Monday, November 29, 2010

Are UCG Ministers Learning Anything?

There have been a number of events in UCG's ongoing division that have transpired in about the last couple of weeks. There have been resignations and open letters and a call for an investigation.

As I reported before, the UCG Current Crisis blog posted a letter from Mr. Dennis Luker to the Latin American ministers affiliated with Mr. Leon Walker telling them their ministerial credentials and membership in the General Conference of Elders will be revoked (which means they will no longer be eligible to vote in UCG elections) unless they renounce Mr. Walker and accept Mr. Luker's authority over them. Here is a link to that post:

A letter from Mr. Leon Walker commenting on Mr. Luker's letter to the Latin American ministry is published in the UCG Current Crisis blog. Here is a link:

As reported in the Shining Light blog, a petition sponsored by Dave DeHart, Glenn Doig, Mike Machin and Frank Pierce is being circulated among UCG ministers for signature calling for a resolution to be put up for ballot for an investigation into the recent actions by the Council of Elders. The signatures are being tallied by an independent CPA firm, and 25% of the ministry is required for approval. If approved, the resolution will come up for ballot, and if a majority of the membership of the General Conference of Elders approves, the investigation will be authorized. You can read the details in the post linked to here:

A minister in Latin America, Edward Hernández, has resigned from UCG. A letter from Edward Hernandez giving his reasons for his resignation is published in the UCG Current Crisis blog, link here:

An updated list of ministers who have been removed from their positions or have resigned has been published by UCG Current Crisis blog. Noteworthy is the information that Mr. Larry Salyer has now also been removed from the ministry. Here is a link to that post:

Mr. Ken Giese has published an open letter to the UCG ministry, as reported in the UCG Current Crisis blog, in which he announces his resignation from United Church of God and from the General Conference of Elders (meaning he can not longer ballot on UCG proposals), and encourages remaining members of the GCE to call for a special meeting for the purpose of restructuring the organization with new leadership. This is a very interesting letter for several reasons, and I will comment on it later in this post. Here is the link:

Mr. Paul Carter has resigned from employment with UCG, but not as a minister, because he finds his obligation to UCG as an employee in conflict with his obligation to obey Jesus Christ and to serve Christ and the brethren as a minister, according to a letter by Mr. Carter published in UCG Current Crisis blog. Here is a link to the post with that letter:

Likewise, Mr. Jonathan Pinelli has resigned from employment with UCG, but not from the ministry, according to a letter from him published in another UCG Current Crisis post. A link to that post is here:

In these actions, Mr. Carter and Mr. Pinelli seem to be following the example of Herbert W. Armstrong, who refused further salary from Church of God (Seventh Day) when his employment with that organization came into conflict with his obligation to obey Christ, according to Mr. Armstrong's autobiography. Their letters outline the reasons why they can no longer be employed by UCG.

James Malm gives commentary on the petition for a ballot by the GCE to have an independent investigation of the actions of the Council of Elders and administration. A link to his post in Shining Light blog is here:

In another post, James Malm announced that he plans to publish the names of the 54 ministers who signed a letter earlier this year and the names of the 167 elders who signed an appeal to the Council in the summer. He plans to publish the names on December 1, but he said he would omit names of elders who contact him requesting their names not be named. In this post he also publishes a copy of the resignation letter from Mr. Carter. Here is a link:

There is a letter from a Latin American member who did some investigating into the legal requirements for operating a day care center in Chile. According to this letter, as I understand it, the obligation to remain open certain hours on the Sabbath only applies to businesses that want to receive a subsidy or business from the government. You can read that letter in this post in the Shining Light blog along with another copy of the resignation letter from Mr. Jon Pinelli:

James Malm has comments on the trial many UCG ministers are going through as they make difficult decisions, and he has suggested that those who wish to do so set aside some time this week for special prayer and fasting for those ministers. Link to that post here:

Finally, Bob Thiel in his COGwriter blog has posted a short summary with comments on 9 ministers UCG has lost in November:

There are a number of parallels between what is happening in United Church of God and what happened in Worldwide after the death of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. As in Worldwide, the Church is splitting. And as in Worldwide, those that are leaving are not leaving together.

The whole Church of God is divided today in large part because the ministers who left Worldwide after Joseph Tkach began making doctrinal changes did not all leave together or at the same time. Those who remained loyal to most of the doctrines taught by Mr. Armstrong were not only divided from the Tkach administration but also were divided among themselves. Some left in 1989 or 1990, some in 1993, and many in 1995, and they formed a variety of organizations, most of which do not get along with each other to this day.

The same thing may be happening or may be about to happen in UCG.

UCG leading ministers are divided into two camps. There is the majority of the Council of Elders and the current administration represented by Mr. Melvin Rhodes and Mr. Dennis Luker, what some would call the "liberals". Then there are those who do not agree with the Council's agenda and what they have been doing which has caused division, and these may be called the "conservatives". Yet those who do not accept the direction and actions of the current Council majority are themselves not united in action. Some are quitting while others are staying in UCG. Those who are trying to stay in UCG are trying to bring about reforms from within through balloting, while those who resign from UCG will not be able to contribute their votes to helping to make those reforms. At the same time, the Council majority and the administration seem to be trying to pressure opposition ministers into quitting or taking action to give the administration cause to fire them. If they can get rid of enough ministers who would be likely to vote against them, they can retain their power and their jobs.

Should a minister stay in UCG or resign? If he leaves, he will be free of pressure to compromise and can faithfully serve Christ and Christ's sheep without restriction. But if he leaves, he will not be able to use his vote to help reform UCG from within. On the other hand, if he stays in UCG, he can vote for needed investigations and changes, but he faces increasing pressure from the administration to compromise, quit, or face being fired.

This dilemma is being faced by many ministers. Mr. Ken Giese is an example. He has called for UCG ministers to call for a special meeting, as members of the GCE, to restructure UCG with new leadership, yet he himself has been unable to stay in UCG and has resigned from UCG and the GCE. There may be many such situations, where ministers would like to stay and work for reform but cannot stay with a clear conscience, and must leave, and every one that leaves weakens the voting power of those who stay.

But it does look like the majority of the ministers who disagree with the administration are trying to stay within UCG in order to bring about reforms through voting. The effort to secure enough signatures to put a proposal for an independent investigation on a ballot is the current effort of the conservatives to make changes from within UCG.

But this very effort shows that these ministers have not yet fully learned the lesson that ballot-box governance does not work in God's Church. Democracy, which is what UCG's structure of governance is, is not God's way or God's invention. It is the invention of Satan as one of the forms of government he uses in the nations of this world to rule this world. It suits Satan's temperament anyway because if he acknowledges top-down government, he would have to acknowledge God's right to rule him and his obligation to submit to God. He submits to God, but not willingly. He must stay within the constraints God places on him, but he refuses to practice God's way of life and obey God's law. He does what God compels him to do, but in any matter in which God does not force him to obey, he follows his own desires rather than God's will.

Satan is also the author of strife and contention, and democracy is a breeding ground for internal strife, contention, and division.

United Church of God did not learn about balloting from God or from the Bible. They learned it from this world. They adopted one of Satan's inventions and tried to adapt it to the needs of the Church.

And now that it is failing, most of the ministers who disagree with the Council are trying to reform it. They want to make changes to their ballot-box governance to make it work better. They do not want to get rid of Satan's way, but they want to try to make it work.

It is uncertain if the "conservative" ministers will win their effort to reform UCG from within. You have a battle between two camps, and the decision will depend on the vote tally. Most of the conservative ministers are trying to stay in UCG, win back control from the Council majority through voting, and then probably make changes to the system. If they succeed they may try to amend the governance structure, perhaps setting up a "third branch" of government like a supreme court, or perhaps they will make other changes to the way leaders are elected or removed from office. But if they fail, there will be little they can do except leave. And while they are making their preparations for reforms, the current UCG administration is putting pressure on as many opposition ministers as they can to quit so that the conservatives will not have the votes they need.

If the administration succeeds, there will be many ministers leaving UCG and the split will become complete. If the conservatives win, then most of UCG will remain intact for a while but internal division will continue. Things may be more clear who is winning after the next UCG election, which I believe is in May 2011.

