What will life be like after the church wars?
By Brian Knowles
MONROVIA, Calif.--I enjoy movies, or at least I
used to. They're not making many of my kind of movies these days. One film that
left an indelible impression on me was the original version of On the Beach,
starring Fred Astaire, Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Anthony Perkins.
The movie centered on a U.S. nuclear submarine
that had survived a nuclear exchange that destroyed most of the northern
hemisphere. Slowly but surely, radiation drift was killing off the human race.
In a memorable scene the sub docks in San
Francisco Harbor. The once-populated streets of San Francisco are devoid of
people. Not a soul is seen. A toxic wind blows papers around.
The city is a giant tombstone for a once-vibrant
Quite a number of after-the-war films have been
made since 1959, when Stanley Kramer directed this adaptation of a Neville Shute
novel. The Mad Max series comes to mind.
Then there were Steel Dawn and a few
others. In most of these after-the-war scenarios, at least some people survive.
They may live underground. Their offspring may have mutated as a result of
radiation exposure. The strongest among them cling to power, often functioning
as warlords, controlling some vital factor such as water, food or weapons.
A way of viewing the Pod
I sometimes think of the Worldwide Church of God
Pod as a miniature after-the-war scenario.
By Pod, I mean all of the churches and
individuals that have somehow been spun off the original parent church, which
has now incrementally metamorphosed into something quite different from the
Even the name is largely gone and will soon
change to something else. Systematically, virtually every vestige of the memory
of the old WCG is being stamped out of existence. Something new is emerging in
its place. The chimeras of the Armstrongs are being relentlessly exorcised from
the new ecclesiastical entity.
Meanwhile, the landscape is littered with the
bodies of spin-off organizations, home churches, fellowships and individuals who
turned out to be casualties of Der Schplit.
More than 300 organizations, small and smaller,
have formed, and in some cases deformed, in the wake of the miniwar.
The largest of the small groups are run by
ecclesiastical warlords who cling tenaciously to the Armstrongian legacy, having
made it their own.
Each Armstrongian group claims to be the true
inheritor of the Armstrong mantle: the true Philadelphian "era" of The
Church. All others are deemed Laodicean, pagan, false or satanic or worse.
Scattered home groups and smaller congregations
under the leadership of disenfranchised maverick pastors seek to find their way
amid the blowing dust of ecclesiastical warfare.
Thousands have given up on Christianity
altogether. Most have lost confidence in leadership and seek to find their own
path to God on the basis of independent study and personal preference. Some have
become cynical atheists, agnostics and humanists, as I once had. (I got over
Point is: The Pod landscape is bleak indeed. It
is analogous to one of those after-the-war movies. The Journal continues to
function as the sole reliable news source for what's going on in the Pod--what's
left of it. It is a chronicle of war and its aftermaths. Shepherds have been
smitten and sheep scattered. What's a sincere Christian to do?
Strategies for spiritual survival
Let me share with you some things that have
helped me negotiate my way through the bleak after-the-war landscape of the Pod.
Make God, not men, the object of your faith
and confidence (Jeremiah 17:5-7; Mark 11:22; Psalm 37:3-4).
Actively seek the daily leading, gifting,
empowerment and fruit of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6;
Lower your expectations of human leadership.
As Dennis Prager writes: "Pain in life comes from unfulfilled desires
and expectations" (Proverbs 13:12).
Don't expect to resolve all doctrinal or
theological problems yourself or in this lifetime. It ain't gonna happen, as
they say. Go with what you can know (Deuteronomy 29:29; 1 Corinthians
Always remember that God does not wish for
you to perish (2 Peter 3:9) and that He will complete the work He has
started in your life (Philippians 1:6).
Be open to change. Expect surprises. Be
prepared to abandon cherished beliefs when the Holy Spirit deepens and
enlarges your understanding (John 16:13).
If something is truth, it will not bring you
into bondage; it will set you free from bondage (John 8:32).
Forget trying to sort out theological
arguments and devote your life to doing good in the world and meeting people
at their real points of need. Do what Jesus and His half-brother James
taught us to do (Luke 6:46; 10:25-37; James 2:14-18).
Take every burden you have, no matter how
heavy or painful--whether it is a physical, emotional or mental
affliction--to Christ in prayer and leave it there. Don't be an Indian
giver: giving some burden to the Lord, then taking it back (Matthew
Stop condemning those with whom you disagree.
We are all learning. In the past, we took pride in knowing things we didn't
really know (1 Corinthians 8:1b; 10:12; Matthew 7:1-5). It is better to walk
softly before God, in humility, than to be a puffed-up pouter pigeon who
thinks he has a corner on the market of truth (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Isaiah
Learn to coexist with those with whom you
disagree. In this life we will never find ourselves in perfect agreement on
every point of doctrine with every other Christian. When it comes to
understanding, we are all works in progress (Romans 14).
Stop the name-calling! Don't go around
labeling fellow believers as Laodicean, heretics, tools of the devil,
Sardis, etc. etc. Don't be a self-appointed heresy hunter. Chances are you
don't know what you're talking about (Proverbs 6:16-19; Matthew 5:9; 1
Thessalonians 5:13; James 3:18).
I could add many more points, but this article
has already run overlong. If you do the things listed above, you'll have the
pump well primed.
We don't have to see the Pod landscape as bleak,
battle-scarred and inhospitable. God is wherever His people are. He is as near
to us as the next prayer.
Paul said of God to the Athenian philosophers:
"He is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have
our being" (Acts 17:27-28).
No matter how divided and subdivided we
Christians may have become humanly and organizationally speaking, there is only
one Body of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that makes us a part of it (1
As long as we have the Holy Spirit, we are never
spiritually alone. The Holy Spirit is God's comforting presence in our lives
(John 14:16, 26).
Church leaders and organizations will always have
their wars. Christians will always be caught in crossfires of withering rhetoric
between ecclesiastical warlords who covet the tithe and the power to control
This is petty. It is spiritual children playing
king of the mountain in the sandbox here below.
God and Christ are above all that. If we draw
near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:8), and when we're with Him that's
all that really matters.