Review: The Churches of God, Seventh Day: A Bibliography, by Joel Bjorling. Garland Publishing, Inc., New York: 1987. 296pp. $48.00 retail.
A bibliography is a list, often with descriptive or critical notes, of writings relating to a particular subject, period or author. A bibliographical book exists to provide a listing of important and useful research materials for other students and researchers to further investigate a particular topic.
Joel Bjorling's The Churches of God, Seventh Day: A Bibliography, is a listing of over 1,600 books, articles and periodicals relating to Twentieth Century Church of God Seventh Day groups. Mr. Bjorling is not a Sabbath-keeper. As an outsider, he has done a remarkable job in pulling together a wide assortment of materials. His book is one of a series edited by J. Gordon Melton of the University of California at Santa Barbara of bibliographies on sects and cults. Bjorling has compiled another bibliography on the Baha'i Faith. Both Bjorling and Melton have long been recipients of literature from Giving & Sharing. Bjorling gives us credit for his work. He devotes a great deal of space to Giving & Sharing's role in the Church of God, Seventh Day literature scene. We appreciate his favorable mention.
Bjorling lists the literature of some thirty-one different groups. In addition, Bjorling briefly analyzes the history and teachings of each organization. I found his book interesting and objective in most instances. He has done a good job in compilation.
However, I find a number of faults and serious shortcomings with Bjorling's book.
(1) The book is overpriced. Although Mr. Bjorling assures me that a bibliography book such as his is properly priced at $48, I feel the value received is far less than the investment. A writer of the current teachings of the Churches of God, Seventh Day would need a bibliography of at least as much material as Bjorling lists, plus he would have to analyze, research and evaluate all the material, and write original material, which Bjorling's listing with brief notes does not do. The price of a book on the current status and teachings of these churches would NOT sell for anywhere near $48. Libraries and research institutions on the study of religion are clearly the target audience for Bjorling's book.
(2) The book has many typographical errors. Although attractively hardbound, there are a great many typo errors, misspelled words and haphazard justification of text. This discredits the author.
(3) The book has a number of factual errors. I feel this stems from lack of careful research, rather than deliberate misrepresentation. Bjorling has obviously not read all the material he has compiled. A serious writer carefully edits his material, and allows others to critique it, in an attempt to weed out all errors prior to publication. Typographical errors and lack of research skills are evident.
Here are a few factual errors we noticed: On page 14, the schism of the Church of God, Seventh Day led by A.N. Dugger actually occurred in 1933, not 1931 as stated. Pages 16 and 199 describe A.N. Dugger as a part of the Sacred Name Movement, when in fact he was not a Sacred Name exclusivist, and belongs firmly to the major Church of God Seventh Day branch. On page 25, it is an error to state that the reason why Herbert Armstrong was expelled from the Salem Church of God Seventh Day was because he taught Jewish Holy Days and British Israelism which were contrary to Salem's teachings. Armstrong was mainly expelled for failure to cooperate, not over doctrines. Others in the group held the same doctrines he did. Many today in the Church of God Seventh Day groups hold the same doctrines yet they are not expelled. Bjorling's statement on page 71 that British Israelism and Holy Day teaching sets Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God apart from other Seventh Day Church of God groups is patently false. In discussing the Caldwell, Idaho Seventh Day Church of God group, Bjorling fails to realize that they keep the Holy Days. This is very poor research!
On page 26, the Denver group is misrepresented by the false statement that they consider fish and fowl unclean. The fact is, the Denver group considers only those fish and fowl clean and unclean that are prohibited in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. On page 55, Bjorling states that Armstrong was the only minister of his church up until 1947 and the foundation of Ambassador College. Not so! Armstrong ordained Wolverton, Heibel, Day, Ellis, Blake, Neff and others to work with him during the 1933-1946 period. On page 138, Bjorling errs when he states that Raymond Cole founded the Church of God, The Eternal in 1974. It was actually 1975, and Bryce Clark was not a founding minister of the group. All these and other errors point to sloppy scholarship.
(4) The book is decidedly biased. The Church of God, Seventh Day proper is not well covered. Bjorling fails to mention the major development in the 1980's of the proposed merger of the Denver and Meridian groups. He devotes more space to Giving & Sharing's literature than to the Denver Group, which has a much wider circulation. Bjorling is a student of religious cults and sects. He overemphasizes a few minor fringe groups, even some that don't keep the Sabbath, while neglecting some of the major groups. He correctly places the Worldwide Church of God and the Sacred Name Movement in the Church of God Seventh Day grouping of churches.
(5) Bjorling's book fails to fulfil its purpose. The average Sabbath-keeper won't spend $48 for this book. Library and religion research centers who will buy this book are not served by a book riddled with typographical and factual errors. A religious researcher cannot use this bibliography for further research, because almost none of the material is available in the ordinary university or public research library, and no addresses are given for the different groups so the individual researcher cannot get copies of the material to evaluate.
(6) Bjorling promotes liberal theology. In the appendix section of his book, Bjorling attempts to briefly refute the Sabbath and Sacred Name. He gives superficial arguments against the Sabbath, and does not mention Samuele Bacchiocchi's book, From Sabbath To Sunday, which destroys Bjorling's anti-Sabbath ideas. Bjorling accepts Dr. Ernest Martin's Protestant anti-law teachings. Bjorling's anti-Sacred Name section is nauseating. He accepts the "higher criticism" belief that the Old Testament was written by different groups of conflicting sources, the so-called "J," "E," and "P" documents. These documents exist only in the minds of anti-Bible critics.
Bjorling threw his book together. This does a disservice to the Churches of God, Seventh Day groups.
If you are really interested in the various Sabbath keeping groups, you should get the Directory of Sabbath-Observing Groups from the Bible Sabbath Association, Route 1 Box 222, Fairview, Oklahoma, 73737. It is updated every five years or so. The Directory is a far more useful research source than Bjorling's bibliography. This comprehensive book lists hundreds of different groups, their major doctrines and literature, and addresses so you can do your own research. There is a bias here as well: each section is usually written by the group itself. In some cases, there may be exaggerations as to membership numbers, and a misrepresentation as to real doctrinal beliefs. Use the Directory to obtain the address for literature listed in Bjorling's book. Do your own research.
Giving & Sharing, PO Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849