Saturday, August 24, 2013

How Important Is the Structure of Governance in the Church?

There are many doctrines in the Church of God. There are many issues, points, and details in God's law and way of life. There are a number of questions and controversies among ministers and brethren in the whole Church of God. Some questions are more important than others. Some doctrines are more important than others. How do we know what is more important and what is less important?

Christ rebuked the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier matters of the law while they concentrated on small details (Matthew 23:23-24). This verse illustrates that some matters of God's law are weightier, more important, than others. The three matters Christ mentioned here, justice, mercy, and faith, must be counted as the most important. There are other matters of God's law that are important, not as important as these three, but important nevertheless, and there are matters of God's law that are less important.

How do we know what is more important and what is less important, as a doctrine, or as a question, or as an issue?

First, any issue can be important for an individual if that issue becomes a test of faith and obedience for that individual. If the issue itself seems minor to other people or to the Church of God as a whole, it may be important for a particular member because it is used by God to test the faith and obedience of that member, and it is the faith and obedience that is important to God.

God can use particular details of doctrines or particular specific commands, details or commands that may not seem weighty of themselves, to test a man or woman to see if he or she is willing to believe and obey God. God can use a small matter to test our attitudes towards Him and His law. The doctrines or issue itself may be minor. But if it is used as a test of faith and obedience, it can be of major importance for the person who is tested by it.

Think of a small doctrine or an issue or question about a minor matter in the Church of God. I won't try to mention one as an example. No matter what I mention, it may seem major to someone else. You think of something that you think is one of the less important doctrines or issues in the Church. Now, picture a Church of God member studying this question, doctrine, issue, or point of law in the Bible. He finds instruction in the Bible that tells him he needs to change his thinking or his behavior regarding this issue. But it is hard for him to change. It becomes a test. If he does not believe what God says or refuses to obey, he fails the test. This affects his character. If he chooses to disbelieve or disobey God in this small point, he is building a wrong habit of mind and choice, the habit of disbelief or disobedience. If he is unfaithful in a small matter, he is more likely to be unfaithful later in a bigger matter (Luke 16:10).

What goes on in this person's mind is that he is forced to make a choice, to believe and obey God even when it is hard, or to take the easy route of disbelieving or disobeying what God says.

The choice the person makes will have a long-term effect on his or her character. And that test is the same even if the person is mistaken in his or her understanding of the issue in the Bible. A man or woman who chooses to do what he or she THINKS God forbids is choosing to disobey God, even if the person is mistaken about what God forbids.

That is why Paul said that whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

Study this whole issue in Romans 14:1-23. Paul is using an example of eating meat sold in the market that has been sacrificed to idols. He also uses a couple of other examples, vegetarianism (verses 1 and 2), and observing a day (verses 5 and 6), and God did not inspire Paul to specify what kind of day he is talking about. Today there are people who think it is important to observe new moons, and I do not rule out the possibility that this could be talking about new moons.

What Paul is saying in this passage is that it is NOT wrong, of itself, to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. BUT, it is wrong for a person to do so if that person THINKS it is wrong, if he thinks it is against God's will. In that case, he should not eat meat sacrificed to idols, though others in the Church may do so without sinning. But if the one who thinks it is wrong eats, he has sinned. Paul is making the point, do not pressure or entice that person to do what he thinks is wrong even if you know it is not wrong. How important can that be for the person who thinks it is wrong? He could lose his salvation over it! Paul said, "Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died" (Romans 14:15). If a person who thinks it is wrong to eat does what he thinks is wrong, it could destroy him! That is pretty serious. That is not an unimportant matter for that person.

Why? Because if a man who thinks it is wrong to eat meat sacrificed to an idol eats anyway, he has refused to obey God in his mind. He has made the choice to disobey God. That can have a long term effect on his character. God sees his attitude, that he is not willing to submit to God's will.

God can use many kinds of instructions and commands to test our submission to Him and our faith in His word. It is the attitude of trust in God's word and submission to His will that God is looking for, and God can determine that with issues and instructions that can seem minor to other people not being tested with that particular issue.

How did God test Abraham? He tested him with a command to kill his son, to make a sacrifice of him. This is not a permanent instruction, in fact, God specifically calls sacrificing one's children an abomination (Deuteronomy 12:31). This was a one-time special command, but it was important that Abraham obey it. God stopped him from going through with it, but tested him far enough to know that Abraham was submissive to God's will and commands (Genesis 22:1-18, James 2:21-24).

