God gives each of us the responsibility of guarding the doors of our minds from corrupt or tempting influences. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29). "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18). "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8). Probably the most important way we protect our minds is by sharply limiting this world's entertainment. We should avoid TV and movies that are filled with violence, sex, foul language, the occult, taking God's name in vain, wrong values, and the like. In our day and age, in practice, this means avoiding most TV and movies.
But we also need to pay attention to what Church literature we read in print or on the Internet or sermons we listen to on the Internet outside of the fellowship we attend. Some of it may be good, but there is also an awful lot of garbage out there, and we need to exercise the discernment to know the good from the bad and avoid the bad. There are writers and speakers "among us" in the whole Church of God and on the Internet who cause division, sow disrespect towards authority, and spread heresy (Romans 16:17-18, 1 Timothy 1:3-7, 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 2:14-26, Titus 1:10-16, 3:9-11, 2 Peter 2:1-22, Jude 4-19).
Sometimes the leadership of a Church of God fellowship must "mark" someone (announce to the fellowship that the person should be avoided) for creating division by teaching heresy or by criticizing the leadership of a fellowship with members of that fellowship. This is in accordance with the following scripture: "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). Making judgment calls about putting someone out is part of the binding and loosening authority God has given the leadership and the ministry. "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). "For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).
Likewise, we have a responsibility to police our own reading and listening habits on the Internet. If we choose to use the Internet, we need to separate the wheat from the chaff and to avoid writers and speakers when we discern that they are having a negative effect on our minds, our spiritual condition, and our relationship with God.
Nevertheless, we also have a responsibility to "prove all things" as God commands (1 Thessalonians 5:21, Acts 17:10-12).
I have heard that some Church of God organizations prohibit their members from reading literature of other groups or listening to sermons of other Church of God groups on the Internet, or visiting other groups. Most fellowships do not make such a general prohibition, but some might. Must members of such a fellowship obey such a ruling?
In general, we should obey our ministers (Hebrews 13:17, 7). But because our first obligation is to God and because of our obligation to prove all things, there are times when we have to research and get the facts before making an important decision. This may sometimes include reading literature or websites outside of the fellowship we attend even if the ministry of that fellowship tells us not to. Sometimes, we have to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:18, 5:29).
The fact is, the Church of God is divided into many fellowships right now. Not only is the Church divided into various groups, many of which compete with each other, but conditions in each Church organization can change.
In these times, when the whole Church is no longer organizationally unified as we were when Mr. Armstrong was alive, some members may find themselves in a situation where they need to prove which Church of God fellowship is doing the best job of serving God and which organization God wants them to support and attend. To do this, we may have to research other groups and read their literature.
Moreover, because organizations can change (Worldwide is proof of that), some may feel an ongoing responsibility to keep aware of the state of other groups and the Church of God as a whole.
Sometimes we may also need to research the teachings of other groups in order to prove particular doctrines from the Bible, when issues come up. I do not say we should look for disputes, but sometimes we have sincere questions about doctrine or about scriptures and we need to really prove something that concerns us. You cannot prove something by only looking at one side. Anyone can make a case for or against any particular doctrine by selectively quoting scripture to support only one side. If you only look at one side, if you only look at scriptures that seem to support one point of view, that is not proof. "The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him" (Proverbs 18:17). "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
If we know a group or a COG leader or a website is teaching doctrine contrary to the Bible or is displaying a wrong attitude or encouraging us to sin, we certainly need to avoid spending a lot of our time with such sources. We should not read that kind of material just for idle curiosity or entertainment (Romans 16:17-18). "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).
There is certainly a time to avoid divisive groups, leaders, and websites as the ministry of the group we attend instructs.
But our relationship with God must always come before any relationship with the Church of God organization we attend and its leadership. It is a judgment call we must make, and if we discern that we must research or read COG literature or websites outside the group we attend to preserve our relationship with God, by obeying His command to prove all things, for example (1 Thessalonians 5:21), or to know where God is working and who is doing God's work most effectively and preaching His word most faithfully, or to receive needed spiritual instruction that the group we attend does not provide on a particular subject or in general, or for any other serious and necessary reason, then it is not wrong to read material outside the group we attend. Sometimes our loyalty to God requires it.
I wish this were the Philadelphia era and that we were all Philadelphians, united under one faithful leader in one organized fellowship, not scattered into competing organizations. Then, this question of reading other COG literature would not be an issue. But that is not the case. We are scattered, and sometimes we have to look at the state of the whole Church of God, not just the group we are in.
Here are some quotes from my book, Preaching the Gospel:
"Among the various Churches of God that trace their roots to Herbert W. Armstrong, there are one or more Church of God organizations that may seem to place great importance on Mr. Armstrong and his teachings, and they also say that it is very important to know who God is working through today. I have also heard that one or more of these organizations strictly instruct and command their members to not read any literature from any other church including other Churches of God that claim to be continuing in the teachings of Mr. Armstrong....
"I also notice that one or more Churches of God may place a very heavy emphasis on the principle of God working through a man. It seems to me that those who say this are in effect saying that we should follow that man alone, even to the point of letting that man interpret the Bible for the membership and believing that man's interpretation, even without real proof from the Bible that his interpretations of Scripture are correct. In this view, we follow God by following the man.
"Is this all consistent? Didn't Mr. Armstrong teach by word and example that we prove what is true by looking at both sides of an issue?
"The Bible teaches us, and Mr. Armstrong taught us, that we are to 'prove all things' (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If knowing who God is working through today is important, then this should be one of those things we should prove and not carelessly assume that we know without proof.
"How do we prove something? Mr. Armstrong taught us by his example in his autobiography that to prove something we have to look at both sides of an issue. The Bible also teaches this, in Proverbs 18:17: "The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him." You can't prove anything by looking at only one side or one set of arguments. The first side will always look right if that is the only side you look at. You have to look at both sides with an open mind. Mr. Armstrong set the example. When he set out to prove whether or not evolution was true, he looked at both sides. He read everything he could against evolution, but he also read everything he could in favor of evolution. When he set out to learn the truth about which day is the Christian Sabbath, he looked at both sides. He read everything in favor of Sunday keeping as well as everything against it and in favor of the seventh-day Sabbath. He taught us to GET THE FACTS. There is even a speech in the Spokesman Club manual called 'Get the Facts'....
"Should a member of a Church of God obey his minister if his minister commands him not to read the literature of any other Church?
"If a member must prove where God is working, and in order to prove the truth on that question the same way Mr. Armstrong taught us to prove things, if that member must read the literature of more than one Church of God in order to get all the facts on both sides of an issue, then this is a case where the member must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). In that case, even though the member should respect the office held by the ordained minister, the member should give higher priority to God's command to 'prove all things' than to the minister's command to 'not read another church's literature'. So the member should read whatever literature he needs to read and to get whatever facts he needs to prove the truth on any important question the member needs to answer, such as where or through whom God is working.
"This does not mean we read whatever garbage we find just for our personal entertainment. I am talking about particular circumstances where there is a valid reason to read certain literature to get facts needed to prove something in a balanced, objective way on an issue God has given us the responsibility for deciding."
That is from "Chapter 6 - Obtaining God's Help - Practicing What We Preach, Section "Proving the Truth", link:
We should obey our ministers in what they say, unless there is an overriding principle from the Bible that requires, for the sake of our relationship with God, that we obey God rather than man. This is a judgment call we must make as individuals, and God will judge us for what we decide, not any man.