I’m home in Indiana right now, and one of my traditions when I’m here is to peruse old issues of the Journal. The Journal is a newspaper that has articles by various people in the Armstrongite movement, though I believe that others have contributed to it as well. I vaguely recall reading an article by James Tabor in it.
One article in the June 30 edition concerned the Church of God (International) in Jamaica, which is headed by Ian Boyne. Although the Armstrongite movement is dying throughout the world, the CGI is growing exponentially in Jamaica. Its praise and worship is lively, meaning that it doesn’t just focus on standing up and singing the same old Dwight Armstrong hymns over and over. And the preaching is dynamic, leading Garner Ted Armstrong to comment in 1987 that it was among the best preaching he had ever heard. As someone who once attended an Adventist church that is predominantly Caribbean, I am not surprised.
What did surprise me, however, was how open the CGI in Jamaica is to hearing different ideas. A seminary student who believed Christians didn’t have to keep the Sabbath was given an hour to present his position to the church. Mondays are set aside for people who want to criticize something they disagreed with in the weekly sermon. And those who express disagreement are not disfellowshipped.
I already knew that Ian Boyne wasn’t one to shy away from the outside world. I read a long time ago that he visited seminaries and universities and explained to their students the Armstrongite positions on various religious questions. But I had no idea that he allowed people with different beliefs to come to CGI to present their ideas.
I somewhat admire the security that such an approach projects. CGI Caribbean is not afraid to be challenged. It doesn’t have the attitude of “don’t read this” or “don’t listen to him” that has afflicted many Armstrongite churches.
It reminds me of some of my own experiences. I’ve attended Sabbatarian churches that love to discuss stuff–with anyone who wants to discuss it. And they’ll go around the clock if necessary! When someone from the cultish International Churches of Christ was trying to recruit me at DePauw, my dad recommended that we invite him to our church. And a church my family attended met in someone’s home for a Bible study one Saturday, when some Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked at the door. Our host let them in, took them downstairs, and–SURPRISE–there was a Bible study group going on! The Jehovah’s Witnesses started to feel uncomfortable, and they soon left.
One reservation I have about Boynes‘ approach is that there needs to be caution. Some of these cultists will take over the show, if you let them! There was a reason that Paul and Ignatius told churches to obey the church authorities and not to tolerate heresy. Personally, I think Ignatius can get pretty authoritarian, but I can appreciate that he saw some need to create and enforce boundaries.
But, to his credit, Ian Boyne probably does things in an orderly manner. From what I read, he has a Sabbath service once every week, and he hashes out the controversial issues outside of the main service. The service is a place for the church to celebrate its common beliefs in a state of unity, but time outside of the service is set aside for the controversial stuff. That probably keeps things from becoming a free-for-all.