Sunday, April 28, 2013

Do Not Cause Others to Sin

We must not cause others to sin, especially we must not cause others in the Church of God to sin. Christ has harsh words for those who create stumbling blocks for others.

"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!" (Matthew 18:6-7).

"Then He said to the disciples, 'It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones" (Luke 17:1-3).

In my last post, and in several previous posts (see links below), I have shown that to pay attention to non-biblical prophecies in order to know the future is contrary to the spirit of God's instructions in Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, and Deuteronomy 18:9-14. As Deuteronomy 18:14 says, "God has not appointed such" for His people and for the members of the Church of God.

But it seems to me that Dr. Bob Thiel has appointed for the members of the Church of God what God has not appointed for us. For he has appointed for us, in his COGwriter blog, a diet of non-biblical prophecies mixed in with Biblical prophecies, history, and current events. These non-biblical prophecies claim to come from the spirit world, but we know they are not from the Bible and they are not from servants of God who believe and obey the Bible. If they come from the spirit world, as they claim, they are from Satan and his demons, not from God, and fall within God's prohibition against paying attention to the occult and non-biblical sources in the spirit world, such as witches, soothsayers, sorcerers, mediums, spiritists, diviners, etc., which God calls "abominations" (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).

Who reads Dr. Thiel's blog, members of the general public or members of the Church? Both to a degree, but the percentage of Church of God members who read his blog for information about "Church of God News" and for some of his commentary about how world events relate to Bible prophecy is greater than the percentage of the general public that reads his blog. Probably a significant percentage of members of various Churches of God, plus scattered Church members who are not able to attend with any major fellowship, check his blog from time to time to know what is happening in the various Church of God fellowships. But the percentage of members of the public, not associated with the Church of God, who read his blog are miniscule.

Can posts about non-biblical prophecies be causing members of the Church of God to sin?

Some members of the Church of God may have been involved with the occult before they repented and were baptized. For them, it can still be a temptation if they allow their minds to dwell on it. To feed these people a diet of pagan prophecies from the demonic spirit world is like waving an alcoholic drink under the nose of a former alcoholic, enticing him to drink, saying, "just a little won't hurt". Or it can be like a woman parading in sexually enticing clothing in front of a single man who must resist the temptation to lust.

Probably, most members of the Church of God have never been involved in the occult, and for them, pagan prophecies are new, and some of them may be introduced to a new sin they have not been involved in before.

Which is worse?

This world is filled with occult influences. More and more movies and entertainment contain elements of the occult. Some find this enticing and interesting, and some of those who have become actively involved in this stuff have become demon possessed, according to what I have heard from ministers in the Church. This can be a serious sin. And reading about what the demons predict for the future, through prophecies inspired by those demons, can be a starting point into this kind of sin. It can be a temptation, first to read these prophecies, because they are "interesting" (so what?), then to weaken in regards to watching the occult in movies and TV, then to reading astrology, etc. People who do such things are sinning against the spirit of God's law given in Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, and Deuteronomy 18:9-14. THIS STUFF CAN BE DANGEROUS. And those who publish such material for Church of God members can be leading Church members into sin. It might be better for them if a millstone were tied to their necks and they fell off their boat a few miles from the Californian shoreline (Matthew 18:6).

And if this applies to those who publish such material, would it not also apply to those who give financial support to those who publish such material?

Let no one assume that the occult is not a temptation for any Church of God members. Once, at the Feast of Tabernacles in a major COG fellowship, I was having dinner with about a dozen members, and one woman, as I recall, wanted to know our birthdates. She was into astrology, and when someone pointed out that it is not biblical, she said something like, "yes, but astrology is true".

And all of this is so unnecessary. There are plenty of things to write about, blog about, talk about, that are of interest to the Church of God and the public without using non-biblical prophecies. The Bible is loaded with prophecy, and it is interesting and spiritually profitable to see how current events are lining up with Bible prophecy. There are many doctrinal matters to talk about. Probably the majority of the posts in Dr. Thiel's blog do not contain pagan prophecies, and those posts can be interesting, informative, and safe.

I encourage Dr. Thiel, for his sake and the sake of the spiritual health of members of the Church of God who may read his blog, to avoid publishing posts about non-biblical prophecy and just stick to the Bible when it comes to prophecy. He may be doing more harm than he realizes, not just to the Church of God, but to himself.

For how is it possible, if God sees that through his teachings some members of the Church of God became involved, step-by-step, in demonism and risk losing their salvation in the long run, how is it possible that Dr. Thiel would himself escape God's judgment in this matter if he causes others to sin and be lost?

This is the seventh post I have recently published on this subject. Here are some related posts in this blog on this subject of avoiding non-biblical prophecies, in order from first to last:

"Robert Thiel Leaves Living Church of God to Start a New COG Group", December 29, 2012, link:

"How Can Bob Thiel Be a Prophet", January 4, 2013, link:

"Don't Play with Fire", January 5, 2013, link:

"Bob Thiel Response and My Reply", January 25, 2013, link:

"Putting Scriptures Together", January 26, 2013, link:

"Why Did God Kill King Saul and Turn the Kingdom over to David?", April 20, 2013, link:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Why Did God Kill King Saul and Turn the Kingdom over to David?

