Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ethics Agreements Part 3 - Making Commitments

A bit of COG news: COGWA has announced that Mr. Richard Ames of Living Church of God (LCG) visited Jim Franks at COGWA headquarters to see their new building. LCG seems to have friendly relations, to a point, with both COGWA and UCG. Link:

Ministers should beware of signing "ethics agreements" with a Church of God organization.

In some cases, an employment agreement might be necessary to spell out certain financial details, such as agreements about ownership of assets, and things like that. But if the UCG code of ethics agreement I mentioned in a previous post is typical of ethics agreements signed by ministers in other Church of God organizations, I see problems with them. These seem to go beyond employment agreements. They are as the label implies, codes of "ethics". They attempt to set a standard of rules or behavior that define right and wrong, and in doing so, they compete with the Bible. God decides what is right and wrong, not man.

The Bible is our code of ethics.

As I understand it, the UCG code of ethics must be signed by non-employed local elders. What if such an elder, realizing such a code of ethics competes with and is contrary to the principles taught in the Bible, refuses to sign? He cannot be fired, for he is not an employee. Will he be disfellowshipped? On what biblical grounds? Will he have his ministerial credentials revoked? He is still a minister of Christ. He may even have been ordained before UCG came into existence. On what grounds could UCG say, "Christ made you a minister, but we are removing you from that office."

Here is a comment I wrote for one of two previous posts on this subject:

"This ethics agreement has been compared with typical agreements employees are asked to sign by major corporations. This is a valid comparison, but there is one difference. If I understand this correctly, all UCG elders are expected to sign this, even those who are not employed by UCG.

"While some kinds of agreements between employer and employee may be necessary based on the employment situation, such as agreements to respect assets of the corporation that an employee may be entrusted with by virtue of his employment, this is not one of them. This agreement is based on the ordination of a man to the office of minister or elder whether employed or not, whether ordained by UCG or not.

"The ordination to the office of minister comes from Christ, not any body of men, though Christ uses men to perform the ordination. It is Christ who places a man into the office of minister. And Christ has His own terms, His own "code of ethics" that ministers must follow. That is the Bible.

"This code of ethics in effect competes with and is a substitute for the Bible. Ministers should not sign, in my opinion.

"If the COG you attend required you to sign a document like this just because you attend with them, would you sign? And if not, why should a local elder?

"And if a local elder, perhaps ordained by Mr. Armstrong or another minister before UCG was ever formed, refused to sign, what would UCG do? Disfellowship him? Remove his ministerial credentials? They cannot remove him from the office Christ has put him into just for refusing to sign an agreement to support the decisions of UCG leaders plus all the other "amplifications" of the Bible in this agreement. They do not have the authority to remove him for that."

A minister must always obey God rather than man when there is a conflict (Acts 5:29). God already gives those whom Christ has placed in office certain authority. If the UCG Council of Elders has that authority, they can give orders to the ministers under their authority, and those ministers have to obey that authority unless it conflicts with the law of God. That is made clear in the Bible (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 2 Corinthians 13:10, Acts 5:29). You don't need a ethics agreement that requires ministers to promise unconditionally (in effect) to submit to the authority of the Council. That nullifies God's instruction that ministers should obey higher ministers only when such obedience does not conflict with God's law (Acts 5:29).

The Bible warns against making commitments without knowing the consequences of those commitments.

For example, Proverbs warns against becoming "surety" for someone else (Proverbs 6:1-5, 11:15, 17:18). One meaning of "surety" is that it is the making of a commitment to guarantee the payment of a debt, and one who guarantees the debt of another person is committing himself in advance to pay that person's debt if he doesn't. In principle, God is warning us to be careful about making commitments about the future actions of others when you cannot know what those actions will be. Proverbs also says, "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 22:3, see also Proverbs 27:12). We should anticipate what can go wrong in a situation and protect ourselves in advance, and this should include avoiding promises to back up the decisions of others when we do not know what those decisions will be. If someone makes a right decision, you can support that decision, but you don't have to promise to support it before you know what it is.

The Bible is full of examples of those who made rash decisions before knowing the consequences. Joshua and the leaders of Israel swore peace to Gibeon, but regretted it later when they found out they lived in the land that Israel was to possess (Joshua 9:1-27). God put these things in the Bible as examples for us to learn from (1 Corinthians 10:11). Perhaps Jesus had this example in mind when He said, " not swear at all..." (Matthew 5:33-37). Jephthah swore to God to sacrifice whatever came out of his house if God gave him the victory, not realizing his daughter would come out (Judges 11:29-40).

