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.

We also previously saw how worshipping God in spirit and in truth isn’t dependent on where you fellowship, but on who you are (oil in your lamp). Oftentimes 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

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

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

(Part 2 in a 3 part series on How God Desires to Be Worshipped– Revealed at Shechem)

This article has been written particularly for those who are attending one of the many breakaway churches from the old Worldwide Church of God along with other Sabbath keepers with a similar WCG background who may be simply staying at home.

In Part 1 we saw how, apart from Jerusalem itself, Shechem was the most important city in Israel’s history.  It was where Abraham first went when he came to the land of Canaan and there God promised to give his descendants the land.  It was where all of the sons of Jacob (including Joseph) chose to be buried.  It was where all of Israel gathered twice under Joshua to hear the words of the law read, the blessings and the cursings at the foot of two mountains and for them to make a covenant to continue in God’s ways.  Shechem was also a city of massacres, first at the hands of Simeon & Levi and hundreds of years later at the hands of Abimelech.  It was also a city of repentance where the sons of Jacob, after the slaughter of the men of Shechem, buried their idols and hundred of years later the children of Israel under Joshua buried theirs. Shechem was also a city of divisions– not just during the times of the massacres, but this was where all Israel gathered only to divide under Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Jeroboam then resided at Shechem.

Jesus chose this very location to reveal to the Samaritan woman at the well that He was the Messiah and told her how God really wants to be worshipped in spirit and in truth– not any way or location as man sees fit.  When His disciples returned to the scene at Jacob’s well they marveled when they saw Jesus talking to her and even she wondered why He was even speaking to her “for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9). When His disciples saw the men of Shechem coming to them in the fields, Jesus told His disciples, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35). The historical divisive “us vs. them” attitude which existed during the days of ancient Israel and among the 1st century Jewish people had to end.  It would take several years after the church began for the gospel to be preached to the Samaritans and then later to the gentiles. Still, in the hearts of some brethren, the “us vs. them” attitude among the Jewish brethren and gentile brethren continued on for decades. Even among brethren in the gentile church at Corinth, the “us vs. them” divisive attitude existed– “I’m of Paul,” “I’m of Apollos,” “I’m of Cephas”.

The lessons learned from Shechem are also for us today in all of the churches of God, especially for those brethren who are attending congregations where many there were once part of the old Worldwide Church of God (WCG). The lessons are also for brethren who are no longer attending Sabbath services with anyone. There are times when we all need to spiritually step away in our minds to reexamine how we are worshipping God along with the relationships we have with other believers who are a part of the greater body of Christ. We should make sure that the “us vs. them” attitude that existed in ancient Israel and in the 1st century churches of God doesn’t continue on among any of us who today are part of what Paul called in Gal. 6:16 “the Israel of God”.

Examining ourselves in how we worship God and our relationships with other believers first begins with drawing close to God in prayer and humbly seeking His will and understanding– looking at everything from His perspective. We need to “think outside the box” so to speak as God doesn’t reside in a box. The actual teaching of Christ at Shechem was that God desires to be worshiped in spirit and in truth in a relationship that transcends all religious human trappings.  He is not in a box, on a mountain or a place where our access to Him is through other human beings at a temple. Our Father is not someone we draw near to once a week at the sanctuary or every few months on a holy day in a pilgrimage festival at the Temple.  Through Christ Jesus we now have access to our heavenly Father and can daily come before our Father’s Throne. We call Him Abba, Father.  Emanuel, God with us, is here.  Every day He sees you, He loves you and He watches over you.  The very hairs on your head are numbered and He provides for you.  God personally called you (it wasn’t a conference call).  Your heavenly Father loves you, He leads you and He teaches you as He instructed any father to do. So each day you should commune with your Father as shown in Deut. 6:7 “…when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up”.  Your Father daily wants that personal relationship with you and He desires to be worshiped in spirit and in truth.