But the fact that most conservatives are still trying to reform UCG from within shows that they still believe in ballot-box governance and are going to continue to try to make it work.

I believe that God is allowing the current division and problems in United Church of God to help ministers learn the lesson that ballot-box governance does not work well. But I think most ministers in UCG have a ways to go yet before they completely learn that lesson.

In the end, efforts to make ballot-box governance work well in God's Church will fail.

Experience can be a bitter teacher.

What will really be interesting will be to see the structure of governance that is chosen by ministers leaving UCG. They have to choose one way or another. They can set up organizations with ballot-box governance or top-down government, and any minister also has the option to join with an existing organization with whatever structure of governance that organization has. This will be another indication of how well UCG ministers are learning from experience.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

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

The Cause of the Church's Scattered Condition, and the Solution, Chapter 5

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

Friday, November 19, 2010

Should We ASSUME the Church Is Right About Scripture?

This will be a long post. Some posts are more important than others. In the eyes of this author, this post is more important than most others I have published.

Are there Catholic trends in Church of God thinking?

What is the heart and core of Catholicism? If you had to identify one characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church that makes it what it is, what would you pick? Sunday? The trinity doctrine? The teaching that man has an immortal soul? The authority of the pope over the members of the Catholic Church? Is it a teaching that the Bible is not God's word and does not need to be obeyed or believed? How about using images in worship? Or are pagan traditions the heart of the Catholic Church?

In my opinion, it is none of these.

United Church of God has a big problem with governance. But the other major Churches of God are not without problems themselves. This is, after all, the Laodicean era.

Some who have never been Catholic might think that the Catholic Church openly rejects the Bible as the Word of God. They do not. They teach that the Bible is the Word of God, infallibly correct in its original writings, "inerrant" as they say. But they teach that the Bible is not of any "private interpretation" and that you cannot have each person deciding for himself what the Bible means (sound familiar?). They teach that God has given the Catholic Church the authority to INTERPRET the Bible, to tell its members what it means. So for example, they will teach that the command to keep the Sabbath is still in force, but that it was changed to Sunday. They teach that the command not to worship images is true and in force, but that it only means actual worship of the image itself, not using images to represent the true God as an aid to worship. Etc., etc. Furthermore, they teach that the Holy Spirit inspires Catholic leaders to correctly interpret the Bible.

The heart and core of Catholic thinking is that the Holy Spirit inspires the Catholic Church, primarily the pope, to correctly understand and interpret the Bible, and that members of the Catholic Church should accept and believe that church's interpretation of the Bible. It is from this thinking that all the other doctrines of the Catholic Church become possible. That principle has become the foundation of all Catholic doctrine and practices.

The belief that church leaders have authority to interpret the Bible for its members may also be part of Greek Orthodox teaching, and variations of it exist in Protestant thinking. Protestants believe that the Holy Spirit has inspired the traditions of the mainstream Christian church over the centuries.

But the Bible says, "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24). And a careful reading of " prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20) shows that it is speaking of the WRITING of the Bible, not the reading of it, as shown by the verse that follows: "for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). In other words, when the prophets wrote their prophecies in the Bible, they were not writing from their private understanding of events. This has nothing to do with our reading and understanding of the Bible.

Mr. Armstrong taught that the Bible interprets itself. We let clear scriptures interpret difficult ones. I think he was right.

I was raised Catholic and I have Catholic family members, including a sister who used to be a nun. I think I understand Catholic thinking. I have recently debated with a Greek Orthodox member in a social network site forum, and I see that same kind of thinking there too. And it sometimes creeps into the Church of God.

Whatever standard we teach for understanding the Bible, we have to teach the same standard to our own members as we teach to the public. It is not right to have two standards, one for ourselves and one for outsiders (Proverbs 20:10, Deuteronomy 25:13-16, Matthew 23:1-4, Romans 2:17-21).

An Orthodox church member set up a forum for Christians in a social network site I am a member of, and I entered a discussion about prophecy. Someone mentioned that when it comes to prophecy, he let his church interpret it for him. I asked how he knew that his church's interpretation was correct, and he had the usual arguments that God would not allow His church to be wrong. Naturally (?), I began to point out some things in the Bible about which his church clearly was wrong (idols being the clearest example), and I also showed that the messages to the seven churches in Revelation prove that even God's true Church (which in the mind of a member means his church) can be wrong in doctrine (Revelation 2:14-16, 20, 24). But of course, I got nowhere. In every case, their church had some kind of explanation for a scripture, no matter how far-fetched, that fit their doctrine.

I was reminded that for a person who has faith in his church, he CANNOT accept any explanation for a scripture in the Bible that goes contrary to his church's teaching. It goes against his faith. He ASSUMES, without proof, that his church is right about the Bible. His faith is in his church. He may discuss the Bible, but not as most Church of God members discuss the Bible. We usually discuss the Bible to understand what it really says. But he discusses it to see HOW it FITS IN with his church's teaching. It can be ironic, almost amusing, to see the discussion between such a member and a Church of God member about something in the Bible. I suppose someone could write a comedy about it.

When I posted in my blog in that social network site that most people do not believe God, I was kicked out of that forum. Not surprising. Actually, I was surprised they let me in to begin with. But it was educational for me.

This incident reminded me of an occasion in Worldwide during the doctrinal changes. I attended there till 1996, so I witnessed the whole apostasy. A deacon gave a sermonette. He said that when he was studying the changes, he could not understand them. So he prayed for understanding, and after he prayed about it he was able to understand the changes. Afterwards I asked him in private, did you pray that God would help you understand IF the church's teachings were true or false, or did you ASSUME the changes were true and prayed that God would help you understand HOW they were true? He said, I ASSUMED they were true and asked God to help me see HOW they were true (in other words, how to fit the Bible with the church's teaching).

This man studied the Bible, but his faith was in the church, not the Bible. Like the Orthodox member I debated, he assumed that God would not let the church be wrong, and he studied the Bible to make it fit church doctrine. He let the church interpret what the Bible means.

I wonder how many in Worldwide were swept away from God's truth because of that very kind of thinking.

We teach, in regard to idols, that the second commandment forbids using images to represent God as an aid to worship. We have taught that the carnal mind of man cries out for something physical he can see, such as an image, but that no limited image can represent the infinite God. But in the Church of God we have the same human nature as the world, and sometimes members make an idol out of something else they can physically see, that is, the ministry and the Church. But like an image, a physical ministry and Church is limited and cannot represent the infinite God. Our ministers can help us find answers in the Bible, and God has ordained them for that purpose, but they can make mistakes, and our faith must be in God directly and His word the Bible, not the teachings of the Church.

So how should a member, and the Church, handle the situation when the member disagrees about doctrine?

This has been and continues to be an issue in the Church of God.

Any large Church of God organization has to deal with members and non-members who disagree about doctrine on some point or another. Some receive dozens or even hundreds of papers correcting the Church for some doctrinal error, real or imagined, or suggesting new knowledge and new doctrines which the writer believes is from the Bible. In such a case, I expect that the vast majority of these papers are wrong. But not necessarily all.

How should a Church of God leadership handle this, especially in its teaching of its members about how they should handle doctrinal issues when they do not agree with the Church?

Herbert W. Armstrong addressed this issue in his article "Should We Listen to Others?", and Living Church of God has addressed this issue in its recent article "My Will or God's Will?" in the November-December 2010 issue of the Living Church News. Both articles address the issue of doctrinal disagreement, though that is not necessarily the main subject of either article.

The Living Church News article helps to clarify the Church's policy. In the past, some have said, "there will be no doctrinal change" or "God doesn't work that way" in reference to members sending in suggestions on doctrine. Some have equated "being teachable" with believing the ministry. But this article acknowledges the possibility that a member's Bible study might lead to accurate and truthful insight, and if so, it is not wrong for the member to humbly share it with the ministry, then trust God to bring about any necessary change in Church teaching in His time and through His leadership. This is basically what Mr. Armstrong taught. And overall, this article in the Living Church News makes a number of good points.

