I firmly believe in the authority of the ministry and top leadership in the Church of God to make decisions in controversial issues.
This authority is challenged from time to time by individuals who strongly disagree about certain issues, strongly enough to oppose the leadership of the fellowship they are with on the issue. Their opposition may or may not be conscience driven. But it often results in the individuals leaving the fellowship they have been a part of, either by quitting or being put out.
But the leadership has been given authority by God to make decisions to carry out the organized work of the Church. Without the unity that comes from that authority, no Church of God fellowship can be very effective in doing the work of God.
And from time to time, that authority must be maintained and enforced.
Part of the maintenance of that authority includes teaching the whole fellowship about that authority - in sermons, sermonettes, and articles.
Since we in the Churches of God have a chosen tradition of believing and obeying the Bible, such authority must come from the Bible and be taught from the Bible. Brethren must be taught, from the Bible, what God says about the authority of the ministry to make decisions in controversial issues, such as the wearing of face masks, singing hymns, or any other matter of detail. The ministry does not have the authority to overturn, change, or abolish God's commands, such as changing the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week. But where the Bible is not clear, the ministry has the authority to decide details of how God's commands are to be kept.
Respect for and submission to church government has long been a major doctrine for the Church, and it is an important character lesson for us to learn to prepare us for the kingdom of God.
How is this to be taught? What scriptures should be used to teach the authority of the leadership and ministry to make decisions for the Church?
There are two ways I have heard.
One is to use the "binding and loosening" scriptures of Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18, and also the "obey" or "rule" scriptures of Hebrews 13:7, 17, 13:24. I will quote these below. Used properly, these scriptures will be applied to decisions regarding the organized work of the Church: the teaching of doctrine, the preaching of the gospel, feeding the flock, caring for the poor, administrating the business of the Church, resolving disputes between members, discipline for unrepentant sin, policy regarding church services and church meetings, times and order of services, etc., baptisms and laying on of hands, etc. I will talk about this more later down below.
A second way is to emphasize the truth that Christ is the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23).
I think the first way is a better way to teach ministerial and leadership authority.
While it is true that Christ is the head of the Church, and there are many lessons in that truth, such as the love of Christ for the Church and Christ's authority over the Church, that is not a truth that is best used to support the authority of the ministry.
The problem with the second way, emphasizing that Christ is the head of the Church, is that, when used in the context of the authority of the ministry to make decisions, it carries some misleading baggage that many members, including myself, will not accept. It may hurt the credibility of the ministry more than it helps. I will explain as we go.
The scriptures about binding and loosening and obeying the ministry do not carry the same baggage. It is the best way to teach authority. It is entirely sufficient to make the necessary point about respecting and obeying government and authority in the Church. One can also use the examples in the Old Testament, especially about the examples of those who rebelled against the authority of Moses in the wilderness, and God's instructions to put to death those who refused to obey the priests and judges.
IS GOD CONCERNED ONLY ABOUT OUR OUTWARD WORDS AND ACTIONS, OR ALSO ABOUT OUR INNER THOUGHTS AND ATTITUDES?
To prepare and set the stage for the discussion that follows, I want to talk about our inner thoughts, attitudes, and motives and what they mean to God.
God is not just concerned with what we say and do. He is concerned with how we think and the innermost motives for what we say and do. He knows our hearts, and our hearts are important to Him.
Two people can do the same thing but for different motives. One can do something to help others motivated by love. Another can do exactly the same thing, but motivated by vanity and a desire to look good to others (Matthew 6:1-18). Outwardly, both look the same, but God looks at the heart, and He knows the difference.
God is concerned about both the outward actions and the inward thoughts and motives.
Faith is not an action, though it can lead to right action, but it is an inward state of mind. Abraham was justified by faith. His faith was counted by God as righteousness when he believed what God told him (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:5-9, James 2:21-24). Faith, a state of mind, is listed by Christ as one of the three weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). In other words, faith is a matter of law. To put it another way, God's law requires that we believe what God says. If we disbelieve God, we sin, for we have transgressed one of the three weightier matters of the law, and sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).
The two great commandments require us to love God and love our neighbors. Love is a state of mind, and it is directly connected with action to serve and help. But it is not action only. It is also a matter of the heart. It is heart and action, together. Paul explained that if he gave his body to be burned and gave all his goods to feed the poor (actions), but did not have love, it profits him nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
God wants us to obey the ministry and leadership of the fellowship we attend. But God is also concerned with our motives. WHY do we obey the ministry? That is important to God, even if a minister doesn't know or doesn't even care.
