This article was written by Michael Brandenburg after Rodney was disfellowshipped by the Macon, GA, Worldwide Church of God (WCG) congregation. It was originally published on the MarkTab Ministries website, which no longer exists.
Date sent: Sun, 6 Jul 1997 19:44:08 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Rodney Lain’s Disfellowshipment from WCG on 6-11-97
July 6, 1997
Hello once again! I should have gotten this to you sooner, but I ended up having to go through all the additional links you added to your WCG homepage announcement on the disfellowshipping of Rodney Lain last month so I could give them a proper evaluation.
As I told you some time ago, I ended up going over to United after I relied on the WCG ministry for guidance counseling prior to my 1992 marriage (which ended up in divorce after only 16 months) and then found that their current “New Covenant” theology virtually upheld the abhorrent conduct of my ex-wife that broke up the marriage. Now in United, we adopted an ethical policy early on that we would not go around being judgmental or critical toward other “Church of God” organizations – but I had to tell their home office quite frankly that I feel Ephesians 5:11-12 must take precedence, as far as I’m personally concerned.
Rather than question my current UCG pastor on the subject of disfellowshipping, I put together my own article on the subject, which I’m going to attach to this E-mail. (I hope Rich Text Format will be all right for this.) I don’t think anyone from UCG will question my advocating of proper disfellowshipping of those who fall into a sinful attitude and adversely impact the congregation and the witness it is supposed to be to the world – indeed, I went into great detail in a letter I sent to their home office last May on how not disfellowshipping my ex-wife left the WCG’s credibility and reputation utterly destroyed in the eyes of my co-workers.
However, I also advocated not using disfellowshipping for wrong purposes (vengeful or abusive, rather than corrective) and thus create an atmosphere where members live in terror of a minister they fear has the power to take away their salvation. (I learned not long ago that the Seventh-Day Adventists supposedly believe that when someone is disfellowshipped from their organization, God blots their name out of the Book of Life – which, I have found, isn’t quite how it works.) We do have a minister in United who pointed out in the old In Transition newspaper the ill effects such an atmosphere can have on God’s people, so I don’t think I’ll have any conflicts with United here.
Hopefully, this article of mine will help answer the questions you have presented concerning Rodney Lain, and if you decide to put it up on your web page, I hope someone from WCG sees it and officially disfellowship me, as they have done to both of our UCG church pastors (Mr. John Elliot and Mr. Jim O’Brien) in the Greater Cincinnati area. (See the June 6 and June 20, 1995 issues of The Worldwide News.) If they do that, I will take great pleasure in obtaining a printed copy of that announcement and putting it into a frame and hanging it on my wall next to the certificate I received back in 1988 for completing the 32-lesson Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course.
As for the material you produced on the subject of disfellowshipping, you did reasonably well yourself in advocating proper use of the practice in a congregation of God’s people. One item, though: In the “I Corinthians 5” paper, you pointed out that the Corinthian congregation should have recognized the need to put the sinful man out of their fellowship without Paul having to tell them to do so. However, if you go back to I Corinthians 3, here you find Paul giving them a good “chewing out” for their spiritual immaturity.
To quote the Life Application Bible’s commentary on I Corinthians 3:1-3, “Paul called the Corinthians infants in the Christian life because they were not yet spiritually healthy and mature” – they therefore did not recognize the negative impact the adulterous member in their midst was having on their overall character and reputation.
Mr. Herbert Armstrong had written years ago on how Christianity is a growth process and how it takes time for us to acquire spiritual knowledge and true Godly character. We don’t come to full spiritual maturity all at once after receiving God’s Spirit – if we did, there would be no point to any physical life of ours after conversion.
In my own case, I made my “decision for Christ” in 1968, but it was not until 1971 that I received the understanding that I should be keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. It was not until 1972 that I came to understand that I should be keeping the Holy Days listed in Leviticus 23. It was not until 1974 that I learned that I should be putting ten percent of my income aside during the course of the year so I could celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in the way God intended me to celebrate it (and perhaps I can comment sometime on what many don’t grasp about the WCG’s alleged “triple-tithe” system of years ago). And after many years of holding a judgmental attitude toward the divorced people of this world, lo and behold, in 1994, I was humble d after becoming a divorce statistic myself! (Maybe I should have that bumper sticker on my car that says, “Be Patient – God Isn’t Through With Me Yet!”)
