Should a member or minister in a Church of God organization be disfellowshiped for disagreeing with the leadership of that organization about the calendar, about new moons, or about the issue of eating in restaurants on the Sabbath?
A key is whether the member or minister is causing division by promoting his view among other members contrary to the policy of the leadership that Christ has put in the organization he attends.
"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18). "These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit" (Jude 19). "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).
There is organization in the Church, and Christ has placed certain men in positions of authority, and while that authority has limits and does not include authority over our faith in God and His word ("Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" - 2 Corinthians 1:24), that authority does include the authority to make binding decisions about the work of the Church, including decisions about what doctrines will be officially taught by the Church, and members and ministers under that authority should not undermine that authority by contradicting it openly in conversation with other members. "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,..." (Ephesians 4:1-14). "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).
God is not the author of confusion - 1 Corinthians 14:33. It is discouraging and creates division when a member is seeking to be taught by the ministry, and then hears another member criticize what the minister has taught. We come to Sabbath services for peace and fellowship, not controversy and disrespect. People who cannot keep their mouths shut about their disagreements should stay home, and if not, then the ministry should put them out promptly.
However, if the member does not openly talk among the members about his disagreements, but discusses them privately and respectfully with those ministers or leaders over him in an effort to either understand or get a change made in Church teaching, properly going through channels as he should, he should not be disfellowshipped simply because he does not agree with Church authority about what God is saying in the Bible.
Let me state here my position on the issues I mentioned, so you can know my biases about that, then I will talk more about the issue of being disfellowshipped.
I personally do not think that God teaches, through the Bible, that it is wrong for a Church of God member to eat in a restaurant on the Sabbath. I think the calendar that Mr. Armstrong and most Church of God ministers and members observe is the correct one. And I do not think that God teaches in the Bible that members are required to observe new moons. Yet, while I currently believe these things, I have an open mind and am willing to be corrected from the Bible if I am wrong.
Nevertheless, if a member or minister avoids restaurants on the Sabbath for reasons of conscience, observes new moons, and rests on the holy days according to a different calendar, he should NOT be disfellowshiped for those things, provided he does not try to promote his views among the membership.
That is what the Bible teaches.
Should a member eat in a restaurant on the Sabbath if he believes the Bible teaches against it? "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). This of course is not talking about restaurants, but it is teaching a principle, and the principle applies today.
What about the calendar?
There was a time when Mr. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God taught that Pentecost was on a Monday. That was an error, and Mr. Armstrong corrected his mistake when he learned that it was a mistake. I was not in the Church of God at that time, but I heard or read later that some who understood it was a mistake before Mr. Armstrong corrected it quietly rested on Pentecost Sunday, according to their understanding of the Bible, while also assembling for fellowship on Monday with the Church. They were not disfellowshipped, but rather they were later spoken of in a positive sense of the right way to handle disagreements. They did not create division or try to promote their views. In fact, it was not even well known among other members that these people were resting on the Sunday before the Church kept Pentecost on Monday because they did it quietly, not talking about it openly.
Likewise, those who believe the Church of God should be observing a different calendar can rest on the holy days according to that calendar, for conscience sake towards God, but they should do it quietly, not talking about it, and they can still attend with the Church when the Church assembles. They can also observe new moons, in their own personal observance, without promoting new moons among other members. And when Christ comes, He can explain to whoever is wrong what their error is, but in the meantime we can have peace in the Church. That is God's way. We obey God first, but we show respect for the authority of the offices God has placed in the Church.
Is it hypocrisy to quietly observe different days without talking about it? Is it hypocrisy to keep silent? Not at all.
Do we say everything we think? If your close friend makes a mistake, do you always tell him his mistake? If a woman changes her hair arrangement, if you don't like it, do you always tell her you don't like it just so you won't be a hypocrite? If you hear something bad about someone, are you a hypocrite if you don't spread it around? We know how to keep some things confidential out of a motive of love. That is not hypocrisy.
In Paul's day there apparently was some differences of opinion about eating meat sold in the marketplace that had been offered to idols. Paul said it was not wrong to do so - that was his official teaching, just as it is the official teaching of many Church of God fellowships today that it is not wrong to eat in restaurants on the Sabbath. He taught that it was permitted to eat meat offered to idols. But what did he say about the person who thought it was wrong to eat meat offered to idols? Did he say, "put the rebellious person out"? No he didn't.
Here is what he taught: "Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live. However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (1 Corinthians 8:1-13).
