Monday, September 10, 2012

Speaking the Same Thing in the Church of God

This is a continuation of some of my recent posts about handling doctrinal disagreements in the Church of God.

I will start with some Bible admonitions, and then ask, how can we put all these together to correctly apply them in the Church of God.

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

"Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17).

"Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" (Hebrews 13:7).

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

"Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah" (Jude 8-11).

"They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord" (2 Peter 2:10-11).

"Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away" (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

"Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know" (1 Corinthians 8:1-2).

"...and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:15-16).

"Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).

"Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3).

"Thus says the LORD: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD' " (Jeremiah 17:5). "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD" (Jeremiah 17:7).

"So Jesus answered and said to them, 'Have faith in God' " (Mark 11:22).

"Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God..." (Hebrews 6:1).

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

"Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17).

"If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken)..." (John 10:35).

"Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds" (Colossians 3:9).

How can we reconcile and obey all these verses?

We must believe and trust God more than man. The scriptures of the Bible are inspired by God and cannot be broken. We must have faith in God, not man, and the ministry does not have dominion over our faith. We must, therefore, believe the Bible.

But the Bible is like a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces to put together correctly, and some of it is hard to understand, and it can take time to understand it. Right now, we only know in part. We understand and learn different things from the Bible at different rates of speed. I might be slow to understand a portion of scripture and doctrine that is difficult for me but easy for you, yet there may be other portions of scripture and doctrine that are easy for me, but difficult for you. We need to be patient with each other. Some learn faster than others on certain subjects, but none of us knows everything perfectly and completely, and we won't till the resurrection.

God is concerned with our attitude and heart more than intelligence. He is able to discern why someone "doesn't get it" regarding a particular verse, passage, or doctrine. If our heart is right, if we have a willingness to understand and believe the Bible, He is patient with our mistakes. But if we do not understand because our heart is not right, perhaps because of pride and conceit (which we have all had because we are human, and still have to a degree, but must continuously strive to overcome and humble ourselves), perhaps because our pride, vanity, and conceit blocks us from admitting to ourselves that we have been wrong, God knows that too. He also knows if we fail to understand the Bible because we do not trust God enough to believe him but rather make an idol out of human leaders, believing them more than God, letting men interpret the Bible for us rather than letting the Bible interpret the Bible.

So if we believe God, if we believe the Bible, but our understanding of it is not perfect, we can disagree about doctrine.

Yet we are to all speak the same thing. Also, we cannot speak the same thing by lying about what we believe, pretending to agree, saying we agree but we don't, because we are not to lie to one another. We cannot bear false witness and tell someone, "such and such doctrine preached by the minister is true" while in our minds and hearts we think "no, it isn't true".

The only way I know to reconcile these verses is to avoid talking about doctrinal subjects with other members where we disagree with those in authority in the Church we fellowship with. We should not contradict our pastor or the top human leadership of the fellowship we attend when we talk with brethren. We have to avoid certain subjects for the sake of unity. How else can we "all speak the same thing" (1 Corinthians 1:10)? How else can there be "no divisions" among us (same verse)?

We can't lie and say what we don't believe. We cannot trust and believe the human leadership more than our own Bibles and more than we trust and believe the God who inspired our Bibles. We aren't always going to agree about what God is really saying in the Bible because that is a learning process that takes time. It took time for Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong to understand many doctrines from the Bible and it takes us time to understand too, even till Christ returns.

I am not talking about taking our disagreements to the leadership or ministry in private. That is permitted. That is a part of the learning process. A pastor, for example, can sit down with us and explain the Church's position in more detail. Or the pastor can research the issue and if our position has merit, take it higher, and if the top leadership is humble enough to accept correction and believe the Bible and admit error, he can make the correction for the whole Church of God fellowship He supervises. He can make the change for the whole portion of Christ's flock God has entrusted him with, to feed them, and all will profit. Correction can sometimes come from the bottom up, if the correction is in the form of respectful counsel and advice, according to the Bible (2 Kings 5:9-14).

I am also not talking about disagreements between fellowships. That is a disgrace to the whole Church of God, but it is a matter for the top human leadership of each fellowship to work out, if possible, with the men in leadership of the other groups. No member can be expected to refrain from contradicting what leaders of other fellowships teach, for those leaders contradict each other.

And I am not talking about doctrines so fundamental and foundational to the true gospel that we have to take a stand with them, and it would be better to leave (or be kicked out of) a fellowship that was in error on those things. An example would be if our pastor said that the law is done away, that we don't have to keep the Sabbath or any of the ten commandments, or if he said the Bible was not always true. I would not keep silent about that issue, nor would I remain in a fellowship that taught that.