HOW WE HANDLE DISAGREEMENTS
We all have opinions. God gave us minds to reason with, and we do reason.
And sometimes we disagree with someone or something in our opinions. We may disagree with the leadership and ministry of the fellowship we attend. We may even disagree with something in the Bible, hopefully temporarily.
How we handle such disagreements, mentally, says something about where we place our faith. Faith is closely related to trust. The Old Testament talks much about trust in God and the New Testament talks about faith in God, but they are related. We believe God and His word, the Bible, because we trust God to tell us the truth and never lie to us (Psalm 19:7, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18, and John 10:35).
I am not perfect in faith, or love - far from it - but I will use myself as an example, because it will be easier to talk in the first person, and I understand and can articulate my own thinking better than that of others. I will explain how I try to handle disagreements and how I think I should handle disagreements.
I will start with the Bible. I long ago proved that God exists. I also proved, through fulfilled prophecy and the internal consistency of the Bible, that God inspired the Bible and that the Bible is God's word - God speaking. To believe God means to believe the Bible. To have faith in God means to have faith in His word, the Bible.
I also long ago made a commitment to God and myself, before baptism, that I would unconditionally believe His word, the Bible. I made a determination to trust that God will never lie to me in His word.
So when I read the Bible, I am committed to believe what I read. Some things I may not understand right away (I may not understand what God is saying), but to the degree I understand, I must believe and strive to obey. I may fall short because of human weakness from time to time, but I have never gone back on that commitment.
But as I said before, we all have opinions. Maybe some of you, if you have read this blog for a while, have noticed that I have opinions.
And sometimes I read something in the Bible that is contrary to my opinion. In other words, I find myself in disagreement with the Bible, and since the Bible is God speaking, I find myself in disagreement with God, at least at first.
How do I handle this?
I remind myself of my commitment to believe God and I try to set aside my disagreement and my opinion. I mentally reverse gears and try to agree with God. I remind myself that God is greater than I am, that He is perfect in knowledge, understanding, wisdom and righteousness, and I am not. His mind is far greater than mine, and if my opinion differs from His word, then my opinion is wrong and I must get rid of it. He has reasons for what He says that I may be too stupid or limited to know and understand. It is my job as a Christian to trust God's word and believe it in everything. I have to sacrifice, or "put to death", any disagreement I have with God. I don't say I do a perfect job of this, but I acknowledge at least that this is what I should do, and as a way of life, I try to live this way.
Ok, what about disagreements I may have with the ministry and leadership of the Church?
That is different.
Biblical faith is towards God, not men. I don't want to handle disagreements with the ministry the same way I handle disagreements with the Bible. I trust God 100% because I know He is incapable of error or sin. I do not want to trust men, even men who are ministers, the same way. For me, that would be idolatry. History and life experience show that all men are imperfect, all men are capable of error and sin, and the Bible shows this too.
Yet ministers, though they make mistakes, have authority from God to make decisions for the Church of God.
A note on terminology I am using: "leadership" or "government" in the Church of God is used to refer to men, not Christ. I don't remember hearing anyone in the Church refer to Christ as "leadership". So when I say, "leadership", I mean the president of a fellowship, or the chairman of the board, or the "apostle", or the pastor general, or the presiding evangelist, or whatever title may be used. The top guy. The top man. The top human being. Not Christ. Leadership in a larger sense can also include other high ranking ministers, such as a council of elders. They are the decision makers in the Church, under Christ.
So what do I do if I find myself in disagreement with the leadership of a Church of God fellowship I attend when I am under the authority of that leadership? The disagreement can be over a matter of doctrine or a matter of policy.
I try to keep an open mind. I try to be humble and realize I could have made a mistake. This is the attitude I should have (but I am human). But the leadership is human too, and they all admit they make mistakes. I keep that in mind also.
If it is important, I may discuss it with the ministry, privately and respectfully. Or I may keep the matter to myself.
But I do not discuss it with other members, or I should not. That causes division. That inevitably undermines the authority of the ministry in the eyes of others if I contradict or criticize the leadership and ministry. So I keep the matter quiet in my own heart (1 Corinthians 1:10, Romans 16:17).
I believe and am convinced that the respect God wants us to have for the ministry includes not contradicting them or criticizing them with other members. The exception would be something foundational and of major importance, such as some of the issues that came up with Mr. Tkach. But in that case, I would expect to leave. I would not stay in a fellowship that taught Sunday as the Sabbath, the trinity, the immortality of the soul, Christmas, and Easter. In that case, while on my way out the door, I might briefly speak my mind to whoever asks me why I am leaving.
