many differences of opinion, especially for conscience sake. Today, many of the divisions I’ve seen over the decades have involved things like calendar issues, sacred names, interpretations of prophecy or other things that don’t really involve our salvation, but men will gather a following after themselves with an amplified “new truth” and off they go because “we all must speak (or believe) the same thing.” After the split, those brethren will once again avoid seeing other brethren who might disagree with them. The reality is we as brethren needn’t agree on every single secondary doctrinal belief or interpretation of scripture nor should this cause divisions among God’s people. Some things like the commandments of God along with the teachings of Christ, His apostles and the foundational teachings found in Heb. 6:1-2 are written in stone. Salvation can come only through Jesus Christ. Other things are more of a gray area which are subject to interpretation or are things brethren can grow to have certain understanding over time. When you think about it, had the NT churches practiced some of our modern day corporate church standards of qualifications for church membership, they would have broken up into hundreds of different little churches of God so they all would have believed the same thing. There would be those of Apollos who after his death would breakaway from others that felt eating meat sacrificed to idols was not alright unless it was sold in the shambles and then those brethren would split over circumcision or form another group which also questioned Paul’s apostleship or have some other reason to separate from other brethren. They all would have formed little bubbled echo chambers of special truth and would have been intolerant of other believers. All the little groups would have avoided seeing any other brethren, including brethren like those at Chloe’s house in Corinth because they “all must speak (or believe) the same thing.” Paul spoke out against this divisiveness. He didn’t create conditional secondary doctrinal barriers or traditions between brethren in Ephesus, Corinth or Rome. The church the apostles built with Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone wasn’t a highly centralized organization where they all believed the same thing. Brethren in the 1st century churches of God probably couldn’t have recited the 24 or 30 or more qualifying doctrinal beliefs that exist in some of today’s more centralized churches of God, along with their 1 to 4 sub-categories for each doctrinal belief. Those are 50 to 60 shibboleths for church membership and qualifications for serving in the ministry that exists today in some of the more centralized or corporate churches of God. By their standards the Ethiopian eunuch would have been sitting in Philip’s chariot for hours and hours while Philip would be trying to get through points 17 thru 24 with all of their vital subsections and you could forget about trying to baptize 3,000 people in one day.

Over the years under a misconception of church loyalty, unity or doctrinal purity there have been those in the old WCG ministry who have wreaked havoc among many of God’s people. Thinking they do God a service, like Diotrophes, they cast brethren out of the church. They zealously felt compelled to get rid of what they perceived to be the tares or the chaff, which they defined as anyone who disagreed with them and they did so without any concern of pulling out some of the wheat in the process. Any wheat being pulled out in the process of getting rid of the tares or the chaff were treated like collateral damage. They were to be forgotten as the church leadership told the brethren “let’s forget those things that are left behind and go on to do the work!” Those “things” that had been left behind were often times their brethren. By their church’s traditions of men, they made the new commandment Christ gave (that we are to love one another as He loves us) of none effect. This “we all must speak (or believe) the same thing” directive resulted in 2/3rds of the WCG ministry bringing half of the brethren back into orthodox Christianity. Tens of thousands of members rejected much of what they once held dear and are now worshipping on Sunday, celebrating Christmas and eating their Easter ham. In 1995 thousands of brethren left the WCG. Some went to other existing churches of God, like the Global Church of God, thousands more went with the newly formed UCG, but thousands of other brethren are still out there who want nothing to do with anything resembling the familiar old WCG hierarchal church government structure.

You may or may not realize it, but over the years, for a variety of reasons, there exists today probably thousands of His sheep who have been scattered all over the place. I don’t say “lost”, just scattered. Like Elijah didn’t realize it, we may not realize that there could be 7,000 thousand brethren out there who figuratively have not bowed their knee to Baal. They love and follow Christ. They are still keeping the Sabbath and the Holy Days. They don’t celebrate pagan holidays or eat unclean food, yet they are still out there– out of sight and unfortunately, out of mind. I know, because I was one of them.