Mr. Armstrong basically taught in his article that if a member finds something in the Bible different from what the Church teaches, he should submit it to his pastor or to headquarters. If the member is wrong, the Church will show the member where he is wrong, but if the Church is wrong, the change will be made for the whole Church. And in the meantime, the member should not discuss the matter with other members.

But in reading the LCG article, I now realize that there is a question Mr. Armstrong left unanswered in his own article.

If a member makes a suggestion to the ministry, and the ministry disagrees and tries to show the member where he is wrong, what if the member still does not agree? What if, after hearty discussion or correspondence, the matter is still unresolved? The member does not see the Church's point of view and the Church does not see the member's point of view.

I don't think Mr. Armstrong directly answered that in his article, though the answer might be implied.

I think the answer is, the member should continue to believe the Bible, but respect the authority of the ministry by not contradicting the leadership in front of other members. In other words, the attitude of faith towards God and respect towards the ministry that the member had while seeking resolution of the disagreement should continue even if resolution becomes impossible at that time.

There is a statement in the Living Church News article that concerns me. The article states that if a member's Bible study leads him to a doctrine that the ministry disagrees with, he should be extra careful to be cautious, even to the point of ASSUMING that he is wrong and needs to study further.

That can't be right. That is what the Catholics do. But we are to be different.

This is what the deacon I mentioned did when he asked God to help him understand Mr. Tkach's changes. He ASSUMED the church was right and he was wrong and needed to study further. He prayed for God to help him verify that assumption, to show him HOW to believe the church, or in other words, HOW to fit the scriptures into the doctrinal framework the ministry was teaching. And he got his wish, because he said that after praying that way, he understood and accepted Mr. Tkach's changes. But what the church was teaching was not right, and this member became deceived by his decision to believe the ministry more than the Bible. And his prayer to God did not protect him from deception because he was praying for the wrong thing. He was praying for help to believe the ministry.

But our faith must be towards God (Hebrews 6:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:8). The ministry has certain authority to make binding decisions on the administrative work of the Church, which includes the doctrines that will be officially taught. But the ministry does not have authority over the faith of the membership. They have no authority to tell us what to believe. As the Bible says, they do not have dominion over our faith (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Scriptures do NOT necessarily mean what the ministry says they mean. Ministers, even in God's true Church, can make mistakes. But God does not make mistakes, and His word, the Bible, is perfect. That is where our faith must be, not in the Church and its ministry.

In the above scenario, where member and ministry share opposing viewpoints about what a scripture or collection of scriptures means, from the member's point of view, he faces a choice. He has to choose to believe the Bible or the ministry. Which will he choose? A minister might say, "but the Bible doesn't say that, and the member is mistaken", but that misses the point. Even if the member is wrong, he doesn't know he is wrong. The choice for him is the same whether he in fact is right or wrong: believe God or believe man.

If he is sincere but mistaken, and is still not convinced after a minister tries to correct him, then he doesn't understand the Bible correctly. But he still has to make the same choice as if the minister was wrong and the member right. He has to believe God or man. Because, if he can't understand where he is wrong FROM THE BIBLE, the only way he can ASSUME he is wrong is to place belief in the word of the ministry over that of God Himself! And if he makes that choice, he has broken faith with God!

When we see what God says in the Bible and begin to believe and trust him, but then ASSUME our belief is wrong because it disagrees with the Church, that ASSUMPTION is the same as doubting what God says. How can it be otherwise? It would in fact be choosing to believe our traditions and the ministers of our Church more than the Bible just as we teach the world NOT to do. It is that kind of thinking that has opened the door for all kinds of false teaching in traditional mainstream Christianity. Members of those churches, most of them, will not believe what we show them in the Bible because they ASSUME that their traditions and their ministers are right, that their church has the right interpretation and understanding of the Bible.

How important is this?

It is vitally important for our salvation, and for doing God's work of preaching the gospel to the world, that we believe what God says. We have to be like Abraham in that regard, if we want God to impute righteousness to us as He did to him (Romans 4:3-25, James 2:23, Genesis 15:6, Isaiah 51:1-2).

It is actually a sin to disbelieve God. Why? Sin is the transgression of the law, or "lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). And faith is one of the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). So lack of faith, or disbelief, is a transgression of the law, and is sin. A whole generation of Israel in the wilderness lost their opportunity to enter the promised land because they didn't believe God's word (Hebrews 3:16-19). Disbelieving God can cost us our salvation (Hebrews 3:12, Romans 11:20-23, John 3:18, 36, 1 John 5:10).

Do some ministers even realize that they could be injuring the faith of some of their members in God and in the truth of God's word by teaching them to accept the Church's teaching even when they see something different in the Bible?

Our relationship with God has to be a personal relationship, where God talks to us through the Bible and we talk to God in prayer. In that relationship we believe what God says in the Bible. The Bible is personal to us. It is our Father and Christ talking to us. We HAVE to believe what God says. The job of the ministry is to help that relationship, not COMPETE with it.

But some might say, "Won't members believing different things create confusion because they promote their own ideas with other members?"

That has been a problem, but there is a better way of handling that than teaching members to assume that Church is right in its interpretation of the Bible. I covered that in my recent post The Responsible Use of New Knowledge. Basically, a member who has a different understanding of a scripture should respect the authority God has given the ministry for teaching and for deciding what doctrines will be officially taught, and he should refrain from discussing the matter with other members. In other words, He should believe what God says in the Bible, but keep it between himself and God until God, in His time, shows the Church it is wrong or until God shows the member he is wrong. In other words, "put it on the shelf." That teaches the member to keep His faith in God and remain at peace in the Church. That process of waiting for God to make the correction through the leadership is also a teaching of the Living Church News article, and it is right.

This is a difficult subject, and I respect and appreciate that LCG has addressed this in their article. It is easy for a reader to misunderstand a writer's intent, and I may have done that here. Perhaps the article is simply emphasizing the humility with which a member should approach Bible study. If that is the case, then it is right on target. If the article had said, we should assume we MIGHT be wrong, and try to keep an open mind and continue to study, I don't think I would be as concerned. Sometimes a slightly different word or phrase can mean a lot.

Living Church of God is doing an outstanding job compared with many other Churches of God, in practicing top-down government and in preaching the gospel to the world effectively with zeal. God has blessed them with many new members brought into the Church through their TV program, magazine and literature, and public Bible lectures. Because they have a door to preaching the gospel that is open wider for them than for most COG fellowships, I think there must be a number of members among them who are in the Philadelphia spiritual condition (Revelation 3:7-8). Their article in the Living Church News tackles a tough subject, and it is one that Church of God members need to think about.

Since the scattering of the Church of God after the death of Mr. Armstrong, I think there have been several Church of God organizations that have made the error from time to time of teaching members, perhaps inadvertently, to put their trust for interpretation of scripture in the leadership and ministry of their organization more than in the Bible itself. Also, some organizations teach that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was definitely the Elijah to come and that none of his doctrines should be changed, which puts faith in his teaching above faith in the Bible. But it is my hope that the Churches of God will be willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible and accept correction in doctrine from the Bible. That is what most Churches of God teach the public and we should practice what we preach.

That has also been the practice and example of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong.

Here is a link to the Living Church of God website where you can find the November-December 2010 issue of the Living Church News in pdf format. In the left-hand column, find the picture or heading "Living Church News" and click on that. That will bring you to a list of issues, click on the NOV-DEC 2010 issue link. The article is titled "My Will or God's Will?" and starts on page 5.