Assuming the matter I disagree with is not foundational (not a minister saying God makes mistakes, the Bible cannot be trusted, etc.), how do I handle my disagreement with the leadership, besides not criticizing or causing division?
If the matter of my disagreement is a matter of church doctrine - the doctrines that may be taught by the Church - I keep the matter in my own heart. My beliefs are based on the Bible, and I must believe the Bible first.
If I see something in the Bible that contradicts what the leadership teaches, I will believe God more than man. Someone would have to show me my error in the Bible, or God would have to open my mind to see my error, before I will change. It has to come from the Bible. I will not believe anything the ministry teaches that contradicts the Bible. Ministers will have to prove their case by the Bible. If they can't prove a doctrine that way, I am not obligated to believe that doctrine. I don't talk about my disagreement, I don't promote it as a pet idea, I don't create division among the members. But I believe what I see in the Bible more than the Church. I keep it within my heart. And I won't lie about it and tell people I agree with the Church when I don't. I avoid discussion of that point.
I will never assume, as one minister taught his listeners to do, that the ministry is right in its interpretation of the Bible. That is what Catholics do. But we in the Church of God must let the Bible interpret the Bible, as Mr. Armstrong tried to do and taught the Church of God to do.
Incidentally, Mr. Armstrong was an example of one who would never believe the ministry or leadership of the Church he attended more than what he saw in his own Bible. He always believed God more than man, even ministers. He always let the Bible interpret the Bible. He always believed God first, more than the traditions or leadership of any Church. (By "always" I mean after he learned the truth.) And that was not because he was an apostle. That was his way of life from the beginning before he was an apostle or even a minister, from the earliest days when he attended with the Church of God Seventh Day. It was simply a part of a way of life of trusting God more than man (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
And he taught that way of life to his radio listeners. He said, "Don't believe me, believe God, believe your Bible", or words to that effect. And those who did just that and proved the truth in the Bible backed up Mr. Armstrong with their tithes and offerings and helped build the Church of God. We are here because they believed God more than their own ministers and traditions.
Getting back to the main thread of this discussion, if the disagreement I have is over Church policy, such as the wearing of face masks or singing of hymns or any other detail, I will obey the ministry even while I disagree. I will cooperate the best I can. The only exception is if they tell me to violate a clear command of God. If they tell me to tell a lie, I will refuse, because the Bible is clear that God commands we not lie. If they command me to paint a widow's house on the Sabbath, I will refuse. But if they tell me to wear a face mask, I will cooperate, cheerfully if I can, even if I disagree with that policy. Not only will I cooperate and obey, but I will do my best to help make the policy work as the ministry wants it to work. At least I should do that (did I mention I am human?).
A football analogy helps here (there are some advantages to watching football, I guess).
In a game, the quarterback is calling the plays. Not all quarterbacks choose their plays - sometimes plays are called by the coach and sent in - but some experienced and trusted quarterbacks choose and call their own plays. So in my example, the quarterback calls the plays.
He calls a pass play. But a player thinks that is a mistake. He thinks it is a bad call. He figures the other side expects a pass play, and this would be a good time for a running play.
But the quarterback is in charge and he calls a pass play. And the player who disagrees, cooperates. He does his very best to make the play work. All the players try to make the play work whether they agree with the call or not.
Maybe the call for a pass play really is a mistake. But everyone works as a team to make it work, because if they went in different directions, you would have chaos. The team would lose the game.
That is the attitude I should have if I disagree with a Church command to wear a face mask and practice social distancing at services. Not only should I obey, but I should try to make the policy work out. I should give 100% support. I should not talk against the policy. No one should know I disagree.
TEACHING PRINCIPLES OF AUTHORITY IN THE CHURCH
What is wrong with using "Christ as head of the Church" scriptures to teach respect and obedience to the authority of the ministry and leadership?
I said it carries bad baggage. What is that baggage?
Here are the scriptures: "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:23). "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18).
These scriptures teach us about our relationship with Christ, that it is a marriage relationship, and they teach us about the love Christ has for us. They can teach us many things.
But we should be careful how we use them to back up the authority of men - leaders and top ministers - in the Church.
When these scriptures are used to back up ministerial authority, there is an unspoken implication that the decisions made by the ministry and leadership are correct decisions, because Christ, as head of the Church, guides those decisions. To disagree with those decisions is to disagree with Christ. That is the message, right? Why else emphasize that Christ is the head of the Church?
