Wow — it has been a really long time since I have posted! Things have been terribly busy, so it was a worthwhile absence, and I have been writing, just not here. 🙂 And even now I don’t plan to say much (usually a good sign that this will be a long post, huh?), but I did want to post a reflection on my first Council of Elders meeting, which occurred the week before last. The ministerial conference the following week was amazing in its own way, and I will try to comment on it later, as well. But the Council of Elders meeting was one of the most encouraging experiences I’ve ever had in the Church, though I can’t say that it was full of surprises. However, an experience need not be a surprise to be encouraging — in fact, an experience that confirms one’s hopes and expectations can be pretty profoundly encouraging, itself.
I could summarize everything I am about to say in one sentence, and for those without the time to read more, feel free and move on after this: What I regularly pray to see in the government and functioning of the Church, I saw every minute of those two days, and it was so very, very encouraging. Why it was encouraging, for those who will read further, I will detail below…
The first thing worth pointing out was that Mr. Roderick C. Meredith was very clearly in charge, and he led the meeting in a gracious and collegial manner. I say this to provide evidence against imagined and (go figure) contradictory criticisms I have heard from a few ignorant voices here and there. (By the way, I say “ignorant” in the strict meaning of the word — lacking any real knowledge of the facts — and not as a lazy insult. Not that all of the few ignorant voices admit their ignorance, but the actual evidence shows them to be ignorant just the same.)
The first ignorant claim is that Mr. Meredith is getting old so he must just be sitting back, too frail to lead, and doing little while others are making all the decisions. I routinely say that anyone who were to think this has not actually spent time with Mr. Meredith recently, and this was no different. (I’ve mentioned this claim before to individuals who work with Mr. Meredith, and they routinely laugh out loud.) While I have seen the opposite of this claim to be true every single time I have gone to Charlotte over the last seven years, the evidence of the mistaken notion of such (thankfully tiny) voices was on display both days of the meetings. Mr. Meredith guided and led every discussion we had, and the role of the Living Church of God’s Council of Elders as an advisory body was obvious. The Council advised and discussed, and the Presiding Evangelist led and decided.
The other ignorant claim I’ve heard is on the opposite side of the spectrum: that Mr. Meredith must be some sort of power hungry, tyrannical figure, like a dictator. Again, anyone guessing such a thing is so far from the truth that you wonder how in the world he or she could come up with such suppositions. As I have said before, every time I have been there, Mr. Meredith has been very deferential and solicitous of the opinions of others, even when his own opinion has been strong. The Council meeting was no exception. Mr. Meredith led the meeting in one of the most collegial and mutually respectful and loving atmospheres I have ever experienced in a meeting like that — and I’m very used to working on teams, both in the public sector (as a high school teacher) and in the private sector (as an actuary for a corporation). He very actively sought out advice and the floor was very open for discussion and comments. I remember just nodding my head at something that was said, not even raising my hand to contribute, and Mr. Meredith asked me to elaborate on what I was thinking. He did that so many times during the meeting with many of the individuals, and everyone spoke numerous times on a variety of topics.
And the composition of the men in the room is worth noting, as well, since all were appointed personally by Mr. Meredith (not a single vote was taken to place any of them there) and serve there at his pleasure: None of them were “yes men.” It was apparent to me that Mr. Meredith has willingly and purposefully surrounded himself with men who will give honest opinions, even if those opinions differ from his. Frankly, the cumulative number of years of experience in living God’s Way and sincerely applying God’s laws that was represented in that room was stirring to me. Some of their stories I knew and others I did not, but of all I knew they were tested and proven men who put God’s Word first, and they gave to Mr. Meredith their sincere and honest counsel. When they disagreed with each other, they (1) acted as though they were free to say so, and (2) always — always — spoke with respect and what seemed like very sincere love and friendship towards one another. I couldn’t help but think that if the boardrooms of corporate America and the committee rooms of Congress functioned like this, the nation would be a much, much better place.
