Saturday, October 2, 2010

Top-down Government or "One Man Rule"?

Many ministers in the Church of God over the years have stated that God only works through one man at a time. Some have called this "one-man rule", and some have contrasted one-man rule with UCG's form of governance. For example, United Church of God's Doctrinal Paper on Godly Governance uses the term "one-man rule" to describe a single man being in charge of the whole Church of God (LINK: Dennis Luker uses the term "one man rule" in his July 1 member letter to refer to one man being in charge of "a" Church of God organization (LINK: - not necessarily the whole Church, I presume. But while I teach against governance by ballot box, I do not advocate one-man rule necessarily, in the sense that there should always be just one man in charge of the whole Church of God. The Bible teaches that God does NOT always work through only one man at a time.

What I advocate, and what I believe the Bible teaches, is "top-down government". God's government is always hierarchical, top-down government, with authority for binding decisions and appointments to office always flowing from the higher authority to the lower authority. All authority comes from God the Father. He has given all authority to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, in His role as head of the Church of God, rules the Church. Under Christ are various offices, and the authority proceeds by appointment from the top down. At each level of authority, the one holding an office submits to the decisions given to him from above, makes more detailed decisions to implement them, and supervises those in office under him. At each level of authority, the number of positions of authority can branch out, though they do not always do so. That is why this form of government is often called a pyramid structure.

But that is not the same as one-man rule. God does not always work through only one man at a time. From God the Father to Jesus Christ, there is no expansion of positions of office. Christ is the only one who is supervised by God the Father directly. But under Christ, there can be an expansion of the offices in the Church that Christ directly supervises. It can be just one man, as with Herbert W. Armstrong, or it can be more than one man.

There are examples in the Bible.

When Christ was supervising Moses, He worked through one man, Moses, and Moses supervised other leaders (Exodus 18:17-26). So in that case, you had what could be called "one man rule". But not so in the time of king David. Christ indeed supervised David as king of Israel, but that was not the only office Christ supervised. You also had prophets and priests who were contemporary with king David. For example, Nathan was a prophet God used to communicate with David and even to rebuke David in the matter of Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 7:4-17, 12:1-15). God did not work through only one man at that time. God worked through king David in the matter of the kingdom, but God also worked through Nathan in the matter of prophecy. David was also a prophet of God, but David did not supervise Nathan in the work Nathan did as a prophet of God and Nathan did not supervise David in the governmental decisions David made as king. Christ supervised both Nathan and David directly, each man having authority over his own responsibilities given to him by God, and neither man having authority over the other man in the work which that man did for God. You could say that God worked through two men at that time, David and Nathan. There are also many examples of prophets who were contemporary with each other, yet there was not one main prophet supervising all the other prophets.

Notice this example from the New Testament, where Paul wrote in Galatians 2:7-9, "But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised." Paul was apostle to the Gentiles and Peter was apostle to the Israelites. At that time, in the matter of the organized work of preaching the gospel and feeding the flock, God worked through two men, Peter and Paul. Peter did not supervise Paul in the day-to-day work he did preaching the gospel and Paul did not supervise Peter, but Christ supervised both. In matters that affected the whole Church, they cooperated, as in Acts 15. It may be that Peter had somewhat greater authority in that situation than Paul (Matthew 16:15-19, John 21:15-19, Acts 10:1-48), but whether or not that was true, they cooperated. The cooperation worked because each man submitted to the leadership of Christ, and had they not done so, there would have been division. But they functioned independently of each other in their regular work.

You can use the example today in a business corporation. You might have a chairman of the board who supervises a president. That president might supervise two department directors, director of marketing and director of manufacturing. The marketing director does not supervise the manufacturing director, and the manufacturing director does not supervise the marketing director. The president works through two men. There is a division of responsibility. Both men cooperate with each other because they both are supervised by the president. But in such a case, there is not always cooperation. There should be, but because men are carnal, there might be competition between the two directors, which hurts the whole company and displeases the president who may decide to replace one or both men with persons willing to cooperate.

It seems apparent that God does not work through only one man in the Church of God today, even when government is from the top down. The Church of God is scattered into a multitude of organizations, most of which are led by top-down government. God can work through more than one man, more than one Church of God organization, to preach the gospel and feed the flock. Unfortunately, most of these leaders do not have the spirit of cooperation between them that Peter and Paul had. Many are not fully submitting to Christ in that matter, though they submit to Christ's leadership in other matters to one degree or another. Human leaders are not perfect, and every decision they make is not the decision Christ would want them to make. Christ is a perfect leader, but men are not perfect followers. Christ lets His leaders make mistakes. He lets them disobey sometimes, for a while. Each leader will be judged by Christ for his decisions (Luke 12:42-48). The fact that there is not a spirit of fellowship and brotherhood and cooperation between many Church of God leaders is just more evidence that we are in the Laodicean era. Carnality prevails too much.

So when I write against government by ballot box, I am not necessarily advocating that everyone in the Church of God should report to only one man as we did when Mr. Armstrong was alive, what some call one man rule. I am advocating that each leader of a Church of God fellowship or organization, whether that fellowship be a single congregation with one pastor, or many congregations and pastors reporting to a human leader, report to Christ directly, not to a corporation governed by a ballot box. And if that be one leader over the whole Church of God, fine, but if it be more than one leader, then those leaders should love each other and cooperate with each other as they submit to Christ's leadership of the whole Church. And if they do not, Christ will hold them accountable.

So I do not advocate "one man rule" over the whole Church of God. I advocate top-down government, whether that be one organization or several. And if it is several, God will judge the leaders of those organizations for their degree of cooperation with each other, or lack of it.

"One man rule" and "top-down government" are not the same thing.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Government in the Church, Chapter 5

Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6

Church Government, Chapter 7

How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7

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