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