[Author's Note: This letter is being re-posted to www.christianchallengeministries.org simply for historical purposes. None of the proposals suggested herein were embraced by either "side" in the COG, and since this was written, several major events have occurred that would make this message somewhat moot. Still, others sometimes wonder what the controversy was all about, and when the "Next Step" letter is mentioned, they would like to know first-hand exactly what that phrase refers to.]
THE “NEXT STEP”
This follow-up letter is addressed to all those who have directly responded to the “COG Apology,” and even those who have not responded directly, but who have been asking the question and/or wondering, “What do we do next?” First of all, the general answer is that we try to follow the Spirit of God. By no means do I claim to have or know all the answers, nor do I have all the vision regarding this. I eagerly look forward to the opportunity to meet with some of my other brothers and sisters in the Lord, to hear the vision(s) God has given them regarding these matters.
But having said that, this much I do believe God has given me as the general direction we are to go in the aftermath of the “COG Apology.” I also believe that He has given me the responsibility to follow up and, at the least, gather together those who want to be part of the change we all need. The Church of God is in desperate need of a new vision and a definite direction. I offer this document as a general vision and direction blueprint of where the Church of God (ELS) should be going now.
Since the dissemination of the apology document, the direct response has been almost unanimously positive (only ONE negative email so far, but dozens of "Wows" and lots of tears). I have heard indirectly that many others have strong negative opinions, but none of them have directly responded to me. So until I have something to respond to, I must continue to follow up as God directs me.
Many are wondering what’s next. It is my suggestion that, as soon as possible, we set up a meeting of the ministers/leaders who see value in the “Apology” and in this proposal, and who want to discuss the issues, pray and seek God concerning His direction, and share visions and action plans regarding our spiritual future. Almost all of our current and past problems are symptoms of our loss of spiritual vision and direction, and this matter is so critical it should be regarded as a spiritual emergency mandating our immediate attention. We simply cannot continue doing business as usual.
God has pointed out to me the following three areas needing follow-up in some form. The outline is found in Jesus' "Parable of the Lost Coins." I believe that our leaders need to seek for and set up three types of interactive sessions throughout the geographical areas in which the COG currently operates:
(1) “Light A Candle” Sessions. This first type of sessions would deal with quickly resolving doctrinal issues. In Jesus' parable, the woman who searched for her "lost coin" first of all "lit a candle." This means begin to focus ONLY on Jesus Christ, the Light and the Truth. It also means that we are to earnestly seek the Holy Spirit’s convicting power through corporate and personal prayer, so that God might “turn on the searchlight” and illuminate any selfishness, idolatry, or other spiritual failures and sins we are guilty of. So this requires the type of session(s) in which we will openly, prayerfully, honestly, and interactively discuss any questions and disagreements about doctrine.
We already know that many will disagree with several of my assertions in the “Apology” that concern doctrine. But disagreement among Christians is fine and absolutely normal. So let us set some specific times and places to talk about this. These sessions would not be allowed to devolve into a heated debate. Instead, clear New Testament answers would be presented for any and all questions asked. If anyone stills disagrees, they would be freely allowed to present their scriptural proofs of whatever doctrine(s) they believe we should still heavily emphasize, and a response would be given to their positions without condemnation. The objective is to clear up whatever we can clear up, if at all possible, and sincerely try to understand one another.
But the ultimate goal and outcome of these sessions, however, is to reach an even GREATER understanding that: (a) Perhaps we do and will continue to disagree on some doctrines, but that (b) If these doctrines are NOT a matter of heaven or hell (i.e., essential to salvation), then we will love, accept, and work with each other in spite of them, and that (c) We really need to begin focusing more heavily on getting people saved, not on perpetuating doctrines. We cannot allow doctrinal issues to keep us paralyzed and distracted any longer while we continue to cut each other off because we don’t see all these things exactly alike. This is to be the outcome of these session(s).
(2) “Sweep the House” Sessions. The second type of sessions would deal with hurts and healing. The many tears, sad stories, and wellsprings of pent-up emotions in the emails and phone calls I have received tell us that we need to deal with deep hurts from generations of inadvertent (and sometimes not so inadvertent) abuse and confusion. So we need to address these hurts and feelings on a local, even geographical level, in a session or sessions to which everyone is invited and encouraged to attend. The purpose would be to apologize more specifically if necessary, to forgive if possible, to acknowledge both guilt and our attempt(s) to clear things up, etc. E.g., one congregation was already planning such a meeting in their geographic location before the “Apology.” Another congregation actually had one of these “healing meetings” a couple of years ago. But more such meetings are needed in MANY other locations. We will be talking to pastors to see if they would be willing to host and participate in such sessions. This corresponds to "sweeping the house." Clean out the stuff that has cluttered and hindered the church for so many years.