Why did God cause King Saul to die in battle and his dynasty die with him? Was the death of Saul God's judgment against him, and if so, what did Saul do wrong that caused God to judge against him?

"So Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance. But he did not inquire of the Lord; therefore He killed him, and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse" (1 Chronicles 10:13-14).

There was more than one reason, but one of the reasons, according to this passage, is that Saul consulted a medium for guidance.

Do some of us in the Church of God do this?

A medium is part of the world of the occult. A medium, as I understand the term, is someone who is thought to communicate with the dead. Yet we know that the dead are unconscious, asleep in the grave, and we cannot communicate with them. If a medium communicates with anyone in the spirit world, it is with demons, whether the medium knows it or not. A demon may pretend to be a dead person to the medium, but is not.

Saul consulted a medium to inquire, he thought, of God's prophet Samuel, who was dead. He wanted to know about the battle he would soon have with the Philistines, that is, he wanted to know what he should do. He knew it was wrong to consult a medium, and he himself had tried to get rid of all mediums in the land in the past. But this time, he decided to consult one. The full account is in 1 Samuel 28:3-19.

The medium saw something that looked like Samuel (1 Samuel 28:11-14). But we know that man does not have an immortal soul as the pagans think. "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psalm 146:3-4). This was not Samuel, but a demon impersonating Samuel. So in effect, by disobeying God's instructions not to consult with mediums (Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, Deuteronomy 18:9-14), Saul looked to the demon world for guidance. Yet Satan and the demons are enemies of God. So Saul looked to God's enemies in the spirit world for information and guidance about the coming battle with the Philistines.

The medium reported to Saul that the one she saw who looked like Samuel to her (she described what she saw and Saul recognized the description as what Samuel looked like) said that Saul and his sons would die in battle, that Israel would be defeated, that the kingdom would be given to David, and that these things would happen to Saul because Saul did not obey God, especially in the matter of Amalek (1 Samuel 28:16-19).

This was a demon speaking. Did the demon tell Saul the truth about these things? Yes. Saul and Jonathan and several of Saul's sons died in battle (1 Samuel 31:1-6). Israel was defeated. The kingdom was given to David. These things happened because Saul did not obey God. The demon did not lie about these things. The demon told the truth about these four things. Of course, the demon didn't mention that one of the reasons Saul would die was that he consulted a medium (1 Chronicles 10:13-14). I guess the demon forgot to mention that. Nor did the demon mention that it was him, a demon impersonating Samuel, not really Samuel, that the medium saw. I guess he forgot to mention that little detail too.

Satan and his demons can deceive people by telling a mixture of truth and error. Speaking the truth can build credibility so that when they lie, the lie will be believed, because they spoke the truth about other things. The demon that communicated with Saul through a medium lied in representing himself as Samuel. Notice, the demon said that God had done what he said, "as He spoke by me" (1 Samuel 28:17). But God did not speak by the demon. God spoke by Samuel, not the fake Samuel that the demon was, but the real Samuel, now dead and asleep and unconscious in the grave till the resurrection. So when the demon said, "God spoke by ME", that was an outright lie.

Satan and his demons can also deceive and mislead by selectively teaching the truth about some things, but withholding the truth about other things, presenting an unbalanced picture. Satan does this with false Christianity, teaching about the sacrifice of Christ so we can be forgiven, but not teaching about the coming kingdom of God and the importance of obeying God's law. In the case of Saul, the demon told Saul part of the truth, that he would die because he did not obey God in the matter of Amalek, but withheld another truth, that he would also die for consulting a medium. By not telling Saul this, he gave Saul no opportunity to even seek repentance about consulting a medium. This half-truth was really a deception, because it implied that God was not angry about Saul inquiring of a medium. It was not a good message for Saul to hear.

Why did Saul go to a medium? What was his purpose?

God did not answer Saul when Saul inquired of Him earlier (1 Samuel 28:6). Yet Saul wanted to know what he should do regarding the battle. So he consulted a medium.

Notice the pattern. God did not give Saul the information Saul wanted. So Saul went to demons to get the information that God withheld from him. He wanted more information than God would give him at that time. So he went to the spirit world to get some answers.

Do we do that in the Church of God? If we want more information than we can get from the Bible about future events, and more information than we can discern with research about current events, getting all the facts, and using the brains and the wisdom God gives us, and if we instead go to the spirit world, but not of God, to get answers and juicy details about the future, are we not doing the same thing Saul did? And that was one of the reasons God killed him.

Why did God not answer Saul? It may have been a test. There was a similar test in Saul's life when Samuel did not appear and Saul offered an unlawful sacrifice (1 Samuel 13:7-14). Saul had no patience. In time of stress, he did not trust God, and he did whatever he felt like doing, regardless of God's commandments.

What should Saul have done when God did not answer him the first time (1 Samuel 28:6)? He should have sought God more earnestly. He should have considered his own life and his own sins and sought a deep repentance. He should have resisted the temptation to inquire of a medium, and put his trust in God alone.

