Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Does Your Pastor Warn Against Making an Idol out of Him?

Is it possible for a Church of God member to sometimes make an idol out of his pastor or the top leader of the Church of God fellowship or organization he attends? Is it possible? By idol, I mean putting the leader's or pastor's teaching above what God teaches in the Bible. I mean being more loyal to a human leader and the organization he leads than to God.

Is that possible? Could that happen in any of the fellowships and organizations that call themselves "Church of God"?

Does your pastor think it is possible, that some members, somewhere, make an idol out of their human leader, following the human leader that they can see and hear more than following the invisible God? Probably, most pastors know this - they can see it happening in some other organizations, not their own.

Men in ancient times, and some today, often wanted a carved or molded image to look to in order to picture the god they worshipped. Carnal man finds it difficult to worship the true, invisible God, "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24). Carnal man craves something he can see and perceive with his physical senses, such as a physical idol. This is prohibited by the second commandment (Exodus 20:4-6). That is human nature.

But we in the Church of God also have human nature. We have God's Holy Spirit, but we still have carnal human nature. Paul admitted he had carnal human nature. "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin" (Romans 7:14). We have to fight our human nature, and God's Spirit within us helps us do that. "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish" (Galatians 5:17).

Paul sometimes called this carnal human nature "sin that dwells in me". "For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:15-20).

"I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:21-25).

We are not immune to being tempted to violate any of God's commandments. Jesus Christ was tempted on all points just as we are tempted, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Therefore, a temptation to violate any one of the points of God's law, any of the Ten Commandments, can come upon some members somewhere in the Church of God.

Do you think that no Church of God members are tempted to commit adultery, either in the spirit or the letter (seventh commandment)? No, some are tempted to commit adultery. Do you think no Church of God members are tempted to dishonor their parents (fifth commandment)? Some are tempted to dishonor their parents. Do you think no Church of God member is tempted to commit murder, either in the spirit or the letter (sixth commandment)? No, some are tempted on that point.

Do you think no Church of God members are tempted to worship a physical idol, to use a physical representation as an "aid" to worshipping the invisible God (second commandment)? No, some are tempted on that point.

But taking that last example, is using a "holy picture" or a carved or molded image to picture God the only way of violating the second commandment and the only temptation for Church of God members to violate that point of God's law? Perhaps some Church of God members who were Catholic or came out of a denomination that used images may be tempted to go back to using them. But I think there is a different temptation that is more common in the Church.

We see it at work in some fellowships and organizations. Some Church of God members show more loyalty to their COG leaders and pastors than to God and the Bible. They listen to their teachers tell them things that are so clearly wrong and contrary to God's word, yet they accept those teachings as if they are from God Himself. They take the worst kind of spiritual abuse from their leaders, even allowing their leaders to lead them into sin, because they believe their physical leaders whom they can see, hear, and touch more than they believe the invisible God and His word, the Bible.

Why is that? What is happening here?

I think that some Church of God members are making physical idols out of their leaders and ministers just as the ancients made carved and molded images to represent God. These members let their leaders and teachers serve the same purpose, helping them see what God is like, helping them "picture" God, not in the sense of physical form and shape of the face and body, but in the form of teaching. Studying the Bible, believing what God says, crying out for understanding, is too much work for them. They want an easier way. They want their leader or minister to interpret the Bible for them.

But that is not worshipping God "in spirit and truth".

You can see the evidence of this in the errors, not small errors, but serious, character and life-damaging errors, members in some organizations swallow, support, believe, and practice because their leaders tell them to, even when it is very plain in the Bible that those teachings are wrong.

Perhaps those members are not reading their Bibles. Maybe reading their Church's literature, books, booklets, and articles, and listening to sermons has become a substitute for personal, private Bible study. Maybe they think, I don't have to read the Bible cover-to-cover or spend much time reading the Bible because I am reading my Church's literature and listening to their sermons which quote the Bible and are based on the Bible. They may think, if God wants me to know something, He will lead the minister to tell me. Or maybe they read their Bibles, but interpret everything they read to fit the teachings of their ministers.

I will state here that I believe it is common sense, based on the principles of God's word, that we should spend more time with personal Bible reading and studying than with reading any Church of God literature or listening to sermons. Listen to sermons and read COG literature as much as you want, but read the Bible more. If you spend an hour a day reading your Church's literature, read an hour and a half a day of the Bible, for example. That is putting God first.

But it is not the extremist, wayward Church of God fellowships I am concerned with. I am concerned with the members of the "better" Church of God organizations, the ones that seem to be more sound and balanced than most in doctrine, in policy, in doing God's work of preaching the gospel and feeding the flock.

Maybe the leaders and pastors of those Church of God fellowships do not teach their members to make idols out of them and do not want their members to make idols out of them. But nevertheless, can those members be tempted to make idols out of their leaders and ministers, even in the best Church of God fellowships?

Since no Church of God fellowship has a monopoly on human nature, and since Christ was tempted in all points as we are (implying that we also collectively are tempted on all points, including the second commandment against physical images and idols - Hebrews 4:15), the temptation to make an idol out of our minister or leader can be a temptation suffered by some members in ANY Church of God fellowship. That does not mean the leaders and ministers are at fault in encouraging it, just that members have human nature to fight.

A woman is not necessarily at fault because some man is tempted to lust after her. She may be very modest in dress, in appearance, in behavior, but a man may still be tempted to lust after her. The temptation comes from Satan and our human nature, not necessarily the woman. So it may not be her fault.

Likewise, it may not be the fault of a pastor or Church of God leader that some members may be tempted to make an idol out of him or may give in to the temptation and make an idol out of him.

But I think wise pastors and leaders should recognize that the danger exists and actively teach their members to avoid that sin.

To avoid it, they must recognize it. They most know the signs. And their pastors, leaders, and teachers should actively teach members how to recognize the signs that they are making an idol out of their pastor or top leader specifically or the ministry in general.

It is not enough to keep silent about this. If you are a pastor or leader in a faithful Church of God fellowship, think about how members of some extreme Church of God organizations make an idol out of their leader, and ask, could this way of thinking happen here? Could some members be making an idol out of me and I don't know it? Could they be substituting loyalty towards me for loyalty towards God, and maybe they don't realize what they are doing? If I told them to sin, would they obey, putting me in place of God, somehow justifying it by saying, "God must be leading him to tell me this"? If I told them something contrary to the Bible, would they believe me more than the Bible, letting me twist and interpret the Bible for them?

How do you know? How do you identify the problem? How do you teach against it?

This is something worth studying and thinking about. If this problem exists, it may not be easy to spot. Anyone who makes an idol out of his pastor may seem to that pastor to be the most dedicated, hardest-working, most loyal, most faithful, most cooperative, even the wisest member in the congregation. But what that pastor may miss is that all the cooperation with the pastor may be based on personal loyalty to the man, not to God. This can happen. It happens in some organizations all the time. It can happen in ANY organization. It is a danger that is hard to spot.

Even in matters of doctrine, such a member may seem very wise and knowledgable to the pastor or leader, because that member agrees with him.

Consider a lesson from an account in the book of Acts. "Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country. So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. And the people kept shouting, 'The voice of a god and not of a man!' Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died" (Acts 12:20-23).

Did Herod, say, "I am a god, not a man"? No, there is no record of that. But the people kept saying that, and Herod's sin was that he did not stop them.