Let’s begin to reach out to our brethren everywhere, including those scattered brethren out there who are also today “out of sight, out of mind.” Let those who are staying at home reach out to their brethren who aren’t. Let all of the churches of God continue to be more inclusive (instead of hard rules and procedures from a home office, have more open guidelines for local congregations). The shepherds/overseers in all churches of God, independent and corporate along with all of the brethren in various congregations should socially reach out to old friends and others who are no longer attending with anyone. Pastors of congregations, continue to show those visiting your congregations the same love and acceptance that you’ve shown me. Let brotherly love abound among all of God’s people. If you are one of those who have chosen to stay at home (like I used to do), perhaps so as not to be influenced by a flawed church, please reconsider what you are doing. Let’s not paint everyone else with a broad brush of negativity. Let’s turn our hearts to one another and in sincerity love one another. Likewise, if you are one of those Sabbath keepers who after 1995, may have stayed in the WCG for another 5 or 10 years or even longer, but are reluctant to attend with others on the Sabbath out of concern that you might be judged or unwelcome, please change your mind and come visit one of the churches of God. God’s people, apart from health or distance reasons, should be with other brethren where they can have a function with other believers as we all are to exhort one another and stir up love and good works in one another, especially as we see the Day approaching. We are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some can be (reread Heb. 10:24-25). We all have, through Christ, a lot of love and understanding through our life experiences to share with one another. As the sheep on Christ’s right hand, we are also to be taking care of the physical and emotional needs of “the least of these, My brethren.” I myself had stayed at home listening to sermons online way too long. We have a lot to offer the people of God and by example can show that love for them as we are all family.

By the way, if you disagree with anything of what I’m writing or saying in this or any other article on my website, that’s okay! If I disagree with you that’s okay too. Fully understanding this biblical allowance for differences of opinion can be very liberating. We’re siblings. Whenever I occasionally visit other churches of God I find most of the brethren there love God, keep His commandments and display the fruits of the Spirit. I don’t need to agree with every single message given there from the pulpit or every biblical typology or even if some brethren there in some of the churches where I visit have a large number of brethren there who call Him Yeshua instead of Jesus or in other congregations some members there emphasize a lot of old WCG traditions. As long we’re not causing divisions, it’s okay to have different opinions or perspectives on various topics which is how it was in the 1st century churches of God. We are to be known by our love for one another and it’s okay, in love, to respectively disagree. None of us have all truth and the older I get, the more I feel free to say, “I don’t know, but I trust God.” We all should have more tolerance, understanding and acceptance of each other, like the Apostles were, as we’re all on different stages of growth in our sojourn to the Kingdom of God.

By the same token, another reason we can find ourselves avoiding one another is our criteria for accepting or visiting other brethren who might be with a different church of God congregation can be based on a narrow minded comfort zone or a barrier created in our own minds used as an excuse for avoiding other brethren.  If we’re honest with ourselves, our uncomfortableness with others may even be a symptom of our own narrowmindedness or maybe even some insecurity within ourselves. Today there are some brethren who may feel uncomfortable visiting a congregation where some of the brethren there are wearing tassels, lifting their hands in the air while singing praises and calling Him Yeshua instead of Jesus.  Yet had they lived in the first century with that same attitude they never would have heard the teachings of the Apostles James, Peter or John, because a number of the brethren in the Jerusalem church wore tassels, lifted holy hands above and also Christ’s name was Yeshua (they may have even played an unfamiliar tambourine or other musical instruments). Some brethren may feel uncomfortable visiting a Feast site where they sing a lot of old Protestant hymns and the accommodations at the Feast aren’t very comfortable.  Yet had they lived in the 1950’s with that same attitude or comfort zone as they have now, they never would have heard messages from the old Radio Church of God where they sang many old Protestant hymns and most of the brethren at the Feast camped in tents or lived in small booths or cabins. Many families even in the early 1960’s lived 8 days in a tent, cooked breakfast on a Coleman stove and in that tent got their kids all dressed up for double services. They also wept together at the end of the Feast while singing the old hymn “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”.

Some may feel uncomfortable visiting a church where the minister giving the sermon is wearing dress slacks and an open collared oxford shirt (modern day business-casual) instead of a suit and tie. Yet had they attended a Sabbatarian church in the early19th century, I’m sure they would have heard some ladies bemoaning the fact that some of the men were starting to attend services not wearing their finest frilly blouses. Some back then might have said, “You should wear your finest attire to honor God in His commanded assembly and dress more like Presidents Washington and Adams did. Why the next thing you know, men will be showing up to services wearing long trousers instead of their finest silk stockings going up to their knee.” There may have been brethren in the late 19th century bemoaning the fact that some ladies’ ankles were showing beneath their hemlines when they came to services. A little over fifty years ago there was a controversy in the WCG over women wearing pants to church and if the zipper needed be on the back or side. When you think about it, our comfort zones are often nothing more than what is familiar to us based on our own current cultural traditions or our personal tastes. Each of us should be a little more open minded in how we worship God and not look for comfort zones as we outwardly compare ourselves among ourselves. The only things that the Apostles wrote about concerning the attire to be worn when brethren came together was about not being ostentatious, not showing partiality based on how we are dressed and the women are to wear modest apparel. Anything else we attribute for proper church attire is nothing but a tradition of men based on a principle never given by or practiced by James, Peter, John or Paul.