There is a hint that had he done so, God might have answered him. 1 Samuel 28:6 says that Saul inquired of the Lord. Yet, 1 Chronicles 10:14 says that Saul did NOT inquire of the Lord. God does not lie or contradict Himself (Hebrews 6:18, Titus 1:2, John 10:35). So what is the answer? Saul inquired of the Lord, but not fully. He didn't keep at it. He inquired of God, but not the way God wanted him to inquire of Him. Something wasn't acceptable in the way Saul first inquired. He didn't inquire the right way. His attitude perhaps was not right, that is, he did not inquire in an attitude of trust, faith, and unconditional submission. Or perhaps he lacked persistence. Whatever his problem, though he may have thought he inquired of God the right way, God judged that he did not inquire of God the way that he should have.

Maybe Saul had in his mind, when he began to inquire of God, if God doesn't answer me, I will go to a medium for guidance. That bad attitude towards God's commands would show that his heart was not fully into inquiring of God only.

This could have been a test. After all that had happened, maybe God was giving Saul one last chance near the end of his life to see if Saul had learned anything at all in all the things that had happened. But if so, Saul did not pass the test. He went to a medium.

We in the Church of God should not be reading or listening to the words of non-biblical prophets and prophecies to learn details about the future or to "confirm" what the Bible says. If a prophet is not a true prophet of God, yet gives a message from the spirit world, we should not be reading or listening to that message in order to know more about the future. This includes any prophecies, claimed to be from the spirit world, from any religions or churches that do not believe the Bible and strive to obey God. We should avoid those things and not let them enter our minds.

"Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:31).

"For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you" (Deuteronomy 18:14).

"And the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people" (Leviticus 20:6).

If you still think it is ok to read pagan and non-biblical prophecies to get a glimpse into something God chooses not to reveal to us, imagine this scenario, you who have young children in the public schools. Suppose your child's teacher assigns your child the reading of Harry Potter books or the dressing up like demons on Halloween. You talk to the teacher because you want exemption from this assignment. You explain that your religious beliefs do not permit you to involve your child in things like demons, magic, or the occult in any way, anything having to do with the spirit world that is not from the Bible. The teacher asks, what religion are you? Continuing Church of God, you might say (just an example I pulled out of a hat at random). Then, that night, the teacher searches for "Continuing Church of God" on the Internet and finds that your Church, which you say does not permit you to let your son or daughter be involved in the occult or spirit world, is full of books, sermons, and writings that contain large amounts of, and in some cases may be dominated by, pagan prophecies about the future, strange apparitions, visions of dead people, etc. Do you think that teacher will exempt your child from reading Harry Potter books when you, through your church, also dabble in the occult world by reading these prophecies which your own Church publishes?

Why can't we simply trust God to tell us what He wants us to know? Do we trust the demons more than God? If He withholds some information from us, He has a good reason. He will reveal to us what we need to know when we need to know it. We should not bypass God and go to the demons, God's enemies, so the demons can tell us things God hasn't told us yet. That is what Saul did, and God killed him for it.

I do not understand why some in the Church of God cannot see the wrongness of going to demons to know the future. Don't they have any fear of God? Don't they believe the Bible at all? Are they so self-willed in their morbid curiosity or desire to sell books that they don't care what God says?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why Philadelphia Must Be Willing to Change Doctrine

Some Church of God members have a willingness to change Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong's doctrines, if necessary, to follow the Bible, and some are not. But those who are not willing to change doctrine, any doctrine if necessary, small or large, will not be given the open door to preach the gospel to the world powerfully that Christ promises Philadelphia.

Not that ministers and members who are willing to change doctrine will actually change Mr. Armstrong's doctrines. That may not be necessary. Probably, all the major doctrines Mr. Armstrong taught are correct and have no need for change.

But this is a matter of attitude, and attitude counts. We must be willing because we must put what God says, the Bible, higher than what man teaches, Mr. Armstrong. You cannot be loyal to both. You are loyal to the Bible or you are loyal to a man and to Church of God traditions. One must take precedence over the other.

Mr. Armstrong set the example, and it was a good example. Before he thought of himself as an apostle, before he was ordained even as a minister, he believed the Bible more than any man or tradition, more than the Protestant traditions and more than even the leadership and traditions of the true Church of God at that time, the Church of God (Seventh Day). He let the Bible correct his own doctrines, and he taught the public to believe the Bible more than him when he said, "Don't believe me, believe God, believe your Bible."

That principle applies no matter how long we are in the Church of God because it is an eternal principle. We are to believe God unconditionally. That is not true about any man, even Mr. Armstrong, even if he is the Elijah to come and an apostle.

Some say that we must know that Mr. Armstrong is the Elijah to come, but that is not what Christ taught. Nowhere does the Bible teach, that I have found anyway, that it is important to know who the Elijah to come is. Even when Christ or John the Baptist taught about the Elijah to come, they only did this in response to questions from others, especially questions originating with the scribes, Pharisees, and priests. Christ and John the Baptist never raised the issue or taught its importance.

Probably, Mr. Armstrong was the Elijah to come and an apostle, but he and his supporters and members of the Church of God were blessed with the Philadelphia open door to preach the gospel long before Mr. Armstrong or anyone else thought of him as an apostle and as the Elijah. They were not blessed because they knew who Elijah was. They were blessed because they believed and obeyed the Bible more than any man. They were blessed because Mr. Armstrong did not say on radio, "Believe me, because I am God's apostle and the Elijah to restore all things." They were blessed because Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible, believe God". Mr. Armstrong had to say that because it was fresh in his memory that believing the Bible more than any man was how he came to the truth, and he was teaching his listeners to do the same thing. And they were blessed because many listeners did exactly that - they looked up the scriptures and believed, not Mr. Armstrong, but their Bibles.