The problem is that, the fact that Christ is the head of the Church does not mean that the decisions made by the leadership are correct and have Christ's approval. Why? Two reasons.
One, Christ allows ministers and leaders to make mistakes. All ministers I know of admit they make mistakes. But they may say that Christ will not allow them to make mistakes that would harm the Church. I will give an example later of a mistake allowed by Christ that may have harmed anyone who believed and followed the mistake.
But also, Christ does not take away free moral agency. Men sin. Christians sin. Ministers and leaders sin. And God allows it. Even God's true servants have human weaknesses and sin. They do not always believe and teach from the Bible honestly. A minister can be dishonest with scriptures and not fully realize it in his own mind. He thinks he is being honest, but deep in his mind he is not fully believing what God says. Any of us can have this problem. "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). It is not just the heart of the unconverted that is deceitful. A converted Christian can also deceive himself. The difference between the converted and the unconverted is that the converted have the opportunity, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to overcome Satan and human nature. He can excape from self-deception, but it takes time, and he may not fully do it.
The leadership of a Church of God fellowship may not follow where Christ leads. Christ will offer perfect leadership, and that leadership comes primarily through the Bible, but ministers and top leadership do not always follow Christ's lead. They may follow His lead in some things, but not in others. They may follow His lead 99%, or 90%, or 75%, or 40%, or not at all.
To feel certain that the decisions made by ministers led by Christ are correct, we must not only have faith in Christ that He will exercise perfect leadership, which is right, but we must also have faith in the ministry and leadership that they will follow where Christ leads, which is wrong. They may not follow, and thus the decisions they make may not be from Christ at all.
Using Christ-as-the-head-of-the-Church argument to justify decisions, implying that those decisions are right because they are from Christ and the leadership follows Christ, implies and requires faith in the human ministry which properly belongs only to God. Otherwise, it does not show that decisions are right and does not back up ministerial authority.
So if the leadership makes a decision on policy that I think is a mistake and I do not agree with, I do not try to force myself to mentally agree. I do not assume the leadership is right and I am wrong because Christ is head of the Church. It may be that the leadership is not following Christ's lead on that point. And if my disagreement is based on a true understanding of the Bible, that is probably the case.
But I cooperate. I obey. Like a football player, I support the quarterback and try to make the play work even if the play called by the quarterback is less than the best.
There are plenty of passages in the Bible that directly teach respect for and obedience to the commands of the ministry. These include binding and loosening authority, obey those who rule over you, and many others, including case examples from old and new testaments.
But using the Christ-as-head-of-the-Church argument subtlety teaches faith in man, which is idolatry.
Does Christ-as-head-of-the-Church argument for ministerial authority really lead to faith in man?
Yes. I am not making this stuff up. I do not have an over-active imagination in this case.
Immediately after a sermon in which a minister used the Christ-as-head-of-the-Church argument to justify authority, another minister, in giving the closing prayer, asked God to help us have faith in the leadership of the Church. You can be sure He was not talking about Christ when he said, "leadership". He was praying that we have faith in men, the top man and the top ministers in the Church - faith that they will follow where Christ leads. That's one prayer I could not say "Amen" to. I do not want that kind of faith in men. If I had that kind of faith, I would have had faith in Mr. Armstrong to do what he said and follow Mr. Tkach, whether Mr. Tkach followed the Bible or not. I would have fallen away from the truth.
I am glad I never had that kind of faith.
Why did the man who gave the closing prayer ask God to give us faith in the human leadership? He understood, correctly, that the sermon speaker in using the Christ-as-head-of-the-Church argument to back authority was implying trust and faith in human beings to follow Christ. He knew that. He knew what was being implied and taught. He just didn't know it was wrong.
The Bible is clear that we are not to have faith or trust in man, but only God. Ministers who think they are exceptions because they are ministers are not exceptions.
I can give ministers respect, love, cooperation, support, and obedience, even though they are not perfect. But not faith. Not absolute trust. That is a form of worship, and it rightfully belongs only to God.
IDOLATRY IN THE CHURCH
The Bible and history are full of examples of those who have broken the second commandment, and sometimes the first as well, by making and using physical images and idols as objects of worship or as "aids" to worship. We may mentally laugh at their stupidity. God Himself in the Bible pokes fun at their foolishness.
We think we are immune. But any member of the Church of God can make an idol out of His minister or the top leader of His fellowship.