Likewise, you go over to Romans 16, where you quoted verse 17 from the New International Version Bible: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” The same verse is rendered in the New King James Version, “…note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them.”, and the original (1611) King James Version is even stronger in its admonition: “…mark them which cause divisions and offences…”, or publicly label them.
Either one of these renderings is closer to the original intent – to clearly indicate those who are going around with heretical teachings and/or ungodly conduct in their lives (who may or may not have been in the fellowship of the Church in the past) who should now be avoided – for, as Paul goes on to explain in verse 18, “those who are such do not serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”
The congregation at Rome was in much better shape than the one at Corinth, and was commended by Paul for its faithfulness in living in accordance to God’s ways (verse 19). However, Paul did want them pointing out those who were especially likely to lead astray those who were new in the faith because of their false teachings and/or ungodly personal conduct in their lives – just as we who are parents take a greater protective role when our children are young so they don’t end up in dangerous situations.
So with that, I hope I have a properly balanced view on the subject of disfellowshipping. It is to be used for corrective purposes where warranted, and where lesser corrective measures have failed (Titus 3:10 is a good example you cited), but never for vengeful or abusive purposes, or in an attempt to directly take away a person’s salvation.
I wish you well and hope to see some comments from others on your web site regarding Rodney Lain’s situation.
My Analysis and Commentary on the Disfellowshipment of Rodney Lain from the WCG
Michael E. Brandenburg
The June 11, 1997 issue of Crossroad, a ministerial publication of the Worldwide Church of God, carried the following announcement that was supposed to have been made to the members of that organization: “In accordance with the Biblical commands, the doctrine and long-standing practices of the church, we are sometimes required to notify you that certain people have been disfellowshipped. It is our unpleasant duty at this time to notify you that Rodney Lain has been disfellowshipped. The church does not, and you should not, bear any ill will toward Mr. Lain. Rather, you should pray that God will grant him repentance.”
It was an announcement that did not surprise me, for I remembered a testimony Mr. Lain had written for Crossroads – only it wasn’t the same as the Crossroad the Worldwide Church of God publishes for its ministers!
This Crossroads was the one that is published by former Worldwide Church of God minister David Covington, who left that organization in 1996 after his unsuccessful efforts to bring about “needed reforms” in that organization, and now operates a counseling program for departed WCG members. And its Spring 1997 issue carried Mr. Lain’s testimony that he “had stayed way too long” in the WCG, and was left with “clinical depression” and “suicidal tendencies and emotional breakdown” as a result of his eight years of affiliation with the WCG.
So what does the Worldwide Church of God do about this unfortunate by-product of their organization? “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause division and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17, NKJV) – or, as the WCG has traditionally interpreted this passage to its members, “Stay away from people who have bad things to say about our church.”
Creating “Unity” in “God’s Church”
I was with the Worldwide Church of God for 20 years as a baptized member (from 1975 to 1995), the first 11 years of which coincided with the last 11 years of the life of its original founder, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong – and I remember well his efforts from 1978 on to bring the organization into a unity of belief, not tolerating even the potential for division that might be created by those holding to opposing beliefs in the organization.
To him, anyone who held to viewpoints opposing the “official teachings and practices” of the Worldwide Church of God was to be viewed as one “…obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reveling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain,” (I Timothy 6:4-5) and that the command, “From such withdraw yourself,” (last part of verse 5) was to be strictly adhered to by every loyal and faithful WCG member.
That was fine as long as the “official teachings and practices” of the Worldwide Church of God organization were in reasonable accordance with God’s Word – but when things got to be departed from in the years following Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986….
Disfellowshipping: When and Why
While the term “disfellowship”, or forms thereof, do not appear in any English-language version of the Bible, God’s Word does have much to say about “fellowship” – the social and spiritual interaction of the people in His Church.
It makes for an important support network that God’s people today are going to be especially in need of as the final end-time events approach (Hebrews 10:25). Even now in this world, the temptation is great for individual Christians to “cave in” to wrong influences that lead to sin, thus undermining the positive influence they are supposed to have on the world. But in a group situation, all the members of the group are there to offer help and encouragement to each other (Galatians 6:1-2).