Likewise, it is not enough for a minister to avoid telling members, "Be more loyal to me than to God, believe my interpretation of the Bible, believe me more than God, do whatever I tell you to do even if you think it contradicts God's law." You may not say that any more than Herod told the people he was a god. But you are guilty if you let any of your members practice that way of thinking. You have to exercise due diligence, out of love for your members, to prevent that misplaced loyalty. For if that is a temptation for some of your members, to take the easy way of following a man they see with their eyes and hear with their ears, more than they believe and follow the invisible God, to substitute your sermons and your articles for Bible study, and if they succumb to that temptation, then God will know it, and those members will be in trouble with God. If you love them, you will want to prevent that.

You have an obligation to warn them about that, and to teach any members who may have made an idol out of you to be more loyal to God and the Bible than to you and your writings and speaking.

Pastors are to warn both the righteous in their congregations, that they not turn from their righteousness, and the wicked, that the wicked should repent of his wickedness, or the blood of the members will be on the pastor's head. "When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18). "Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:20).

Also, notice this rebuke from God of those shepherds who do not bind up and heal their sheep: "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" (Ezekiel 34:4). If the sheep in your congregation have spiritual problems, you have an obligation to help them, even if they are not a problem for you and others - if they are a problem for themselves, you have to try to help them. And you must actively seek out those who are spiritually sick, and not wait for them to come to you, because they may not know they are sick.

The Bible teaches limitations on the authority of the ministry, and ministers have an obligation to teach those limitations. Silence is not enough. Ministers do not, for example, have dominion over the faith of their members. "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24). The faith of the members should be towards God and the Bible, not the Church and its literature. This is something pastors should actively teach.

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

The Source of Our Beliefs, Chapter 6

Faith, Chapter 6

God Speaks Through the Bible, Chapter 6

Does the Bible Teach Us to Follow Tradition?, 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

Proving the Truth, Chapter 6

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

Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry, Chapter 8

Chapter 9 - Repentance

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Peter Nathan and Other Ministers Leaving Church of God, an International Community?

There have been reports on the Internet about a number of ministers or employees leaving (resigning or being fired) COGaic (Church of God, an International Community). Information in these reports is scanty, and I have not yet seen definite, reliable confirmation of this. COGaic is led by Mr. David Hulme. Mr. Hulme helped organize United Church of God (UCG) in 1995 with ministers and members leaving Worldwide Church of God because of the doctrinal changes made in that church by Mr. Joseph Tkach. In 1998, Mr. Hulme left UCG to form COGaic.

I am waiting further confirmation, but it seems that a number of ministers and employees have left or are leaving COGaic, possibly including Peter Nathan, Brian Orchard, Steven Andrews, Bob Rodzaj, and Cliff Veal. There may be others as well who have left or will leave.

I have seen a new website with a couple of posts by Mr. Nathan. As of this writing, the website is under construction and not ready for viewing, so I will not name it or give a link to it yet. The name of the site is not necessarily the name of a new Church being formed, but may simply be the name of a website and blog that may be used to provide information if Mr. Nathan and others want to publish. It may not even be a permanent site. But I plan to post further information about this or other websites published by ministers leaving COGaic as those sites develop and seem ready for publication or are announced by others.

What are the issues behind the separation?

Apparently, Mr. Nathan and possibly other ministers are concerned with COGaic's lack of zeal for preaching the gospel, a a too-accommodating stance towards pleasing the world in COGaic's public relations and image, and weakness in teaching the proven truth that the United States and other English-speaking nations are part of the lost ten tribes of Israel.

If those are the reasons, they seem like good ones to me.

I do not know all the background information about these above named men. But some of the names I recognize. Peter Nathan and Brian Orchard are well known names in COGaic, important ministers, not just local elders and pastors. Years ago I read that Mr. Nathan helped Mr. Hulme organize COGaic when they came out of UCG. These ministers, most or all of them, came into COGaic of their own free choice, and they can leave COGaic of their own free choice. They, with Mr. Hulme, came out Worldwide, then came out of UCG when they felt that those organizations were no longer serving God faithfully and it was not God's will that they remain. Likewise, they can now come out of COGaic for the same reasons. In principle, they are not doing anything different than Mr. Hulme has done himself twice in leaving an organization to form a new group.

Sometimes, to be faithful to God, ministers and members of God's Church have to leave an organization. They have to go where Christ leads, as best they understand His will. Sometimes organizations and their leaders change, and sometimes, what was not apparent when a leader starts an organization, becomes apparent over time as the fruits of the leader become better known (Matthew 7:16-20). Observing fruits takes time (Luke 13:6-9). God chose Saul as king over Israel, gave him time to show his fruits, then rejected him in the end because he did not bear good fruits. Likewise, ministers may join with a leader, then later leave when the positive fruits do not appear.

Zeal for preaching the gospel to the world as a witness and the Ezekiel warning to Israel is vitally important for the Church of God. The identity of Israel, the knowledge that the English-speaking nations of the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and other nations are part of the lost ten tribes of Israel, is also vitally important for several reasons.

For one thing, the fulfilled prophecy regarding the tribes of Israel is a vital proof that God has inspired the Bible. How important is that?

We can know of God's existence from creation, even apart from the Bible. The design of the universe and the existence of our conscious minds are proof of God's existence. The universe shows that design choices have been made, in the number of dimensions of space (three), the number of fundamental forces and their characteristics (four, as far as we know), the fundamental particles, and all the laws of physics. This required that a great Designer made those choices, and those choices have been made to allow man to exist. Science cannot explain how the universe came to be, and science is totally clueless when it comes to explaining the existence of human consciousness, so clueless that science finds it difficult even to discuss it intelligently.

But none of that proves that the Bible is true, only that a Creator exists. Without the Bible, we would not know God's plan and purpose, we would not know about Jesus Christ, we would not know the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and we would not know what we need to do to be saved.

We can know that the Bible exists, but without proof, how can we know it is God speaking?

Fulfilled prophecy, including the prophecies about the United States and British Commonwealth, is that proof.

The truth about the identity of Israel is also important for doing God's work of delivering the Ezekiel warning to Israel, because it is Israel that will go through the tribulation and needs the warning. "Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; And it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it" (Jeremiah 30:7). "Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn....The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them..." (Genesis 48:14-16).

That warning must be delivered BEFORE the tribulation begins and the two witnesses begin their special work. Why? The two witnesses do their special work at the beginning of the tribulation, but once the tribulation begins, it is too late for Israel to escape the tribulation by repenting. It doesn't do much good to warn someone of a disaster after the disaster has happened. That could hardly be called a "warning".

Our nations need to be warned now, while there is time for individuals to heed the warning and escape the punishment. That is the purpose of a warning, to allow those who are willing to heed it to escape.

But, you might say, no one can heed the warning unless they are called as firstfruits to salvation in this age, so the vast majority will not heed. And God knows whom He is calling, and He can make sure those people come into contact with the Church of God and its teaching even if the Church only does a small work of warning the nations. So even if we reach only 1% of the people, that is enough because God will make sure those whom He is calling will be among the 1% who hear the message. The other 99% can't repent anyway, so for the Church to try to warn everyone is not necessary.

That is wrong for several reasons.

Most of the first generation of Israel in the millennium is alive today. It is important to warn them because they need to be prepared for repentance during the tribulation and conversion at the beginning of the millennium. Giving them a warning message now prepares them for that repentance.


