Saturday, December 19, 2009

Church of God Governance

Since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, the Church of God has been scattered and split into many fellowships. The largest of these is United Church of God, but though they are the largest, they are not the most effective in preaching the gospel to the public, and they suffer from internal strife and divisions.

One pastor of that Church asked a friend, "What are we doing wrong? What can we do to revitalize the Work?" That is a good question. But I think the right answer is hard to take.

UCG kept most of the doctrines taught by HWA, but changed the doctrine of hierarchical government and built a system of balloting by the ministry to elect a board to govern the Church. They may have done this because they saw no alternative. But there was an alternative, and there still is, even for UCG pastors today.

Some in UCG may think that the Bible does not teach government from the top down, but it does. Some may have observed the fruits of one-man rule from Mr. Tkach and concluded that a lesson to be learned is the dangers of top-down government, but there is an explanation for that too. But in any case, the fruits of what is happening in UCG show the disadvantages of democracy, and it shows that UCG governance is a democracy, not a "spirit-led consensus." If it were really a spirit-led consensus, it would be hard to explain why God's Spirit would lead most of the voting ministry to approve a move to Texas, then after money was spent for such a move, disapprove it. It should be apparent that the same kinds of divisiveness, factionalism, and politicking that exists in American politics and government exist in UCG governance. You cannot revitalize the work in that kind of environment.

The Bible teaches us not to weaken the office of those in authority over us by openly criticizing them among ourselves, thus tending to show that an alternative elders' forum should not be used to harshly criticize those in power. On the other hand, the Bible teaches us to seek counsel before making a decision, and this means that those who vote must engage in discussions about those in authority to know whether to vote for or against them, and if those discussions are honest there will sometimes be harsh criticism. You cannot follow both of these principles if you have governance by ballot.

Democracy cannot work if criticism is stiffled. Having a system where those under authority select who will be over them in authority virtually guarantees negative criticism of the type that some say exists in the alternative elders' forum.

The contradiction is not between the two biblical principles of respecting authority and seeking counsel before making a decision. The contradiction is between the principles of the Bible and government by voting in the Church.

By placing themselves under the authority of a body of 500 voting ministers, the leadership and ministry have rejected the authority of Christ over the adminstrative work of the Church. That is one of the real sources of the trouble in United Church of God.

What is the solution for UCG ministers today?

When Herbert Armstrong faced disagreement with the ruling powers in Church of God Seventh Day, he has the courage to refuse further salary and trust God for his livelihood, according to his autobiography. Few ministers have that kind of courage or faith today, it seems.

Some pastors in UCG may be afraid to be independent, that is, to pastor their congregations independent of an elected body and trust God to provide them with sufficient member tithes from their congregation, and to report hierarchically to Christ until Christ can make it known by the fruits who He has selected to lead the Church. But if the UCG pastors had done that from the beginning, from the time they left Worldwide, by now it would probably be known who has shown the fruits of wisdom, faith, love, and courage required to lead the Church, and who God has blessed with success in doing His work, and the different pastors could have gathered to that man.

The passage of time is showing, and I think will continue to show, that democracy in the Church of God does not work.

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Should Each Member Promote His Own Opinion?, Chapter 6

When and How to Judge, Chapter 5

A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5

Government in the Church, Chapter 5

Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6

Church Government, Chapter 7

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Does Jesus Christ HATE Christmas?

Does Jesus Christ HATE Christmas?

Does God hate Christmas? Do God the Father and Jesus Christ hate Christmas no matter how it is kept?

Here is a quote from a post someone made in one in a forum: "To put it plainly, based on what God says in the Bible, I think God and Christ HATE Christmas with a passion. Figuratively speaking, I think it makes them want to vomit!"

Is that true?

To millions of people, Christmas represents the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And the birth of Jesus was a wonderful event, and the angels announced it as tidings of great joy (Luke 2:8-14). To others who are more secular, Christmas may represent a time of eating, drinking, music, and the giving of presents. To children, it may represent the receiving of presents from Santa Claus.

What does Christmas represent to God?

First, a bit of background. Ever wonder what an evergreen tree has to do with the birth of Jesus Christ, or why Christmas falls on December 25, close to the winter solstice (at one time, December 25 was thought to fall exactly on the Winter solstice)? If you look up the origin of the custom of Christmas in the encyclopedia, you will find that both the date and the customs come from paganism. The evergreen tree is a fertility symbol, and the winter solstice figured in sun worship because that is the date when the days would start getting longer. The mainstream Christian church adopted the pagan customs and day and converted them into a celebration of the birth of Christ as a method of trying to make conversion to Christianity easier for the masses who were already accustomed to observing that day as part of their pagan religion. That way, the masses could keep their tradition, but with a different meaning. Instead of worshipping the sun, the pagan day would be used to worship Christ. That was the human reasoning.

But what does God say?

"When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

Notice that God commands His people NOT to imitate pagan customs in the way they worship God, but only to worship God as He commands we worship Him. "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it."

"Thus says the Lord: 'Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, For the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; They fasten it with nails and hammers So that it will not topple" (Jeremiah 10:2-4).

God directly commands His people NOT to do what men have done with Christmas - appropriate pagan customs into the worship of God. God has given Israel and the Church seven annual holy days and festivals, days to be kept yearly, but the majority of Americans do not keep those days. Instead, they keep days like Christmas, days invented by men, adapted from false, pagan religions, and kept generation after generation by tradition, a tradition contrary to the will and commands of God. We have become like the ancient Pharisees, whom Jesus condemned for their hypocrisy, breaking the law of God to keep our traditions. "He said to them, 'All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition' " (Mark 7:9). God does not accept that kind of worship. When we worship Christ that way, we worship Him in vain. "...This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:6-7). Jesus called those who do this HYPOCRITES (first part of verse 6).

We are hypocrites if we claim that Christ is our Lord, but do not strive to do what God says. "But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). We can call Christ our brother, ONLY if we do the will of the Father and obey God's word, the Bible. "But He answered and said to them, 'My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it' " (Luke 8:21). "But He answered and said to the one who told Him, 'Who is My mother and who are My brothers?' And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother' " (Matthew 12:48-50).

What does Christmas represent to God the Father and Jesus Christ? It represents rebellion against God, because that is exactly what it is.

Do you think God accepts something just because you think your intentions are good? You think God is not concerned about the details of where Christmas originated?

Ancient King Saul thought he was doing the right thing when he offered sacrifices to God from the spoil he took from a mission God sent him on, spoil which God told him to destroy, not offer it as a sacrifice. God did not accept his sacrifice or his supposedly "good intention." God rejected him as king for not obeying exactly what God told him. "So Samuel said: 'Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king" (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

Christmas also represents hypocrisy, the same kind of hypocrisy the Pharisees were guilty of when they broke God's commandments to keep their traditions. We are hypocrites if we claim to honor Christ by disobeying God's command in Deuteronomy 12:29-32.

"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-20).

The quote from the forum post is from myself. I commented in a forum that God hates Christmas, because that is what I find in the Bible.

"But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).

What is your answer?

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Traditional Christian Holidays, Chapter 2