Why cannot God give us the open door if we want to "hold fast" to what a man, Mr. Armstrong, taught? What is wrong with holding fast to our Church of God traditions, since those traditions are right and true? Are we not told to hold fast to the traditions as we have been taught? Are we not told in the Bible to contend for the faith once delivered (2 Thessalonians 2:15, Jude 3)?

The traditions we are to hold fast to, the faith once delivered, are the traditions and the faith delivered to the first century Christians who were taught by the apostles. We study and believe the Bible in order to know what those traditions and what that faith, that body of beliefs, are. We can only learn from the Bible what they are. Mr. Armstrong could only know what those traditions are FROM THE BIBLE. Yet, Mr. Armstrong, like all human leaders and ministers in the Church of God, even apostles, was human and could make mistakes. He DID makes mistakes, as God has proven to us by letting him tell us that if we want to make it into God's kingdom, we should follow the next pastor general after Mr. Armstrong died, who was Mr. Tkach. So we, like Mr. Armstrong, must study the traditions taught by the Bible to know what our traditions should be, and Mr. Armstrong, being human as we are human, could make mistakes when he studied the Bible and tried to understand it.

So we must let the Bible correct us. We trust and believe God and the Bible. We study it, believe it, practice it, and base our traditions on it. But we should never become more attached to our traditions we get from the Bible than the Bible itself, for we still make mistakes in understanding the Bible and we must let the Bible continuously correct us and correct our traditions. That process, of letting the Bible correct and change our Church of God traditions and letting the Bible teach us new knowledge, is a process Mr. Armstrong taught and practiced, but it doesn't end with his death.

The first century Church of God had the right traditions, the traditions we are to hold fast to. We study the Bible and base our own traditions on the traditions we see in the Bible, trying to make our traditions the same as the true traditions of the first century Church of God, which learned directly from Christ and the original apostles face-to-face. But because we are human, and because God allows us to make mistakes, our effort to make our traditions the same as the traditions of original Christianity is not perfect. We try to copy the first century Church of God as described in the Bible, but we make mistakes. But as we believe God and allow ourselves to be corrected by the Bible, our mistakes are corrected and we come closer and closer to what we should be. That process continues to our death or to the return of Christ. As long as we are human, in the flesh, we have to be willing to receive correction. We must never stop growing in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).

Mr. Armstrong deeply understood this. He learned that lesson through his experience of night and day study of the Bible for six months, trying to prove that his wife was wrong to keep the Sabbath, and eventually having the honesty to admit that he, and the traditions of mainstream Christianity, were wrong, and he let the Bible correct his traditional beliefs. You can read this in his autobiography. And if you read what happened with him in his early years with Church of God (Seventh Day), you will see that he never FOR ONE INSTANT submitted to that fellowship's traditions or ministry more than the Bible, even when Mr. Armstrong was just a lay member of the Church of God, not ordained yet as an elder. And he retained that lesson, and practiced it, all the years God was opening his mind to understand the Bible and opening the door for him to preach the truth he was learning from the Bible to the world.

That is HOW we came to have the doctrines we have.

The "faith that was once delivered" was not the faith delivered to us by Mr. Armstrong. It was the faith once delivered by Christ to the first century Church of God. It is not called the faith "twice delivered", once by Christ and the original apostles in the first century, and a second time by Mr. Armstrong in the twentieth century.

Mr. Armstrong understood the process of being continuously corrected in our doctrines by the Bible and continuously learning new knowledge from the Bible. We also must understand and accept that process if we are to have the open door as he did.

Here is why.

We cannot go to Catholics and say, "Don't believe the pope, believe Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong". They would say, why? We could tell them, because Mr. Armstrong was the Elijah to come, but why should they believe us if we say that? Not only will they not believe us, they SHOULD not believe us, if we say that. We also cannot say, believe us, believe the Church of God, because we are the true Church. They won't believe that either. They think they are the true church.

We cannot say, believe Mr. Armstrong because he was so accurate in predicting we would lose our sea gates and the Berlin wall would come down and Europe would unite. They would say, but he also predicted the end would come in 1972, or 1975, or "in twenty years", or whatever.

God isn't testing Israel and the world about their faith in us. It is about faith in God. It is not about us. It is about God. We have no credibility apart from the Bible. Nor should we. All we can do is point people to God, not ourselves. We have to point them to what God says in the Bible. If they accept what the Bible really says, they are accepting God. If they reject the Bible, they reject God. That is the way God wants it. We are just the go-betweens. We just show people where they can find the answers in the Bible.

Just as John the Baptist pointed the people to Christ, the Word of God in person (John 1:1, 6-8, 14-35, Revelation 19:13, Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:6-8, Luke 3:15-17), so we must point people to the word of God in print.

We have to say what Mr. Armstrong said, don't believe us, don't believe any man or any church traditions, believe God, believe the Bible. Then we show them what the Bible says.