While there’s nothing wrong with having our church traditions, we should never ever elevate them beyond what they are– just traditions, which unfortunately for some can become like stiff old wineskins and an intolerant criteria in how they can worship God.  Do our traditions of men for some brethren create an intolerance or discomfort to any variation in how they worship God?  Would it be alright to visit a church of God where the minister steps away from the pulpit to move around while he’s giving a sermon or he is addressed by his first name (as was done among all of the apostles in the 1st century church “for ye are all brethren”) or he later has a participatory discussion of the message given or the sermon is preceded with some contemporary Christian music instead of Dwight Armstrong hymns?  Are we to be only comfortable with what is familiar in how we worship God or shouldn’t we all be more like a family, allowing for differences, including with those who have different understandings or others who might even be weak in the faith like it was in the first century churches of God?  Jesus didn’t teach “blessed are the comfortable,” nor did any of His Apostles.

As human beings we like to gravitate toward what is familiar to us. This was true for brethren in the 1st century church gravitating toward the familiar rabbinic Judaism in the Jewish communities or the former pagan practices the gentiles in Corinth had experienced with the oracles at Delphi. Human beings like their familiar comfort zones. Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin got rid of the confessional booths and the statues of saints, but kept the same familiar seating arrangement, the pews, the pulpit, the alter, the steeple, the clergy/laity relationships, the pagan holidays, Sunday worship and much of the familiar trappings of the Roman Catholic Church which were their familiar comfort zones. The Protestant churches never really came out of Babylon– they just moved to the suburbs. If we aren’t careful we can easily gravitate to our old familiar comfort zones from the old WCG and never think outside the box or deviate from what is familiar to us and thus avoid seeing other brethren. It’s not wrong to have a comfortable format for church services and most of the various churches of God have exactly the same one, but let’s not let it ever separate us from visiting other brethren in other churches of God that are slightly different.

In the 1st century church, including those 7 churches in Asia Minor listed in Rev. 2 & 3, the churches of God didn’t have worldwide comfort zones. They were not a bunch of #2 yellow pencils. Had you lived back then and were traveling by land from Antioch to Rome, would you be reluctant to visit the church in Corinth or Ephesus or any of the other churches of God where Timothy might have been, because they had some serious problems there or worshipped differently there? They had some brethren who had different ideas about circumcision, meat sacrificed to idols or had serious issues that Paul would later need to address. Where would you go to services or feel comfortable to attend? There might be some brethren there bragging about their endless genealogies and others questioning Paul’s apostleship. The services in Corinth probably wouldn’t have resembled anything like what we’re used to (read I Cor. 14). They would have been more participatory, yet everything being done decently and in order (v-40). How did a Christian living in the 1st century church decide where to fellowship? The answer for a brother-in-Christ in the 90’s AD living in the city of Laodicea was not for him to hop in a chariot and move to the city of Philadelphia so he could be in “the best church of God.” Nor was it for him to move 30 miles out of town and stay at home each Sabbath so as not to be influenced by a flawed lukewarm church or avoid ever even visiting the church in Thyatira where many brethren there were putting up with that woman Jezebel. Those 7 churches in Asia Minor were all very different churches of God (with different issues to overcome) on 7 golden lampstands with Christ walking in their midst. If they were all in what many call “the Ephesian era” they were all very different churches of God as were all of the churches that Paul wrote to. Those letters written to the 7 churches in Rev. 2 & 3 were written for you and I as individuals to ponder. He (not they) who has and ear to hear, let him (not them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches. We are all imperfect human beings trying to overcome our faults and weaknesses. As we can clearly see in all of the epistles and in those letters to the 7 churches in Asia Minor, there is no perfect church. Our security isn’t in any church governance style or organization, but in our relationship with Jesus Christ (he that overcometh, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches).

Finally, something else we all should consider, especially those brethren who are currently staying at home each Sabbath, is the fact that to a certain extent, we all can be influenced by a growing social phenomena of aloneness and social isolation that has been taking place for the past several decades. Many of us grew up surrounded by family and friends interacting with us. Today, however, oftentimes our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins live hundreds of miles away so there is little or no frequent interaction between family members. In today’s culture of aloneness and social isolation we can find ourselves spending hours and hours watching characters on TV and various news panels or blogs interacting with each other so it’s as though we are vicariously living our lives enjoying that interaction, but we are really just spectators. Social media, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, has added to modern society’s decline in physical interaction and a growing aloneness that was only magnified during the Covid pandemic. Kids aren’t seen outside riding their bikes together or playing games with each other, but are often instead in their bedrooms playing video games or staring at their smart phones or watching TV. Many of us don’t even know the names of the neighbors across the street. People can be seen sitting at a restaurant staring at their phones instead talking to one another. More and more people are working from home on their computers instead of going into an office and much learning is being done virtually so there’s less and less interaction. Today we can find ourselves spending hours by ourselves on our computers, smart phones and watching TV. We in America have become a nation of couch potatoes and so have many of our children. Over the past 20 years the TVs have gotten thinner while Americans have gotten fatter.