We have the same human nature as the people of ancient times. Our minds naturally want to worship something we can see or someone we can talk to face to face. As the ancients used images made of wood, stone, or precious metals to represent what they think God looked like, so we today can use the person of a minister to represent God and what He teaches. That is easier than Bible study, isn't it? Just ask the minister a question, and believe what he tells you as if it is from God. That saves time.
The Church of God ministers must know this can happen. Do they warn against it?
When was the last time you heard a sermon titled, "The Dangers of Making an Idol out of Your Minister"? If you never hear that, is that because there is no danger - that it never happens? Or is it because the ministry itself does not see it as a bad thing and a danger?
I promised examples to help prove my point. Here are two.
Think back to the last weeks or months of Mr. Armstrong's life. He was dying. After all the years he did God's work with energy and zeal, after all the study he did, after all the experiences he had and lessons he learned, after all the healings and fastings, he knew he would soon die. If ever his spiritual discernment was at the maximum, you would think this would be the time.
He named Mr. Tkach as his successor. Some think this was a mistake, but it was not. Mr. Armstrong's thinking was in error. He thought Mr. Tkach would be faithful to the doctrines Mr. Armstrong taught. But it was the correct decision for a different reason. Christ wanted to try and test the Church of God for our good in the end. So Christ appointed Mr. Tkach for the purpose of testing and scattering the Church. And Christ is still testing us today. So Mr. Armstrong made the right decision, but for the wrong reason, and Christ allowed that.
But before this, Mr. Armstrong made a mistake, a serious mistake that hurt anyone who believed and followed that mistake, but it was not the naming of Mr. Tkach.
The mistake I am referring to happened before Mr. Tkach was named. It was something Mr. Armstrong said in a sermon, I think in his last sermon to the whole Church.
He talked about his impending death. He talked about government. He said that if he should die Christ would provide a new pastor general and that we better follow that pastor general and stay united if we want to be in the kingdom of God. Maybe not those exact words - I am not quoting - but pretty close to those words. You can probably find a recording of that sermon on the Internet someplace.
And what is important in this example is that Mr. Armstrong did not qualify our "following" that man on his following the Bible. He didn't say, follow the next pastor general as he follows Christ. He didn't say, follow the next pastor general as he follows the Bible. There was no mention of the Bible regarding following the next pastor general. And this from a man who built the Church on radio broadcasts that said, "Don't believe me. Don't believe any man. Believe God. Believe your Bible", or words to that effect.
I am not judging or criticizing Mr. Armstrong personally. I deeply respect him and I miss him. I look forward to meeting him in the kingdom of God. I never met him in this life. God did a tremendous work through him.
But if God allowed a man as important as Mr. Armstrong to tell the Church we better follow Mr. Tkach (not the Bible) if we want to be in the kingdom of God, then Christ could allow any leader today to make errors just as serious. I don't know of any leader that rates himself greater than Herbert W. Armstrong. Or maybe some do, but they don't openly admit it (they wouldn't dare).
And make no doubt about it - it was a very serious error. Anyone who believed and obeyed that statement of Mr. Armstrong would soon fall away from the truth.
And some did have faith in Mr. Armstrong. Some have faith in him today, saying his teachings should never be changed. Let them go follow Mr. Tkach or his son and their teachings. That was what Mr. Armstrong said to do. Let them not change that doctrine.
But Christ allowed it. Why? Probably to teach us a lesson, that we should not give ministers the same trust and faith we give to God and the Bible.
Here is an example from the Bible.
God saved Israel through a man named Gideon. Gideon was faithful to God, and God did a great work through him (Judges 6:11-4, 7:1-25, 8:1-13).
The people of Israel were grateful to Gideon and wanted him as their ruler. Gideon said, "I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you" (Judges 8:23). So far, so good. Gideon seemed to start with the right attitude and approach.
But then, Gideon made an idol, and it became a snare to him and his house and Israel (Judges 8:24-27). Yet, hundreds of years later, Gideon is mentioned in the faith chapter of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:32-33). So apparently God forgave him, and I expect that he will be in the kingdom of God.
But it was still a serious error made by someone through whom God did a great work. And it was a snare to those who believed and followed his error. They should have respected Gideon's office, but had no part in his idol.
Those who disagreed with Mr. Armstrong's statement that we should follow Mr. Tkach were not disagreeing with Christ, though Christ is the head of the Church. And those in Gideon's day who may have disagreed with his idol were not disagreeing with Christ.