Jesus told the woman at the well that it’s not about this location or that one, but about God our Father who doesn’t reside on a particular mountain or in buildings made by human hands (Acts 7:48). It’s not about where you go, but who you are and as a new creature in Christ the growing relationship you have with Him. We are part of the body of Christ and belong to Him. We already know this and that the church isn’t a building, but it is the saints or called out ones. You don’t go to church, you are the church. Along the same lines, we also know that people may ask us, “What church do you belong to?”  We aren’t supposed to belong to a church.  We belong to Christ and are part of His body, which is not the “corpus” of a corporation or a church organization. You and I weren’t baptized into an organization of men, but into the body of Jesus Christ, accepting Him as our personal savior. Unfortunately, some brethren today can be subconsciously behaving as though they were baptized into a church organization and they feel that they somehow belong to a particular church. While they recognize other church groups as technically being part of the greater body of Christ, they have never even considered occasionally visiting any other congregation outside of their own acronymic XYZ type of Church of God for they are committed to only be with brethren who are attending what they consider to be for them “the best (or most compatible) church of God.” There are also other brethren who, apart from health or distance reasons, are choosing to just stay at home each Sabbath and not venture out to visit any church of God congregation.

For the remainder of this article and the following one we’re going to look at what has happened and is happening among many brethren who were once part of the old Worldwide Church of God (WCG). We’ll see the historical reasons for the distancing of ourselves from one another and I’ll blend in my own personal experiences and lessons learned. While visiting other churches of God isn’t something each of us must do (we all have different personalities and gifts), it helps to understand what may be making us hesitant or reluctant to do so or what might be keeping many of our brethren away from even attending any church of God. The conclusion is that we should try to look at our relationships with our brethren from God’s perspective and not our own or what seems comfortable to us.

Over the years, whenever I occasionally go to visit any of the independent churches of God (not any with actual heretical teachings) or visit any of the various somewhat more centralized ones which are usually identified by their acronyms, I found brethren there who love God and an accepting ministry who love the brethren.  Yet still, while almost all of them basically have the same beliefs and acknowledge other church of God groups as being part of the greater body of Christ, I find that most of the brethren in each group will only actually see one another at weddings or funerals.  The differences between them are so minuscule I sometimes feel like the character Gulliver (in the book Gulliver’s Travels) among the Lilliputians who are arguing over which end of the egg should be opened first (“us vs. them”).  The actual differences among the brethren in the NT churches (including those 7 churches in Revelation 2 & 3) were 10 times greater than what many of the various churches of God have now, but we are too often known by our intolerance and divisions instead of our love for one another. 

We are all part of a ministry of reconciliation which, through love and example, should also include a reconciliation with one another.  There are brethren, however, who might even be living in the same neighborhood and shopping at the same grocery store looking for matzo crackers before the days of Unleavened Bread, but they don’t even know each other exists.  There are brethren in the various independent and more centralized churches of God congregations who are driving 45 minutes in opposite directions to Sabbath services while passing each other on the highway to go to their respective congregations singing, “we are not divided, all one body we; one in hope and doctrine, one in charity….”  In reality, while most brethren acknowledge brethren in the other churches of God to be as it says in Eph. 2:19 “fellow citizens of the saints and of the household of God”, they will usually have nothing to do with each other as they are attending what is in their own minds to be “the best church of God” (or the most compatible one).  Even old friends from years gone by don’t really have peace with one another. They only have a type of truce as they avoid seeing each other (out of sight, out of mind).  This should not be the case. There are also probably thousands of brethren out there who, apart from health or distance reasons, are choosing to just stay at home each Sabbath and not attend anywhere. For some of those staying at home this can be because of past actions made by an overbearing, unloving WCG ministry, two thirds of whom back in 1995 lead their family and friends back into orthodox Christianity. Today many of these brethren who are staying at home want nothing to do with organized religion, especially anything resembling the past “government from the top down” practice of any church organization. You may even be wondering “what ever happened to so & so?” Some may have wondered the same thing about me as I have about them.

For me personally, I’ve had to look at myself in the mirror and change my attitude toward other ministers and brethren in various church groups. For two decades my primary source of a “Sabbath service” had been with my wife and a friend reading our Bibles together. Between 1995 and 2016 my wife and I at Passover time usually observed the Lord’s Supper at home by ourselves. Apart from attending an independent Feast site, all through that time period we pretty much kept to ourselves. During those years I wrote articles for The Journal (while it was still publishing) and for this website. In 2017, after my wife and that friend had died, I found myself mainly just tuning into Sabbath services online from a couple independent churches of God. I came to realize, however, that I had not been putting into practice the practical application of God’s love toward His children. I had been occasionally giving sermons as a guest speaker at independent churches, but not living those sermons. Intellectually I knew that the church was to function as a body with many members, but I wasn’t with a brother in Christ who may have lost his job nor was I visiting a sister in Christ who was suddenly taken to the hospital. I was practicing a form of spectator Christianity– not bearing any burdens of other brethren and so I was not fulfilling the law of Christ. If we aren’t careful, we can set standards for fellowship so high that we can almost gravitate into being like spiritual hermits, figuratively staying at home to bury our talent and wait on the Lord. We are supposed to be active participants within a body of believers so when one member suffers we all suffer.