But sometimes the love Christians are to have for each other in a group must be “tough love” – specifically, in situations were the effectiveness of the witness of the entire group is impacted. To quote The New International Version Study Bible’s commentary on I Corinthians 5:11, “Calling oneself a Christian while continuing to live an immoral life is reprehensible and degrading and gives a false testimony to Christ. If the true Christian has intimate association with someone who does this, the non-Christian world may assume that the church approves such immoral, ungodly living and thus the name of Christ would be dishonored. Questions could arise concerning the true character of the Christians own testimony.”
I had the misfortune of having to live with just that type of situation several years ago. I had married, in December of 1992, a woman who was a “baptized member” of the Worldwide Church of God organization, only to have her turn away from the Christian way of life and turn on me when she did not get what she was expecting out of me in the relationship.
The impact of her abusive conduct toward me and others ultimately became so evident to my job co-workers that within six months of my marriage, they began urging me to not only divorce this wife of mine, but to leave the Worldwide Church of God organization for another church “where its members are expected to conduct themselves like Christians!”
This is the type of person that should be DISfellowshipped (opposite of “fellowshipped”) from a group of Christian believers – someone who has fallen into an attitude of sin, and is adversely impacting the congregation as a whole, both without and within (I Corinthians 5:6). Occasional acts of sin are inevitable within a group of Christian believers, owing to human imperfections, and lesser corrective actions, where warranted, are appropriate here. But even in cases where a sinning member must be put out of a congregation, both for his and the congregation’s own good, this is an action that should be taken out of love for the individual involved, just as parents may have to punish their children at times for corrective purposes.
For reasons I’ll detail later, I don’t think Rodney Lain was “disfellowshipped” from the Worldwide Church of God with these intentions in mind. But let’s assume that he was committing sins of the type described in I Corinthians 5:11, and to such a persistent degree that his being disfellowshipped was warranted.
The command at the end of his disfellowship announcement, “You should pray that God will grant him repentance,” is what we as Christians should be doing for him – that is, pray that his being denied the opportunity he previously had to fellowship with other Christian believers would lead him to see the error of his ways, that he would repent, and ultimately bring forth “fruits of repentance” (John 3:8) that would qualify him for reinstatement in the fellowship.
Bible commentaries I have consulted on II Corinthians 2:5-11 disagree on whether Paul is referring to the same man who was put out of the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 5, but an important principle is brought out here: Once the punishment of disfellowship achieves its purpose in correcting and restoring a Christian believer, such a person should be forgiven and allowed to come back into the fellowship to once again benefit from the advantages of regular contact with other believers.
A Bad Atmosphere
But as there are abusive parents in this world who punish their children out of anger, hatred and revenge, rather than out of a proper love for them, so are there “Christian” churches in this world who use disfellowshipping and other forms of “discipline” in their organization for wrong purposes – or fail to do so for right purposes.
After I finally did file for divorce against my spiritually unfaithful wife in April of 1994, I sent 23 pages of personal testimony on my failed marriage to the Worldwide Church of God’s headquarters in Pasadena, California, telling them (among other things) about my job co-workers who were urging me (for a whole year up to that time) to quit the WCG – and received NO response back from them whatsoever for my literary effort!
I was willing to give them every opportunity to correct the situation that made my involvement with the Worldwide Church of God organization such an embarrassing thing for me to do as a Christian – but in the early months of 1995, they came out with that “New Covenant” theology of theirs that I ultimately found was something that virtually upheld the sinful conduct of the wife I ended up having to divorce the preceding year!
But by that time, I had finally come to see that my allegiance was to be to CHRIST, and not to an organization that had now gone spiritually unfaithful on me. I had, when confronted with the decision as to which church I was going to be a part of after I made my “decision for Christ” in 1968, decided to allow God to make that decision for me – and in due time, I was led to the Worldwide Church of God organization.