In one example in the Old Testament, a prophet was instructed to go someplace, deliver a message, then return another way and not eat food with anyone. He disobeyed, eating with another prophet, and God killed him for it (1 Kings 13:1-32). How important was it that he not eat with the other prophet? All he did was share a meal. But it was important that he obey God's instruction, and God killed him for his disobedience.

God killed Uzzah for putting his hand on the ark of God to steady it when it was being transported (2 Samuel 6:6-7). Sometimes little things are important when they show what our attitude is towards God and His word.

So any issue can be important for an individual if God uses that issue to test the person's faith and obedience, even if the issue is not major of itself and not of great important to the Church of God as a whole.

Having said that, some issues, doctrines, and questions are fundamentally and inherently more important than others. Christ mentioned three: justice, mercy, and faith, and He said they were weightier than tithing (Matthew 23:23-24).

In the matter of importance, where does the structure or form of governance in the Church of God stand? I am sure it is less important than the three weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith. But is it of some importance nevertheless? How should we rank it?

By structure of governance, I am referring to a particular question or issue. The question is, is it right in God's sight for a Church of God fellowship to choose its leaders by the voting of the ministry, or is that wrong?

I am asking, is this an important question? Or is the whole matter of Church of God governance a minor matter?

I will use an example of a minor matter, one I have talked about in this blog. The question of whether 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is referring to a falling away in the Church from the truth or a worldwide deception of the unconverted by the beast and false prophet is a minor question. The reason it is not important is that we already know about falling away in the Church and about a worldwide deception of the unconverted by the beast and false prophet from other scriptures. For an explanation of this, see these related posts in this blog:

"The Falling Away in 2 Thessalonians 2:3", dated September 13, 2012,

"Is the Falling Away Doctrine a Critical Issue?", dated February 10, 2013,

"Is the Great Deception to Come a 'Falling Away'?", dated February 18, 2013,

So to go back to my question about governance, is the question of Church of God governance a minor question or issue or matter, like 2 Thessalonians 2:3, or is it of some importance? How do we judge what is important and what is minor?

I will suggest criteria for judging an issue's importance.

If an issue is a temporary detail without a major effect, it is of less importance than an eternal principle that will always be followed in the kingdom of God for which we are being trained.

Why did Christ say that justice, mercy, and faith are more important, "weightier", than tithing? Tithing is temporary. It probably did not exist among God's angels before man was created on this earth. It may or may not exist in the new heavens and new earth. It is not necessarily eternal. Yet justice, mercy, and faith are permanent, eternal aspects of God's character and will be practiced in His kingdom forever, whether or not tithing is practiced in some form for eternity.

I think Church of God governance is important, and I think it is important because it is based on the eternal principle of God governing His kingdom from the top down. Before man was created, God and Christ never derived their authority from angels who voted them into office. Nor will positions in God's kingdom after Christ returns be determined by the voting of those under the authority of those positions. God the Father appointed Christ. God and Christ determine our positions in the kingdom of God. The authority to appoint to a position always is from the top down.

In the millennium, if we rule over five cities, it will be because Christ has appointed us to rule over those cities, not because the residents of those cities vote us into the office of mayor of those cities. Nor will the people be able to vote us out of the office God gives us.

God's way of governing and choosing persons for position and office is from the top down because the one at the top knows best who should hold a position.

In the examples of United Church of God (UCG) and Church of God a Worldwide Association (COGWA), who knows best who should be chairman and who should be president of those fellowships, Christ the head of the Church or the hundreds of ordained ministers in those Churches? I think, in effect, the leadership of UCG and COGWA say (or imply without saying), the ministers know best, but I say, Christ knows best. Christ would make a better choice than the ministers will make by their voting because Christ has greater wisdom, knowledge, and understanding than the ministers. The ministers can only judge by what they see and hear, but Christ knows the heart.

The prophet Samuel thought David's brother, Eliab, was God's choice for king of Israel to replace Saul. "So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, 'Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!' But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart' " (1 Samuel 16:6-7).

When the ministers in UCG and COGWA vote for and choose who their leaders will be, do they look at the outward appearance, or do they look at the heart? Are they men? If they are men, God says, they look at the outward appearance. It is God, not man, who looks at the heart. Only Christ has all the facts to make the best decision to determine who the leaders of UCG and COGWA should be - the ministers who vote are unqualified to make that decision. Even if they had the wisdom of Christ, which they don't, they do not have enough information to make a right decision. They are taking to themselves a decision that belongs to Christ. In effect, they seem to think they know better than Christ. They do not want to submit to Christ and His authority, nor do they submit to the authority of God's word, the Bible, which clearly teaches that God makes His choices known through appointment and through fruits, not voting.