They need to accept responsibility for their decision to ignore the warning. They need to be warned so they know that God was fair to warn them while there was time to heed and escape. They cannot go into the tribulation thinking they had no chance to heed a warning because they never received a warning. They cannot go into the tribulation kidding themselves, thinking, "If only someone warned me, I would have listened, but God never warned me I was doing anything wrong. That is not fair - I never had a chance. No one told me it was wrong to keep Christmas and Easter and Sunday. No one told me I should be keeping the annual holy days. It's not my fault, for if I heard a warning, I surely would have heeded it." Probably, they would not have heeded the warning, but if they don't hear it, they will imagine, "sure I would have heeded it".

If they go into the tribulation thinking God was not fair to warn them, they will tend to blame God, and that will make their repentance more difficult. It will also make our job of working with them in the millennium more difficult.

Our lack of zeal for the Ezekiel warning, if the message doesn't go out to all Israel now, can be a stumbling block for Israel's repentance during the tribulation. They will tend to blame God instead of accepting their own responsibility for not heeding our warning.

I cover all of this in more depth in chapter four of my book, Preaching the Gospel. In that chapter, I quote from a number of books about the Holocaust to show that many Jews were not brought closer to God by the suffering they endured, but actually lost faith in God because they thought God was not fair. Chapters three and five also talk about the importance of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. In fact, this theme, the importance of preaching the gospel and Ezekiel warning to the public, is the main reason I started that book and later led to starting this blog. Links to that book and those chapters are at the bottom of this post.

Also, does a person have to be called to salvation in this life to escape God's prophesied punishment by heeding God's warning? Not necessarily. The people of Nineveh were not called to salvation as part of the firstfruits. Yet they repented at the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 3:1-10, Luke 11:32). What kind of repentance was this? Was it the kind of repentance required for conversion (Acts 2:38-29)? Was it that deep? Probably not. Probably it was simply fear of punishment and desire to escape the punishment that motivated them to change their behavior. Nevertheless, they changed their evil ways and tried to heed the message as best they could, and God accepted that and spared them. So, is it possible that an uncalled person who hears our message may, without the depth of repentance needed for conversion in this life, at least try as best he is humanly able to heed the warning and change his ways to escape the punishment? I know of no scripture that rules that out.

And if some few, though not called to salvation yet, try to respond to the message by changing their ways as best they can, as the Ninevites did, even if they are never converted before Christ returns, might not God spare them at least from the worst of the tribulation?

Not everyone in the tribulation will suffer equally. Not all the Jews in Germany and German-occupied Europe during World War II suffered equally - some had it worse than others, if the Holocaust can be an example of what the tribulation might be like. And some survived while others did not.

Most who go through the tribulation will die in it. But some will survive and be the first generation of Israel in the millennium, and we will have to work with them. Our job will be harder then if we have to explain why we were not zealous to warn them now. They will remember if we warned them or not.

And God has the power to control who lives and who dies, who suffers more and who suffers less, depending on each person's attitude and response to our message. There is a prophecy that God will purge the rebels from among Israel. " 'As I live,' says the Lord God, 'surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out....I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord' " (Ezekiel 20:34-38). Our message can be an important part of God's test to see who is rebellious and who is not, who is to be purged and die during the tribulation, and who is permitted to live into the millennium and enjoy the blessings of living under Christ's government. God can see how even uncalled people respond to our message, most laughing or scorning the message but a few respecting and trying to respond to it, to decide who to purge and who to let live, who will be most teachable in the millennium and who will not.

I have watched COGaic a bit over the years. I have heard some of their sermons, visited their services, attended the Feast of Tabernacles with them, and read some of their writings. I have noticed that they do not do a powerful work of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.

I have noticed something else, and I have no idea whether this also is a reason why some ministers are leaving.

It seems to me that Mr. Hulme has taught a wrong "identity" to the members of COGaic. It seems to me he has taught members to identify with that organization more than with the whole Church of God. I have gotten the sense Mr. Hulme has taught members or allowed some COGaic ministers to teach members that they are causing division or having a wrong attitude if they even think that God may be working in other Church of God fellowships in addition to COGaic. I have heard that members are discouraged or forbidden to visit other Church of God fellowships or to date or marry members of other Church of God fellowships. I have heard or read that COGaic ministers are forbidden to perform marriage ceremonies between COGaic members and members of other Church of God fellowships.

I don't say that this is only a characteristic of COGaic - there are other Church of God organizations that can have this problem. But I have not attended those other organizations in person as I have COGaic, so I have less firsthand knowledge about them.

But that doctrine, the teaching of the idea that a particular fellowship is the WHOLE Church of God, but without proof that this is true, or the emphasis on identification with that organization more than with the whole Church of God, which I think of as "identity heresy", is wrong.

Certainly, there is a difference between an organization that is faithfully doing God's work and others that are not. Certainly God can work more effectively through some men and leaders than through others. Certainly some men submit to Christ more than others. There is nothing wrong with a leader of a COG fellowship warning members about the dangers of fellowshipping with groups that compromise with God's law and way of life. Members certainly should seek out and attend with and support an organization that is more faithful rather than less faithful. Where we attend and who we support are important.

But members of God's Church are fellow members with all those having God's Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11). We are ONE body, not many (Romans 12:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). That is basic. We are scattered, and that is unfortunate, but all converted Christians are members of one Church of God in God's sight, and our identity is with that body and with Christ and with the Father, not with one organization among many organizations in the scattered state of the Church today. Scripture proves this.

Moreover, God through Paul gives instructions about whom we can marry. We are to marry "in the Lord", not "within an organization" (1 Corinthians 7:39). Making membership in an organization a qualification for a mate, in this time when the Church is scattered and most organizations are small, puts an unnecessary burden on singles. Christ had harsh words for religious leaders who bind heavy burdens on men's shoulders which they themselves are not willing to bear (Matthew 23:4). COGaic is not like Ambassador College where you had a high concentration of eligible single men and women available for marriage, which is where most long time ministers found their wives. COGaic has an above average concentration of the elderly, so the percentage of young single men and women is small even in comparison to many other Church of God fellowships.

A Church of God leader should not teach his members to primarily identify with himself and with the organization he leads. Members should identify with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and with converted Church of God members having God's Holy Spirit, which members are our brothers and sisters in Christ, even if they are attending other organizations.

Let Jesus Christ be the example. When he was on earth during his ministry, did He exclude those who were not with His "group", His organization, His apostles and disciples who were "with Him"? You might think, yes, for example, He excluded the Pharisees.

Yes, He did exclude the Pharisees because of their wrong doctrine, even though He acknowledged that they had some authority as ones who sit in Moses's seat (Matthew 23:1-3). But He did not exclude everyone who was not with His "organization" under his personal supervision. Rather, those who did the will of His Father, even if not under His personal supervision and not with His disciples, He accepted and said they were on "His side".

Consider this account: "Now John answered Him, saying, 'Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.' But Jesus said, 'Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side' " (Mark 9:38-40).

Is not God and Christ trying to show us something from this account? Is not Christ teaching us something by His example? Why else would it be included in the Bible, except that God is showing us something?

There has been much talk about "one man rule" and the statement "God only works through one man at a time". But as I have pointed out in other posts in this blog, these can be two different things. "One man rule" can often be used to describe hierarchical government. It does not necessarily mean that God is only working through one man at a time. Imagine a business corporation. You have a president, and under the authority of the president you have several departments, with each department having a head or manager or director. So for example, if you have a company that manufactures and sells "widgets" (whatever a widget is), the president may have several departments with a leader of each. He has an accounting department and an accounting manager to run it. He has a manufacturing department with a manufacturing manager to run it. And he has a marketing department with a marketing manager to run it.