Paul taught us to bear with those who, due to lack of knowledge, had a sensitive conscience about doing something that we know is not wrong, but they think it is. Not only are we to bear with them, but we are even to avoid doing the thing the other person thinks is wrong in front of him, lest he be tempted to do the same, even though we know it is not really wrong. Thus, we should not even tempt someone into eating in a restaurant on the Sabbath if he or she thinks it is wrong.
Let me paraphrase what Paul said, changing "eating meat offered to idols" to "eating in restaurants on the Sabbath", to illustrate the point: "Now concerning eating in restaurants on the Sabbath: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him. Therefore concerning the eating in restaurants on the Sabbath, we know that is not wrong....However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the people working in the restaurant, until now see eating in a restaurant as causing employees to break the Sabbath; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But eating in restaurants does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in a restaurant on the Sabbath day, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to also eat with you? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if eating in a restaurant on the Sabbath makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat in a restaurant, lest I make my brother stumble".
Now, I am not advocating that the whole Church stop eating in restaurants on the Sabbath and the holy days because of a few that might view that as wrong. It might not be a bad idea though to be aware if a member feels that it is wrong and not push him or her to eat with you in a restaurant on the Sabbath. If you notice a member consistently declining to eat after services in restaurants, you might make a mental note and perhaps make a point of inviting him or her to your house or apartment for a Sabbath meal.
But here is my main point. We are not to put people out of the Church for having a sensitive conscience or for lack of knowledge about a point of Christian living. Paul did NOT say that someone who doesn't want to eat meat sacrificed to idols is causing division or is "unteachable" or has a bad attitude. And the same is true today for someone who thinks it is wrong to eat in a restaurant on the Sabbath or who wants to quietly observe new moons in their home by marking the day and doing extra Bible study, or whatever.
Here is a similar passage: "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience' sake; for 'the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.' If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience' sake. But if anyone says to you, 'This was offered to idols,' do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience' sake; for 'the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.' 'Conscience,' I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved" (1 Corinthians 10:23-33).
Now Paul had already said that it was not wrong, in itself, to eat meat that had been offered to an idol, yet in the presence of one who would think it was wrong, he would not eat it. Is that hypocrisy? Not at all. It is a matter of not giving offense unnecessarily. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!" (Matthew 18:6-7).
Where is the Christian love in putting out someone who doesn't understand or agree with a point of doctrine that is not foundational? Where is the Christian love in disfellowshipping someone because he is trying to obey God to the best of his understanding, or because he is trying to believe what God says in the scriptures as best he is able to understand? That is what the Pharisees did to the disciples of Christ. They put them out of the synagogues. "His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue" (John 9:22). Look at the attitude of the Pharisees: "They answered and said to him, 'You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?' And they cast him out" (John 9:34).
We live in a society that takes the concept of "toleration" to a wrong extreme, a society that teaches there are no absolute values and that we should be tolerant of sin and of doctrines contrary to the Bible. "Everyone's opinion is as good as anyone else's opinion - opinions are all equal," they say. "Let's just accept everyone and every viewpoint - they all have merit." This is ridiculous of course, but we must not go to the opposite extreme of becoming intolerant of anyone who disagrees with the majority or with Church of God leaders on minor points of Bible understanding. We must not forget that while Paul was not tolerant of those who caused division, he was tolerant of some differences of opinion.
Read Romans, chapter 14, the whole chapter, and try to reconcile that with the idea of disfellowshipping someone who wants to observe new moons or doesn't want to eat in a restaurant on the Sabbath or wants to rest on the holy days according to a different calendar. Notice especially these verses. "Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things" (Romans 14:1). "Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:3-4). "One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it..." (Romans 14:5-6). "But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: 'As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.' So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way" (Romans 14:10-13). "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (Romans 14:14).
Today, we do not have to deal with the issue of meat sold in the stores that has been offered to idols, and when Paul speaks of some observing a day and some not, the Bible does not make clear what days he is talking about (except other Bible passages make clear he is not talking about the Sabbath). But God has inspired Paul's writings about this to teach us principles we are to apply to other things.
Ministers and top leaders of Church of God fellowships will give account to Christ if they treat members harshly without a biblical reason. "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered" ' " (Ezekiel 34:2-5).
After everything that has happened in the Church of God, does anyone think this only applies to ancient Israel?
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
When and How to Judge, Chapter 5
Chapter 6 - Obtaining God's Help -- Practicing What We Preach
Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry, Chapter 8