January 7, 2016 Member Letter
The fiscal year for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, is the same as the calendar year, which means this past Friday, Jan. 1, was the beginning of our 2016 fiscal year. Every new beginning encourages you to think back on the past and evaluate your progress or lack thereof. This evaluation is part of what we do here in the Allen office.
Even though I have been around the Church all my life and in the ministry now for almost 43 years, I feel as though I am still learning. I shudder to think how little I knew when I was first ordained into the ministry on Pentecost in June of 1973. That was the last year we observed Pentecost on a Monday in the Worldwide Church of God. In the early part of the next year (1974), a study paper was sent to the ministry representing a change in the counting of the 50 days leading up to Pentecost. This was explained to the ministry and implemented during the ministerial conference in Pasadena that same year.
It was difficult for some to accept the fact that we had not counted the 50 days correctly. The mistake was simple, using exclusive counting instead of inclusive counting. When it was understood by Church leadership that the command in Leviticus 23 was to count 50 days “beginning with” the wave sheaf, it became clear for most. Day 1 was the day of the wave-sheaf offering, which is the Sunday during the Days of Unleavened Bread. And, given the weekly cycle of seven days, if you begin counting 50 days on a Sunday, you will always end up with a Sunday for Pentecost.
That seems like a long time ago, but I remember it very well. Of course, 21 years later in 1995 a major doctrinal shift occurred in the Worldwide Church of God. Major changes were announced about the Sabbath, the holy days, clean and unclean meats, heaven and hell, the personhood of the Holy Spirit (acceptance of the Trinity), and more. It wasn’t a matter of how to count the 50 days for Pentecost, these changes involved most of the core doctrines and beliefs of the Church of God.
Many members were faced with a serious dilemma. Do you accept teachings that you believe are contrary to Scripture because someone in a position of responsibility says so, or do you act upon what you believe? Many thousands decided they had to stand up for what they believed and what they had proven to be true from the Bible.
Now another 20 years have gone by. What have we learned? It is possible to get discouraged by such events, as I am sure many did. That is what Satan wants us to do. But God commands that we not allow such events to shake our confidence, but that we remain steadfast (1 Corinthians 15:58). The point is that we must always remain teachable, willing to change when shown to be wrong; but we must never abandon what we have proven to be the truth. Understanding the difference between the two—when to accept a better understanding and when to hold firm—isn’t always easy. It requires humility and spiritual maturity.
Our desire in the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, is to never stop learning and growing and to be diligent in defending what we believe. We have an intense desire to preach the gospel and care for the brethren. Last year was an important year for the Church. We experienced increases across the board. Here are a few examples:
A total of 335 new people made contact with a U.S. pastor in 2015. Of these, 136 had no Church of God background. This is the highest number since we began.
There was an 8 percent increase in our income above what we budgeted for 2015.
Individuals not listed as members contributed 11 percent of our 2015 income.
We have 5,813 people in the U.S. listed as attending a congregation. Our highest attendance for a weekly Sabbath or holy day in the U.S. was 5,147.
Our worldwide membership now stands at approximately 10,400, which is a modest increase over 2014.
There were 17,170,529 page views of our Life, Hope & Truth (LHT) website in 2015. This was a 218 percent increase over the 5,390,081 we had in 2014.
There were 8,405,179 unique visitors to LHT in 2015. That is up from 2,600,725 unique visitors in 2014, a 223 percent increase.
We printed 60,090 Discern magazines in 2015. This number does not include online subscribers, nor does it include the French and Spanish editions.
These figures give us much encouragement for the new fiscal year. But we must be cautious. As with every year, this year will no doubt bring trials for God’s people individually and the Church as a whole. In spite of any trials that may come our way, we are committed to being good stewards of the resources God has provided—financial and human. We have budgeted conservatively, and we continue to look for the most efficient methods for preaching the gospel.
One of the most important lessons I have learned over the years is that we should never take credit for God’s blessings. It would be truly arrogant of us to believe we deserve those blessings. Any success of ours isn’t due to our talent or righteousness, but comes because God has a work He wants to do and a people He wants to save. Of course, neither can we expect to be blessed if we are not striving to please God in all that we do.
Yes, a new fiscal year has begun for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. What will it bring—trials, blessings, or some of both? I suspect it will be some of both. I believe Isaiah 66:2 tells us how to go forward: “But on this one will I look; on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” Poor can mean poverty, but in this case it refers to lowliness or humility. Contrite is an old English term that means remorseful or repentant. If we are humble and repentant in our attitude and respectful of the Word of God, we can know that God will be for us. And, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)!
Thanks for your support this past year. I pray that you will continue to see good fruit from this work in the years ahead! We had an incredible year in 2015, but our desire is to do even more. Let’s see what God has for us to learn in this next year!
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,