And if you disagree with the leadership of the fellowship you attend, you are not necessarily disagreeing with Christ, who is the head of the Church. The leadership may not be following Christ, and their decisions may not come from Christ, though Christ allows those decisions.
But disagree quietly. Respect the office. Cooperate as much as possible. Wait on God. That is God's way.
SUMMARY OF MINISTERIAL AUTHORITY
God has given the ministry authority over certain things. But not everything. It is a limited authority. It has boundaries.
Basically, the leadership and ministry have authority over the organized work of the Church. This includes policies on the conduct of Sabbath and holy day and feast services. It includes preaching the gospel to the world. It includes disciplining church members who have unrepentant sin. It includes counseling in a variety of matters. It includes teaching and answering questions. It includes financial aid to the poor and serving the needs of the brethren in various ways. It includes resolving disputes between members. It includes determining the doctrines that may be taught so we all speak the same thing. It includes determining who will hold offices of deacon, local elder, pastor, evangelist, etc. It includes baptizing and the laying on of hands and anointing for healing. It includes praying for the membership, which the ministry should do.
Notice: "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:28). "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16).
But ministers do not have authority over family matters not related to the organized work of the Church. They do not decide if the wife takes a job, or what house the family buys, where they live, how much TV the kids watch, where they go for vacation, whether they eat steak or chicken for dinner, etc. In these matters, the husband rules under Christ directly, not through the ministry. "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:23). "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Ephesians 6:1).
"But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3).
And no man, minister or husband, has authority over any member in the matter of personal faith, prayer, and obedience to God's way of life as commanded in the God's word, the Bible. We each have a direct relationship with God our Father authorized by Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3, Galatians 3:28-29). When we pray, we pray to God directly, not through the ministry. When a wife prays, she prays to God directly, not through her husband.
If a minister, or a husband, or any person commands any of us to break one of God's commandments, we must obey God rather than man. In this case, Christ's rulership of each individual member is direct, not through the Church.
We communicate to God directly. When we pray, we speak to God, and when we read the Bible, God speaks to us. And God gives each of us the Holy Spirit to help us.
PREACHING THE GOSPEL
God promises Philadelphian Christians an open door for preaching the gospel (Revelation 3:8).
The Philadelphia era of the Church of God is over. We are in the Laodicean era, and the Laodicean condition is predominant over the majority of the whole Church of God.
But there are still a few Philadelphian members, not the majority, but some. They will finish God's work of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, and then will go to a place of safety before the tribulation begins (Revelation 3:10).
These Philadelphians may be scattered. But to the extent any fellowship has Philadelphians within itself, God will give that fellowship an open door for the gospel for the sake of the Philadelphians within it. Yet, that door may not be open wide, just a little, if that fellowship itself - the leadership, ministry, and majority of the members - is not Philadelphian in character.
Mr. Armstrong had a wide open door. The Plain Truth magazine had a circulation between seven and ten million. Today, no fellowship has a truly wide open door. Few if any fellowships have a magazine circulation more than 500,000. We are today only scratching the surface of what needs to be done.
It may be helpful to look closely at Mr. Armstrong's way of life to see why God blessed him with a wide open door for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning.
What is needed for preaching the gospel at this time?
To be effective, we cannot tell our audience to believe us because we are the true church and have the true ministers. They just won't believe or respect that kind of message. They think they have the truth, so why should they believe us? They think their church is the true church and their ministers are the true ministers, and how can we refute that by our own authority - authority they do not recognize? We are fools if we try that approach.
We have to use God's word as our authority. We have to tell the people to believe God, to believe God's word, the Bible, not us, not any man or minister or church or tradition. That is the only approach that has any logic behind it.
That is what Mr. Armstrong did when he told his audience not to believe him but to believe God, to believe the Bible. Then he proved his case by the Bible. He also taught that we should not let any man interpret the Bible for us but to let the Bible interpret itself.
But in God's way of life, a man must practice what he preaches. If we preach a message, even the right message, but do not practice that message, God is less likely to bless us in the preaching of that message. To obtain God's blessing to be effective, we have to practice what we preach, right?
Christ is our example. He taught the truth, but also practiced the truth - He practiced what He preached.
So whoever God chose to preach the gospel in this end time, a gospel that is different from what most people have grown up believing, a gospel that requires that people learn new things from the Bible and believe the Bible more than their church traditions, the man or group that does the preaching must practice that same way - the way of believing the Bible directly, not as interpreted by any man or group, and the way of learning new things from the Bible - growing in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). Because that is exactly what those who listen to us must do to respond to our message. That is exactly what we are asking people to do. And we must do the same thing for God to bless us with an open door.