Now, under the president, in each department, there is "one man rule", that is, one man runs accounting - the accounting manager. One man, the marketing manager, runs the marketing department. One man, the manufacturing manager, runs the factories. But the president does not work through only one man at a time. He works through three men at the same time, each man head of one of three departments.

Likewise today, one man, David Hulme, manages COGaic as an organized fellowship in the Church of God. One man, Roderick Meredith, manages Living Church of God (LCG) as an organized fellowship. I could give other examples. In that sense, each of these organizations, like a department in a business corporation, can be said to have "one man rule".

But according to the Bible, the idea that God only works through one man at a time is wrong. There are several examples of God working through more than one man at a time, not all under the authority of one man. God worked through king David and the prophet Nathan at the same time. Nathan was not under David's supervision when Nathan delivered prophecies from God, and David was not under Nathan's supervision in matters of the kingdom of Israel. Each man reported directly to God in the work God gave him to do. God used Nathan to rebuke David in David's sin concerning Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 12:1-15). God used Nathan also to tell David that he was not to build the temple (1 Chronicles 17:1-15).

God also worked through several prophets at the same time in the Old Testament.

Christ used Peter as the leader of the apostles to the circumcised and Paul as leader of the apostles to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:6-9). Paul did not report to Peter in his day-to-day work, and in fact he rebuked Peter at one point (Galatians 2:11-21), and Peter did not report to Paul, but each man reported directly to Christ, and most of the other apostles, evangelists, and ministers, as far as we know, reported to one or the other of those two men. Thus, Christ worked through two men at that time.

So Christ can, if he chooses, work through more than one man today.

By the way, in the matter of the identity of the English-speaking nations as part of Israel, critics of this doctrine enjoy attacking it, but their arguments are faulty and without value. I have spent considerable time studying this issue and proving the truth for years before I came into the Church of God and was baptized. I first learned about this doctrine when I read Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong's book, The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, some time after 1968 when I became a Plain Truth subscriber. Sometime in 1972 I started a project to prove if the Bible was God's word, and I finished it at the end of 1980, spending about 2,000 hours of work on it. Much of this had to do with the doctrine of the identity of the lost tribes of Israel. I was able to prove for myself beyond any reasonable doubt that this doctrine is true and that the Bible is inspired by God. Then, after researching the churches and the doctrines of the Bible, I began attending Worldwide and was baptized in 1982.

Since then, I have read some of what critics of this doctrine have said, and I have not found a single serious, logical argument against it. The attacks made against this doctrine are not based on sound logic.

If you have questions about this doctrine, or do not know how to answer the critics of it, feel free to ask your questions here in this post or in an email to me - I may be able to help.

There are some details of proofs I have not examined, such as some of the details of the history of the line of David, because I did not feel qualified to research that, did not have the time, and because I did not need those details as proofs - I found sufficient proof in easy-to-verify history and scriptures.

But I can answer many of the objections of critics, such as their statements that there has been intermarriage and blurring of the hereditary lines.

I also cover the proof of this doctrine and explain the steps I took in researching it in my book, Preaching the Gospel, in chapter one. I also discuss the proof of creation and God's existence and the flaws in the theory of evolution in that chapter.

In any new Church of God fellowship, I look for and hope for three characteristics, not necessarily in this order:

1) Zeal for preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. Such zeal should show the evidence of good fruits in doing God's work and the evidence of God's blessing with an open door. If the zeal, faith, and obedience are there, there will be good results over time.

2) Willingness to teach and practice putting the Bible first over Church of God tradition or the teachings of any man including Mr. Armstrong. In practice, this means being willing to change doctrine in order to learn new knowledge from and be corrected by the Bible, when and if such change is necessary. Also, ministers should prove doctrine they teach to their members from the Bible and teach their members to believe true doctrine because the Bible teaches it, not because the Church and its ministry interpret the Bible for them. Ideally, the ministry should teach its members to believe what God says in the Bible more than they believe the Church of God ministry, yet at the same time, respect the office of minister and not contradict the ministry in conversation with other members. If a member sees something in the Bible that contradicts the teaching of the Church, he should believe the Bible rather than the ministry until such time as the ministry can show him from the Bible that he is wrong and he is able to see it for himself in the Bible. And in the meantime, he should keep his disagreement confidential between himself and the ministry and with God in prayer and study, but not discuss it with other members. In this way, the ministry will not compete with God for the faith and trust of the members, but will direct and point the members to put their faith and trust in God and the Bible. I talk about this in chapter six of my book.

3) Understanding of and practice of hierarchical government from the top down. This means there will be a leader who reports to Christ, and the other ministers and employees in that organization report to the leader in matters of the administration of the work of the Church. The leader will be recognized as such by the other ministers and members, based on fruits, at the start of the organization, and there will not be voting, elections, and "balloting" of men to choose or remove the leader or to make decisions concerning the work of the organization. Christ will chose the top man and show whom He has chosen by the fruits, and then lead the top man, and the top man must submit to Christ and to the word of God, the Bible. I talk about this in chapter eight of my book.

In addition to the above, any Church of God should teach and practice basic soundness of doctrine, such as understanding God's plan and purpose, keeping the weekly Sabbath and annual holy days, having the name "Church of God", etc.

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

Chapter 1 - The United States and Britain in Prophecy





Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Double Damage of the Immortal Soul Doctrine

The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is one of Satan's first lies to the human race.

"And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, "You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die." ' Then the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil' " (Genesis 3:2-5).

Satan and his demons continue this lie among religious people, though they also teach the lie of materialism to atheists and those inclined to believe there is no God at all. Satan and his demons continued this lie in the time of King Saul, deceiving him into thinking that he was seeing the ghost of Samuel - see my post titled, "Why Did God Kill King Saul and Turn the Kingdom over to David?", dated April 20, 2013, link:

There is an obvious reason why Satan promotes this lie. This idea, that each of us will exist forever, that we cannot really die and cease to exist, combined with the teaching that no one except those who hear the true gospel and are saved in this life by accepting Jesus Christ can escape condemnation to hell fire, teaches that God is a cruel monster that tortures immortal souls in hell fire for eternity, and that most of humanity falls into this category. It is a slander against God. It makes God appear weak or unjust or unloving. It is one reason why many materialists reject all religion and belief in God. See my post titled, "The World's Loved Ones Are Not Lost", dated September 29, 2010, link:

But this lie does additional damage to religious believers and to understanding God's truth. Because many believers in God's existence think that the alternative to being in God's kingdom is suffering forever in hell, and because they may think that God is still compassionate and loving, many may tend to think that God will find a way to accept everyone or nearly everyone into His kingdom, even without real repentance and obedience to His word and commandments.

Thus, the lie of the immortal soul helps members of traditional churches believe that God is lax when it comes to obedience.

In effect, while they do not paint God as cruel, they paint him as a liar, as one who does not mean what He says, like a parent who warns his or her child of punishment, "If you do that again, I will spank you", but does not follow through (and the child knows the parent will not follow through, so he continues to disobey). So they think God doesn't mean it when He teaches throughout the Bible that only those who believe and obey Him will be accepted into His kingdom (which traditional churches think is heaven). They do not think God will cast very many into eternal torment, immortal souls being tortured for all eternity with no hope of release, for something as "innocent" as keeping Christmas to honor Christ, even though God teaches us that we should live by every word of God and the Bible teaches against Christmas.