Here are links to sites that publish Herbert W. Armstrong's article, "Should We Listen to Others?", which I mentioned in this post, as well as other articles and booklets by Mr. Armstrong:

Church of God Faithful Flock
Main site:
Link to page that lists "Should We Listen to Others?":

PABCO's Homepage
Main site:
Direct link to "Should We Listen to Others?":

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1

How to Understand the Bible, Chapter 1

Focusing on the Bible, Chapter 5

Practicing What We Preach, Chapter 6

Changing Doctrine, Chapter 6

A Lesson from the Autobiography, Chapter 6

The Source of Our Beliefs, Chapter 6

Faith, Chapter 6

The Message to the Sardis Church, Chapter 6

The Inconsistencies of Saying We Can't Change Herbert W. Armstrong's Doctrine, Chapter 6

Does the Bible Teach Us to Follow Tradition?, Chapter 6

God Speaks Through the Bible, Chapter 6

Should Each Member Promote His Own Opinion?, Chapter 6

Did Mr. Armstrong Point to Himself as the Authority for Belief?, Chapter 6

A Possible Problem in the Church, Chapter 6

Can We Make an Idol out of a Man or Church?, Chapter 6

How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7

Latest UCG-related Blog Postings

There have not been any major UCG-related events so far this week, but there have been a few posts in other blogs I would like to mention that I have not posted about before.

The UCG Current Crisis blog posted a letter from Mr. Dennis Luker to many ministers in Latin America. The letter apparently has been sent to ministers Mr. Luker believes are affiliated with Mr. Leon Walker. The gist of the letter is that, for each minister receiving the letter, his ministerial credentials in UCG and membership in the General Conference of Elders will be revoked unless he informs Mr. Luker that he is accepting Mr. Luker's authority and that he is not affiliated with or assisting Mr. Walker and his group.

This puts the exclamation point on the fact that there will be no reconciliation.

Here is a link to the post giving the full text of the letter:

This is not a surprise, and it is a step towards the complete severance from UCG of those Latin American ministers accepting Mr. Walker's supervision. Once this process completes, those ministers will not be eligible to vote against current Council members in the next UCG election, coming I think next May (someone correct me if I am wrong about that month).

John Elliott, a pastor in UCG, has written a letter in his UCG congregation page, and it has attracted attention among a couple of bloggers. He has also published it in Facebook. Shining Light blog has published it along with James Malm's interspersed comments, and John Carmack has published it in his Church of God Perspective blog. The letter includes a series of questions about how to apply God's Sabbath law in various scenarios meant to illustrate difficult circumstances. The main point of the letter seems to be that there are many details about applying the law of God that require judgments to be made by the ministry. The letter seems to be written to support UCG's Council majority. It equates disagreement with the Church's judgments with rebellion.

I have read Mr. Elliott's letter, and I think it is seriously flawed. One big problem with it is that it says nothing about a Christian's obligation to obey God rather than man when there is a conflict. A Church member must obey God's law first, and the Church's judgment second. To allow the judgment of the leadership of the Church to override your obedience to God's law is idolatry. The authority of the ministry to make binding judgments is limited; God's authority is unlimited.

Here are links to that letter and comments about it:

The letter in Mr. Elliott's congregation page:

The letter in Facebook:

The letter in the Shining Light blog, with interspersed comments by James Malm:

The letter in Church of God Perspective blog with comments by John Carmack:


An official petition is being circulated to ministers who are members of the General Conference of Elders for signature, according to a post in the Shining Light blog. This petition is for a review of the conduct of the Council of Elders and UCG's administration for actions against the Latin American ministry. The petition is sponsored by Dave DeHart, Glenn Doig, Mike Machin and Frank Pierce. The results are being tabulated by a third-party CPA firm. For details, you can read the text of the petition in the Shining Light blog post, here is the link:

A minister in Latin America, Edward Hernández, has resigned from UCG. A letter from Edward Hernandez giving his reasons for his resignation is published in the UCG Current Crisis blog, link here:

The UCG Current Crisis blog has also published a letter from Mr. Leon Walker about Mr. Luker's letter to the Latin American ministers. Here is a link to the post with that letter:

It appears that most of those ministers who disagree with the current Council majority in their handling of the Latin American situation are making one last effort to stay in UCG and resolve the situation from within, and that such a resolution would result in the eventual removal from power of the current Council majority and the administration. If this attempt succeeds, there might not be a major split in the next 6 months to a year. But if it fails, I sure there will be such a split, with the current Council of Elders majority remaining in power and most of those ministers who disagree with them leaving UCG and forming new organizations.


The UCG Current Crisis blog has published an updated list of ministers in UCG who have resigned or been removed from their positions in the last year. Some items I have not reported before in this blog:

Paul Carter resigned from the UCG ministry.

Larry Salyer has been removed from UCG ministry. It was previously reported that he was relieved of his ministerial duties, but now it appears he is no longer credentialed as a minister in UCG, which I presume means he no longer receives a salary and is not eligible to vote in UCG's General Conferences of Elders elections, but this has not been clarified.

I also noticed that David Campbell (Canadian minister) resigned from UCG ministry in June 2010. I had not reported that before.

Here is a link to the UCG Current Crisis post:

UCG Current Crisis blog has published an open letter from Mr. Ken Giese in which he resigns from UCG and from the GCE and calls on the GCE to hold the Council accountable for their actions and to take steps to call for a special meeting for restructuring UCG with new leadership. A link to that post is here:

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1

The Weekly Sabbath Day, Chapter 2

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

Saturday, November 13, 2010

United Church of God Divides the WHOLE Body of Christ

United Church of God is going through a period of great strife and division. It is splitting apart, piece by piece. Leon Walker, Larry Roybal, and many ministers and members in Latin America have been fired by UCG. Canadian pastor Graemme Marshall has resigned. Larry Salyer has been suspended. Jack Hendren has organized a new Church of God called "Church of God - South Texas". Ken Giese has resigned. And this may just be the beginning. I would not be surprised if about a hundred or more ministers leave UCG before Passover.

The majority on the Council of Elders, the chairman Melvin Rhodes, and the president Dennis Luker, as well as influential leaders such as Roy Holladay and Victor Kubik, have been put into power by the ballot of the ministry, yet since coming into power they have managed to give the appearance (and maybe the reality) of intensifying the division, whether by design or incompetence. As a result, there may be a general shift of opinion by many moderate ministers against them, and those in power may fear for their jobs if they do not get rid of many opposition voters as possible before the next election. Thus, while in the past they may have been motivated by a desire to advance their agenda, now they may be motivated by fear.

But United Church of God is only reaping what it has sown.

For years United Church of God has caused division in the whole Church of God, the entire body of Christ, not just in their own organization.

They have done this by overturning Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong's doctrine on government without biblical justification. Many of them claimed they were coming out of Worldwide because they wanted to retain their beliefs. But evidently they only wanted to retain some of the beliefs they had practiced and taught under Mr. Armstrong. Government was not one of them. They tossed that doctrine into the round file. Joseph Tkach trashed Mr. Armstrong's teaching on the identity of modern Israel, the Sabbath, the holy days, tithing, clean and unclean meats, the nature of God, and many other major doctrines, but not government. UCG trashed Mr. Armstrong's doctrine on government, picking up where Mr. Tkach left off. UCG finished what Mr. Tkach left undone.

By doing this they helped to divide and scatter the whole Church of God just as surely as Mr. Tkach divided and scattered the Church by changing the other doctrines. United Church of God and its ministers have excluded members of God's Church from their fellowship who cannot, with a clear conscience towards God, accept and support the overturning of the Church's doctrine on government.

UCG has never shown from the Bible that such a change in doctrine is justified. Their doctrinal study papers, "Godly Governance" and "Balloting in the Church", were written long after UCG was organized, and they miss the mark by a wide margin. In my opinion, they were written, not to find the truth, but to justify and promote the decision UCG ministers had made years before, and they do this with false arguments and twisted reasoning. They do not justify overturning Mr. Armstrong's doctrine.

I have just reviewed UCG's study paper, "Balloting in the Church". I think it is as biased and flawed as the doctrinal paper "Godly Governance", maybe more so. It contains many errors and much flawed reasoning, which I plan to talk about in future posts. Its main strategy seems to be to blur the distinction between ruling with authority and giving counsel by expressing opinion. It paints UCG governance as "giving counsel" or "expressing opinion", then uses Bible examples to show that it is not wrong to express an opinion. But balloting in UCG is not the sharing of opinion or the expressing of views. It is not an opinion poll to give counsel to those who make decisions. It is collective authority. When balloting results are empowered with legally binding authority, the ballot process becomes a means for the majority to force its will on those who disagree.