In God's way of life, those who teach must strive to practice what they preach (John 13:12-17, Luke 6:40). We cannot, without being hypocrites, say to the world, don't believe us, believe the Bible, while we say to ourselves and our members, believe God's apostle, Mr. Armstrong, believe our Church of God leaders and trust Christ to guide them into true doctrine, and hold fast to our traditions we received from Mr. Armstrong. If we do that, we are practicing a double standard. We teach one kind of faith to the world, but practice something else. We teach one thing to the public, and something different to our own members and children. How can God bless that (Deuteronomy 25:13-16, Proverbs 20:10, Exodus 12:49, Numbers 15:15-16)?

Catholics believe the pope and their church traditions. In their minds, they think they trust Christ to lead the pope. Protestants believe their traditions. They likewise think Christ leads those traditions. They think they are trusting Christ by believing their traditions. Most of them cannot conceive that Christ would have allowed the mainstream churches to have the wrong traditions. Like Mr. Armstrong before his wife confronted him with the Bible, they think "all these churches can't be wrong".

Before Mr. Armstrong was converted, his wife learned about the Sabbath before he did, according to his autobiography. When a woman taught the Sabbath truth to Mrs. Loma Armstrong, she didn't say, believe me, believe our Church traditions. She said, read this in your own Bible. Then when Loma went to her husband, she did not say, believe me, she said, well what does the Bible say? When Mr. Armstrong spoke to thousands, then millions, on radio, he did not say, believe me, believe the Church of God, he said, believe your Bible.

That is the only message God wants to go out powerfully. But for God to open the door wide, we have to practice what we preach. We have to believe the Bible more than Mr. Armstrong, more than our ministers and leaders in the Church of God, and more than our Church of God traditions. We do that by having an attitude of willingness to let the Bible correct our doctrines and teach us new knowledge. Ministers and Church of God leaders can do that by teaching the members to believe the Bible more than themselves, the ministry.

We HAVE to do that, or God will never bless us with an open door, a door open wide as He opened the door wide for Mr. Armstrong.

Most Churches of God are similar in income levels and teaching ability. We all have the same freedom to go on radio, TV, and the Internet and to publish printed literature. We have approximately the same amount of money per member. So what makes the difference between a group that has an open door and one that does not?

To take advantage of the physical opportunities we have because of freedom, money, technology, and teaching ability (speaking and writing) to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, we need ZEAL. We need to see the need. We need to see the urgency of the message. And God can open or close that door by inspiring us with zeal, or not.

Why is the message urgent?

When the Jews suffered in the Holocaust, many lost faith in God because they could not understand why God allowed them to suffer that way. Suffering did not draw them closer to God. Many lost faith in God. Suffering, without a message of truth, does not bring repentance. Today, the modern state of Israel, the nation of Jews in Palestine that was partly settled by the Jews who survived the Holocaust, has been described as one of the least religious nations on earth.

Those who are about to go through the tribulation need the gospel and a warning so they can understand WHY God is punishing them. It is the combination of a message of truth and the punishment of the tribulation that will help the people come to repentance. Suffering alone won't do it. They need to hear the truth. They can't believe the gospel if they don't hear the gospel. They can't repent if they don't hear and believe. They can't repent if they don't know what they are doing wrong. They can't repent of keeping Christmas and Easter instead of God's holy days if they haven't heard the truth preached to them.

What about during the tribulation when the two witnesses preach the gospel? Can those going through the tribulation, already caught up in it with no way to escape it, learn the truth from the two witnesses? Can the two witnesses show them why they are suffering and what they need to repent of, DURING THE TRIBULATION, even if the Church of God doesn't get that message out now?

Yes, that is possible. But there is a problem.

God is fair to warn. There is a pattern in the Bible. God warned Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and even told him what would happen if he did. God warned Cain before he sinned. He apparently warned the world in the days of Noah, because Noah was a preacher of righteousness, BEFORE the flood came (2 Peter 2:5). He warned ancient Israel and Judah through the prophets before sending them into captivity. He told Ezekiel the blood of the people would be on his head if he did not give a warning, and through Ezekiel, God tells us the same thing today. Christ in His teaching gave warnings about sin and the consequences of sin. Even at the end of the book of Revelation, there is a warning not to add or subtract from "the words of the book of this prophecy", and that warning includes the consequences of what will happen to those who ignore the warning. God warned Nineveh, though Jonah was reluctant to give the warning, and (surprise of surprises) Nineveh actually heeded the warning and escaped the punishment at that time (warnings are not always ignored). God teaches us to warn those headed for disaster (Proverbs 24:11-12).

The Bible is full of warnings from beginning to end, showing that it is God's way of life to warn from a motive of love.

A warning doesn't do much good if it comes when it is too late to escape.

It would have done Nineveh no good for Jonah to warn them after they were destroyed.

What will the people think about God's fairness if they are not warned until after the tribulation has started and they cannot escape? Won't they think God was unfair? Won't they say, "Wait a minute. Nobody told me I needed to keep the holy days. Nobody told me it was wrong to keep Christmas and Easter or to use holy pictures to help me picture God when I pray. I was deceived and didn't know. It is not my fault because I never had a chance even to know that I was wrong. Why is God punishing me now? Why didn't he get a warning to me? If God got a warning to me, I would have listened, I am sure. God isn't fair!"