In effect, they think that God is "bluffing" in the Bible, that he does not really exclude people from his kingdom and cast them into hell for disobedience as long as they are mostly good and follow their conscience, and this teaches them, by example, that it is ok to tell "white lies" to their children as they think God tells them lies in the Bible.

Thus, parents think it is ok to tell the lie of Santa Claus to their children, because they think it is good for their children because it is fun. In this, they follow the example of the way they think God is, the way Satan paints God, as not meaning what He says.

Thus, Satan's lie about the soul being immortal is a double-trap. People who swallow this lie can fall into one of two ditches. If a person is inclined to disbelieve the existence of the God of the Bible (atheists do not believe in God because they do not want to believe in a God who has authority over their lifestyles, who tells them what to do and how to lives their lives), they will use this doctrine to conclude that the idea of the God of the Bible is ridiculous, because only a cruel God would torture the majority of mankind for eternity. But those who want to believe in God (because they enjoy thinking of themselves as righteous, and belief in God is part of their self-image they want to protect), can simply reconcile their idea of God being a God of love with their belief in the immortal soul by concluding that God will not really cast the disobedient into hell but will accept them into His kingdom anyway, even though they do not really believe and obey him, as long as they have good intentions.

Thus, religious people will think God will accept their good intentions about "honoring Christ" with Christmas even though they may acknowledge in their minds that God says not to do it. They tell themselves God doesn't mean what he says, that obedience to God's word is really not that important to God as long as you have good intentions and try to be a "good person".

But God will not accept them into His kingdom as long as they have not repented of their disbelief and disobedience in His word. God will not have another Lucifer in His kingdom and family. He will not entrust eternal life to someone who thinks that He is bluffing in His word, that He doesn't really mean what He says, that He gives warnings but doesn't back them up. Because if He gives eternal life to someone like that, then sooner or later that person, in the eternity to come, will doubt and disobey God's word, rebelling against God and ruining the happiness that could exist in God's family for eternity. God will not allow that.

One of the reasons we can look forward to God's kingdom is that we know that everyone in it will be totally submitted to God in their character because they will have proved in their human lives, in this life now if they are called to be part of the firstfruits, or in the millennium, or in the white throne judgment period, that they will totally trust, believe, and obey God forever. That is why the Kingdom of God will be happy, and that is why we can look forward to an eternity in that kingdom without any fear of another Lucifer rising up and causing rebellion and war.

Satan's lie, that man has an immortal soul, destroys any foundation of right character building that is necessary to prepare someone for God's kingdom. In a multitude of ways, it does damage to a right understanding of God and His way of life and the purpose of human life. God allows Satan to teach this now, to deceive mankind so mankind writes the lesson in human experience that Satan's way brings suffering, but when Satan is put away, the deception will end, and God will begin to teach mankind the truth. Then every person can make his decision to believe and obey God or not, free from the enslavement of Satan's deceptions.

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

The Day of Trumpets - the Second Coming of Christ, Chapter 2

Traditional Christian Holidays, Chapter 2

Faith, Chapter 6

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Is a Contradiction - Why I Do Not Keep Christmas

This is the time of year when people may ask you or me questions like, "Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?", or "Why don't you keep Christmas?"

If someone asks me, "Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?", I have my answer ready.  I can say, "Yes.  I finished my Christmas shopping about 44 years ago."

If someone asks me why I don't keep Christmas, there are several ways I can answer.

I do not keep Christmas because I believe the Bible.  I also do not keep Christmas because I believe Jesus Christ hates Christmas with a passion.  I think Christ hates Christmas because of what it represents to Him and to God the Father.

Most people in the world think Christmas represents the birth of Jesus Christ.  Maybe that is what it represents to them.  To God, it represents something different.

Christmas is a contradiction.  It claims (if a day can "claim" anything) to honor Christ by remembering and celebrating His birth.  But it does not in any way honor Christ, rather, it dishonors both Christ and the Father because of what it represents.

Christmas, like Easter, represents disobedience towards God based on human self-will and disbelief of God's word.  It represents people's refusal to believe what God says.

God, in the Bible, is clear that He commands us NOT to adopt pagan religious customs and use them to worship Christ and God the Father.  We are not to worship God the way the pagans worshipped their gods.  We are not to adopt and adapt their customs.

Several of the clearest prohibitions against using pagan customs in our religious practices come from the Old Testament.  Jesus Christ affirmed the authority of the Old Testament scriptures.

"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled" (Matthew 5:17-18).  Referring to Old Testament scriptures, God says, "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). 

"Thus says the Lord:  'Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them.  For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax.  They decorate it with silver and gold;  They fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple" (Jeremiah 10:2-4). 

"When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.'  You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.  Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:29-32).

It is clearly against God's commands to take pagan religious customs and use them to worship the true God.

Anyone can research the origins of Christmas customs and learn that they come from paganism.

Not only does Christmas represent disobedience to God in doing what He commands us not to do, it represents rejection of the annual holy days and festivals that He has commanded we keep, for it is the days like Christmas and Easter that serve as substitutes for God's annual holy days, which He commanded, but which those who keep Christmas generally do not observe.  In effect, when people keep Christmas and Easter rather than God's holy days, they are saying to God, "we know better than you."

That is what Christmas represents, that is why I think Christ hates Christmas, and that is why I finished my Christmas shopping 44 years ago.

Christmas is a contradiction.  It pretends to honor Christ and God, but it represents and in fact is rebellion towards God and Christ.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
Traditional Christian Holidays, Chapter 2                                          
The Annual Holy Days and the Plan of God, Chapter 2

Saturday, December 14, 2013

If You Hear Your Pastor Preach False Doctrine or Error, Does Matthew 18:15-18 Apply?

Here is a question. Consider this well-known passage: "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. 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 18:15-18).

Now consider this situation. Suppose you are listening to your pastor give a sermon, and you hear him say something that sounds like false doctrine or doctrinal error. Does Matthew 18:15-18 apply? And if it applies, is it the only correct way to handle the situation? Is your only option to count the pastor as being a brother who has "sinned against you" by teaching something wrong, and then go through the steps of Matthew 18:15-18, starting with talking to your pastor alone about the issue?

Suppose your pastor tells you something like this: "If you hear me teach or say something that seems like false teaching, your only right option, according to Matthew 18:15-18, is to first talk to me privately about it. You are wrong if you keep silent and you are wrong if you leave this fellowship or congregation. Your only option is to talk to me personally - anything else is contrary to the Bible."

Is that correct? Does the process in Matthew 18:15-18 apply to the teaching of error by a minister? And if it does, are the steps in Matthew 18:15-18 the only right response or does the Bible allow for other options?

That is my question. Or, I should say, those are my questions, plural.

I will admit I have not studied or thought about this very much until recently. For most of the years I have been in the Church of God, I had not considered Matthew 18:15-18 in relation to doctrinal error taught by ministers in the Church. I never thought of applying Matthew 18:15-18 to the wrong teachings in Worldwide from the time Mr. Tkach began to make changes until the time I left Worldwide. I didn't decide against using the procedures in Matthew 18:15-18. It just never occurred to me.

When I first learned about the process in Matthew 18:15-18, I understood it to primarily apply to personal offenses between members, like, "he borrowed my lawnmower but never returned it", or "he keeps flirting with my wife and I told him to stop and he won't", or "he has been talking behind my back, spreading lies about me" - that sort of thing.