Imperfect as any body of believers might be, we are to be loving examples of salt & light. Those of us who have been staying at home each Sabbath should seriously ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” If you are currently staying at home each Sabbath, you may be learning a lot from your personal Bible studies or listening to messages online, but please reconsider what you are doing. Maybe it’s time to get off the couch and begin making the practical application of what you know to be your true function within the body of Christ. Looking at my own situation, back in 2017 I saw that what I had been doing was wrong and therefore (in the greater Portland, Oregon area) I more frequently started attending services with other congregations. This included an independent group that, because of the distance between them, only met on the third Sabbath of each month in Woodburn, Oregon. I also later often attended with a new local Church of God, International (CGI) group in Kalama, Washington. As I was frequently traveling down to Southern California, where my aging mother lives, I also attended services there with brethren in various independent groups on the Sabbath and Holy Days. This also occasionally included the United Church of God (UCG) in Los Angeles where I had some old friends serving in the ministry there. As it happened, one time while visiting a UCG congregation with my sister in Orange County California, I met, then fell in love with and in 2021 married my wonderful wife Kerry Heesch, a widow who is a long time member of the UCG. Had I not stepped out of my comfort zone among the independent churches of God to visit a UCG congregation I never would have met her. While I’m now primarily attending with a local UCG congregation (although I’m not a member), Kerry and I will both still occasionally visit other Sabbath/Holy Day keeping churches of God.

In occasionally visiting other church of God groups on the Sabbath, I’ve found that in all of the churches of God, including the larger more centralized ones, that for the most part they have learned many lessons from past mistakes like those we all have made.  Those in the ministry aren’t perfect (none of us are) and they are still learning lessons, but they also aren’t like many of the controlling ministers many of us have seen in the old WCG ministry of the past and we shouldn’t from the sidelines stereotype them as such.  The ones I’ve met truly love and serve the brethren.  I would like to encourage brethren who are currently staying at home to visit on the Sabbath, even occasionally, other churches of God. Their locations can be found by going to websites like the Church of God Network. The same is true for those who have never visited a church of God outside of their current church organization. Notice, I wrote “visit”, not “join”. You or others in your congregation occasionally visiting another church of God isn’t giving approval of an organization’s past or present leadership decisions, but it’s merely acknowledging and spending time with other brethren within the greater body of Christ, many of whom are old friends– friends you once went to the Feast with, maybe sang in the choir together, your children played together and some were old college alumni or even are still Facebook friends. I would also like to encourage all of the more centralized churches of God to continue to have even more openness in their relationships with all brethren everywhere and be even more inclusive, like it was among those in the 1st century churches of God.

I’m not in any way advocating for brethren to do any kind of church hopping each Sabbath (going from church to church) and not mainly attending with a primary congregation. Any visiting should only be done occasionally. Nor am I advocating an ecumenical movement to form one large church like it used to be in the old WCG in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s with congregations of 300 to 400 brethren. That number would have been an untenable number of people in the 1st century churches of God and it also greatly limits the opportunity for service many members now participate in along with the mentoring of young men & women that can now exist in today’s smaller church of God congregations. Among the various churches of God, however, there shouldn’t exist an “us vs. them” relationship between ministers or brethren in different groups. While there should be some organizational structure, we all should avoid the human tendency (with our good intentions) of going in the direction of exclusivity in our relationships with other brethren or ministers in different fellowship groups.  After all, we are all brethren– not competing club members.