Should we care about that? Should we care about God's name and reputation? Moses did. "Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: 'Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, "He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth"? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people' " (Exodus 32:11-12). "And Moses said to the Lord: 'Then the Egyptians will hear it, for by Your might You brought these people up from among them, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, Lord, are among these people; that You, Lord, are seen face to face and Your cloud stands above them, and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You kill these people as one man, then the nations which have heard of Your fame will speak, saying, "Because the Lord was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He killed them in the wilderness" ' " (Numbers 14:13-16). God heeded Moses's prayer because Moses was zealous for God's name and reputation. Likewise, we should be zealous for God's reputation (if we want answers to our prayers), that all Israel and the world knows that God is fair to warn those He is about to punish BEFORE HE PUNISHES THEM.

God's name represents His reputation. We are instructed to pray, "hallowed be Your name" (Matthew 6:9). Do we mean it or are we just mouthing words?

And we are the ones who have to deliver that warning now, before the two witnesses, before the tribulation. The sequence of events in Revelation indicates God gives power to his two witnesses at the beginning of the tribulation, not before. When the tribulation begins, it is too late to deliver the warning in time to help anyone escape. So we, the Church, have to give that warning now, not the two witnesses.

But if we deliver the warning now, what will Israel say when they go through the tribulation? They can say, "I remember the warning, but I didn't pay attention. I laughed at it, I scorned it, I thought watching TV was more important than looking things up in the Bible. I should have listened when I had the chance. This is my fault I am in this mess. I am sorry." They can accept responsibility, and that will be the first step towards repentance. The message of truth delivered before the tribulation, followed by the tribulation as punishment for ignoring the truth, will accomplish what either alone cannot. It will bring all Israel to a state of repentance and teachability. That will prepare them for the return of Christ. That is how we in the Church now can prepare the way for Christ's return.

The people we warn today will be the first generation we will teach in the millennium. Do you want that generation to be teachable? Do you want to work with people who have a repentant attitude? Or would you rather work with Israelites who can't get it out of their heads that God made them go through the tribulation without warning them first and that God is not fair. We better warn them now while we can. This is our time to do it.

That is why we should have zeal for preaching the gospel and Ezekiel warning to our nations.

But not all understand this. Not all have that zeal. That zeal comes from God. You can't work up that zeal just from logic and words. God has to inspire it.

And I don't think He will inspire that zeal in people who think we should follow the traditions of the Church of God and the teachings of the ministry and leaders more than the Bible. Or, if some seem to have zeal who do not put the Bible first, God will close the door some other way. Because God will not have the only effective way that message can be delivered, "don't believe me, don't believe any man or church, believe the Bible", delivered by a bunch of hypocrites who want to live by a different standard and don't think they should practice themselves what they preach to others.

The door to preaching the gospel is open for some Church of God fellowships, and it is open for some more than others, but for no group today is it open as wide as it was for Mr. Armstrong and the Church of God in his day. And I submit, that in proportion to the number or percentage of members who are Philadelphian in attitude and character, and that attitude and character includes believing the Bible more than the ministry and our traditions, God opens the door to preaching the gospel to each fellowship and Church of God organization. The more members that fellowship has that have the characteristics of Philadelphia, the wider the door will be open for that fellowship, and the fewer Philadelphians are in that fellowship, the narrower the door will be open, and sometimes it is open only a crack. Because when God opens the door to preaching the gospel to the world for an organization, it is to fulfill His promise to the Philadelphians that are in that organization (Revelation 3:8, 1 Corinthians 16:8, Acts 14:27, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Colossians 4:3-4).

The open door to preaching the gospel to the world (how open is it, wide open or just a crack?) is a good clue tell us what percentage or number of true Philadelphians are in each Church of God fellowship, many or few.

The Church of God and all of its leaders, ministers, and members, all of us, have been tested till now, and will continue to be tested. That test is still going on for you and for me.

Let's strive to have the characteristics of Philadelphia, not just to save our necks and be protected in the place of safety, but to have an open door to preach the truth to a public that needs it. Let's be motivated by love, to glorify God and His name and reputation, to demonstrate His fairness to warn, and to help our fellow Americans, Britons, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans, and everyone else who will go through the tribulation come to repentance in the tribulation. Let's make their repentance, conversion, and salvation easier for them, not harder. Let's have zeal to base our doctrines on faith in the Bible more than in the Church, and let's have zeal to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public.

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




Thursday, April 11, 2013

Should Someone Who Contradicts Church Leadership Be Disfellowshipped?

Should someone who openly contradicts the leadership of the Church of God fellowship he attends, in matters of official Church doctrine, be disfellowshipped or marked?

I am not talking about a man having a hearty discussion with the leadership itself, or with his pastor. I am talking about a man talking about his differences of opinion or understanding of scripture with anyone in the congregation who will listen.


But what if the man who disagrees is right about what the Bible really says?

Suppose the member who disagrees has a better understanding of a passage of scripture and a more accurate understanding of a doctrinal question and is more faithful to the Bible on that point than the leadership of the Church he attends. Is he wrong to explain doctrine accurately to other members of the congregation, contradicting the leadership of the fellowship he attends, if that leadership is wrong? Should he be marked or disfellowshipped for telling the truth?

Suppose he is warned by his pastor or the leadership to stop talking about it with the congregation, but continues to discuss the matter freely with other members. Should he be disfellowshipped?