So can it apply to a minister teaching false doctrine?

I don't say I have every answer, but I will share my thoughts about this so far and point out what some other scriptures say that may have a bearing on the question. Hopefully, this may give food for thought to anyone struggling with this issue.

Matthew 18:15-18 describes a three-step process for resolving differences and offenses between brethren in the Church of God. It is only potentially three steps, because the process can end with the first or second step if there is success and the matter is resolved. The three steps are, talk first to your brother alone, then if that doesn't work take witnesses, and finally if that doesn't work take it to the "church", and I think most members understand that taking it to the church does not mean spreading it around but taking it to those in authority for a decision and ruling. After the description of the three steps comes this statement: "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).

That statement, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, helps to show the context of "tell it to the church", that telling it to the church means telling it to the ministry and leadership who have the authority to make binding decisions. Telling it to the church does not mean gossiping and spreading your complaint to everyone in the congregation. Most members understand that, or should understand that.

But this also shows that the primary application of this and the context is resolving disputes and wrongs committed by one member against the other, not doctrine. Why? The ministry and leadership can make binding decisions about resolving disputes, wrongs, and sins committed by one member against another. They can make judgments about remedies, about making amends. They can say, "return the lawnmower you borrowed", "stop flirting with that man's wife", and "stop spreading lies about that man and apologize publicly for what you have done."

But they cannot make binding decisions about what the truth is. They cannot, for example, say, "God is a trinity", and make that binding truth, to use an obvious example. God is not going to suddenly become a trinity just to make binding what the minister has taught based on Matthew 18:18. They can't say, "you have immortal souls" and suddenly God makes all our souls immortal to make binding in heaven what the minister has bound on earth. Nor does the ministry have the authority to do away with or change God's law, otherwise the Catholic Church could say, we used the binding authority given in Matthew 18:18 to change the Sabbath to Sunday.

To some degree the ministry has binding authority over the work of the Church including preaching the gospel and feeding the flock, or in other words, teaching. They have the authority to determine official doctrine that will be taught. That doesn't condone heresy, but there are smaller points of detail about doctrine that different people in the Church may have different opinions about, and the leadership has the authority to make binding decisions about what the official teaching of the Church is.

But truth is still truth and error is still error, and Matthew 18:18 cannot be used by the ministry to change truth to error or error to truth.

So the fact that Matthew 18:18, the verse giving binding authority to the ministry and leadership, directly follows the passage about the three steps for resolving disputes in Matthew 18:15-17, shows the context of Matthew 18:15-17, that it is not primarily about doctrinal truth, but about resolving sins and wrongs committed by one member against another. The ministry has the binding authority to determine if an accusation is fair, if the offense has been committed, and what the restitution should be.

And yet, the whole three-step process in Matthew 18:15-17 does not necessarily exclude the possibility that the "brother" who sinned against you may be a minister who sinned against you by teaching you false doctrine. I am only saying, that does not seem to be the main context. But it is not complete excluded either.

So if you consider that the minister has "sinned against you" by teaching wrong doctrine or error or heresy, yes, it can apply, but with qualifications.

First of all, is every mistake in speaking or doctrinal error a "sin against you" that requires that you talk to the minister about it? I don't think so. Even in personal matters between brethren that have nothing to do with doctrine or with a minister, you always have the option to overlook a matter, to forgive and forget, to put it behind you. If everyone applied Matthew 18:15-18 to every minor offense, you would have chaos in the Church. If I applied Matthew 18:15-18 every time I passed a member and he didn't say "hi", that would not make for peace in the Church of God. We may be offended, we have our feelings hurt, but we should try not to be easily offended. We don't have to count every small thing as a "sin" against us, especially when we consider that the person who slighted us may have had no intention of doing so. Accidents, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations happen all the time.

There is a larger principle behind Matthew 18:15-18, and that principle is peace based on love in the Church of God. "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). If you go through this list, you will find a number of reasons why love will often overlook a small matter and not try to seek justice through Matthew 18:15-18.

The objective of Matthew 18:15-18 is to resolve conflicts that cannot be overlooked and must be resolved to have real peace. The objective is never to stir up strife over small matters by magnifying something tiny until it becomes something big. Matthew 18:15-18 should never be a battle-plan for warfare. Satan would like to see Matthew 18:15-18 misused. He would like to use it as a lever to stir up strive and division between brethren. And it is not hard to imagine how it can be misused that way.

Yes, if you have a problem with your brother, if you need to use Matthew 18:15-18, use it. But you don't always have to use it. You have to judge whether to use it or not. And keep in mind Christ's words, "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). So put yourself in the other member's situation. If you committed the offense to him, accidentally, would you want him to apply Matthew 18:15-18? Well, maybe you would, at least the first step. You might want him to talk to you so you could resolve the misunderstanding or apologize if you were wrong. But look at it from his point of view before you make a decision.

For scriptural proof that Matthew 18:15-18 must be set in the context of the overall objective of promoting peace in the Church of God, consider these scriptures: "Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. Therefore, 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21). "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33). "Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11). "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23).

Also, "Be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thessalonians 5:13). "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17-18). "For 'He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it" (1 Peter 3:10-11).

Also, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9).

Peace is the objective. Matthew 18:15-18 is one of the mechanisms, one of the tools for achieving peace when an offense cannot be overlooked.

Do you have the option to overlook an offense, or would it be contrary to Matthew 18:15-18 to overlook an offense? Consider this well-known passage about lawsuits in the Church. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-6 Paul rebukes the Corinthians for going to this world's courts in lawsuits against each other. Now notice verse 7 which follows: "Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?" (1 Corinthians 6:7). So according to Paul, it is not a sin to let yourself be wronged, to accept that you have been cheated and forgive the offender without seeking redress. He says this in regard to filing lawsuits, but he could not have said this if it was a sin to overlook a wrong, if we are required to apply Matthew 18:15-18 to EVERY sin against us whether we feel we need to or not.

So overlooking a sin against you, forgiving it, not counting it, is always an option, provided you can do it from the heart (Matthew 18:35). There can be no room for grudges. If you cannot completely forgive unless the matter is resolved, then go through the steps of Matthew 18:15-18.

Now, back to the matter of doctrinal teaching by a minister.

Can the steps in Matthew 18:15-18 be applied to a minister teaching false doctrine? If you feel he has sinned against you by what he says, I think you can go through those steps to try to resolve the situation, or at least the first step. Certainly you can go to the minister privately and see if you misunderstood what he said or if he just made a verbal mistake, a "slip of the tongue", and the words that came out of his mouth were not what he really was trying to say. That can happen to anyone who speaks frequently. Maybe he just used a bad choice of words to try to express what he was thinking. And as with personal offenses, you have the option, if the matter is not critically important, to just overlook it and count it as a human mistake not worth making an issue about. If I went to my pastor for every case where I heard him say anything I didn't fully agree with, he would have to kick me out or he wouldn't have time for anyone else - I could argue with him 8 hours a day if I wanted. When to talk to the minister and when to keep silent is your judgment call for each situation.

But when it comes to taking witnesses with you to talk to minister a second time, and if that doesn't resolve it to report him to headquarters for something he has said to everyone in the congregation from the podium, additional factors come into play that are not involved in simple disputes between brethren. I don't rule those steps out, but you should think some things through first.