Should the Council of Elders be trusted to never go against God's law? No, you cannot give that kind of trust to a human being. We are all free moral agents, we are all subject to Satan's temptations, and we cannot read each others minds. Even God's prophet Samuel could not judge which of Jesse's sons was a man after God's heart. "But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart' " (1 Samuel 16:7). So even Samuel could not judge another man's heart, and Samuel was a man God uses as a righteous example along with Moses in Jeremiah 15:1. Mr. Armstrong did not know that Mr. Tkach would make the doctrinal changes that he did, and Mr. Armstrong worked with Mr. Tkach closely. How much chance does any local elder have to rightly judge the hearts of the men on the Council of Elders to know they will never make decisions the elder cannot support because they conflict with God's law? Then how can he make a commitment to support those decisions?

If an elder signs the agreement, then the Council makes a decision that goes against the law of God, the elder is put into a position of being forced to violate God's law by supporting the decision or to break his promise, a promise he never should have made in the first place. Should a promise mean nothing?

The sad thing is, those elders who have no conscience and will think nothing of breaking their word may be the first ones to agree to sign. The ones who sign first may be the ones whose signatures are worthless.

Someone might say, well, a minister can sign, then if something comes up he cannot support, he can resign. Resign from what? Membership in that Church of God organization? He may not be an employee, and this agreement is not limited to terms of employment. What if the thing is a minor matter, yet one he cannot support. Does he support something that is wrong just because it is a small thing? Or does he quit the fellowship over something small? That is a recipe for fragmenting the whole organization. It is a recipe for division. In fact, the members of COGWA who used to be on the Council of Elders of UCG resigned from that Council, giving the reason that they could not support the Council's decisions and their agreement to do so therefore required them to resign. Now, this type of agreement is being extended, apparently, to the entire ministry.

How can you promise to do what a man tells you to do in advance of knowing what it is? "Tell me to do something, and I promise I will do it, whatever it is, even though you haven't told me yet." Is that godly? If you tell me to sin, have I not sinned by making the promise in the first place? I either have to do the sin you tell me to do, or break my promise to do what you say.

It seems to me that ministers who sign this are compromised. What if Christ, through the Bible and through the Holy Spirit, leads a minister to do something different than the Code of Ethics allows? That is certainly possible. This code of ethics contains many do's and don'ts that the Bible does not give as part of God's law or as instructions to ministers. Apparently, the writers of this code of ethics think that God forgot to put them in the Bible.

It seems to me that ministers who sign this are compromised. Christ may indeed lead a minister to do something not allowed by the code of ethics, but the minister has already promised to obey the code of ethics, not Christ. How could I trust such a minister to guide me, teach me, counsel me, or rule over me if I know he is following a paper document, not the Bible, not Christ?

This agreement may be a subtle way UCG claims that all the decisions of the Council are right because Jesus Christ leads the Council. There is no logic in that. Of course the decisions Christ makes are right, but He doesn't always force men, even ministers, to obey Him. It attempts to transfer the trust we should have in Christ into trust in the Council. But God says, do not trust in man (Psalm 146:3), and God puts a curse on those who do (Jeremiah 17:5-10).

A signature on the code of ethics agreement, promising to support the decisions of the leadership of a Church of God organization, is an expression of a level of trust in the leaders that rightly belongs only to God.

I think "Code of Ethics" agreements that ministers in a Church of God organization must sign are a potential trap. I think many ministers who really are converted and are striving to tell the truth, to keep their promises, and to obey all of God's laws will one day regret signing such agreements, if they sign or have signed.


Anonymous said...

I've spent some time re-reading the code of ethics. I wouldn't state that it is wrong or sinful of itself as long as a man fully understands it.

For instance concider the last point in the code:

"Should I ever leave or otherwise not remain as an elder of the Church, I will not proselytize members of UCGIA in order to draw them away or to gain a following for myself or some other religious organization"

Seeing the specific wording of "an elder of the Church", compared to 'an elder of the UCGIA' are not necessarily synonymous and absolutely imply the same thing.

What happens if the UCGIA should leave or otherwise not remain as an organization of "the Church" (e.g. WCG). Would not this same code ethically imply binding an elder who is faithful to his calling and remains in the Church, to obligate him to voice the truth towards the members?


John D Carmack said...

Wow! I see you've been busy lately, and I've not been paying much attention. :)

Only a couple of things:

1. First, hopefully just a nit-pick: "Jephthah swore to God to sacrifice whatever came out of his house if God gave him the victory, not realizing his daughter would come out (Judges 11:29-40)."

People who have studied this passage have pretty much concluded that Jepthah's vow was to either sacrifice or dedicate whatever came out of the house. If it had been the family dog, for instance, surely God would not have been pleased with it being sacrificed. A firstborn of horses and mules, for example, was to either be redeemed or have its neck broken. While this does not take away from what you said, it is a misconception that Jepthah sacrificed his daughter rather than dedicating her, which would have been an abomination to God.

2. "That is a recipe for fragmenting the whole organization. It is a recipe for division."

As are any of the other manmade "corporate" traditions that seem to have infested the church organizations.