I am talking about the custom of some, who may be unconverted (Matthew 13:24-30, 13:36-43, Jude 19), or if converted ought to know better, of openly contradicting those who have authority over them, the ministry of the fellowship they attend, in conversation with fellow members of that same fellowship.

A pastor gives a sermon. During fellowship after the service, one member says to another, "What our pastor said in the sermon about such-and-such doctrine isn't right. Let me tell you what is the real truth from the Bible." Or at a restaurant eating with other members he criticizes the top leadership of the fellowship over one thing or another.

That should not happen. We should not contradict and undermine the authority for teaching God has given to those who have authority over us.

Suppose the ministry of a fellowship I attend teaches it is ok to eat in restaurants on the Sabbath, but I believe it is not ok. I should not contradict the minister in conversation with other members. I will talk to the minister in private, or write a letter to headquarters, but I won't contradict him in front of others. But I will obey the Bible to the best of my understanding, and I will politely and tactfully decline invitations to eat out in restaurants on the Sabbath. Or put it the other way. I think it is ok to eat out on the Sabbath, but the Church of God fellowship I attend says no, don't eat in restaurants on the Sabbath. I will not contradict that teaching with other members by telling members it is ok to visit restaurants on the Sabbath.

The same thing goes for new moons, who the king of the south might be, and many other details of doctrines. If I agree, I will express agreement. If I disagree, I will keep my mouth shut.

The rule I follow is, if I am under a man's authority in the Church, I will not contradict him or appose him in front of others also under his authority, because that would undermine and weaken his authority in the eyes of others, and I have no right to do that according to God's law. It would also create division.

What constitutes a Church of God fellowship's teachings? It would include what is written and published by the ministry of that Church and by employees of that Church and what is spoken by the ministry. That would include sermons, Bible studies, books, booklets, articles, and blogs published by employees and ministers of that Church. That does not include things stated to be opinions. If a minister in a sermon says, "No one knows when Christ will return, but my personal opinion and estimate is that we have about ten years", that is not official teaching of the Church but only the minister's opinion, which he is free to express, and I am free to express a different opinion. But if it is not an opinion but a teaching, then I should not contradict it in my conversation or in my blog, if I am a member of that fellowship and organization and therefore under the authority of the ministry of that Church.

There are many things to talk about where the Church we attend simply does not take a position. These are open to speculation and discussion. Most fellowships do not say how much time we have left before the tribulation, and rightly so because we don't know, and if ministers or leaders say, they are careful to label it as their opinion. So we are free to talk about it around a meal or in Church fellowship. There are many other such things, especially concerning how end-time prophecies will be fulfilled in detail.

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

I don't often recommend fiction movies, but there are some good lessons in the Caine Mutiny about respect towards authority. Humphrey Bogart played the part of a captain of a ship in the Navy who had mental or emotional problems. The officers belittled him, criticized him behind his back, made jokes about him, and refused to give him the loyalty and even emotional support in times of crisis that he needed. They undermined his authority by so doing, and he sensed it, and that made his problem worse, to the point that in a crisis he cracked up and had to be relieved of command by one of his officers. Later, that officer faced trial on a charge of mutiny. He was acquitted, but at the end of the movie the defending attorney (Jose Ferrer) gave the officers a tongue-lashing for not supporting their captain more, and he pointed out that they really were guilty in a sense of mutiny because they withheld their support of the captain when he needed it.

If I am a member of a fellowship, and the ministers in that fellowship teach it is ok to watch boxing, but I feel boxing is wrong because it is violent, it is not my right to publicly contradict the ministry of my fellowship in my blog. Or if they teach that watching boxing is wrong, but I think it is ok, the same thing - I will not post about boxing. I should not publicly contradict the ministers of a fellowship I attend.

Why is pride dangerous? It makes it harder for us to admit to ourselves we have been wrong, and that makes it harder to receive correction, and that can be dangerous. "He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1).

The sooner we accept correction, the easier it is for us. It is like holding on to a rope of a hot air balloon. The balloon, on the ground, has broken loose and started to rise with no one in it. Quickly, I grab a rope to hold it down. But slowly I begin to be lifted off my feet. I haven't the strength to climb the rope but only hold on. I am three feet off the ground. Someone yells, "let go of the rope". But I hang on. I don't want to look foolish. I don't want to admit I made a mistake grabbing the rope. I am ten feet off the ground and rising. Now, if I let go, I might injure myself, and I will look even more foolish. So I hang on. The balloon is now thirty feet in the air, and my grip is weakening. Need I continue?

But if I had let go early, it might have been painful, but still better for me in the long run.

