Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oil and Water, and Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

In Mr. Dennis Luker's July 1 member letter announcing the decision of the UCG Council of Elders to remove Mr. Leon Walker from his supervisory duties in Latin America, Mr. Luker provided a link to a pdf document entitled "Background to Leon Walker and Latin America." Here is a link to Mr. Luker's letter:

Here is a link to the document he mentioned giving background information:

One of the key parts of that document is a copy of Mr. Walker's communication to several ministers about issues that they would vote on, dated April 6 according to this document. The position of Mr. Luker and the Council, as I understand it, is that this communication is wrong and unethical because Mr. Luker in effect advised these ministers how to vote.

I ask the question, was this message from Mr. Walker wrong or unethical? And what standard should be used to judge if this message was wrong or unethical?

The whole subject of the message is voting. And the criticism of Mr. Melvin Rhodes and Mr. Dennis Luker in this document is that Mr. Walker in this memo wrongly tried to influence voting. So if you are going to use a standard of right and wrong, you might look for a standard that has to do with voting. The question becomes, what are the right and wrong priciples of voting? In a system of voting, is it right or wrong to advise someone else how to vote?

What does the Bible say about voting? What principles does the Bible give for wise voting? Does the Bible give guidelines, principles, instructions, commandments, laws, statutes, or judgments about the giving and receiving of advice about voting? What exactly does the Bible say about voting specifically?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

If you look up the words "vote," "voting," "ballot," or "balloting" in a concordance, I don't think you would find anything in the Bible. You might find "elect" and "election," but not in the context of a group of people casting votes to elect someone. In the Bible, "election" refers to a selection by God. Christians are God's "elect" in that sense.

The Bible says nothing about voting specifically. The Bible shows by example that God's government is not by voting, but the Bible says nothing about how to vote in a right way or how to discuss voting decisions with others, not directly anyway.

If you look outside the Bible, you can find the example of the United States Constitution. The Constitution says a great deal about voting and advice given and received about voting decisions. Basically, the Constitution guarantees not only the right of citizens to vote as they choose, but also guarantees freedom of speech and press. There are no restrictions on discussions and advice about voting or any other matter. Any citizen can express his opinion to any other citizen about how to vote, whether verbally or in writing. Citizens are free to campaign for or against candidates and to seek to persuade others to vote a certain way. They are free to criticize the president of the United States or any other elected official or member of the government. If the memo written by Mr. Walker was concerning an election in the United States, and a government official charged Mr. Walker with wrongdoing in a court of law, the case would rightly be thrown out. If the government passed a law forbidding the kind of communication Mr. Walker engaged in, the law would be voided as unconstitutional. If you use the United States Constitution as the rule of right and wrong behavior, Mr. Walker's communication would certainly be ruled as right and lawful, not wrong and unethical.

The Constitution of the United States includes freedom of speech along with the right to vote because the second is worthless without the first. Voting is useless as a way of ensuring checks and balances to prevent doctrinal heresy in United Church of God unless freedom of speech is including with voting, otherwise those in power can stifle speech critical of them which is needed to inform and organize any voting opposition. That is basic.

What, you say? Our standard is the Bible, not the U.S. Constitution?

Ok, let's look at Mr. Walker's letter in light of the principles taught about government in the Bible.

Even though the Bible does not talk about voting specifically, there are two basic principles taught in the Bible that can be used to judge the lawfulness of Mr. Walker's letter. One is the principle of respect for and submission to authority. The other is the principle of getting counsel before making an important decision.

Here are scriptures that show we should respect, support, and submit to those in authority over us. "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17).

"And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

"Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).

"For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33).

"Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses....Then the Lord came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward. Then He said,'...Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant Moses?' So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them, and He departed. And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow..." (Numbers 12:1-10).

In practice, the principle of submission to those in authority includes the policy that those under authority are not to weaken the office and undermine that authority by criticizing the man in authority in front of those under authority. This has always been understood in the Church, at least during Mr. Armstrong's years and even later. It is understood in companies, corporations, government, the military. You can't function effectively otherwise. If you work in an office, and the boss tells everyone something they have to do, and you loudly undermine the boss and criticize the decision, telling everyone, "the boss is no good, what he told you is wrong," you can certainly expect to be fired, and justly so. Open criticism of the boss in not permitted. Mr. Roy Holladay made that point in his December 28, 2009 letter to the ministry.

You can give advise, even corrective advise and constructive criticism to your boss in private, provided it is done in the right way, as shown in the example of Naaman the Syrian who was healed by Elisha of leprosy when his servants advised him to do what the prophet said (2 Kings 5:1-14), and wise bosses will appreciate and encourage such advice. But you don't publicly criticize the boss and his policies.

According to this principle, Mr. Walker's communication is clearly wrong because he is criticizing the Council or some of its members, suggesting they should not hold the office (see Numbers 16:1-33 for the example of the rebellion of Korah), yet that Council has authority over Mr. Walker as well as authority over all employees in UCG.

But wait! What about the principle of getting, and by necessity giving, advice? The Bible has something to say about that too. "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14).

"Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established" (Proverbs 15:22).

"For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, And in a multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 24:6).

"Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

"The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him" (Proverbs 18:17).

