Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How Does Jesus Christ Lead the Church of God?

For those keeping up with the details of events in UCG, here is a link to a post that gives a timeline of recent events showing, among other things, that Mr. Leon Walker met with UCG's then president Roy Holladay before the Council of Elders requested a second meeting on the same subject, and that the Council of Elders voted to authorize Mr. Holladay to remove Mr. Walker before Mr. Walker left on his trip or refused to cancel his trip after being ordered to do so:

Here is a link to an announcement that Mr. Lauro Roybal is appealing the decision to suspend him and is filing charges of unethical behavior against the president and Council members for their actions:

Here is a link to a post containing a statement that many of the ministry in Latin America have formed an organization called "United Church of God of Latin America":

How does Christ lead the Church?

Mr. Dennis Luker recently gave a sermon titled "Christ is Head." It was a call for peace and unity in United Church of God. It was also a warning to those who would disrupt unity in United Church of God. Towards the end of the sermon, he called for a peaceful separation of those who cannot or will not support the Council of Elders. In the beginning of the sermon, Mr. Luker emphasized that Jesus Christ is always the head of the Church.

Is Jesus Christ the head of United Church of God?

The Church of God is the collective body of all humans who have God's Holy Spirit dwelling within them. Converted Christians make up the spiritual body of Christ, the Church. The Church of God as a spiritual body is not an organization, although it can be organized. You might have several organizations, but one spiritual Church. An organization may have both unconverted and converted people in it, but only those who are converted are part of the spiritual body of Christ, the Church. Sometimes we refer to an organization or a fellowship or a congregation as a church, so we can use the word "church" to mean different things, which we can determine by the context.

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church because he leads every converted Christian by His Spirit. In that way, He lives in us. "Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him' " (John 14:23). "To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). Paul said that Christ lived IN him.

But does that mean that everything we do is done by Christ living in us? No. Christ will lead us, but we are human and have carnal nature and we do not follow Christ perfectly. And God does not take away our free moral agency and FORCE us to follow Christ. We struggle against our human nature and we do not win every spiritual battle. We sin and we make mistakes. The same Paul who said, "Christ lives in me," also said, "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice" (Romans 7:19).

Christ leads the Church and its members, but we do not always follow as Christ leads us.

Christ leads us individually and is the head of every Christian to the degree we submit to Him. But does He also lead us organizationally? If a part of God's Church is organized into a corporate fellowship, does Christ lead that organization as its administrative head? Does Christ guide the decisions of that organization, and if so, how?

The pattern in the New Testament which God has given us as an example for our instruction is that God places individuals in leadership positions in His Church by appointment through the authority of those who do the appointing, then He guides those who have been appointed, from the top down. "Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 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 12:27-28). See also Ephesians 4:11. Jesus Christ was appointed by God the Father to be head of the Church. Neither men or angels voted Christ into office. Christ appointed Paul to be an apostle. "Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)" (Galatians 1:1). "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope" (1 Timothy 1:1). Paul was not elected to his office by the balloting of men. Other positions in the Church under Paul were by appointment, not by voting of men, as evidenced by Paul's command to Titus in Titus 1:5: "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you."

The tradition and practice in the New Testament Church of God is that people are placed in their offices and positions by appointment from above, either directly by God or by the authority of those whom God had already appointed. There is no tradition or practice of placing anyone in office by balloting. You can do your own personal Bible study on that. Look up in a concordance "vote," "voting," "voted," "ballot," "balloting," etc.

God gave us the book of Acts and other parts of the New Testament to show us how the New Testament Church of God operated. It is to be our example of how we should do things. The New Testament shows us the traditions of the Church of God. And the tradition for placing people in office in the Church is always by appointment, not voting.

"Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you" (1 Corinthians 11:2). "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle" (2 Thessalonians 2:15). "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

God COMMANDS us through the epistles of Paul to follow the traditions of the New Testament Church of God. Those who say there are no commands against voting in the Bible should consider that.

Look, if there were examples of balloting to select leaders in Acts, if Paul or others wee elected by men and God gave us examples to show us that this is the way leaders were selected, we would be REQUIRED to follow that tradition and use balloting to select our leaders. But it is just the opposite.