For myself, what I’ve learned in visiting many of the various churches of God is that it’s very important to have a primary congregation where we each can function within the body of Christ as we have been taught in the NT. By the same token however, in our mobile society and our proximity to one another, it’s perfectly alright to on occasion visit other congregations where old friends are or new ones are to be found.  That’s how, as a widower, I met my wife Kerry while visiting a UCG congregation. Let’s face it, besides widows and widowers, there are also young ladies in their 30’s fellowshipping in smaller church of God congregations which have a lot of older married couples and maybe only a few single men who may not be compatible with them for marriage.  These young ladies probably won’t meet “Mr. Right” by never visiting other nearby churches of God or only hoping to meet a special someone at a Feast site some 3,000 miles away from home. They and their brethren should feel free to occasionally visit other likeminded brethren regardless of any organizational differences.  Visiting another congregation doesn’t mean proselytizing, causing divisions or comparing ourselves among ourselves.  Anyone visiting would be a guest. Col. 4:6 says,“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt…”.  We are to be loving our brothers and sisters in Christ as we are loved by Him.  The same is true for those who may be visiting our primary congregation.  We are to love one another and express that love in word and in deed.  As it says in Rom. 12;10 we are to “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” . Likewise, a visitor/guest isn’t to be seen as a prospective member for us to convince to join or be a part of what we consider to be a better church organization, but instead be treated as a beloved brother or sister-in-Christ.

When it comes to visiting other churches of God, I’ve found that sometimes it’s the young people and not the old time members who feel more free to step out of their comfort zones to actually visit other churches of God.  Many younger members aren’t carrying the baggage of intolerance that existed for decades in the old WCG where visiting other congregations outside of what we called “the one true church” was strictly forbidden. These young adults were only children or not even born when various church divisions occurred and family or friends were separated. Often times this wasn’t because of heresy or major doctrinal differences, but over administrative differences which sometimes were driven by nothing but carnal human ego without any consideration for its affect on the brethren.  Paul wrote in I Cor. 3:3 “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you are you not carnal and behave like mere men?” For some of those who were children at the time those divisions occurred, the divisions they experienced back then were like a family being torn apart by divorce (“who do you want to live with, Mom or Dad?”).  Many of these young people had lost their childhood friends, but today these young adults and teens are still keeping in touch.  There are also some divisions between brethren that have continued on for decades because “once upon a time” almost 30 years ago one local church pastor and some brethren chose the newly formed UCG instead of going with the existing Global Church of God. This was usually because of some personality or administrative differences between men, many of whom have long since died or are now old retired men in their late 70’s and 80’s. So now today almost 30 years later a young lady in her 30’s who is attending with the UCG dare not visit an LCG congregation or vice versa because once upon a time…? Is this “once upon a time” division supposed to continue for another 30 years with their children’s children? I’m sure the angels in heaven must be shaking their heads in disbelief as they see the lengths some of God’s people will go to avoid seeing one another. We as His people should instead turn our hearts toward one another in love and see ourselves as God sees us.

Thankfully however, there are some old time members who are doing just that and they feel comfortable occasionally visiting God’s people in different congregations or at a nearby Feast site. They are peacemakers, building bridges between brethren. So are some of the internet websites such as the Church of God Network, The Bible Sabbath Association and others which encourage interaction between brethren. Many brethren from different church organizations or independent groups or those staying at home each Sabbath are also still friends on social media, such as Facebook. They pray for one another and encourage one another, yet many may still be hesitant to worship with one another because of past divisions among their respective church organizations or their “best church of God” is more conservative or is doing a better job in spreading the gospel than the others. While I’m not saying that as a Christian we must occasionally visit other churches of God, it may take some time, but if enough are moved by the Holy Spirit to occasionally visit another congregation, they would be like peacemakers throwing a rope across a divide while those on the other side are doing the same thing. If enough brethren are figuratively throwing ropes in each direction they would be building a bridge making it easier for others to cross over and have relationships among more of God’s children.

Let’s take an honest look at why some of us are not having loving relationships with other likeminded brethren outside of our particular church organization and why many brethren are choosing to just stay at home. Historically, there have always been divisions among some of God’s people, even through acts of mistrust or questionable motives within the ministry. Such was the case that happened between Paul and Barnabas.  Acts 15:39-40 reads, “Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another.  And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cypress, but Paul chose Silas and departed….”  Barnabas may have felt that Paul was saying untruthful and presumptuous things about Mark and that Paul was stubbornly insisting on having his own way.  Paul may have felt that Barnabas was lacking sound judgement by insisting on taking Mark instead of someone like Silas.  Yet years later we know that Paul never held a grudge against either Mark or Barnabas.  There was no hardness of heart between any of them.  Sometimes when contentions are great and divisive it also takes time to heal those old animosities. Years later Mark was with Paul while he was in a Roman prison and was useful to him (II Tim. 4:11).  Mark was probably also with Peter when Mark wrote the gospel account bearing his own name. Mark was a peacemaker and a bridge builder between brethren. In Col. 4:10 Paul sent greetings to the Colossian church from “Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)”. Paul and Barnabas didn’t come together to form one large mega-church or go out on another missionary journey together, but they recognized each other’s ministry and encouraged brethren to welcome those with different ministries within the greater body of Christ. Though they had separate ministries they were still beloved brothers in Christ and the brethren loved them both.