(3) ”Diligent Search” Envisioning Conference. The third session involves catching and solidifying the Holy Spirit’s vision and setting the mission of HOW to begin obeying the Great Commission and building the Kingdom of God. In the parable, after the woman lit her candle and swept her house, she then "searched diligently" for her "lost coin." This means that we are to gather for serious prayer, receive the vision and mission from the Holy Spirit on HOW to "search diligently," mobilize to do so, then DO it. So this type of “envisioning” session would be to pray, envision, share visions, plan, agree on a target audience/area(s), adopt some kind of training and equipping methods and materials, pool resources for evangelism (not just money but time, gifts, spiritual energies, ideas, etc.), then hear the Holy Spirit’s direction on WHERE and WHEN to begin. This session should be national rather than local, and it must be open to everyone. Furthermore, considering the task before us, we will actually need a series of such conferences.
We cannot have spiritual renewal unless we receive a new mission, a new spirit, and a new atmosphere. This mission does not have to be drummed up or discovered, because it has already been given to the church by Jesus Himself—The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-18). This provides the overall vision—the “marching papers”—for Jesus’ disciples until the end of time, and the prosperity of the church is determined by the degree of obedience to this charge.
The Great Commission contains three major components that cover all of the work of the church:
Part 1—“Go and preach the Gospel to all nations.” This means that we must first "Get out there with the gospel and get some people saved.” Concentrate on going to find the spiritually needy, wherever they might be, whoever they might be, and whatever condition they might be in. Don’t wait for them to stumble into our churches. Go find them. Do whatever God leads us to do to come in contact with needy souls. Pull out the stops.
Then preach the good news of the Gospel: Jesus Christ came to save sinners and deliver them from its deadly consequences. He offers life and hope to all who will (a) Believe in Him, (b) turn away from their sins (repent and “deny yourself”), and (c) completely dedicate their lives to Him (“take up your cross and follow Him”). This includes preaching by word and deed. Ministering to their needs is preaching by deed. Feed, clothe, shelter, educate, rescue, deliver, cleanse, and heal them, as Jesus instructed (Matt. 10:6-8).
Part 2—“Baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” That is, bring them into fellowship with the Body of Christ in the earth, specifically a local group of believers. Local groups of believers baptize people; a new Christian does not baptize himself. The reason this is necessary is because there are elements of the new life that must come only through Body life. Bring new converts into contact with and under the tutelage of a spiritually-alive, properly-functioning church body so that they can receive encouragement and strength, fully develop and grow, and learn how to live and minister to others.
Part 3—“Teach them to observe and do everything I have commanded you.” In the Greek translation of this Commission, Jesus charged us to “make disciples.” This means that, under the consistent and constant influence of the five gifts of the Word (Ephesians 4:11), believers should be increasingly discipled, mentored, trained, equipped, and prepared to do ministry, to edify the Body, to reproduce themselves, to become mature in their Christian experience, and to reach the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Obviously, this includes doctrine, but is not limited to such. Because each move of God in Christian history has been given something distinct to add to the Body of Christ, it has become obvious that what our COG movement has to add is the message of selfless, Christ-crucified living. This message, which is not commonly preached in the Christian world, we must incorporate into our disciple-making process in a non-legalistic manner.
We MUST obey Parts 1 and 2 first, or the church will die. However, 87 percent of American churches, including ours, are stuck on Part 3—maintaining and teaching their doctrines to the already-saved. And that is about the same percentage of churches that are either dying or plateaued, the COG included. A church not driven by and centered around evangelism is dying. For some reason, too many pastors don't believe this.
This envisioning session is actually the type of meeting that some of us ministers had earlier planned to have this year to initiate "Antioch" outreach. “Antioch” outreach is tailored to be relevant to the sub-cultures that are targeted. It is not limited by our traditional COG paradigms, but is free to preach Christ in whatever format is most effective, as long as it does not violate clear New Testament teachings. This session should be open to “all interested parties,” even those who may not now be part of our church group. We should invite experienced Christian leaders who will share their gifts and expertise on how to effectively minister, plant new churches, etc. We are to be Kingdom-builders, not denomination-builders, so we need to re-connect with the whole Body of Christ to receive from it what God has been doing over the last few decades. Lots of new, visionary leaders will arise from this session, and, remember, “Antioch" was not begun by preachers only anyway. Nothing is more exciting than a grassroots move where ALL of God’s people everywhere are released and unleashed!