First of all, is his teaching consistent with the headquarters of the Church of God fellowship you both attend? What if what he says is wrong, it is error, it is false doctrine, but your fellowship's headquarters is teaching the same error, the same false doctrine, and he is only following the error of headquarters in his teaching? It's not going to do much good then to "report him" to headquarters, in which case headquarters will only be glad to learn he is teaching what they want him to teach. You will actually be "reporting" yourself to headquarters. Are you ready to leave that fellowship? Maybe so, and maybe this is the way to do it. But if you already know that headquarters, the leadership of that Church of God organization, is itself teaching the error, why put it on the minister? After clarifying with your pastor what headquarters actually teaches, you can write to headquarters and say, "why do YOU teach such-and-such in light of these scriptures...?". There would be no need to take witnesses with you if both your pastor and headquarters are openly teaching the doctrine - headquarters knows what it teaches. Talking to other members to gather "witnesses" for a second discussion with the pastor can be construed as promoting division over the issue, as it well might be.

God does teach that we are to speak the same thing and not sow division (1 Corinthians 1:10). I have long taught in this blog in many posts that members should not contradict their pastors and ministry in conversation with other members in that same fellowship. It would be kind of hard to gather witnesses without getting into conversation in which you would tell other members why you think the pastor, and headquarters, are wrong.

But if it really seems that the minister is departing from headquarters in his teaching, that he is going out on his own, teaching wrong doctrine and departing from the sound teaching of headquarters and the leader of the fellowship, and if this seems to be confirmed by your private discussion with him, then a second discussion with witnesses can be a useful step before reporting his words to headquarters. But when you write to headquarters, use wisdom and be polite. State your pastor's words as accurately as you can and say, "is this the teaching of the Church?", or something like that.

Always consider the consequences of what you do. "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16). I don't say that being in the Church is like being among wolves. Most of the time it is not (but sometimes it can be). The context of Christ's words may be different than the context we are talking about here. But this is based on a general principle, think before you act - consider the outcome. Here is that general principle stated: "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 22:3). There is a time to remain silent (Amos 5:13) and there is a time to contend (Jude 3).

If things are not clear, time will sometimes bring things out in the open and make things more clear. Study it, pray about it, and give God time to make it clear what you should do.

So if a pastor says, you are wrong to keep silent, that is not necessarily true.

But as to whether you can leave the fellowship you are in to attend a different fellowship, that is not about Matthew 18:15-18 at all. The Church of God today is divided into competing fellowships, and Matthew 18:15-18 is not intended to make division more workable. We are in the Laodicean era - all the fruits of the scattered condition of the whole Church of God show this.

Matthew 18:15-18 is not intended to address the issue of where to attend when the Church is divided.

When you were baptized, your commitment was to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, not to any denomination or organization. You don't need your pastor's permission to go to the Church of God fellowship Christ leads you to. Christ is your head in matters of your salvation, not any Church leader. If you began attending the fellowship you are in because you thought they were doing the best job of feeding the flock and preaching the gospel, and now Christ shows you that He wants you elsewhere, that the fruits are not good where you are now, either because the organization has changed or you were mistaken when you began to attend with them, I know of no scripture or passage in the Bible that says you cannot go to a fellowship that is doing God's work most faithfully, or that you cannot leave a fellowship without your pastor's permission, when the Church is scattered as it is now.

Although Matthew 18:15-18 does not address where to attend, other scriptures do.

"If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 10-11). This is a scripture that helped me to see that I had to leave Worldwide, when I saw that their errors were so many and so serious that they were in effect teaching a false gospel.

"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them" (Ephesians 5:11). This is not talking about ordinary human mistakes of converted ministers who are basically teaching the truth. This is talking about serious false teaching to the point that the overall message is a "work of darkness". If error becomes this serious, get out fast, don't take the time to wave good bye. When this becomes the character of the whole organization, you don't need to talk to the minister before you obey Christ.

"But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers....And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:2-16). When error reaches a point where you are hearing the voice of a stranger from the podium and from headquarters more than the voice of Christ, that would be a good clue that it is time to look for a fellowship where you will hear the voice of Christ, not strangers. Sometimes you can sense if the ministry is helping or hurting your relationship with God. When things reach a point where you feel the ministry is pulling you away from God, hurting your relationship with God, making it more difficult for you to believe, trust, and obey what God says in the Bible, that is a good time to leave. It's up to you whether to talk to your pastor first or not.

"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.' Therefore 'Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.' " (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). There is a time when we must separate ourselves from those who try to lead us to sin. Christ even told Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan", when Peter tried to dissuade Christ from being a sacrifice.

You should also be able to love your neighbors as yourself and have zeal for the gospel by supporting the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning as much as you can, including by fellowshipping with a group that is zealously doing that work, even if it means leaving where you are at. Again, if Christ leads you to see this, you don't have to talk to your pastor first, though you can if you want to.

I will repeat my previous question.

Suppose your pastor tells you something like this: "If you hear me teach or say something that seems like false teaching, your only right option, according to Matthew 18:15-18, is to first talk to me privately about it. You are wrong if you keep silent and you are wrong if you leave this fellowship or congregation. Your only option is to talk to me personally - anything else is contrary to the Bible."

As far as I can see from the Bible, a pastor who says this would be wrong on two counts. For one thing, there is a time to keep silent, to just pray about it, study it, and wait for Christ to resolve things. You can certainly do this over minor errors, and there can be scriptural grounds for choosing to not bring your disagreement over errors to the ministry. Matthew 18:15-18 does not bind you to discuss every issue with him that you think he is in error about. Matthew 18:15-18 is primarily about resolving disputes with a brother who sins against you. But whether you discuss your disagreement with the pastor or not, do not discuss it with the brethren, do not contradict him, and do not stir up division. Respect the office. Discuss it with the pastor, or keep it between you and God in prayer, but don't bring your disagreement to the brethren.

Secondly, he is wrong to say that Matthew 18:15-18 requires you to stay in the fellowship you are in if you see that God wants you in a different fellowship. And helping you see that the teaching of your pastor about a major doctrine is false may be a way Christ is showing you that He wants you in a different fellowship.

It is natural for someone baptized by a minister in a particular fellowship, either because he grew up in that fellowship or because he came into that fellowship from hearing the truth preached on TV and in publications by that group, to feel a special loyalty to that fellowship. But it is God who has really brought you into the Church and called you. Your loyalty should be towards God, and you need to seek his will first through Bible study and prayer and seek where Christ is working most effectively, and you need to seek that fellowship that is most faithful to God, if there are serious problems in the fellowship where you are at. And after you get all the facts and seek God's will, it may be that you discover that His will is for you to remain. At least then you will know.

And for those who were baptized in Worldwide before it split apart, how did you come into the fellowship you are in now? Did you not walk in of your own free will because you thought that this fellowship was where God wanted you to be? And if God now shows you differently, are you not free to walk out just as you walked in?

I know of no scriptures that endorse the principle of primary loyalty to only one part of a divided Church of God that is competing with and hostile towards other parts of God's Church, such as is the case when the Church of God is scattered and divided as it is today. Your loyalty should be to God and Christ, and wherever you attend, it should be because it is God's will you attend there, not because a minister commands you to stay.