Even if he is telling the truth as far as the Bible is concerned, even if he is right and the Church is wrong, he should not talk about it with other members if he is contradicting the position of the Church on that point of doctrine.

If it is a major point of doctrine, something a member must take a stand on, such as the Bible being the infallible word of God, or the Christian Sabbath being the seventh day and not Sunday, then the member may have to speak out but should not want to be part of that group anyway. But if it is not foundational, if it is one of the smaller points of doctrine, he should not contradict the Church, and if he does, even after being warned, he should be put out.

This is something many members (and some ministers) do not understand. They think that just because they are correct (they think), that gives them the right and maybe the duty to correct the Church from the bottom up. No, it does not. They can offer the correction to the top or to their pastor. If the leadership agrees, the leadership will make the change for the whole fellowship. But if not, then the members should wait for Christ to make the correction, from the top down, and not take matters into their own hands and take it upon themselves to teach the brethren something different.

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

"Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11).

"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17).

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

Anyone who has read this blog or my book knows I do not advocate believing the ministry or Church of God leadership more than the Bible, nor do I say that ministers and Church leadership cannot make mistakes in doctrine or their understanding of scripture. God has not given the ministry authority over what we believe, that is, our faith. "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).

But God has given the ministry authority over what is officially taught as doctrine by the Church of God, for the purpose of avoiding division and confusion.

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting..." (Ephesians 4:11-14). "For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33).

By what point or principle of God's law should we not contradict our human leaders in the Church of God?

Besides the instructions from the epistles I quoted above, I think there is a major point of God's law that in its widest spiritual intent shows why we should not contradict ministers in conversation with other members.

Some of what I am about to say is my opinion. Call it speculation, if you want. You judge if it applies accurately to the situation of disagreements between members and ministers over doctrine.

The ten commandments express or formulate the spiritual intent of God's law in a series of ten major points, each point having wide-ranging scope in the spirit of the law and what it includes. The spiritual intent of each of these ten points of God's law can go beyond the letter of the statement of the point as made to ancient Israel. This is how God has chosen to teach us His law.

For example, one of the ten points says, you shall not murder. Murder is a physical act, and that is how the nation of Israel understood this commandment. But the spiritual principle that this point of law represents goes beyond the physical act. Jesus said that hate and even unjust anger can be a violation of this point of law (Matthew 5:21-22). Likewise, the point of law forbidding adultery has a spiritual principle behind it that goes beyond forbidding just the physical act but even forbids lust (Matthew 5:27-27).

Some commandments might seem only to apply to human beings and would seem to have no application to angels before man existed. Angels cannot die, so they cannot murder each other. They have no sex and no marriage, so they cannot commit adultery. They are not born of parents, so they have no mother or father to honor. And the Sabbath was made for man, so there was no weekly Sabbath for angels to keep before man was made on the earth.

But I think the ten commandments are based on eternal principles of God's law that have always existed. Angels cannot murder, but they can hate, and hate is the spirit of murder. They could not end the life of another angel before man was made, but Satan now seeks to murder all of mankind eternally because he hates us, and the hatred Satan has for others was a part of his character before man was. Angels cannot commit adultery and probably cannot lust sexually, since they have no sex. But the command to be faithful in marriage is based on the spiritual principle of loyalty to our commitments to each other. When you marry someone, you make a commitment to be loyal to that person. In the human realm, that loyalty is expressed by faithfulness to the commitment to have sex with no other person, but the principle of loyalty and the keeping of commitments, covenants, promises, and contracts is a wider principle, an eternal principle, that existed even before God made man and has application beyond even marriage.

Faith, that is, believing God, is one of the three weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). Perhaps the fourth commandment, to keep the Sabbath holy, has a connection with faith. Many people, nations, and cultures all over the world can "figure out", even without the written ten commandments, that it is wrong to murder, to steal, to dishonor one's parents (Romans 2:12-16). Many people have the wisdom to understand, even with their own human thinking, why most of the ten commandments make sense. But to understand the Sabbath requires that we believe the God who gave us the Sabbath. No amount of human reasoning can figure out that we should rest every seven days and which day out of seven we should rest. For that, we need God's word. If God never gave us instructions to keep the Sabbath, we would not know about it. But those instructions and command to rest on the seventh day do no good if we do not have the faith to believe what God says.

Today, most of the world does not observe God's Sabbath. There are only two categories of people that rest on the seventh day, those who merely keep it because it is their tradition and the tradition of their parents (such as many Jews and Seventh Day Adventists), and those who keep it because of faith, because they believe what God says. And even among those who only keep it because it is their family's tradition, that tradition started somewhere, usually with someone who had the faith to believe God. For someone whose family never kept the Sabbath, such as myself and many of you who came into the Church of God from mainstream religions (I grew up Catholic), we need faith to believe God's word, the Bible, to begin to keep the Sabbath, to break our old habits of Sunday keeping. And often all of us need faith that God will protect us and provide for us if our employer threatens to fire us if we do not work on the Sabbath (Matthew 6:31-33).

So perhaps an eternal spiritual principle that the Sabbath is based on and the Sabbath helps to teach us is the principle of faith, one of the weightier matters of the law.

The first commandment, to love God, also teaches us faith, because believing and trusting God is one of the ways we are to love Him.