These verses teach the principle of getting the facts, getting advice, proving the truth, before making important decisions. This of necessity must mean that we must be able to give advice as well as receive it, because if no one gives it how can anyone receive it? In fact, Mr. Walker in one of his statements indicated that some of the ministers in his area indicated that they wanted to know some or all of the information he gave them. They were asking advice, according to God's principles in the Bible, and as a servant of Christ and of those ministers (Matthew 23:11) Mr. Walker was obligated to give them the information and advice they wanted and needed. So according to that principle, what Mr. Walker wrote was right, in fact, he would have been wrong to withhold that information and advice, because without it the ministers he is obligated to serve would not be able to obey God's instructions to prove all things and seek safety in a multitude of counsel.

What gives? By one biblical principle, what Mr. Walker wrote was wrong. By another biblical principle, what he wrote was right. Is the Bible contradicting itself? Is Mr. Walker caught in an impossible situation in which he is wrong if he speaks and wrong if he is silent? Or should he give false witness and say what he doesn't believe, pretending to support the Council and saying they are right when in his heart he believes they are wrong? That would be a violation of the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20, Matthew 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9, Revelation 21:8). But the Bible also says, "...God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). There is ALWAYS a course of action that is not sin. We are never trapped in circumstances that force us to sin, provided we are overall faithful to God's way of life. God's law provides a lawful course of action. And God does not contradict Himself in what He teaches.

Here is the answer.

In God's way of life, in His government, those under authority never have the responsibility for choosing whether to vote for or against those over them, so that is never a decision they need advice about. The proving of facts, the giving and receiving of advice, is only for the purpose of making decisions we are given the responsibility for making. And God does not give us the responsibility for making decisions about who is over us in authority by voting them in or out of office.

God did not forget to give us instructions in the Bible on how to vote or how to give or receive information and advice about voting. It isn't necessary because God's government is always by appointment from the top down, so there is no voting. God is teaching us and preparing us for the kingdom of God, and there will not be voting in that kingdom. God is teaching us and letting us practice in this life the way of life we will be living for eternity in His kingdom. Abraham, Moses, David, and the apostles will not have to stand for re-election every two million years. We won't vote for them or against them, ever. God will assign them their offices, and we will all respect and submit to God's decisions. That's it.

So the Bible doesn't judge Mr. Walker's letter because the whole context is outside the scope of God's way of life. God will certainly judge Mr. Walker's words and actions based on his attitude and various principles such as telling the truth, loving his neighbor, loving God with all his heart, etc. But not about voting or the giving of advice about voting. Voting is part of Satan's way, one of the systems of Satan's world that will be abolished when Christ returns, and God does not give instruction in the Bible on how to make Satan's way work better by teaching us how to vote.

So if you are going to follow the Bible, you are not going to have governance by voting, and the issues raised by this letter never come up.

But if you want have voting anyway, and you want to learn how to make voting as effective as possible in providing a system of checks and balances, I suggest using the United States Constitution as a guide. The Constitution protects freedom of speech and the press, and any form of democracy in the world that functions successfully as a democracy is going to protect free speech, including the freedom to criticize government, and any government on earth that starts as a democracy but does not protect freedom of speech will become a dictatorship in short order. That may be what is happening in United Church of God.

You can't have God's way and the world's way in the same organization and expect it to function smoothly. Respect for authority (God's way) and government by voting (the world's way) cannot mix, just like oil and water cannot mix. Trying to govern by the ballot box while allowing those in office to restrict speech is a recipe for division, contentions, hostility, bitterness, strife, and anger. It tempts those in power to abuse their power by unfairly restricting the free flow of information and opinions necessary for the voters to be able to discern when they need to vote against those in office. That abuse then arouses anger in those who are victims of it because they know it is unfair. They then retaliate, and you have a vicious cycle that gets more and more emotionally charged. It brings out the very worst of human nature.

Look at the fruits! Was there ever such anger and hostility between ministers in one Church of God group? Have emotions ever run so high as now? Someone tell me, I'm curious. Was there even such anger when Mr. Tkach was making changes in doctrine in Worldwide?

I see a pattern, that whenever ministers justify voting in UCG, they do not start, as Mr. Armstrong might do, by asking, what does God say, and then turning to the Bible. Instead, they rehearse the decisions they made 14 or 15 years ago and their reasons for their decisions, as if that is the standard. They might talk about "cooperation" or "getting counsel" as if that is what voting is. Or they talk about the bad fruits of one man rule under Mr. Tkach. They might say they want a system of checks and balances so no one could do what Mr. Tkach did.

Well, what about the fruits today in UCG? Is the system working? Is there unity, peace, and doctrinal stability? If those in power want to change doctrine, they can certainly do it. Voting will slow them down, but not stop them. And if over time the majority of people in UCG want to liberalize doctrine and become Protestant, the UCG form of governance will not stop them. They can simply use the accusation of "wrong speech" to push out of the way and expel from the organization anyone who disagrees with what they want to do until they have a large enough majority to authorize the changes they want to make. And they can use their authority to pull in people from the outside, members of traditional churches who are not grounded in the truth of God, to boost their voting ranks, if that is what they want to do.

More to come...

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

Government in the Church, Chapter 5

Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6

Proving the Truth, Chapter 6

Church Government, Chapter 7

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