Look at the history of the Church over the last 100 years. You can get much of this history from Mr. Armstrong's autobiography, and some of it you may have observed as it happened since the autobiography was written.
Mr. Armstrong first began attending the Church of God Seventh Day. While Mr. Armstrong was a lay member, maybe before, God had started revealing new knowledge from the Bible to Mr. Armstrong.
But first, God tested Mr. Armstrong. In fact, God tested Loma Armstrong before that.
A Church of God member revealed, through the Bible, the truth about the Sabbath to Loma Armstrong.
This was a test. Would Mrs. Armstrong believe the Bible or her own church traditions? Was she willing to believe God or man? Was she willing to learn new things from the Bible?
She was. She believed God more than her traditions and what she was taught by ministers. She was willing to learn new things from God. She believed God about the Sabbath.
She joyously brought this new knowledge of the truth to her husband.
But Mr. Armstrong did not accept it, at first. He commanded her to give up the Sabbath, but she refused, obeying God rather than man.
So Mr. Armstrong carefully studied the issue in the Bible.
In the end, he was faced with a choice - to believe God or the traditions and teaching of men. He also passed the test. He believed God more than man.
He began to fellowship with the Church of God Seventh Day. God had revealed or was in the process of revealing new truth to Mr. Armstrong, including the identity of the lost ten tribes of Israel and the need for the Church to keep the annual holy days and festivals of God.
The Church of God Seventh Day did not have these new truths, and Mr. Armstrong began to share new knowledge of God's truth with them, truth he was discovering in the Bible. And notice, he did this while only a lay member. Though he was only a lay member, in effect, he disagreed with the Church of God Seventh Day about certain doctrines, and he tried to teach them from the Bible.
He was in exactly the same position as a sincere, converted COG member who sends a study paper to headquarters of the fellowship he attends suggesting new knowledge or a change in doctrine, trying to be helpful.
In effect, God was using a lay member of the Church of God (in the person of Mr. Armstrong) to test the Church of God Seventh Day and its leadership to see if they were willing to practice what needed to be preached - to see if they were willing to believe God (through the scriptures Mr. Armstrong showed them) more than their traditions and more than their leadership and ministry. They were not. They failed the test. They were not willing to learn new things from the Bible, things different from their traditions and what their leadership and ministry taught them. (A few lay members apparently were willing to believe and learn from God, but not the leadership, ministry, and Church as a whole.)
So picture this. God needed someone to preach to the public that they should believe God more than their churches and their traditions and be willing to learn new things from the Bible. But first, whoever God gave that job to had to be willing to do the same thing.
So God first tested Loma Armstrong. She passed the test.
Then God used Loma to test Mr. Armstrong. After some initial resistance, he passed the test.
Then God used Mr. Armstrong to test the Church of God Seventh Day. They failed the test.
So God could not use Church of God Seventh Day to get the message out to the world. They were not willing to practice what needed to be preached. He could not give that group the open door promised to Philadelphia. Mr. Armstrong eventually, when he understood the eras of the Church, concluded that Church of God Seventh Day was Sardis in their spiritual condition.
Instead, God gave that job to Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong, both of whom passed the test. God gave them an open door, and the Philadelphia era of the Church of God began.
But Mr. Armstrong is dead, and we still need an open door to finish the work. Hundreds of millions of Israelites need to hear a warning message while there is time for them to repent and escape the tribulation. They need to hear that message so they know God is fair to warn them. They need to learn to trust God, and how hard that will be if they don't get a warning.
We have an open door, but it is open only a little - not wide open, not open enough to do the job that needs to be done.
We need God's blessing for more power and a wide open door to really finish the work.
But for that we have to pass the same test Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong passed, and Church of God Seventh Day failed - to practice what we preach, to learn new knowledge from the Bible, to believe God more than any leadership, minister, or tradition. We have to believe God directly - letting the Bible interpret the Bible - more than we believe the Church of God and its leadership, ministry, and traditions.
That is the price we have to pay to give a warning message to 500 million Israelites before the great tribulation begins.
Philadelphian Christians will be willing to pay that price. They will respect human authority in the Church, but will believe God more than man. They will learn new things from God. They will love their neighbors enough to sacrifice for the gospel and the warning, financially and otherwise. They will do what it takes. Those of other spiritual conditions, such as Laodicea and Sardis, will not.
A couple of incidental points about Philadelphia while I am on that subject.