Many UCG ministers are finding out that balloting-box government is a means for the majority to force its will. But they should have understood that before, and maybe some of them did. It is not safety in a multitude of counsel.

Ballot-box governance is taking to oneself the prerogative of joining with others to make a decision that will be binding on those who may disagree. In other words, it is using FORCE to try to impose one's choice on others. It is rule by the majority over the minority.

If a ballot is taken, if the results carry no authority but only express the opinion of the voters, then it is nothing more than counsel, advice, and opinion, and the decision makers can follow it or not follow it. But if the results of the ballot carry authority, it is not counsel, it is decision making and it is binding. That difference must be kept in mind when reading UCG documents about balloting because those documents tend to blur that distinction.

There is no indication of God setting up and blessing a system of balloting to make binding decisions anywhere in the Bible from Genesis through Revelation, not in Acts 1, not in Acts 6, not in Acts 15, not anywhere. Ballot-box governance is one of Satan's inventions, and in the Church it is a form of rebellion against God. It is a choice of an organization to rule itself rather than to submit to God's rule. Mr. Armstrong's teaching on this subject was correct. He got this doctrine from the Bible, just as he got the doctrines about the Sabbath, the holy days, the identity of lost tribes of Israel, God's plan and purpose to reproduce Himself, and many other doctrines from the Bible.

Balloting puts those in authority who are least qualified (those lower down in the hierarchy) to make decisions about who the leaders will be rather than those who are best qualified (those higher in the hierarchy).

UCG governance divides and scatters the whole Church of God because many members respect the judgment of Mr. Armstrong about government, which was based on the Bible, and cannot support UCG governance nor be part of that system. Thus that unbiblical system EXCLUDES those who choose to live by every word of God in the matter of governance. It separates members and ministers in UCG from members and ministers outside of UCG who obey the Bible.

Members who respect and agree with Mr. Armstrong's teachings and want to live by every word of God in the Bible are often faced with a choice: violate their conscience in order to fellowship with and support United Church of God and its system of governance, which they believe to be wrong, or remain loyal to God and be separated from members, friends, family members, and ministers in a local UCG congregation. By forcing members to make that choice, the United Church of God ministry may be causing some of them to sin (Romans 14:22-23, Matthew 18:6-7).

How can members trust ministers who place themselves under the authority of the voting of men rather than Jesus Christ?

In effect UCG pastors have abandoned part of God's flock (John 10:11-16). They have abandoned the sheep who are most faithful to Mr. Armstrong's doctrines that he taught correctly from the Bible. UCG pastors often refuse to serve those members unless those members first agree to support UCG's wrong form of governance. They have disobeyed and betrayed the instructions God the Father gave through Jesus Christ when He told Peter, "Feed My sheep" (John 21:15-17).

They have abandoned part of Christ's flock, refusing to serve them, and they share in the responsibility for dividing and scattering the Church of God and its members.

And now they are reaping what they have sown (Galatians 6:7). God is bringing on them some of the hardship and suffering they have brought on others. God is allowing strife and division to scatter the ministers in United Church of God as those ministers have also scattered others.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

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

The Cause of the Church's Scattered Condition, and the Solution, Chapter 5

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New Post by Mr. Dennis Luker on Sabbath Issue

Mr. Dennis Luker has published a new post about the Sabbath issue in the Inside United Realtime blog. A link to that post is below.

In this post, Mr. Luker basically says that UCG's doctrine on the Sabbath has not changed, that UCG confirms the inviolate sacredness of the Sabbath day, and that the Sabbath paper that was published, then withdrawn, was merely intended to explain the personal situation of the family in Chile, and was never intended to change doctrine.

But I wrote in a comment to that blog (let's see how fast it is deleted) that what is required to end the rumors that they are trying to change doctrine about the Sabbath is a clear statement from Mr. Luker or other UCG official representing the Council of Elders that Church members are not to operate a business that employs people on the Sabbath, even if it is only occasionally on part of a Sabbath during the year, and even if it would be required by law, period, no exceptions. If a member cannot operate a business within the law that does not employ people on the Sabbath at any time, that member must cease to operate that business. You cannot keep such a business under those circumstances.

That is my understanding of the Church's old doctrine, until someone corrects me.

Why is such a statement necessary?

The credibility of the current UCG administration is very low right now. If they want to put an end to accusations about changing the Sabbath doctrine, they need to be abundantly clear that they are not playing word games. It would be easy for UCG to liberalize policy on operating a business on the Sabbath, and say it is not a "doctrinal change" but just a change in policy or in minor details of a doctrine, or something like that. Yet, doctrine is teaching, and such a change in the policy or judgment concerning a member operating a business on the Sabbath would indeed be a doctrinal change.

Saying that UCG supports the sacredness of the Sabbath is not sufficient. They need to spell out that the policy, teaching, doctrine, whatever you call it, concerning operating a business on the Sabbath is still, NO, you cannot operate a business employing people for even part of a Sabbath a few times a year, no exceptions. That is the old doctrine or policy as I understand it, and a restatement of that by Mr. Luker is what is required if he is serious about countering these accusations of changing doctrine.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Weekly Sabbath Day, Chapter 2

Fallacies of UCG's Ballot-box Justification

Based on the United Church of God doctrinal paper "Godly Governance" and other statements made by UCG ministers and defenders, UCG's justification for overturning Mr. Armstrong's doctrine on government in the Church and for retaining ballot-box governance to this time, seems to be as follows:

1) In the Bible, God does not specify one form or structure of governance to be used in the Church, so any form of governance is ok.

2) God specifies character required of those who lead, so that is the only thing that matters. If the men who lead are righteous, then any form of government will work. If not, then no form of government will work.

3) Christ controls everything that happens because He is the head of the Church, so whatever decisions are made in UCG, it is God's will.

4) Christ therefore must be guiding not only the voting to lead UCG, but He must have guided the decision by UCG ministers to set up UCG with ballot-box governance in the first place.

5) The decision was made fifteen years ago to set up ballot-box governance in order to avoid the kind of problems that existed before (in Worldwide).

The above reasoning contains a number of fallacies.

1) In the Bible, God does not specify one form or structure of governance to be used in the Church, so any form of governance is ok.

Although the examples of government God shows us in the Bible vary in their details, the examples of government structure God gives His people are always from the top down, never by balloting. To say that God uses a variety of forms is misleading and it clouds the issue. There are only two basic forms or structures of government: a) government with authority flowing from the top down, with leaders appointed by those in greater authority over them, and b) self-government by consent of those governed, with leaders elected or chosen by those whom they will lead, in effect, the people deciding who their leaders will be. Now, within those two forms you can have details that vary from one instance to another. But there are still only the two basic forms.

There is not even one example in the entire Bible of God using a system of balloting to rule His people or giving them such a system so they can rule themselves.

The commands to love God (Matthew 22:37-38) and to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4) require that we study the examples in the Bible that show how God thinks in order to seek His will to please Him in every decision we make. The examples of government in the Bible show that it is NOT God's will that we govern ourselves through balloting but that we submit to God's government from the top down. Therefore any form of governances is NOT ok.

2) God specifies character required of those who lead, so that is the only thing that matters. If the men who lead are righteous, then any form of government will work. If not, then no form of government will work.

God certainly specifies in the Bible what the character should be of those who lead, but that is NOT the only thing that matters. It is fine to teach that leaders must practice righteousness, love, patience, humility, wisdom, etc. but the key issue of governances is, who decides who is qualified and should hold a position? Every teaching in the Bible that specifies the character the leaders should have must be applied by those who choose the leaders. The question is, who chooses? Who has the responsibility to exercise judgment to decide who has the qualifications for leadership and who does not, and who exactly should fill what offices? Will these things be decided by those in higher authority or by those in lower authority? This is important.

The examples in the Bible indicate that the leaders in the Church should be chosen by those higher in authority, ultimately by Jesus Christ and God the Father, not by the people who will be under the leaders.