But I’ve gotten off track… The point is that Mr. Meredith has chosen for himself experienced and proven counselors whom he can trust to disagree with him, and I respect that. Again, not “yes men.” They did come across, however, as “‘yes sir’ men.” That is, when the decision is made, then the decision is made. I felt no hint of plotting to undo anything or of secret agendas, but rather one of support and agreement and a desire to be of one mind. Though I’ve only experienced that one meeting (not counting the earlier phone meeting we’d had), I have no reason to believe that this meeting was not rather typical, and, if so, then I believe Mr. Meredith is one of the reasons it was so warm, collegial, and open. The spirit of the head affects the mood of the body, and the tone Mr. Meredith set made me feel welcome to be there and free to speak my mind. He deserves a great deal of credit for that atmosphere. And, again, his critics with their imagined criticisms just look like ninnies when you experience the facts.
Though he’s not perfect by any means )and he is quick to say so, himself) it has been my experience now for seven years that his life and actions — seen as a whole, together — continue to defy the efforts of those who would reduce him to a caricature — all the more, given how their caricatures are the exact opposites of each other. Seems to me that if he’s being attacked from opposite directions, it’s probably a sign that he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be. 🙂
Before moving on to the one thing that, perhaps, impressed me the most, I should explain that I said Mr. Meredith is “one of the reasons” for the collegial atmosphere of teamwork and respect I felt there because there is a bigger reason. Or perhaps I should type, “Bigger Reason.” It seemed so apparent to me that God’s Spirit was present and in active use in that room. The unity wasn’t just because the men in the room were friends and colleagues or just because of the wonderful job Mr. Meredith has done in leading the counsel and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect. It was there because being mutually unified with God is the fundamental source of real unity with others. Any other sort of unity just won’t do — not political, not racial, not ideological, not emotional, not “purpose driven,” not “common enemy driven,” not contractually agreed, not bylaw-dependent or constitutionally-structured… none of them. In unifying men — let alone men of strong and passionate opinion — nothing can do the job like being first and foremost mutually unified with God and with His Son, Jesus Christ, by seeking His word and His will and then acting on it. And while I don’t know every man in that room personally (though I am thankful that I am beginning to), those I do know are just such men who practice such unity with God, and the result of that was evident in the room to me.
Part of what made it evident to me is the matter I wanted to bring up before I conclude, which I found moving when it happened though it wasn’t really a surprise.
Though much of the discussion was on policy and administrative decisions, since part of the purpose of the Council of Elders is to advise Mr. Meredith on doctrinal matters, eventually the meeting turned to a few doctrinal questions that had been asked, for which Mr. Meredith sought the Council’s input. The moment it did, you saw hands reaching into briefcases and satchels and Bibles being opened.
While, as I said, that isn’t surprising, and it is exactly what I would expect, at the same time it was so thoroughly encouraging. When the questions came to doctrinal matters and to understanding the truth of something, it was clear in that room that there is one source of truth, and it is the word of God. The overriding concern there about the teaching of the Church was whether or not it was biblical. The same book that these men leaned on for their rule of life was being used for the rule of the Church — and that is exactly how it should be. The dedication to the Word of God as the foundation of truth and knowledge that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong had instilled in his “young men from Ambassador” — including Roderick Meredith — was alive and well in that room, and, again, though it was not surprising, it was a personal privilege to see it happen in front of me with my own eyes.
There surely was not a single, perfect man present in the room. But the atmosphere I experienced there was such that I have no doubt whatsoever that our perfect Savior, the Head of the Church, was very much present in the room and that He must have felt very welcomed there.
I don’t know how long my rotational position in the Council of Elders will last, but I can say that even if it was just for this one meeting I am very thankful for the experience. We hear about these meetings in our announcements at Church and we hear prayers requested that the meetings will be blessed by God. Seeing with my own eyes that this is how the Living Church of God is run emboldened my faith that those prayers are lovingly answered by very active Jesus Christ who is leading His Church. It emboldened my belief that despite our common human foibles and our occasional missteps Christ is big enough to work in and to actively direct His Church for His and His Father’s divine purposes, and His will truly will be accomplished among His people and in the world.
And it will be. God the Father and Jesus Christ have, for almost 2000 years now, stubbornly continued to use human beings, as faulty as we human beings are, in Their Church and Their Work. And They will continue to use human beings until the time comes when those human beings are transformed at the return of Christ — at which time, He will continue to use them for eternity. Between now and that time, we have the chance to be those human beings. What a wonderful hope! And based on what I saw in those Council meetings, that hope is alive and well in the Living Church of God.
When we go to sleep tonight, let’s all thank God and Jesus Christ that this is so.