Some members and groups claim to be Philadelphian. But Philadelphia is one of two churches in the seven churches of Revelation that Christ has no criticism of, only praise. Thus, to claim to be Philadelphian is a form of self praise. I do not think that it is appropriate, especially for a group that has no open door or only a door open a little for preaching the gospel, to claim the title of Philadelphia.
If someone asks me, "Author, are you a Philadelphian?", if I say yes, I am praising myself. I would rather wait till Christ returns and let Him praise me, if that is His judgment. Claiming to be Philadelphian is not a sign of humility.
Rather, I should say that being or becoming Philadelphian is my goal, something I strive for, but have not yet reached. I have a lot to overcome - I know it and God knows it even if no one else does. I really need God's mercy.
I would also like to make the point that it is unlikely that any true Philadelphian at this time would leave a group and pull tithes and offerings out of that group that is effectively preaching the gospel to join a group that has not proven by fruits that it gives priority to preaching the gospel and has no effective work in that direction, even after many weeks since it started. A group that claims to be Philadelphian but has no effective work of preaching the gospel, does not have the open door Christ promises to Philadelphia. They may be a magnet for the unruly, but not a magnet to draw Philadelphians. I do not expect God to take away the open door from Philadelphians by sending them to a group that has no open door.
And if you want proof of what a group regards as important, follow the money. Look at their budget. That may sound cynical, but it is not. It is practical.
If a new group forms that is not willing to spend money on the gospel, but only on feeding the flock, I don't care how zealous their words are - they don't need my tithes and offerings.
For God to give us a wide open door, we must say to the public, don't believe us, believe God, believe your Bible, and let the Bible interpret the Bible. AND WE MUST PRACTICE THE SAME THING. We must be willing to learn new things from the Bible. We must be willing to believe what we see in the Bible more than what our leadership and ministers tell us. We must not let the ministry interpret the Bible for us, but we must let the Bible interpret the Bible. We must believe and obey God more than man, even more than the Church.
God hates a double standard (Exodus 12:49, Deuteronomy 25:13-16). The leadership and ministry must say the same thing to their tithe-paying members as to the general public - don't believe us, believe God, believe the Bible.
Christ is the head of the Church, but using that truth to imply that the decisions and doctrines of the Church are always from Christ, or to use that truth to support the authority of the leadership, undermines what we have to practice to preach the gospel, because it implies that the leadership and ministry follow where Christ leads, which is not always the case. That approach teaches faith in man, which is wrong.
To preach the gospel powerfully, we have to practice what we preach, and we cannot have faith in our Church of God leadership more than the Bible, because we do not want our audience we preach to to have faith in their ministers more than the Bible.
God and the Bible must come first, the Church second. Philadelphians must understand this.
IMPORTANCE OF MENTAL ATTITUDE - DO WE HAVE TO SAY EVERYTHING WE THINK?
Some people may not see or agree with the importance of what I am saying. After all, if a member does not outwardly criticize, disagree, and cause division, what difference does it make how he thinks inwardly? Especially to ministers, this may seem unimportant. If a member outwardly obeys, he pays his tithes, he stays in the organization, and he never criticizes, then he is a "good member" as far as the ministry is concerned. A minister may not know or care if the member makes an idol of the ministry and Church and believes the Church more than what he sees in his own Bible.
Yet God knows the hearts of the members, and the Bible is clear that the heart is very important to God.
And it is God who must open the door if we are to reach Israel and the world with the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning. He can open it wide or only a little, depending on the hearts of most of the members - and the ministers also.
A member can have an excellent relationship with the Church and the ministry, but not a good relationship with God. Ministers need to be concerned about that, if they love the brethren.
Some people have difficulty with the concept of disagreeing inwardly but not criticizing openly. To them, whatever pops into their minds comes out of their mouths. They don't know how to keep silent. They think it is hypocrisy. The whole idea of having an opinion contrary to the Church leadership based on believing God's word, the Bible, yet not telling other brethren about it is utterly foreign to them.
For them, to think is to talk. One requires the other. Silence is not golden. They can't keep secrets. They have diarrhea of the mouth. Don't tell your problems to such a one. They may gossip it all over the Church.
But that is not the way God and Christ are. They do not tell us everything they know, and they do not tell the world everything they think. Neither do they tell everything to the angels.
Believing what God says in the Bible more than the Church leadership, even when it causes one to disagree with the Church, yet refraining from talking about that disagreement and causing division, is the only way I know of to reconcile the principles of the Bible. If someone knows something different, I would like to hear it.