In fact, in the very passage that gives qualifications for an elder is proof that the New Testament Church of God did not ballot to choose their leaders. Notice what Paul wrote regarding the qualifications for an elder: "if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict" (Titus 1:6-9). These verses are referenced many times in the UCG paper on governance. But the context of this passage proves that these leaders were to be appointed from the top down. Paul didn't write this to everyone in the Church or even to all the ministry, though God made sure the letter became part of the Bible. Paul addressed this list of qualifications SPECIFICALLY TO TITUS. "To Titus, a true son in our common faith" (Titus 1:4). Why? "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" (Titus 1:5). Who was to decide who had these qualifications? Not all the elders so they would know who to vote for. It was Titus who was to APPOINT men who had these qualifications.

If they were practicing balloting, Paul would have written a letter to all those who would be voting giving them the qualifications they should look for in a candidate.

Also, to say that righteous character of leaders is the only thing that matters and that the structure of government does not matter ignores the fact that the choice of unbiblical form of government is itself an unrighteous choice.

3) Christ controls everything that happens because He is the head of the Church, so whatever decisions are made in UCG, it is God's will.

Although number three above is not a primary teaching of the doctrinal paper on Godly Governance, it is a strong implication of many statements in letters and sermons that come out of UCG. And it is wrong. Christ allows us to make bad decisions and lets us see the consequences of our mistakes. Christ leads the Church, but He does not force us to follow Him. So decisions that are made in the Church are not necessarily right decisions that are pleasing to Him.

4) Christ therefore must be guiding not only the voting to lead UCG, but He must have guided the decision by UCG ministers to set up UCG with ballot-box governance in the first place.

I do not think that Christ led the decision to set up UCG governance by ballot, and I think that decision was a mistake, but Christ allowed it. I think He is letting UCG ministers and members see the results of that decision, which are not good.

I also do not think Christ necessarily inspires ministers to vote correctly in UCG elections. I don't think Christ is pleased with UCG's decision to set up voting in any case, and if He is not pleased with that, I do not know why He would guide a process He doesn't approve of.

To say that the form or structure doesn't matter because Christ is head of the Church and He controls everything anyway is false reasoning. There is still a right and a wrong way to do things. We are commanded to live by every word of God, and we should seek His will from the Bible in all major decisions, including the decision about the structure of governance.

5) The decision was made fifteen years ago to set up ballot-box governance in order to avoid the kind of problems that existed before (in Worldwide).

This is a human reason for the decision fifteen years ago, but the results are showing that it was a bad decision, yet UCG leaders will not consider changing that decision.

The UCG doctrinal paper on Godly Governance tries to frame the governance issue as being a question of righteousness of leaders or the structure of governance, as if either one or the other is important, but not both. That is wrong and a smokescreen. You need BOTH. You need right structure and you need righteousness in the leaders who hold offices in that structure. And the right structure ensures that those who are most qualified to judge the righteousness and personal qualifications of men who might hold office are the ones who make that decision, the men who already hold higher office, right up to Jesus Christ and God the Father. The wrong structure ensures that those who are LEAST qualified to judge the righteousness and qualifications of leaders make the decisions about who those leaders will be - those who hold lesser offices.

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

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Is Balloting "God's Way"?

UCG's doctrinal paper on Godly Governance says that man's troubles can be traced to our rejection of God's government and His way over our lives.

What is "God's way"?

In talking about the truth of God, we often refer to it as "the way" or as a "way of life", as the Bible also refers to it (Matthew 22:16, John 14:4-6, Acts 9:1-2, 18:25-26, 19:9, 23, 24:14, 2 Peter 2:21).

What is God's "way" concerning government?

How do you know someone's "way"?

You know someone's "way" by his habits, his actions. You can see what someone's way is by watching what he does. What was Jesus Christ's "way" regarding the Sabbath? His way was to keep the Sabbath. How do we know? We know by His example, by the accounts in the Bible that indicate He observed the Sabbath. "And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read" (Luke 4:16). Jesus's CUSTOM showed us that it was His WAY to keep the Sabbath.

You know someone's way of life by seeing his example. You watch his behavior. You watch how he lives. The way he lives is his way of life. You can see it.

That is why our example is important. We are admonished to live God's way of life so others can see it. Ancient Israel was to be an example to other nations of the earth (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). They will be that example in the millennium (Isaiah 2:3, Zechariah 8:23). We in the Church of God are to be examples for the world to see today (Matthew 5:14-16, John 13:35).

Likewise, just as the world can learn of God's way of life by observing our right example, so we can learn God's way of life more perfectly by looking at God's example. God teaches us by His example as well as by His commands, just as Christ taught by example (John 13:12-17, 1 Peter 2:21). Even Jesus learned from the example of His Father (John 5:19).

We can see if setting up a system of balloting is God's way by looking to the Bible to see what God has done. We can see God's custom regarding governance just as we can see Christ's custom regarding the Sabbath. It is a way of life.

Is it God's way in the Bible to use the balloting of men to choose leaders? If you ask, "what is God's way for choosing leaders and making His choice known?", what do you find in the Bible?

Has God ever used the voting of men to choose a leader? Has He ever given us even one example of that to follow in the Bible? No, not once. Never.

Voting or "balloting" is simply not God's way. You can't find any example of it in the Bible.

Never do you find an account, "...and God said, 'once a year you shall take a vote of the elders among you to elect an elder to govern you, and the man who receives the most votes shall be leader over you, and you shall obey him...' " or anything like that. There is no historical account saying something like, "...and they cast ballots, and so-and-so received 430 votes, and so-and-so received 225 votes, so so-and-so became the leader."

If God wanted us to vote to elect Church leaders, He would have given us instructions, or examples, or both. He never did.

But you fill find plenty of examples of God appointing leaders from the top down and you will find plenty of examples of leaders God appointed also appointing men to offices under them, from the top down.

God appointed Moses (Exodus 3:10-12). Moses in turn appointed leaders under him to help judge the people (Exodus 18:25-26).

God appointed Joshua to be leader after Moses, and God communicated that appointment to Moses who told it to the people (Numbers 27:15-23, Deuteronomy 1:37-38, 3:26-28, 31:1-4, 14-15, 34:9). God did not take a vote of the people to determine the leader.

God appointed Samuel to be a prophet (1 Samuel 3:1-21). Samuel was not elected by a vote of the people, nor was he elected by a vote of a council or board of 12 men who themselves were elected by the people or by the judges or elders. He was appointed by God.

God first appointed Saul to be king over Israel (1 Samuel 9:15-17, 10:11, 24). Later, Saul proved himself to be unfaithful (1 Samuel 13:8-14, 15:1-11), and God rejected him and chose David, whom God appointed to replace Saul as king (1 Samuel 15:26-29, 16:1, 6-13). Saul did not lose his office because he lost a national election to king David.

Appointment from above is GOD'S WAY. It is the WAY He does things. It is the WAY He shows us through countless examples in the Bible.

It was God who appointed Jeremiah as a prophet. "Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations' " (Jeremiah 1:4-5). Jeremiah was not voted into office by the priests, the elders, the judges, or the people of Israel. It was not government from the bottom up, ballot box governance as United Church of God practices. It was government by appointment from above, government from the top down.

Likewise God appointed Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:1-5) and the other prophets. None were elected by the voting of the people.

God appointed the twelve apostles through Jesus Christ. "And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, 'Sons of Thunder'; Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite; and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him" (Mark 3:13-19). Jesus himself was appointed by God, not elected by the apostles, and Jesus in turn appointed the apostles (John 15:16).

Christ likewise appointed Saul to be an apostle and changed his name to Paul (Acts 9:10-16). Saul did not run for election. He was not voted into office by the Church. He would have been the last choice of the Church because he persecuted the Church. Paul in turn had evangelists under him and commanded them to APPOINT elders and gave them the authority to choose men and gave them the criteria by which they should choose them (Titus 1:1-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-7).

It is God who places Church members into offices in the Church by APPOINTMENT, not elections. It is God who does the appointing (1 Corinthians 12:28).

There is not a single example of God putting men into office by the casting of ballots, nor is there any example of God giving instructions in how to set up a system of balloting to choose leaders in the entire Bible. But there are many examples of God ruling through appointment of leaders from the top down.

But the United Church of God doctrinal paper on "Godly Governance" neglects to mention that. It does not point out that there is not a single example in the entire Bible of God using a system of voting to govern his people. Instead, it says that God uses a variety of governance structures. It fails to mention that this variety never includes balloting.

