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


Tom Mahon said...

The moment I visited your blog and discovered that you have chosen to concealed your identity, I immediately ignored all that you have written, however sensible it might be.

What have you done that you can't add your name to the comments you make? Are you afraid that God may read your name and discover who you are? Are you a criminal hiding from the police?

Supposed Jesus had adopted your strategy of preaching to the world under an alias? said...

Tom Mahon:

You certainly have the right to choose not to read or consider what is written anonymously, for whatever reasons you have, just as I have the right to publish anonymously as I choose.

Obviously, you and I think differently about what we read. When I read something, I do not care so much who the author is as much as I care about what I am reading. Sometimes I might be curious about the author, but I can learn as much from an anonymous author as from someone who gives his name. For example, in Gavin Rumney's Ambassador Watch blog, I have enjoyed and learned from a number of anonymous commenters, when what they say makes sense, if it is informative, if it suggests new ideas I had not considered before, if it is courteous and respectful to others and to the truth of the Bible, etc. The quality of what is written is more important to me than the name of the author.

My name would mean nothing to you. I am unknown to the larger Church of God world, except by my pen name, "" I am not an apostle, prophet, evangelist, minister, or deacon. I supervise no one in the Church. I am just a lay member of the Church with absolutely no special standing in the Church of God or any of its fellowships.

Before I published this blog, I published the full-length book Preaching the Gospel, and when I published I had to make a decision about whether to publish under my real name or anonymously or with a pen name. I knew that in print publishing, use of a pen name (or "pseudonym") is not unusual, and on the Internet it is quite common. In fact, in all my blogging and partipation in forums, it is extremely rare for anyone to express curiousity about my name, nor am I curious about the names of others. What I and other bloggers write stands or falls on its own merits, not on the force of the author's personal name.

I had a number of reasons for publishing anonymously. I know that in the Church of God landscape, there is often too much of an emphasis on personalities and not enough on the Bible. I wanted what I wrote in my book to stand or fall entirely on its own merits, based on the scriptures and on the facts, not on the name of a person. That is why I back up what I teach with scriptures and with history, and I give reasons for what I write, so each reader can evaluate my points based on scripture, history, and logic.

I also know that there is a natural suspicion, and a common accusation, against those who publish, that they are trying to draw a following after themselves for personal gain. I did not want that to become a stumbling block for readers, so I published anonymously and I put my writings in the public domain rather than claiming copyright protection. Anyone can copy my writings, edit and re-publish them, or use them anyway they see fit. This should show that I am not doing this to build a personal following or to make money.

(part 1 of 3 - continued next comment) said...

(part 2 of 3)

But whatever reasons I might have for being anonymous or using the pen name "" as my identifier, they are not valid if it is a sin for me to withhold my name. So I had to ask, does the Bible teach that it is wrong for someone to withhold his name? I had to look to see what the examples in the Bible teach.

You mention the example of Jesus Christ giving his name, but Christ did not give His name in every situation and context. Christ sometimes withheld His name, even from those who asked. Jacob asked His name after he wrestled with Him, but He did not tell Jacob His name. Likewise, when the father of Samson asked the Angel of the LORD (most likely Christ) His name, He refused (Judges 13:17-22). Christ told Moses that even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not know Him by His name LORD (Hebrew YHWH, the Eternal) but only knew Him as "God Almighty" (Exodus 6:2-3). In the Kingdom, we will be given new names that only we will know, so we will not necessarily share our new name with everyone (Revelation 2:17).

I also looked at the books of the Bibles and in many cases the books do not contain the names of the authors. Hebrews falls into this catagory, but there are many books in the Old Testament that likewise are not signed by the authors. Many feel strongly that Paul wrote Hebrews, and they may be right, but Paul did not include his name in the letter as he did in his other letters. He must have had good reasons for not including his name, and God had a reason or reasons for not inspiring Paul, or whoever the author was, to sign his name. Likewise, I have reasons for not publishing my personal name. For all we can prove from the Bible, the book of Hebrews could have had more than one author working in collaboration - I don't know. But not knowing the author's name takes nothing from the book and its value, just as it takes nothing from the books of Judges, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, or 2 Chronicles.

What all these examples show is that the Bible does not teach that it is a sin to withhold one's name. Sometimes a name is given and sometimes it is not. It depends on the circumstances.

As far as my personal background is concerned, if you are curious, I am male, a computer programmer, in my fifties. I was raised Catholic, became a Plain Truth reader when I was 18 years old, and was baptized and began attending Worldwide Church of God in my early thirties while Mr. Armstrong was still alive. I have never been ordained in any capacity, nor have I ever given sermons or sermonettes, nor have I ever written anything for any publication of a Church of God fellowship.

I sometimes get correspondence by email, and occasionally someone will ask my name, but most people are not curious, and instead focus their questions or comments on what I have written in my books and articles, not on me personally. It is those who are most focused on what the Bible says, not on personalities, that I am trying to reach anyway.

(continued next comment) said...

(part 3 of 3)

I also know that there is a spirit of judgmentalism among some in the Church of God, and some will judge me for not publishing my name, but I will trust the judgment of God in this matter.

By the way, you might consider John 5:43-44 and John 7:3-5, and what it says about putting an emphasis on personal names and personalities more that the Word of God.

Some people just try to find fault in others and look for excuses to criticize. I hope you do not fall into that catagory. I know that no matter what I do I cannot please people like that. Jesus spoke of those in His generation in Matthew 11:16-19 when He said that people found fault with John the Baptist for not eating and drinking, then found fault with Jesus for eating and drinking! Likewise today, if a man publishes with his name, critics will say, "He is drawing a following for himself for the money," but if he publishes anonymously, they say, "He is a coward. He won't give his name." I know I cannot please people like that, and I will not try.

God gives wisdom for making a particular decision to the one who has to make the decision, more than to onlookers who observe the decision. That is why God warns us to be careful about judging the decisions of others. Unless you can find clear scriptural teaching that it is a sin for a writer to publish anonymously, why second-guess my decision in a harsh manner?

Matt said...

I sympathize with you. My church split about a year ago. There was a contentious issue that was discussed at a congregational business meeting. The people who were disagreeable with the policies of Elders voted against the church budget. It passed and they left our congregation.

Anonymous said...

BRAVO! I just heard of your blog, and am visiting for the first time. I must say that this comment on writting anonymously is the BEST rebuttal I've ever read! I am excited to read what else you have in here. God bless! said...

Thank you, anonymous for your kind words.

Tom Mahon actually did me a favor by commenting as he did. Until that time, I usually sent an individual email reply about why I am anonymous to those who email me asking who I am. This was the first time someone said this in a blog. Since this comment and my reply, I have gotten much fewer questions and complaints about me being anonymous, and when I do I usually refer them to this post and my comments here.

Welcome to my websites.

Checkout my online book, Preaching the Gospel, and go through the table of contents to get an idea about what it covers. Here is a link to the table of contents page: