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