However, I did not immediately grasp the fact that God wanted me being a “lifetime member” of the spiritual organism that was founded by Jesus Christ in 31 A.D., and not an organization founded by Herbert W. Armstrong in 1933 or any other man at any other time for the express purpose of carrying out the Work of the spiritual organism – for the problem was that for so many years, God was leading the overwhelming majority of those He had called to be part of the “Church of God” spiritual organism to be also part of the Worldwide Church of God organization. And that led to my erroneous assumption that leaving WCG – even though I had job co-workers of mine urging me to do so since 1993 – would be an act of disloyalty to the God who had led me to that organization years before.
But after the WCG’s income took a big drop after their “New Covenant” theology was introduced to their members in January of 1995, I loyally took to fasting over the situation – only to have God REVEAL to me that I was the one who was “loyal” in His eyes, and it was my church affiliation that had gone astray to the point where I had to give serious and prayerful consideration to leaving it and finding another fellowship.
As far as “alternatives” to the WCG was concerned, though, I found myself once again confronted with a number of possibilities – and then I remembered that I had been led to the WCG in the first place after I had asked God to choose my church affiliation for me back in 1968! Hence, I concluded, if God now wanted me out of WCG, then I should allow Him once again to lead me to where He now wanted me!
So I prayed over this situation, and in dramatic fashion God led me over to the new United Church of God congregation that was getting started in the Greater Cincinnati area. I joined them for my first Sabbath worship service with them on June 10, 1995 – and five days later, a nine-page letter of mine was on its way to the WCG headquarters in Pasadena, telling them I was calling it quits with that organization and my reasons for so doing! (And two weeks after that, I received a reply letter back from them that was all of three paragraphs in length, the last one of which stated in part, “We sincerely hope you will reconsider your decision to leave the Worldwide Church of God.”)
That was two years ago, and I am happy to report that things have definitely been turned around from the way they ended up for me in the WCG – indeed, one of my job co-workers asked me not long ago for United’s mailing address so he could write in for his own subscription to their evangelistic magazine, The Good News, and another asked me to explain our special Holy Day observances that I take time off from work to joyfully observe with my fellow United brethren during the course of the year.
But I am grieved to hear of reports of many more bad things that have been happening in the WCG since I left them behind in 1995. The January 1997 letter in which they attempted to “reinstate” the “requirement” of its members to tithe of their incomes is a case in point; I found a clear effort on the part of the organization’s current leader to provoke feelings of guilt with the membership in order to coerce them to send the tithe money to him. (My own research on that subject, however, led me to conclude that God still expects His people to tithe, but the tithe money should go to ministers who are faithful in the carrying out of His Work, as evidence by the fruits of their ministries – Matthew 7:15-20.)
Now, as it has been brought to my attention, the current members of the WCG are expected to support its present practices and policies regarding disfellowshipping. I want to point out again that proper disfellowshipping (for disciplinary purposes) should be undertaken in a congregation of believers when the need to do so is warranted, and the faithful should be supportive of such an action, not associating with the disfellowshipped person in any way so that the purpose of the disfellowshipping not be undermined, yet desiring that person’s repentance (II Thessalonians 3:14-15).
But the track record of the WCG, in my own life since 1992, and in the lives of many others in recent years, has shown them to be a very BAD place for Christians to be in. We couldn’t get our evangelistic work going in my present United Church of God affiliation as quickly as I would have liked because our poor ministers were having to deal with all the upsets the people in their congregations had gone through as a result of their belief systems being attacked the way they were in 1995.
One of our ministers compared our collective experience to that of going through a divorce – which I can certainly identify with! I mean, just imagine each one of the United Church of God ministers, in the early months of that organization, having to essentially be the leader of a “divorce recovery group” – and we never had divorce recovery groups in years past in the WCG because these faithful ministers were so good when it came to teaching us how to stay married!
But now we have “divorce recovery groups” for those who are finding they have to get out of the WCG, as I ended up having to do two years ago. David Covington, a former WCG minister, has one, and another is the Exit and Support Network (ESN), and I’ve heard of an on-line therapy exercise called “Herbie’s World” in which the participants construct attractions-gone-haywire at a fictional theme park comparable to Michael Crichton’s “Westworld” and “Jurassic Park” creations. That’s pretty ample evidence, in my view, as to the kind of organization the WCG is now.
Must We Remain “Loyal” to WCG – No Matter What?
So what about Rodney Lain? Precisely why did the WCG “disfellowship” him and should “the faithful” among God’s people have any contact with him now?
