Things have not been going smoothly of late for members of the Church of God, Big Sandy.
If any independent COG congregation deserves the title prima inter pares, first among equals, then Big Sandy is probably it. For years now it has served as a positive example of how Church of God people need not submit to hierarchical leadership in order to get along. The Big Sandy church has successfully forged associations with other independent ministries, forgoing both the empire building mentality of the extremist sects along with their exclusivism. Minister Dave Havir is well respected. If the Worldwide Church of God is to have an enduring legacy, it will be among people like these rather than the Glendora-based organization that has inherited the name, or the ego-driven rip-off imitations.
All that is now at risk. One local has described the situation, perhaps with a feel for the dramatic, as "war." Some 30 - 40 brethren are now meeting separately, and a board member has been dumped. Details of the story are likely to appear in the upcoming issue of The Journal.
I find that incredibly sad. Gainsayers at both extremes will take comfort at the Big Sandy church's discomfort. Regardless of what you might think about the doctrinal position of the church, it has been good to see what appeared to be a healthy, balanced congregation holding its own in a "marketplace" dominated by weird apocalyptic speculation and manipulative power-trippers.
Disagreements are hardly the preserve of COG congregations. Mainline denominations often train pastors whose job is to go into troubled local churches and defuse a situation before it blows, something that is more common than most of us might think. Perhaps it's not too late for the folk at Big Sandy to do something similar; to bring in an outside facilitator - someone without a personal stake in the issues (and someone with prior experience of this sort of thing.) Such a person would not go in to bang heads together, but to respectfully listen to all those involved and arbitrate a solution. To cast blame isn't the way forward, to focus on solutions is.
I for one hope the Big Sandy church comes through its current difficulties intact, and continues to be an inspiration to those who chafe under a plague of pseudo-apostles, pastors-general, presiding evangelists, prophets and other charlatans. There has to be a better way than that.