UCG's doctrinal paper on Godly Governance says that humanity's troubles can be traced back to its rejection of God's way. If ballot-box governance is not God's way in Bible, and if troubles result when we reject God's way and choose our own way rather than God's way, why has UCG chosen that which is not God's way? According to their own statement, they are asking for troubles for themselves, and indeed recent history shows that their ballot-box governance has become a source of trouble for them.

Balloting by those under authority to choose their leaders is not God's way. God's way is to appoint leaders and delegate to those leaders the authority to appoint others under them. That is the clear teaching of the Bible from beginning to end.

Democracy, voting, ballot-box governance, whatever you call it, is man's way, not God's.

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

New Review of Fasting Paper

UCG Current Crisis blog has announced and made available two papers reviewing the recent paper on fasting that UCG has published. Here is a link to the UCG Current Crisis blog from which you may download those reviews in .pdf format:

These papers help to explain why some UCG ministers have been concerned about the paper on fasting, and point out alleged errors in that paper. It was apparently because of criticism of that paper and the Sabbath paper on the part of Larry Salyer that led to his removal.

If the information presented in these review papers is accurate, it does indeed seem that the paper on fasting contains serious errors. The Sabbath paper contained errors, so this should not be surprising. Yet ministers are removed or threatened with removal for disagreeing with them and for speaking out against the Sabbath and fasting papers. When a minister is asked questions from members of his congregation about these papers, if there are errors in these papers, what does the Council majority want the minister to do? Refuse to answer questions? Lie and pretend that the papers are correct? Or tell the truth and be fired?

It may be that the Council majority prefers the last one. Speak out and be fired. A minister who is gone will not be able to vote against current Council members or their agenda.

Yet what cause has the UCG ministry for complaint? They have supported and endorsed ballot-box governance for years. The Council of Elders, the chairman Melvin Rhodes, and the president Dennis Luker were selected through ballot-box governance. The current UCG administration is the product of that structure of governance. It is what the ministry voted for, and now they have what they have chosen. So why complain? If they believe in ballot-box governance, then why not be happy with the result?

I have been reviewing UCG's doctrinal paper on Godly Governance. It states that when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, quoting Proverbs 29:2. In fact, it quotes or references Proverbs 20:2 several times. Here is the whole verse "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan" (Proverbs 29:2).

Are the members and ministers in United Church of God rejoicing today because of their leadership, or are they groaning? If the ministers are groaning, is it because they are unhappy with the leaders they have chosen by their votes?

Who chose the leaders in power in UCG today, God by appointment from the top down, or man by balloting from the bottom up?

Some will no doubt point out that they people can groan under the rule of men who rule from the top down, and that is true. But at least admit that choosing leaders by balloting has not prevented the kinds of problems it was hoped that form of selection would prevent.

You need right leaders and right governance structure, both, to have wise and righteous leadership.

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

UCG Doctrinal Paper on Godly Governance

Defenders of United Church of God's ballot-box governance sometimes refer to a doctrinal paper entitled "Godly Governance" that explores the issue of governance in the Bible as it may relate to the Church of God. Links to the webpage that lists this paper and a direct link to the pdf file that contains the paper are below:

UCG webpage that lists study papers:

UCG link to "Godly Governance" doctrinal paper (.pdf file):

The first thing I noticed about this paper is the date, March 2001. United Church of God was organized with governance by balloting in 1995. The decision to base UCG's governance on the balloting of the ministry predates this doctrinal study by six years. That means the decision was made first, then the study. This seems to indicate that the paper was written, not to explore what the Bible teaches with an open mind, but to justify a decision already made. How can it be objective under such circumstances? Rather than a study of Bible teaching to determine how UCG should be organized, it seems to be an after-the-fact justification for UCG governance by balloting.

How could it be otherwise? Are not UCG ministers and employees told they have an obligation to support UCG and its form of governance? And if so, how could anyone in UCG write a paper to be published by UCG that is critical of that form of governance?

The unwillingness of UCG to even discuss whether they should continue to be governed by the balloting of the ministry is evidence I think of a fanatical commitment to that structure of governance that would make it impossible for any employee, including the authors of this doctrinal paper, to make and publish an impartial study of this issue in the Bible. If the Bible does teach against governance by ballot, and if any employee did an honest and unbiased study on it, I think that employee would be in danger of being accused of rebellion and losing his job. Most likely, individuals were chosen to write this paper who themselves were so committed to ballot-box governance that there was no chance they would write any other conclusions than that there is nothing against ballot-box governance in the Bible.

The paper puts emphasis on the righteousness of the leaders of the Church, then tries to frame the issue as a choice of which one is important, the structure of governance or the righteousness of the leadership, as if it must be only one or the other, not both. It says that only character matters, structure of government does not matter. In doing this, it uses character as a smokescreen to obscure the issue of the structure of governance.

This paper was not written to teach character. There are many articles published by UCG that teach attributes of right character from the Bible. This paper was written to cover the issue of the structure of governance. It was written because many people in the Church of God outside of UCG have challenged UCG's structure of governance. This paper was written to defend UCG's ballot-box governance. It does this, not by showing from the Bible that balloting is God's way (because it can't) but by trying to say that it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is character.

Fifteen years ago, UCG ministers made a decision about structure. In that decision, they overturned Herbert W. Armstrong's doctrine and judgment on government in the Church. Was it the right decision? How should a decision like that be made? Does the Bible give any instruction relating to that decision? What does the Bible teach about structure? What is God's will concerning structure? This paper is about, and must be about, the decision concerning structure. That is the purpose of this paper. Other COG groups do not have doctrinal papers like this. It is not necessary. Only with UCG is government structure controversial.

No one argues that leaders should not be righteous. That is not the issue. The whole issue is, what structure of governance (top-down or by balloting) does God want in His Church? Anything else is a smokescreen.

At one point the paper asks if the structure of governance is the key to right government. But that is a false question. To have right governance, you need more than one "key". The leaders must be righteous. But you must also have the structure of governance God wants. We must look to the Bible to learn that.

If there is one key, that key is simply to believe and obey God's word, the Bible. The Bible gives all the necessary principles of right governance, including such character traits as love, patience, respect for authority, obedience to God's commands, etc., but also, the Bible also gives us the pattern of right administrative structure, and it is not balloting. The fact that the paper asks if the structure of governance is THE key shows the bias of the paper, that its purpose is to justify a decision already made, not to find the truth. Because if the issue is framed that way, of course the answer is no. Structure is obviously not THE key in the sense that it is the only thing necessary. You can have bad government even with the right structure. But you cannot have right government without right structure.

Throughout the paper there seems to be a very selective choosing and interpreting of Bible examples of governance designed to make the point that God does not teach an exact form of structure but uses a variety of structures, so structure does not matter. Yet there is not a single example in the Bible of God using the voting of men to make His will known.

The paper makes a point that no structure of government will solve the problems in the Church. Of course it won't. Neither will keeping the Sabbath solve problems in the Church, or honoring our parents, or preaching the gospel to the world. But those things should be done, and we need to have the right structure of government or the problems in the Church will eventually become unsolvable.

We must follow God's way in everything. Having a godly organizational structure is a step in the right direction, and along with other parts of God's law will enable us to work together to serve God effectively in peace. But with the wrong structure, that becomes impossible.

This doctrinal paper emphasizes the importance of character in those who hold office in God's Church. No one in the Church disagrees with that. The paper lists the qualifications for an elder in the Church that the Bible gives.

But here is a key point the paper does not mention. We can all agree on the qualifications, from the Bible, for elders and leaders in the Church. But the question then arises, who makes the judgment call to apply those qualifications to choose particular individuals to hold particular offices? Who decides, this man fits the qualifications, this man does not, this man will hold this office, this one will hold that office? That is a judgment call, but who makes that call? That is where the structure of governance comes in. With top-down governance, the decision is made from the top, from those higher than the office being filled. With ballot-box governance, the decision is made by the voting of those holding a lesser office.