Why do we keep the holy days? It isn't just because they are commanded in the Old Testament. There are plenty of commands in the Old Testament that are not in force for the Church today, physical circumcision being perhaps the clearest example. We keep the holy days also because we see the examples in the New Testament Church that they kept the annual holy days. The scriptures that show that they kept those days are not many, but they are critically important, because without them we might be hard-pressed to know whether or not the holy days are part of the Old Testament practices that are no longer in force. Yet there are probably as many or more examples of the selection of men to offices in the Church by appointment from above as there are of people keeping the holy days. That was the tradition, the practice, the way of doing things in the first century Church of God, and God commands we follow those traditions.

How should we approach the question of voting?

As with any question of policy or practice, we should look to the Bible to know God's will on the subject. It is not a matter of indifference, or just saying, there are many forms of government, and it doesn't matter which one we choose. It does matter. God shows us in the Bible what the right form of government is. And government authority is always from the top down. God teaches us that by the examples in both the old and new testaments. We are to live by every word of God, not just by the direct commands and instructions, but by the examples God has given us for our instruction (Matthew 4:4, John 13:15, 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11, Philippians 3:17, 1 Peter 2:21).

God sometimes teaches us by showing the right pattern in the Bible as an example to follow (Exodus 25:8, 40, 26:30, Acts 7:44, 1 Timothy 1:16, Hebrews 8:4-5).

When we select men by the balloting of those who will be under the authority of those elected, we are not living by every word of God. Will God bless that?

Does Christ guide the voting of UCG ministers in their selection of leaders if the whole system of voting is contrary to the Father's will? Does Christ bless the outcome? Or does He allow the voting to follow a natural, carnal course to teach the Church lessons by the results?

Even though Christ is the head of the Church, there is still a right and a wrong way of doing things, and we in the Church do not always do things the right way. And when we do things the wrong way, we should not be surprised when Christ corrects us by bringing the natural results of our wrong ways on our heads. The Church is not always right, as evidenced by many of the messages to the seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

Mr. Luker emphasized that Christ is the head of the Church. But Christ cannot lead a corporate organization further than it is willing to follow, anymore than He can lead an individual Christian further than that person is willing to follow. And it seems to me, in light of the biblical examples of government and Paul's instruction to follow the traditions of the original, first century Church of God, that United Church of God as an organization has rejected Christ's rule and headship in favor of being ruled by the balloting of the collective ministry. If that is the case, Christ can only lead us as individuals to the degree we will individually submit to Him, but He does not lead the organization. He is the head of the Church, but he doesn't force anyone to obey Him.

In Old Testament Israel, the people wanted a king to rule them so they could be like all the other nations of the world. In asking for a king, they had rejected God as their king. "Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, 'Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.' But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, 'Give us a king to judge us.' So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, 'Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them' " (1 Samuel 8:4-7). God chose a king for them (1 Samuel 9:15-17, 10:1, 10:20). Even in this case, God made the decision who the king would be - God did not allow the people to choose their own king in an election. But though God gave them a king and ruled the nation through that king, Israel still sinned by rejecting God when they asked for a king (1 Samuel 10:19, 12:16-19). And God warned Israel that it was a mistake for them to have a king and that they would suffer the consequences, but they chose to have a king anyway (1 Samuel 8:9-22).

Likewise, in my opinion, United Church of God, as an organization, has rejected Jesus Christ as its head. And just as ancient Israel, and even Israel today, suffers the consequences of rejecting God as their king and chosing to have a human king, so God is letting United Church of God suffer the consequences of rejecting Christ as head of the organization and submitting to the rule of the collective ministry. The consequences include division and turmoil now, and there may be worse consequences in the future.

Has God abandoned UCG and its members? No. "...For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you' " (Hebrews 13:5). "...and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age..." (Matthew 28:20). Just as God did not abandon ancient Israel because of their sin of rejecting God as king (1 Samuel 12:20-25), so God will not abandon the members of United Church of God. But also, just as Israel suffered the consequences of rejecting God as their king in favor of a human king (1 Samuel 8:9-18), so I believe Christ will allow UCG to suffer the unpleasent consequences of breaking with the tradition of the first century Church of God of selection of leaders by appointment from above, and instead, adopting the democratic ways of this world to govern themselves.

"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19).

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7

Government in the Church, Chapter 5

Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6

Church Government, Chapter 7

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