God is merciful. He corrects us gently at first, but if we don't respond to gentle correction, the correction becomes more severe later.

Let's all strive, as much as it is possible, to speak the same thing within the fellowship we attend so there is no confusion or division, but peace. And let us recognize that God has given the ordained ministry special authority for teaching that non-ordained members do not have, the authority to determine the teachings of the Church we attend.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Should Each Member Promote His Own Opinion?, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 - Obtaining God's Help -- Practicing What We Preach

Chapter 9 - Repentance


Anonymous said...

What should be made of Heb 5:12 For when for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.?

That verse can come across somewhat as a contradiction when compared to the point being made in 1Cor 12:29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?

On one hand the impression being made is that the membership should progress to be able to teach. Then on the other hand it's being pointed out that not every is a teacher.

What are your thoughts?

Norbert said...

All of us, as we learn and grow in the Church, should be able to become teachers. The author of Hebrews is rebuking his audience because they are not learning and growing as they should, and more of them should be able to teach and should be teaching things they ought to know. They should know basic doctrines well enough to teach them, and we should teach them to new people coming in, to our children, to each other. The question is, what do we teach? Being a teacher does not give me the liberty to teach whatever I want. I should not teach that God is a trinity, or that the Sabbath is done away, or that man has an immortal soul, to name some examples.

So if a new person came into the congregation you attend and asked you about 1 John 5:7 ("there are three that bear witness in heaven..."), and said, "doesn't this show that God is a trinity?", could you explain it? If you have been in the Church for a long time, you should be able to. Could you explain from the Bible why we don't keep Christmas and Easter? You should. Many new prospective members learn points of doctrine from the membership before they learn from the ministry. But apparently the Hebrews the letter was addressed to were having problems with that. We are supposed to be ready to give an answer, not just to members and prospective members, but neighbors and co-workers and family members not in the Church (1 Peter 3:15-16).

There are also times when we should rebuke and correct a brother if we see him sinning or even doing something unwise and dangerous.

No minister I have heard of objects to members explaining doctrine and teaching each other in their fellowship and in their conversation, especially when answering questions, provided they do not contradict the ministry.

So if you are attending a COG fellowship, and a person asks you a question about a doctrine, you should be able to go ahead and explain it, provided that is not a doctrine you disagree with. If you disagree with the Church about a particular doctrine, let the minister or other members explain it and you stick to the things you can explain without contradicting the Church.

As far as the comparison between Hebrews 5:12 (you ought to be teachers) and 1 Corinthians 12:27-30 (are all teachers?), they seem to be using the word "teacher" in different ways. I haven't even looked at the Greek - it might be the same word or not. I will assume for this discussion it is the same word. Does that make it a contradiction?

Probably in every language the meaning of a word is determined in part by the context. We use the same word different ways, which is why dictionaries list multiple meanings for each word. The word "law" can mean different things, depending on how it is used, which is why some misunderstand Paul's writings. Sometimes it can mean the spiritual law of God. Sometimes it can mean the first five books of the Bible, the ones Moses wrote. What about "prophet"? Sometimes it can simply mean one who preaches, but in other cases it means one who receives special divine revelations from God to give to others.

In 1 Corinthians 12:27-30, "teacher" is apparently an office. That would mean it is an appointed or ordained office, like that of local elder today, where the pastor appoints someone, officially, to do some kind of work of teaching in the congregation. Maybe that involves giving sermonettes, or whatever they had in those days. In Hebrews 5:12 the context indicates, not the office of teacher, but the general function of teaching we should all be able to do - teaching our children, answering questions from our boss or co-workers why we won't work Friday nights, explaining to our neighbor why we won't go to his Christmas party, answering questions from our relatives about the Church and what we believe, and answering questions from each other in the Church, but not in any official capacity.

Anonymous said...

This has been the test of a true Christian since Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong wrote his June 24, 1985 Worldwide News (Special Edition) letter to those called to worship God the Father and Jesus Christ, and admitted to us he had not been "adhering to Romans 16:17" himself, as he foretold of what was about to happen to those ignoring what the TRUE APOSTLE PETER had already warned every man in the Worldwide Church of God in the scriptures himself (II Peter 3:16, 17) long before he died, concerning what Paul had already warned those in the Ministry in I Timothy 5:19, 20 which this man like the first man Adam failed to adhere to, as Peter points out in II Peter 3:16, 17 not only to his own destruction, but to the majority of those who had been looking to him as if he were ruling in place of Christ, themselves. (II Peter 3:16, 17, I Timothy 5:19, 20, James 1:7, 8, 13-22, James 2:7-9, 10, James 3:1, I Timothy 5:24, I Peter 4:17-19)