The paper likes to say that there is a variety of structures. But there are really only two types. Within each type, details may vary, but there are only two types: 1) top-down or, 2) bottom-up (voting). Either the authority flows from the top down through appointment, or the authority flows from the bottom up through voting. Any structure will be a variation of one of those two forms.

And while there are many examples of God using top-down structure to govern His people, there is not one example in the Bible of God using a balloting structure to govern His people.

Many people want to see a clear-cut command in the Bible that says, "Thou shalt not ballot", or they will say that the Bible does not teach against it. But the greatest commandment, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37) requires that we look for more than exact do's and don'ts that God commands us, but also that we search the Bible to know God's will, and when we do that, we look at examples also to see how God thinks, to see what His way is, not just what He commands. We seek His will because we want to please Him. We seek to please Him because we are committed to loving Him with all our being. So in exploring the issue of governance in the Bible, we should look at the examples God gives us and ask, what structure of governance is most pleasing to God? What form of governance is "God's way"? This, the paper does not do.

Seeking God's will, not just what He commands, is also a character trait. A mind that has right character will have love and faith and trust towards God that is willing to believe what the Bible teaches about administrative structure and organization and is willing to live by every word of the Bible and to admit mistakes, including the mistake UCG made 15 years ago to build an organization based on the authority of the ballot box. When we were baptized, we made a commitment to surrender our lives 100% to God, to hold nothing back, to seek His will and His way in EVERY decision we make, including decisions about organizational structure.

There are those who go as far as they can according to their own will, staying just slightly in bounds of what God absolutely commands, and there are those who seek God's WILL, not just the bare minimum of what He explicitly commands, but they search the scriptures to know how He thinks, to seek not just His commands but His will, to do it.

We are to live by every word of God, and we are to seek God's will in EVERY important decision, including the decisions about form of governance. And we seek God's will by learning how God thinks from the commands, instructions, and EXAMPLES in the Bible. God NEVER set up a system of ballot-box governance in the Bible, so how can anyone think that is God's will now?

In my opinion, this doctrinal paper is wrong and misleading in the extreme.

In future posts, I will explore some particular issues raised by this paper.

If a Church of God organization is in submission to Christ, though small details of organizational form and structure may vary, the basic principle of the flow of authority from top to bottom will not change. If authority is by the ballot box, we are not fully submitting to Christ and Christ cannot fully lead the organization because the organization is not submitting to Him. This hurts the spiritual growth of the members and impedes the work of the organization. Christ will still work with individuals to correct them and bring them to salvation, but we have our part to respond to Christ's correction and instruction. God instructs us through the Bible and God corrects us through the Bible, through circumstances, and through trials. And if we refuse to submit to Christ in our organizational structure, Christ will correct us with the Bible first, and if we refuse to believe the Bible, with trials. The current trials in UCG, the divisiveness that is occurring, is probably such a correction. Christ is allowing these to teach the painful lesson that governance by balloting in the Church of God is not biblical and does not have His approval.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1

How to Understand the Bible, Chapter 1

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

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Responsible Use of New Knowledge

Many pastors and ministers are familiar with the problem of members who believe they have discovered new truth in the Bible, knowledge that the Church does not have, knowledge that contradicts what the ministry is teaching, and who then try to promote their new ideas among the membership, contradicting the ministry and the teaching of the Church. Some Church of God leaders react against that by going to an opposite extreme, teaching that God never reveals new knowledge through the Bible to lay members, but only through the top leaders of the Church.

God can indeed sometimes help a member or minister understand Bible truth on a subject better than the top leaders in a Church of God organization or fellowship. God can reveal new knowledge to a lay member by opening that member's mind to understand the Bible teaching on that subject. The proof of this is that God did exactly that with Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong when he was a newly baptized lay member attending with the Church of God (Seventh Day). God helped Mr. Armstrong learn the identity of the lost tribes of Israel, and God helped Mr. Armstrong understand the Bible teaching about the Church's obligation to observe God's annual feasts and holy days. This happened before Mr. Armstrong was ordained, shortly after he was baptized, and he submitted these suggestions to Church of God (Seventh Day) leadership, but the leadership rejected that new knowledge without refuting it from the Bible.

But if God reveals new knowledge to a member, that member has a responsibility to handle that knowledge in a godly way.

There is a right way and a wrong way to handle new doctrinal knowledge.

God is testing us. This physical life is the opportunity for God to teach us lessons we will use for all eternity, and it is our opportunity to learn those lessons. God is also testing us to see if we will live the way He wants us to live in His kingdom, or not.

Sometimes God tests us by giving us a gift or an opportunity or a blessing and then watching to see how we handle it. We tend to focus on trials as tests of our faithfulness to God and His way of life. But blessings can be a test too.

A principle of understanding the Bible that I often emphasize is having a willingness to believe and obey what God says. God may open our minds to understand a point of Bible truth. If we believe God, God will help us to understand more. But if we disbelieve God, God might no longer help us to understand. This process often is what separates those who are called from those who are not called, and also those who respond to God's call and those who reject it. The world cannot understand the Bible because they do not believe what God says. And if we in the Church cease to believe what God says, God can take away the knowledge He has given us.

There is another principle of how to understand the Bible. When God gives us understanding of something that others do not have, we have a responsibility to use that knowledge lawfully.

Suppose you have a young son, and he asks for a bicycle. You carefully explain to him his responsibility to use the bicycle properly, to take care of it, to follow your rules about where he can go with it and when. He agrees. Then you give him the bicycle. Now if he breaks your rules, rides the bike to places you don't want him to go, doesn't properly take care of the bike, he is not showing that he is using the gift responsibly. Then when he is older and asks for a car, are you more or less likely to trust him with a car when you remember how he acted irresponsibly with the bike? But if he obeyed you with the bike, he will probably obey your rules with the car (Luke 16:10).

Likewise if you give your child a hamster and he or she abuses it and doesn't take care of it, would you then want to give your child a dog?

Likewise, if God should bless a member with new knowledge from the Bible, God wants to see if that member handles it lawfully, responsibly.

One point I stress in my book, and that is that because God has given the Church knowledge of the tribulation to come, we have an obligation to share that knowledge with the world by giving a warning, just as we would want to be warned. That is one way to use knowledge responsibly.

But there are other points.

In the Church we are not to cause division. We are to all speak the same thing as much as possible (1 Corinthians 1:10). We are to respect the ministry and understand that God has given them the job of teaching the membership (Hebrews 13:17, Hebrews 13:7, 1 Corinthians 12:28). This means that if God helps me understand a point of doctrine that the Church does not have, I should not go around promoting it and discussing it with other members. I can take it to the ministry or the leadership for evaluation, and if I am right, they can publish it for the whole Church, but if I am wrong they can show me my error. And if after discussing it, we still do not agree, I can put it on the shelf and wait for Christ to show who is right, and in the meantime not try to usurp the authority of the ministry by teaching it to brethren contrary to the official teachings of the Church.

Also, when God helps us understand something, we should resist the temptation to be puffed up in our minds with vanity or pride about it (1 Corinthians 8:1-3). It is a gift, perhaps to encourage us in time of trial, perhaps to test us. It does not mean we are righteous. But if God gives us that gift, we better handle it responsibly. If it is a test, and we fail the test, is it likely God will help us understand more?

If God helps me understand a point of truth from the Bible, if I use that understanding to create division, will God be pleased with that? If I use it unlawfully, am I passing the test? If I let myself become vain and proud because I learned something new, is God likely to reveal more new knowledge to me, more truth, or is He likely to reveal less? If I think I am more righteous than others because I have understanding, I think that pride and vanity could harm my character so that in the long run I might lose the knowledge I previously had.

The history of the Church of God is full of examples of people who took themselves out of the Church and God's truth because they did not handle knowledge responsibly.

So a key to understanding the Bible is, use what we learn lawfully and responsibly. Then God can give us more.

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1

How to Understand the Bible, Chapter 1

Changing Doctrine, Chapter 6

The Inconsistencies of Saying We Can't Change Herbert W. Armstrong's Doctrine, Chapter 6

Were Mr. Armstrong's Teachings Infallibly Correct at his Death?, Chapter 6