Social isolation has also affected all church denominations everywhere and there is a general societal disillusion with all organized religion. All that has been happening in our modern day culture has also been affecting the churches of God. Brethren, we can study the cultural and societal influence on the churches of God in Corinth, Ephesus, Rome and Laodicea, but we shouldn’t underestimate the influence of today’s culture of aloneness and social isolation on ourselves. It’s time for all of us to reread all of those instructions in the NT by simply using the phrase “one another.” The instructions from the Apostles go against the social isolation of today’s culture. That one phrase “one another” includes greet one another, love one another, serve one another, provoke one another to love and good works, forbearing one another in love, exhort one another, comfort one another, confess your faults one to another, forgive one another, bear one another’s burdens, encourage one another, edify one another, be kindly affectionate to one another etc.. You and I can’t do that while sitting at home and just doing virtual learning by watching a sermon online. On the Sabbath and during the Feast we should (whenever possible) be interacting with other brethren and we can always still listen to or watch various online sermons at another time as they are often available to watch later on YouTube. I’m doing that each Sabbath now by watching online services in the morning and physically attending services in the afternoon. It’s important for us to be together as a family and we need that interaction with one another. No man is an island (“just you and me Lord”) and whenever and however it is possible, we should be with one another and not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.

We have a function within the body of Christ as lively stones and by isolating ourselves from one another we are not fulfilling the law of Christ. Christianity isn’t to be a spectator type of “churchianity” where the purpose of church attendance is only to “inculcate your spiritual food for the week”. That’s something that can be done anytime at home by just watching sermons online. If that’s all there is, you can soak up lots of information or spiritual knowledge and still wind up being just a hearer of the word without having to actually deal with the messiness of forbearing one another in a church fellowship or restoring a brother who is overtaken in a fault or actually looking after the needs of “the least of these my brethren.” All of the knowledge and spiritual understanding is nothing without the love shown in I Cor. 13 and actually being a doer of the word by doing what Christ and His apostles told us should be done. The importance of participatory interaction toward “one another” is true not just for those who have been staying at home each Sabbath, but is also true for those who are regularly attending services. If all we do is attend services, sing a few songs, listen to a sermon and then afterwards over a cup of coffee do nothing but carry on political conversations or discuss with others who’s going to win the Super Bowl, we are not doing any of the “one another” reasons for assembling ourselves together. If they aren’t careful, some may find themselves after years of church attendance having many acquaintances, but very few friends. Brethren can feel alone, even in a crowd. Today’s culture of social isolation can affect any of us and we all need to work on deepening our relationships with one another. Our children need older women in the church to be like surrogate grandmothers. This relationship building is important in all of our congregations and it’s especially important though for those who are just staying at home without any interaction with their brethren.

Of course, there are always exceptions for not being able to physically be with other brethren because of health or distance reasons. God understands and it’s a great service some are doing by offering services online and it is a tremendous blessing, especially for the elderly to have those online services. It’s also nice for those of us who may be stuck at home for any length of time because of the weather. Paul had a number of exceptions for not going to a Sabbath service when he was traveling at sea and at different times when he was in prison where the social interaction within a congregational setting wasn’t possible. Today, if you can’t physically be with others on the Sabbath, you can still by other alternative means interact with others by text or phone call (or by letters like Paul did). Paul also prayed fervently for the brethren, spent some one on one time with visitors and yet he absolutely longed to be with the brethren (even in very flawed churches) once more. Whether you or I are in regular fellowship in a local congregation or are currently staying at home, we should not let other believers be “out of sight, out of mind.”

If you are one who for the time being for various reasons still want or need to stay home on the Sabbath, consider having several other brethren over to be with you to watch online services and read your Bibles together. During the 1st century many brethren met in homes. Even then, you could still possibly on occasion, visit other congregations in your area. If visiting a congregation isn’t an option, maybe there’s an older brother in Christ who feels almost imprisoned while residing in a nursing home or an assisted living facility who would love for you to come over with your laptop on the Sabbath so you both could watch services online together and have some good conversation. Jesus said to the righteous, “… I was sick and you visited Me. I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matt. 25:36). If you are regularly attending a church of God congregation and aren’t already doing so, consider inviting into your home over the Pentecost weekend or other Holy Days or Sabbaths those brethren who may be living too far away to regularly attend Sabbath services or couldn’t make a long round trip drive (or don’t drive at all). Be given to hospitality and let them stay with you in your home which, as Jesus taught, would be inviting to your feasts those who can’t return the favor (Luke 14:13).