Ultimately, I can envision the birthing of a network of missions, in which those whom God has gifted and burdened would assist in creating "Antioch"-type ministries in every city where we have current COGs—and even beyond. It would be our goal to start an "Antioch" ministry wherever we can find a "person of peace" (Matthew 10:5-16 / Luke 10:1-11 “The Sending of the 70”). A “person of peace” is a person whom God has given a heart or mind to receive and/or spread the gospel by referring others, who has an "oikos" or strategic sphere of influence, who possesses a heart of hospitality, and who is a person of reputation in his/her circle or community.
Our goal would be to create a ministry to reach people with the Gospel through that person, their house, their sphere of influence, their resources, or whatever they have to offer. We have MANY such persons of peace in our midst right now, people who are weary of fruitless churchanity and want to see somebody saved and lives truly changed. There are many other persons of peace in our communities. Our network would train them, equip them, give them resources, give them direction and encouragement, empower them, set them up, and do whatever is necessary to intentionally begin building the Kingdom through them and their "oikos."
The main goal of these efforts would be to get people saved first, and then move them into spiritually-alive ministries for discipleship, fellowship, spiritual growth and equipping, and spiritual reproduction. These ministries may take several forms: Organic church (also called house church or simple church), marketplace/workplace ministries (at places of business), high school and college campus ministries, ministries to senior homes and other institutions, sports ministries, various other community outreaches, etc. The sky is the limit!
Some pastors may still want to try the traditional way of bringing these new converts into the church, but that can succeed only if a church can create a way to assimilate these new converts into the church itself without them becoming victim to our typical toxic spiritual environment and leaving the church. So that is not really recommended under this new vision. A pastor would need to create an altogether new and different worship format, a completely different spirit and mentality, have a different time to meet, and perhaps even a different location. It is very hard to house “Antioch” in “Jerusalem.” So mostly we are talking about entirely new mission ministries not in traditional COG “Jerusalem” at all.
When we review the pages of Christian history, we soon realize that God blesses and gives success to whoever begins to practice the Great Commission. He seems to do this even if some of their beliefs and teachings are not completely correct. They may interpret prophecy incorrectly, dress in some funny manner, practice some unusual religious ritual, or the like. But if they are out there in the highway and hedges preaching Christ crucified to a lost and dying world, God blesses their efforts anyway. This blessing from God does not mean that He approves everything else they believe. It does not mean that their church is “right” or that they have all the “truth.” He blesses them because they are bringing people to His dear Son, Jesus Christ, and when everything religious is said and done, that is what the heart of God—the very essence of God—is all about.
So if we will begin to concentrate on actively and intentionally obeying the Great Commission—Parts 1, 2, and 3—God has promised to bless us in our efforts. “Ask of Me,” He promises, “and I will give You the nations/heathen as Your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth as Your possession” (Psalm 2:8). And, after charging His disciples with the Great Commission, Jesus Himself promised, “And remember that I Am always with you until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).
To summarize, I am proposing that the leaders of the Church of God (ELS) who see value in the issues raised in the “COG Apology” meet together in order to pray, communicate, and plan HOW we can quickly bring to pass the other three sessions: The “Light A Candle” Sessions, the “Sweep the House” Hurts and Healing Sessions, and the all-important “Envisioning” Sessions.
You can personally assist in these follow-up efforts in the following manner:
(1) If you are a church leader in any position, please consider hosting, coordinating, or getting involved in this process in some other manner. We need to come together to honestly and openly communicate with each other in order to respond, not just to the “Apology,” but most importantly, to the serious issues that it raises. As I mentioned above, I plan to personally contact several pastors and other church leaders to assess their desire to get involved in these follow-up efforts. But this process can be greatly facilitated if you would respond first. BTW, I plan to attend the National COG Campmeeting in Monark Springs, MO, this July.
(2) Be sure to send/distribute this message to everyone who might be interested in attending any of the follow-up activities mentioned above. They can find the original “Apology” and this “Next Step” letter at www.ChristianChallengeMinistries.org.
(3) If you want to have a follow-up session in your area, or believe God wants you to serve as a “person of peace,” or desire to be involved in any other manner, it is extremely important that you let us know ASAP. Send contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact us at 1752 East Avenue J #186, Lancaster, CA 93535, or call 310-347-1189.
(4) To everyone, PLEASE PRAY. And get your heart, mind, time, and money ready to serve.
For the Kingdom,
Philip A Matthews