In the light of all this evidence, it is my judgment that Mr. Lain, who likely hasn’t even attended WCG worship services since his August 1996 departure from that organization, has been “marked” by the WCG (Romans 16:17, KJV) because his testimony in the Spring 1997 issue of David Covington’s Crossroads publication details things that the WCG administrators would rather not want their people finding out about!
This poor fellow needs all the help we can give him. In addition to the unfortunate mental state he was left in as a result of his “WCG experience”, he has also testified that he doesn’t want to have a close association with any church organization at all, though he does “visit” various fellowships. I did “jump right in” with my present United Church of God affiliation because I wanted to have a part in an organized effort to get the Gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world, just as I had been with the WCG in its past faithful years – but I have empathy for former WCG members who were not so inclined after their departures. (You see, after my 1994 divorce from my spiritually unfaithful first wife, it is admittedly more difficult to get me to establish a deep and trusting relationship with future marriage prospects!)
Given these circumstances, is our salvation at stake if we lend comfort and support to Mr. Lain and help him find a permanent church home where he will be comfortable? Absolutely not! Since it is God that adds to the true Christian Church (Acts 2:47), and since that Church is comprised of all who have and are led by the Holy Spirit, which is a gift from God, then no man has the power to take a person out of the true Church of God spiritual organism by taking away the Holy Spirit in that person.
Of course, a Christian can lose the Holy Spirit himself (and thus his place in the true Church of God spiritual organism) if he makes a permanent decision to go back on his past Christian commitment, or neglects to keep up with prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other believers in order to remain strong in the faith. But he, and no other man, has the power in that regard.
What if the WCG decides to disfellowship any and all of its current members who remain in contact with Mr. Lain? To such people, I say that this may be the best thing that’s going to happen to you – in fact, you might as well get out of there right now and ask God to show you where He wants you to be from an organizational standpoint, as I did two years ago – and I’m very happy to be with the United Church of God today. And I hope you will end up equally happy with wherever God’s choice is for you, whether that be United, or Global, or somewhere else.
Your salvation does not hinge on efforts to remain loyal to an organization – especially when that organization clearly shows itself disloyal to the principles expounded in the Word of God. You are to be loyal to Christ, the true leader of God’s people.
Submitted by Michael E. Brandenburg
Commentary by Mark Tabladillo
1. I agree that organizational loyalty does not transcend our loyalty to God. Many in United now have embedded in their minds this lesson, but choose to qualify it by standards of human conduct or doctrine. There is no need for qualification – our loyalty and honor of God should be there regardless of the imperfect human organizations we choose to affiliate with. God may use organizations to help in the gospel calling, but it is essentially God’s work which he optionally does through us as we yield to him.
2. Not a few WCG splinter members have capitalized on the January 1997 tithing letter. Whether we pay tithes and to whom is our choice.
3. “Disfellowshipping” is biblically an action of the congregation, and should be done when an individual refuses to acknowledge the working of the Holy Spirit through the congregation – this describes specifically the cases when warranted.
4. When the congregation collectively decides, there is the effective working of the spirit to make a difference. Christians must be convinced in their hearts that any such pronouncement is the correct decision, and collectively stand together to preserve the community’s godly identity.
5. Continuing to fellowship with “disfellowshipped” or “dissident” brethren is truly counterproductive. Not only will members become used to ignoring the advice of their leadership, but also the identity of the group will become compromised. I note here that there have been open and well-known examples of socials involving United and WCG members – leaving the obvious two questions: What does WCG believe about fellowshipping with United, and what does United believe about fellowshipping with WCG?
6. Michael Brandenburg isolates the testimony of Rodney Lain in David Covington’s Spring 1997 issue of Crossroads. You may want to read this issue for yourself and make your own decision. The fact is that there has been no official word as to what specifically was done – lots of speculation abounds.
7. Michael Brandenburg opens up the possibility that those who continue to fellowship with Rodney Lain should be “disfellowshipped.” Under the biblical model, this would naturally follow – but the process had already been undermined by choosing to take the decision from the congregation.
Web page and contents ©1997, Mark Tabladillo, Ph.D.
Keywords: #worldwidechurchofgod #rodneyolain #rodneylain