Local churches can also look for some variations to bring more interaction between brethren. The Church of God, 7th Day in Oregon used to have what they called a “Super Sabbath”. That is where on the first Sabbath of each month, those who lived a little further away and couldn’t regularly attend services would try their best to make it to services on that 1st Sabbath of the month (often with a potluck following) so at least once a month many brethren from outlying areas could all be together. Brethren should be with other brethren as often as is possible. This can include the occasional congregational social events or activities and the willingness of some brethren to occasionally visit other nearby church of God congregations. It’s also encouraging today to see some congregations occasionally having combined services with other groups. My hope is that those in leadership positions, nationally and locally within the various churches of God, will be good examples of loving all their brethren as Christ desires. It may take some time, but we’ve got to begin to “tear down that wall” that so often divides us. Individually, even in a small way, we can take that first step.

As some brethren are moved by the Spirit to occasionally visit other congregations (again, not those which are divisive, uninviting or are teaching heresy), if they discover that some of the brethren there where they visit aren’t as warm and friendly as they should be or the brethren’s conversations there are more political than spiritually uplifting, as visitors we can be Christ-centered examples of warmth to our brethren there and initiate more Spirit-led topics (ask how God called them into His church and talk of God’s goodness). To the contrary, however, whenever I personally have visited any of the independent or the somewhat larger more centralized churches of God, I’ve found there’s a lot of likeminded, loving and welcoming brethren there, including those in the ministry. That’s the reality of what will usually be found when visiting other congregations. Sure, there will be always be exceptions in the attitudes of some brethren or ministers there, but “welcome to how it was in the 1st century churches of God.” Be a light and a peacemaker wherever you visit. As it says in Phil. 4:5, “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand”.

Some brethren in the various churches of God were once part of the the old WCG and some never were.  Still, if you are one of the old time members going way back to the Radio Church of of God days, you will remember that Loma Armstrong’s favorite Bible verse was Psa. 133:1 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”  Isn’t that true! One of her favorite hymns in the old gray Radio Church of God hymnal, that in the WCG hymnal was subsequently removed after her death, needs to be reinstated in some of the hymnals and sung once more by all of God’s people in the various church congregations.  It reads as follows:

1. Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.

2. Before our Father’s throne
we pour our ardent prayers;
our fears, our hopes, our aims are one,
our comforts and our cares.

3. We share each other’s woes,
each other’s burdens bear,
and often for each other flows
the sympathizing tear.

4. When we asunder part,
it gives us inward pain,
but we shall still be joined in heart,
and hope to meet again.

Let’s bind our hearts in Christian love and make our fellowship of kindred minds like to that above. Let’s have a fervent unfeigned love for one another. What Jesus told the woman at the well at Shechem about worshiping the Father, wherever we are, in spirit and in truth is relevant for all of us who are Christians at all times. 

There have been many other messages over the millennia given from Shechem about repentance and believing God’s promises.  By having Christ in you, by His Spirit, this is what we all should do.  We’ve been sanctified and we are all unleavened (I Cor. 5:7).  In all the various churches of God and with many brethren who may be staying at home, each year for one week we all eat the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (v-8).  Thousands of years ago, Joshua addressed the nation of Israel at Shechem and he called on physical Israel to repent and “serve Him in sincerity and truth” (Josh. 24:14).  Such is the call for all of us in the churches of God (the Israel of God) to do the same.  This has always been the end result that God desires.  Look at everything, including other brethren in other congregations, from His perspective. See them as He sees them. We are His little flock and the sheep of His pasture with one Shepherd.  We are joint heirs with Christ. Our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. We are all His ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom and we look to the same author and finisher of our faith.  Col. 3:1-3 reads, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” Gal. 4:26 says that   Jerusalem above is the mother of us all.

They say that “home is where the heart is.”  Our true home is up above and every day in Christ Jesus as we sojourn in this human flesh we can worship our Father in spirit and in truth.  We can love our heavenly Father, His Son and truly love one another in all our various congregations and home fellowships as we are seen and loved by them.  This is the desire of our God and His Son, Jesus Christ, who for eternity loves us all.  “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”

Written by Lee Lisman

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