All this discussion about the greater spiritual scope of each of the ten points of God's law is preparation for what I am going to suggest. There is a wide and eternal spiritual principle behind each of the ten points of God's law.

Whether or not we contradict our ministers in our speaking has to do with authority and the boundaries of authority. It has to do with government and obedience to government. The Church leadership and ministry has the authority to set the official teachings of the Church, and lay members do not. Members can teach within the boundaries of official Church doctrine, but not contrary to it.

The ministry has been given the authority over the teaching of doctrine, not the lay members, and lay members are to respect the boundaries of ministerial authority, boundaries set by God, because it is God who gave the ministry that authority.

Is there a point of God's law that has to do with respecting the boundaries God has set and respecting the boundaries of authority, particularly the boundaries of our neighbor's authority over what has been given to him?

There may be several commandments that are fundamentally based on spiritual principles that have to do with respect for authority and for the boundaries of authority.

Consider the eighth commandment.

The commandment, you shall not steal, is about property and ownership. But what is ownership? What does ownership of property really mean?

Ownership of property is really authority over property. If you own something, you have authority over its use. Others do not have that authority over your property - you do.

Suppose you own an automobile. Am I stealing if I drive it? It depends on whether you gave me permission to drive it. You have authority over the use of that car because it is your car. So if I "borrow" your car without your permission and against your wishes, I stole your car, and even the police will not accept my explanation if I say that I only "borrowed" it. But if I ask you if I could borrow your car and you say "yes", thus giving me permission to drive it, by that one word "yes" you delegate your authority over your car to me, and I can drive it and am not stealing. Likewise with anything else you own, such as your lawn mower, your computer, or even money. I can ask to borrow, and if you agree to lend, I can use it, but if I take it without your permission, I am stealing. Also, you can permanently give me the use of something by giving it as a gift - that is your right, your authority over your property.

Ownership of property, which is what the eighth commandment is about, is based on a principle of the boundaries of authority, in this case authority over personal property.

God gave certain men in the Church positions of authority, positions of control over some aspect of the Church and its members. That authority has boundaries. No pastor or Church leader has authority over the faith of the members - God reserves that to himself (2 Corinthians 1:24). No pastor or Church leader has authority over another man's wife and children in family matters, only the husband has that authority (Ephesians 5:22-24). But Church of God leaders and ministers have authority over the teaching of doctrine in the Church (Ephesians 4:11-14). That means there are boundaries on what members can teach each other. To violate those boundaries, to teach our own opinions contrary to the teaching of the fellowship we attend, is to take to ourselves rights and privledges we do not own. God gave that authority to the ministry, not the members. And that violation is wrong even when our opinion about doctrine and scripture is right. We can recommend changes to the leadership, but only God has the authority to actually make the change, from the top down.

This is one way God is not the author of confusion - He avoids confusion by setting boundaries of authority. The ministry does not have authority over what we believe, that is, our faith (2 Corinthians 1:24). But they do have authority over what we teach because doctrinal teaching comes under the heading of the responsibility of the ministry, so we are not tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine and so we can all speak the same thing. God gives the ministry AUTHORITY over teaching that He does not give to lay members. Lay members can certainly teach those things in agreement with ministry, but not contrary to the ministry within a fellowship - they don't have that right. They have no right to say to a fellow lay member, "I know our pastor teaches us this, but that that is wrong, here is what I am teaching you...". I have no more right to do that than I have to borrow the pastor's car without his permission, and for the same reason - he has the right, the authority, not me.

If we violate this principle, the principle of respecting authority and the boundaries of authority God has set, we are violating one of the spiritual principles upon which the eighth commandment is based. It is as if we are "stealing" the right to set doctrine in the Church. Lay members do not own that right. It doesn't belong to us. It was given by God to the ministry, from the top down, with the leader of each Church of God fellowship making the decisions on what the Church will teach as doctrine.

If you have questions that lead to discussion about something you don't agree with, ask them of your pastor or write to headquarters with your questions, but don't put yourself in the position of becoming a teacher of things contrary to the Church by starting discussions with the brethren. Because what may start out as a question (why does the Church teach this) can lead to contradiction (but doesn't the Bible say this) which leads to teaching things contrary to the Church (well it seems clear to me that...).

Often if you talk to someone who was put out of a fellowship for causing division, if you ask him why, he will say, "they put me out for asking questions," but how often is that really the case? I suppose some ministers may be so harsh and unjust as to put someone out for asking a question, but most ministers do not mind explaining why the Church teaches what it teaches when someone is really just asking the minister in private a question. But when such "questions" lead to discussion with members and contradiction, that is what causes division and ultimately causes a member to be put out. So ask your ministers questions if you don't understand something (if the minister is not one of the few I mentioned that is so defensive that he misinterprets a sincere question as an attack), but if you disagree about something, believe the Bible more than your minister, but don't discuss your disagreement with other members. Then you will not be guilty before God of causing division.

God put organization and authority in the Church to enhance unity, to minimize confusion, and to protect the Church from heresy and division. Let's not undermine what God has given us for our good.

For a post in this blog relating to this subject, see
"The Responsible Use of New Knowledge", published November 5, 2010, Link:

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

Should Each Member Promote His Own Opinion?, Chapter 6