Most of the boundaries today that keep brethren apart in the various churches of God aren’t major doctrinal boundaries, but are only artificial ones created by men during times of sharp contentions (or even merely personality differences among those in leadership positions). This too often has resulted in a party spirit of “us vs. them” and prejudices that can continue on for decades separating the brethren. Paul taught against this type of thing in I Cor. 1:10-17.  Being judgmental, stereotyping others and avoiding one another (out of sight, out of mind) can be a way of preventing any cognitive dissonance that can occur when brethren actually get to know one another.  Avoiding one another can also be a form of quiet retaliation for what others might have said or done to us. The unintended consequences of church divisions or disagreements in church leadership is the separation of the brethren and their children from one another. We can see how this type of separation and avoidance can even have a damaging effect in physical families. There can be an overbearing mother-in-law not getting along with her daughter-in-law or uncles who aren’t talking to one another because of something like “once upon a time” one brother sold the other brother his used car and 4 months later the transmission went out on the car. A heated argument ensued so now the uncles avoid seeing each other. The unintended consequences of these family divisions involves the children. Cousins are no longer playing with one another. Children can rarely see their grandpa. Everyone is avoiding one another because once upon a time something happened. The unintended consequences of physical family divisions also happens among our spiritual family members as well. We create an ongoing avoidance of one another or an “us vs. them” attitude. That ongoing “us vs. them” attitude and avoidance (out of sight, out of mind) was part of the tragedy exhibited in the city of Shechem’s history. It was also exhibited in the 1st century churches between the Jews, the Samaritans, the gentiles and others following a particular human teacher with all of them comparing themselves among themselves. Even an apostle like Peter, along with many other Jews including Barnabas, got caught up in the cultural divide between the Jewish brethren and the uncircumscribed gentiles when certain men from the Jerusalem church came to Antioch. There Paul withstood Peter to his face (Gal. 2:11-14). Partisanship can even be exhibited politically in America today separating its citizens into different camps and this stereotyping partisanship has even spilled over into some of our churches.  Some ministers may be subconsciously thinking, “I have absolutely no partisanship at all in my heart. I don’t hate or look down on my old former companion and AC college buddy– I just don’t want to see or have anything to do with him” (probably because of a once upon a time event)..

Partisanship and stereotyping others is what Satan, the accuser of the brethren and the author of confusion, wants to see happen. He wants to promulgate the rumor mill, have brethren believe the worst about each other and turn brother against brother.  He is a whisperer separating chief friends and wants them to stay away from each other.(out of sight, out of mind). Paul asked the question we all need to ask ourselves in v-13, “Is Christ divided?”.  You see, it’s not a question of your acknowledging brethren in other church organizations or independent groups or even those brethren who are staying at home as being technically part of the greater body of Christ, but it’s about avoiding ever seeing them. If you as a father had 5 sons and daughters who acknowledged you as their father and each other as siblings, but they never actually spoke to one another or had anything to do with one another except for maybe briefly at a relative’s funeral, how would that make you feel?  How does our heavenly Father feel when we do the same thing?  Heb. 2:11-12 reads, “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: ‘I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You'”. We can’t call others brethren and treat one another as though were not.

We can have all kinds of “yeah, but…” excuses for not seeing other brethren, however, all of us, including those in the ministry, should look at our relationships with other brethren within the body of Christ from God’s perspective and consider how He feels. It’s not supposed to be about a church organization’s official policy or our feelings or perspective, but about God’s feelings and His perspective. We may sometimes find ourselves avoiding other ministers and brethren because of their past actions or inactions or there’s a difference of opinion on how best to preach the gospel or we find other reasons to avoid them. We need to remember, however, that the love, mercy and forgiveness that Jesus taught on the sermon on the mount and the oneness He prayed for in John 17 weren’t conditional upon “as soon as they admit they were wrong and I was right, then I’ll forgive them, treat them like brothers and show them mercy and love.”  Often our human reasoning and pride can get in the way of seeking God’s will. We compare ourselves among ourselves when we should instead be pursuing the things that make for peace and edifying one another (Rom. 14:19). When we look at ourselves in the mirror, I think we all have regrets over our own past actions or inactions during our sojourn to God’s kingdom and we appreciate the great patience God has shown us, giving us time for repentance and growth.  We’ve learned many lessons, have changed and we should allow for that change to occur in others even if that change isn’t happening as rapidly as we think it should. 

