Grace and Repentance Make a Denomination Home
Life lands us in the strangest places. Here I am in a coffee shop in Indianapolis, listening to a Postal Service song that was an anthem for me walking the streets of Vancouver ten years ago. To trace how I got here would be like replaying a pinball machine from job to job and state to state, finally landing me as the associate pastor of a small congregation here in the Midwest. When I graduated from Regent in 2007, my plans were much more interesting, and much less clear than they were when I arrived there in 2003. But God gives more grace (James 4:6).
My denomination, Grace Communion International, has been a bigger pinball in a bigger machine and experienced God’s big grace. We are a small but widely spread group, with 50,000 members in 900 churches in around 100 countries, but we have a history more dynamic than any Christian community in recent history. You may not have heard of GCI, but you are more likely to have heard of the Worldwide Church of God. This was a large heretical group founded by Herbert W. Armstrong in 1934; a pastiche of Seventh-Day Adventism, British Israelism, badly understood Judaism and Christian fundamentalism. Adherents followed some Old Testament laws (kosher diet, strict Sabbatarianism) in a New Testament light (Christ as Savior) with a cultic influence (we become gods through adherence). Add to this a fixation with apocalypticism that fueled it all.
But the truth broke through, praise God. When Armstrong died in 1986, his inner circle returned to the scriptures to scrutinize these theological conclusions. What followed are what people in GCI call “the changes”—a grand-scale repentance for these heretical beliefs and a healing from them. What remains is an evangelical denomination with a firsthand understanding of grace and a hell-and-back loyalty I’ve never seen in another church body. This has been a generation of healing for GCI, and a welcoming into the church proper through the National Association of Evangelicals and such champions as Hank Hannegraff, C. Paul Young (The Shack), Gordon Fee, NT Wright and many others.
Our focus now is on the future, with an appreciation—but not a fixation—of where we came from. During “the changes”, several pastors left the denomination and so we had what might be called “battlefield promotion.” Thus, a head elder or prominent member was quickly put into the pulpit and served faithfully, educated “on the go” in theology. These are some amazing, battle-tested women and men of God who have kept the faith during some very trying times. In recent years, the administration has been hiring “transplants” like myself from Regent, Fuller, St Andrews (Scotland), Princeton, and other solid Christian schools to take GCI to the next level. There is an emphasis on education (Karl Barth is casual reading), and on innovation—church planters, re-newers, and those with an entrepreneurial spirit.
I have found a home here—better said, I have come home here. People in my congregation grew up with a doctrinal and practical separation from the body of Christ, and have a fresh joy in God’s grace and the embrace of His church. Those who grew up never eating a pepperoni pizza or celebrating Christmas and Easter now take an almost child-like joy in the freedom and feasts of God’s people. I’ve never found a group more committed to God’s Word, God’s truth, and each other than I have in GCI.
Is God calling you in such a direction? Opportunities are surfacing as several pastors retire, in North America and abroad. Speaking from my own perspective, I can’t think of a better place for a Regent grad—not quite sure where you belong in evangelicalism, and yet less sure where you belong anywhere else. GCI calls for creative engagement with churchcraft, and compassionate pastoral care with a special church family with a unique history. Please pray for us as we journey, and pray about the possibility of God calling you to journey with us!