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

When and How to Judge, Chapter 5

Should Each Member Promote His Own Opinion?, Chapter 6

Proving the Truth, Chapter 6

The Twelve Apostles, Chapter 8

Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry, Chapter 8

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Don't Demand Old Covenant Blessings if You Are under the New Covenant

Many traditional mainstream churches have emphasized the forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice of Christ, and they have minimized the importance of obeying God's law, saying the law is done away. Mr. Armstrong was raised in mainstream tradition, and after he learned the truth and began to preach the true gospel to the world and to the Church of God, he emphasized that which was not emphasized in the mainstream tradition he and many of us have come out of, and needed to be emphasized: obedience to the spiritual law of God.

He repeatedly taught that God's law defines a way of life that leads to happiness and everything good. He taught that the violation of that law, sin, results in suffering, destruction, and death. He taught God's law as a matter of cause and effect. Like the law of gravity, God's law works automatically, producing good results when obeyed and bad results when disobeyed. If you break God's law, it will break you, Mr. Armstrong would often say.

As a general principle, this is true.

In God's kingdom, obedience to the law of God by all of us in God's family will bring happiness to all. The way of life expressed by God's law, when universally practiced, results in universal happiness and peace.

But whether a person obeys or disobeys God's law affects not only that person but also those around him. One who sins can bring suffering to those who are obeying God's law. Thus, you may obey God's law, yet suffer because of the disobedience of others.

Moreover, in this life even converted members of God's Church have carnal, human nature to fight, and we do not win every battle. We have two natures within us, our carnal nature infused in our minds by Satan and God's nature given to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and these two natures war against each other in our minds. "I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:21-23). "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish" (Galatians 5:17). "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7:14-20).

So we are not perfect yet in this life, and thus we do not obey God's law perfectly.

This is Satan's world, and it is a mixture of good and evil, with evil predominating.

Not only do we suffer in this life because of the sins of the world, we suffer because of our own sins, even if we are mostly obeying God. You might be obeying God 98%, but the 2% sin you commit may bring suffering upon you that might seem all out of proportion to the righteousness you practice. Why? Because God is teaching us lessons. God can bring the consequences of the 2% sin in our lives in a strong way to teach us to get rid of that 2% sin.

Let 20 cars go speeding 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, and they will get away with it. Let me try it, and I'll get caught and ticketed at the worst time of my life when I don't have the money to pay the fine. Others in the world seem to get away with a lot of sin, but I can't get away with anything. Why? God is teaching me, and He wants me to suffer so I learn.

So we may suffer in this life, even if we mostly obey God.

And sometimes we might think this is unfair. But it is not. Believe it or not, God does not promise a happy life in this world, Satan's world, if we obey God's law. Instead, God has given us the better promises of the New Covenant: God's Holy Spirit and eternal life.

Often a newly baptized member or soon-to-be-baptized prospective member will have the following expectation about his or her future Christian life: "I will obey God's law and I will be blessed in this physical life. Sure, I'll have a few trials along the way, but for the most part, I will be happy because I will live the way of life, God's way according to God's law, that produces happiness. I will find a good wife (or husband) in the Church, I will have a happy marriage, I will have happy, healthy children. I myself will be healthy because I will obey the laws of health, and I will prosper in my career because I will work hard and pay my tithes."

It is certainly not wrong to expect blessings to come because of obedience. Those blessings will certainly come, either in this temporary physical life or in God's kingdom to come. But there is no guarantee God will give us a happy life now in this world during our physical life. What God promises is the gift of His Holy Spirit and the gift of eternal life in His kingdom. That is where we will find the true blessings.

Look at the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented" (Luke 16:19-25).

Did Lazarus obey God's law? He must have, or how could he be in God's kingdom with Abraham? Did his obedience lead to happiness in this physical life? No, for in the words of the parable, Lazarus received "evil things" in this life.

Did Paul have a happy life in this physical life? Was he physically blessed in the here and now? Speaking about Saul (to be renamed Paul), Christ said to Ananias, "For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake" (Acts 9:16). Paul later wrote, "Are they ministers of Christ? - I speak as a fool - I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness - besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19).

God can bring suffering on us in this life for several reasons: to teach us lessons, to correct us for our sins, or to test our faith. Will we have faith that God is good, fair, just, and merciful, even if we suffer after obeying God? Job had to learn the lesson of believing in God's righteousness more than his own, even when he suffered.

Yet we may have a tendency to question God's fairness when we suffer even when we are obedient. "I fasted, but things became worse." "I made progress in overcoming sin, yet I am suffering worse trials than before." "Why won't God answer my prayers? Doesn't God care that I am obeying His law?" Then, finally, we can be tempted to say to ourselves, "God isn't fair. He promised me blessings for obedience, and I am obeying, but God has not blessed me."

In effect, we can be looking for Old Covenant blessings under the New Covenant. But the promises of the New Covenant are not the same as the promises of the Old Covenant. In fact, as members of the Church of God, we are not entitled to the promises and blessings of the Old Covenant. That is actually good for us, because the promises of the New Covenant are far far better.

What does God promise for obedience under the Old Covenant? National and physical blessings in this life: health, prosperity, and safety. "Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock. And the Lord will take away from you all sickness, and will afflict you with none of the terrible diseases of Egypt which you have known, but will lay them on all those who hate you" (Deuteronomy 7:12-15). "Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God: Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways. The Lord will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you" (Deuteronomy 28:1-8).

What does God promise under the New Covenant? CORRECTION and TESTING! For what purpose? To prepare us for eternal life as His sons in the Kingdom of God. "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-11). "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:12-13). "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Why must we suffer in this life? Because God is making us perfect for eternal life as His sons in the Kingdom of God. And it is in the Kingdom of God that we will have the real blessings of happiness for eternity.

But too often, in our minds or emotions, we demand physical blessings in this life for our obedience, and we become discouraged when we do not receive them, wondering why God doesn't bless us.

Sometimes it is good to ask ourselves why God is withholding blessings, because God may want us to examine ourselves to learn our faults so we can repent and go to work on them, and withholding blessings or putting us through trials can be a way of getting our attention.

But we should never question or doubt God's fairness, justice, or righteousness as Job seems to have done (Job 27:1-4, 34:5). Nor should we become discouraged and think, "what's the use of obeying?" Notice again, "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him'...Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:5-12). "Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the wicked" (Proverbs 24:19).

We must learn the lesson of faith, and we must trust God that if we learn our lessons and continue to overcome and believe, trust, and obey God, and endure to the end, we will be rewarded and blessed in the Kingdom of God.

The spiritual law of God is the basic law and requirement of both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Both covenants promise blessings, and since God's law defines the way of life that produces blessings, the law of God must be a requirement of both covenants. You can't have a covenant that promises blessings without the requirement of obedience to the way of life that produces blessings. It is obedience to the law that produces the blessings promised in both covenants.

But the specific blessings and promises of the two covenants are different. The Old Covenant promises physical blessings in this life for the nation of Israel. The New Covenant promises the Holy Spirit now and eternal life of glory, honor, and joy in the Kingdom of God for Christians.

God teaches us lessons in this life. He tests us, teaches us, corrects us, and shapes our character. That is His number one priority at this time. If He gives us blessings now, it is to teach us. If He gives suffering and trials, it is to teach us. Under the New Covenant, our real blessing and reward will be in the Kingdom of God, not in this physical life in Satan's world.

Sometimes, in times of trial and suffering, we may feel we are not receiving the blessings we should have for obedience. When we think this way, we are looking for Old Covenant promises of physical blessings in this life, but we are not under the Old Covenant.

For us in the Church, it is in God's kingdom that our reward and blessings for obedience await us.