If today Paul could have written a letter to all of us in the various churches of God (including those brethren who each Sabbath are just staying at home like I used to do), I imagine he might have written to us as it says in Eph. 4:1-6 & vs. 31-32,, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all…. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you”.  Paul also would have written to us what he wrote in Col. 3:12-15, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful”. 

We are all to get rid of the artificial barriers keeping us apart and start behaving as true brethren the way Christ sees us. We are God’s children and though we make mistakes, just as our children make mistakes with us, He still delights in all of us as He sees beyond the present time into our inheriting His Kingdom. We call Him Abba (Daddy) and if He is Daddy, then for Him we are His kids. Sometimes we can behave like kids arguing over certain toys or playing king of the mountain. I’m sure He is shaking His head at some of our antics or greatly saddened at other ones. Oftentimes we can also behave like insecure teenagers– always wanting to fit in, forming cliques and avoiding those who are sitting at the popular cheerleader table or other kids at the geek/nerd table. Oftentimes teenagers also think they know everything and they don’t want to hear their dad’s advice. Yet God, our loving Father, expects changes in us as we grow and mature in Christ. First we need to grow in the grace and knowledge of God our Father and His son Jesus Chris and let Christ’s mind be in us– hear our Shepherd’s voice. Phil. 3:15 reads, “Therefore, as many of us are mature, have this mind and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.” Usually, after teenagers become mature adults, only then do they understand and acknowledge their parent’s wise advice. We were called to maturely have open minds toward His will and yet at the same time as little children have absolute trust in Him.

At one point in time God called each one of us to be part of His family and opened our minds to His truths. Our minds were opened to see the importance and relevance of the 4th commandment. Our relatives thought we were crazy when we started to observe God’s Holy Days, stopped celebrating Christmas and stopped eating pork. Our minds were opened by His Holy Spirit to see these truths. We are His sons & daughters and are joint heirs of salvation with Christ. We are all God’s children and should see each other as such. In His Father’s house, Christ is not arranging abodes for us on separate floors so 10,000 years from now we can avoid running into someone who was once a part of the acronymic XYZ Church of God. He’s not saying, “Now those who were in the UCG will be on this floor, COGWA members over there will be two floors down. LCG brethren, CGI brethren, those who were once with the Church of the Great God, those who stayed at home or supported this or that man’s end time ministry, those in various messianic groups, those of Cephas, those of Apollos and others of my fold who none of them ever heard of, will all also all be on separate floors so they’ll never have to see one another.” Today, right now, He walks among our various candlesticks. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. As such we are to reflect the love of God toward each other as we will be spending eternity together. Our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. We are His little flock. Jesus says we are to love one another “as I have loved you.” That’s a tall order! By example, we need to become peacemakers among all of God’s people and avoid the “us vs. them” party spirit of Shechem that goes against the oneness prayed for by Jesus in John 17. We each should also reread I John 4:4-21 in prayer, including v-11 “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” As we are walking in the light we should have fellowship with one another (v-14).

Brethren, I realize this article is long (maybe even too long), but it is a very important subject that needs our full attention at this time. I’m breaking off here to create another part for you to read or listen to at your convenience. Part 3 gets into some of the reasons why many brethren are hesitant or reluctant to ever visit another church of God congregation and why others are reluctant to attend services anywhere. My purpose in writing these and other articles on my website along with my fellowship in any of the Sabbath/Holy Day keeping churches of God is to point my brethren to Jesus Christ, that we love one another as He loves us and we get back to the faith once delivered to the saints.

Written by Lee Lisman

(Please click below to continue with the third article titled “How God Desires to Be Worshipped–Revealed at Shechem for the Church Today” in this 3 article series on How God Desires to Be Worshipped)

How God Desires to Be Worshipped– Revealed At Shechem for the Church Today part 3 of 3