This issue contains reports from around the world of the Feast of Tabernacles 2017. How inspiring it is to read of the dedication and zeal some scattered brethren exhibit in traveling to the Feast. We also have two articles that cover questions that arise periodically—voting and birthdays. You will also notice that there are quite a few Living Church News reports: births, deaths, weddings, and ordinations. Let us "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15).
There have been two major family weekends since the Feast, one in Charlotte and the other in Kansas City. These are wonderful opportunities for those able to attend, as they especially give our youth and singles the chance to spend time together with people of similar age and circumstances. Many members are scattered, and any opportunity for fellowship with others of like mind is important.
During our Charlotte Family Weekend, we had a theme of keeping our focus and not getting distracted. In the Worldwide Church of God, we always looked through the lens of "the best ever" and "bigger than last time," whether at the Feast or some other activity. In this light, we must ask the question, "Is bigger always better?" There is a human tendency to think that it is.
There are advantages to larger events and institutions, but also disadvantages. Hospitals, airports, cities, and universities are constantly expanding. They are under construction continually. Large hospitals offer a wider range of services, which can mean the difference between life and death in some emergencies. There may be cost savings when smaller schools consolidate into larger ones, and the number of jobs expand as cities expand, but do such examples mean that bigger is always better?
Some years ago, educators looked longingly back at the perceived benefits of the one-room schoolhouse that produced the great leaders of the past. So much so, that new schools were constructed in a circular pie-shaped pattern, with a common area circle in the middle. Classrooms were shaped like slices of the pie, but were missing the center wall so that a classroom next door or across the way could be overheard by all. The theory was that students could pick up lessons from other classes—a sort of one room school, but much larger. Such is the foolishness of education theorists!
Governments have a propensity to grow larger over time, offering more services, but at greater cost to taxpayers. God understood the dangers of "Big Government" when He warned Israel about those dangers in 1 Samuel 8, in response to their desire for a king like the nations around them.
Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong understood that bigger is NOT always better. That is why his goal was to limit Ambassador College enrollment in Pasadena to 550 students. However, enrollment ticked upward over time—and so did the problems. One could easily argue, with a fair degree of truth, that size was not "the" problem. Becoming bigger created greater opportunities, but human nature allowed these greater opportunities to become greater distractions. It did not have to be that way, but it was.
The Worldwide Church of God also grew. Eventually, more than 150,000 attended the Feast of Tabernacles, and more than eight million Plain Truth magazines were distributed every month. At one point, there were three Ambassador College campuses, and how beautiful they were! But as the Church grew, so did the opportunities and so did the distractions. The Church lost its focus and became a comfortable social club to far too many. Large sports tournaments, exotic Festival sites, various clubs to "build self-esteem"—all took our focus off what God called us to do. We were ripe for the picking, and Satan, as a roaring lion, was all too eager to leap on the prey (1 Peter 5:8).
The Right Size?
The question remains: Is bigger better? Conversely: Is smaller better? Dr. Roderick C. Meredith frequently emphasized that the Bible is the mind of God, so how does it answer this question?
The opening verse of Genesis says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." To say that God thinks big is understatement to the extreme! Consider the vastness of the universe with its myriad galaxies and stars. The size and scope of God's creation baffles the human mind (Psalm 8:3–4)! Jesus' parables indicate the Kingdom of God, His family, begins as the smallest of seeds, but grows immensely (Matthew 13:31–32; see also the other parables of Matthew 13). Isaiah informs us, "Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end" (9:7). God thinks BIG!
This is one side of the coin, but there is another. God limited Gideon's army to 300 to go against an army far greater in size. Numbers are not important if God is with us. This is something He wants to embed in our minds. God also reveals that there were other dynamics at play. How the 300 drank water indicated how alert they were and how they might react in battle. God demonstrated these same lessons elsewhere.
He instructed Israel not to be afraid when they were on the verge of going against a larger enemy, because He would be with them (Deuteronomy 20:1–4). He then commanded the officers to pare down the army to those most fit for the task. Any who had distractions or fear were to be dismissed (vv. 5–9). Distracted or fearful soldiers would damage the morale of others. It is evident here that quality trumps quantity.
So, what does all this mean for you and me?
Our focus must always be on the commissions given to us. We must learn "to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1–3). It is through working together as a family, having educational programs, summer camps, family weekends, Spokesman Clubs, and more that we learn servant leadership, right government, humility, and putting up with one another's imperfections. These activities provide opportunities to learn how to get along with those different from ourselves. We learn teamwork and come to appreciate qualities others have that we lack. We learn perseverance and patience. All of this helps prepare us to rule in the Kingdom of God. But even with this, these qualities must not be ends in themselves. We must not allow them to distract us from focusing on other commissions.
In all that we do we must adhere to Paul's admonition, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:3–5). These words must be more than platitudes. They must be a part of us, internalized by the Holy Spirit of Christ in us (Galatians 2:20).
Dear brethren, how large we will grow remains to be seen, but history indicates bigger is not always better. "Better"—that is, better quality—is always better! We must never allow the "bigger is better" mindset to guide our thinking. Nor should we think that smaller is better, because we like small. God thinks big and so should we. God uses both sizes to fulfill His plan and purpose, but either way, staying close to God, avoiding distractions, and keeping our focus on the purpose for which we are called is what matters more than size. We must constantly test our thinking and our actions to make sure they fit within the commissions we have been given. We must do this individually and collectively.