Which raises another point. There is another criteria that can sometimes be used to determine how important a doctrine or question is. And that is, how clear is the Bible on the issue? If the Bible is very clear about an doctrine, that tends to make it more important than a doctrinal question that the Bible is not clear about. One of the reasons the controversy over 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is not of great importance is that the Bible is not crystal clear whether this one verse is referring to a falling away in the Church or a worldwide deception of the unconverted by the beast and false prophet. You can find plausible reasons in support of either conclusion. It might have a dual application, referring to both a falling away in the Church and a deception of the unconverted. God does not make it that clear one way or another.

How clear is it in the Bible that God's government in the Church is from the top down? It is crystal clear. There are many examples of how God chooses leaders and makes His choices known, and it is always one or a combination of these two methods: appointment from one in greater authority or by the fruits. In chapter 8 of my book, Preaching the Gospel, I go through all, or nearly all, of the examples in the Old Testament and New Testament showing how God chooses leaders and makes His choice known. There is not one example God gives of how He chooses leaders in His government where He makes his choice known through the voting of those under authority to elect those over them. There are many examples of leaders being made known by appointment from above or by fruits.

There are many more passages of scripture that prove governance from the top down, not by balloting, than there are that prove many other established Church of God doctrines. It is one of the clearest and most proved doctrines of the Bible.

But Satan has a controversy with God. He does not want God's government from the top down because that puts God over him in authority. He doesn't want God telling him what to do. He wants to do things his way. Satan is the spirit behind democracy, the inventor of democracy, because it is an expression of his nature. Democracy is an expression of the "me" attitude, the attitude that says, "I don't want anyone telling me what to do. I do not want God appointing leaders over me. I want to be able to choose my own leaders, leaders I know will tell me what I want to hear, leaders who will not make me do anything I don't want to do." It is the attitude of rebellion against God.

In any organization, no matter how large or how many levels of authority, as long as government is from the top down, God is in administrative control right down to the very bottom. But if at any point in the structure that chain of command is broken, if at some point a certain level of leadership is not chosen from the top down but from the bottom up, then the administrative control from the top does not reach to the bottom. God the Father is the head of Christ. A pastor leads the members of his congregation. But the chain of command from the Father to the members is broken if the pastor follows leaders that he and the fellow pastors have chosen through voting rather than the leaders Christ would choose. The members follow their pastor and Christ follows the Father, but the pastors do not follow Christ, they follow men they have voted for, not necessarily Christ's choice at all.

And if you think that is not the case, show me from the Bible or from logic that I am wrong.

We are being trained for the kingdom of God, and we are being taught lessons by experience. We should be practicing all of God's ways, living the righteous way of life we will live in God's kingdom, to learn that way of life by practice and experience. Practicing balloting in the Church of God is contrary to God's way of life. It is contrary to our training for the kingdom of God. It is part of Satan's way, brought into the Church from the world, learned from Satan's world, modeled after the democracies of this world, based on the philosophies of this world. It is the wrong kind of training, teaching us wrong lessons we will have to later unlearn through bitter experience. It takes us backward in our thinking, not forward to the kingdom of God.

That makes governance fundamental and of much greater importance than many other issues and questions, such as which of two events 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is referring to.

I also said that an issue can be important because of its effect, and here the question of governance can have a major effect on God's work of feeding the flock and preaching the gospel to the world. Voting tends to magnify division and cause splits, as it did in United Church of God, as ministers maneuver and "line up" to defend and support their cause, whatever it is. Once this process starts, it tends to grow till an organization can be split in two over minor or in some cases nearly invisible issues. The voting itself becomes the issue. Taking sides becomes the issue. Those in authority tend to protect themselves and the cause they support by getting rid of those who might vote against them. Also, since the ministers who vote are not submitting to Christ and His way, it is likely they will choose the wrong men to lead them, and that can also have an adverse effect on feeding the flock and preaching the gospel to the world, because it is the leadership and the ministers who vote who determine the doctrines that will be "fed" to the congregations, and it is the leadership and ministers who vote who decide how much money will be spent on preaching the gospel to the world rather than on their own salaries and benefits. I would rather leave those decisions to Christ.

If you want an example of how governance by balloting can contribute to a spirit of division and the split of an organization, read some of the posts in this blog around the time of the split of United Church of God, posts dated from around December 2009 through around December 2011, during which time UCG split into two groups. I have chronicled much of the history of that event and discussed the issue of the structure of governance in this blog during those two years.

Governance in the Church of God is a major issue. Governance from the top down in the Church is a major doctrine of the Bible.

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

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