The Church of God is the collective body of all who have God's Spirit dwelling in their minds (Romans 8:9-11). God has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the conditions of faith, repentance, and baptism (Acts 2:36-39). The Holy Spirit helps us understand spiritual knowledge (John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 2:9-16). It is God's life within us that makes us sons of God and members of the true Church of God (Romans 8:10-11). God knows who are His. He knows who has His Spirit and who does not.
We are being trained for the kingdom of God, and for that purpose and other reasons God has established His government in the Church and over the Church. But in understanding that government, it is important to understand where it starts. It starts with God the Father.
God's government over the Church and in the Church is one government from the top down, and it starts at the top with God the Father.
Under the Father is Jesus Christ. Under Christ are various positions, offices, and roles in the Church of God, which are filled and carried out by fallible human beings whom God has chosen. Human leaders in the Church have limited lifetimes, and are prevented by death from continuing in office for 2,000 years since the time of Christ. Moreover, the Church of God sometimes expands and a need for more leaders arises. For this reason, and to teach us valuable lessons about government, God has established a system whereby the office of ordained minister is passed from one man to another by the laying on of hands. Thus the term, "ordained ministry".
God has given the human leaders in the Church the authority to choose and ordain ministers for the work of the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11-16, Matthew 16:19, Titus 1:5-9). We are to respect and honor the office of ordained minister that God has established in the Church (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Hebrews 13:17).
God has commissioned the whole Church, not just the ministry, to do the work of God. What do I mean by the term, "work of God"? By work of God I mean the work of feeding the flock, preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel and the world as a witness, making disciples of all nations, and serving the brethren. You could call it the "work of the Church" because it is work we must do, but I call it the "work of God" because it is the work God has assigned to us and the work God does through us.
It is for the purpose of this work that God has established His government in and over the Church, and the ordained ministry (apostles, evangelists, pastors, elders) is part of that government.
But in speaking of God's government, we must always keep in mind that God's government starts at the top with God the Father. That is the top of the pyramid, not any human leader on earth.
Why do I say the that the commission to do God's work is for the whole Church and not just the leadership and ministry? As I explain in my book (see links at the bottom of this post), it is evident when you study Acts that the commission to preach the gospel is not just for the apostles but for the entire Church, for when the Church was scattered, the apostles remained in Jerusalem, but the scattered Church preached the gospel everywhere they were scattered.
The primary way members support the preaching of the gospel today is through their prayers and contributions. Usually, the ordained ministry speaks and writes directly to the public and the lay members support them with tithes and offerings, prayers, encouragement, and service. Members also help by being good examples, by answering questions from the people in the world when asked, and by doing acts of service for the Church and their neighbors.
In most of the rest of this post, I want to address two questions. One, does God ONLY determine positions in His work and His Church, positions of leadership and responsibility, through the ordained ministry? Two, does Christ allow division and contention to occur in His Church, division and contention between members and between ordained ministers and leaders?
First, does God ALWAYS choose leaders in the Church through the ordained ministry? Or does God sometimes choose someone for a position or responsibility in His work whom the ordained ministry has not chosen? We need to look at the examples in the Bible and in Church of God history to see how God works.
We can learn some basic principles of how God works from examples in the Bible even before the Church was established. God has established government in Israel and in the Church, but does not always choose one for leadership whom the established government has chosen. God sometimes goes outside of the government He has set up to choose someone for a job.
"Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the Scriptures: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes"?' " (Matthew 21:42). This obviously refers to Jesus Christ, and there is a lesson in that, but we see this principle in effect even in the Old Testament. God, who chooses leaders, is not limited by other human leaders He has already chosen. God sometimes goes "outside the system" to choose a person for office. We see that in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Church of God history in modern times.
God established a system and priests, judges, and later kings to govern ancient Israel. God commanded that these offices be respected and obeyed (Deuteronomy 17:8-13). But there was no system or procedure for priests, judges, or kings to appoint God's prophets described in the Bible. God chose His own prophets. This was necessary because God used the prophets to directly rebuke the people including the priests, judges, and kings in the governmental system God has set up.
God did not choose David to be king through the established king, king Saul. Saul had been chosen by God to be king, but God did not use Saul to say to David, "by my authority as king, which office God gave me, I appoint and ordain you, David, to be king after me". Instead, God directly appointed David to be king and arranged circumstances to make known to Israel that David was God's choice to be king. Again, God went "outside the system" to appoint David.
Why did God sometimes go outside the system He Himself had set up to appoint leaders? Some might say, "Because the Holy Spirit was not available to those in the system of priests, judges, and kings, they lacked spiritual discernment, and God sometimes had to go outside that system to choose someone that the establishment could not discern was the right choice". To a degree that was true, but not entirely. Samuel had God's Holy Spirit. He is mentioned in the faith chapter of Hebrews along with Abraham who will be in the first resurrection (Hebrews chapter 11, Matthew 8:11). He is compared with Moses as an example of one who could intercede with God (Jeremiah 15:1) and Moses will be in the kingdom of God and had God's Holy Spirit (Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25, Matthew 16:28-17:9). Yet Samuel, even with the Holy Spirit, could not discern who God had chosen apart from God speaking to him directly and telling him (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Speaking to and about Samuel, who had God's Spirit, God said, "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 16:7). Samuel, even having God's Spirit, would have chosen Eliab, but that was not God's choice (1 Samuel 16:6).
The system of priests and judges continued to the time of Christ, though not necessarily in exactly the same form. Christ said the Pharisees "...sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do..." (Matthew 23:1-4). The scribes and Pharisees were the remnant of the system of government God set up through Moses. Yet God the Father did not choose Jesus Christ through that system. The scribes and Pharisees did not go to Jesus and say, "God has shown us that you are to be the Christ, so we appoint you and ordain you to the office of Messiah." Instead, God chose Jesus directly and gave Him that office, in spite of the opposition of the Pharisees who sat in Moses' seat.
What about in the Church of God after the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost? Did God always appoint leaders through the apostles? No. Christ established His Church and chose His apostles and gave them authority (Matthew 16:19) and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). But Christ also went outside of that system to choose Saul who was renamed Paul. Peter did not chose Saul, and neither did any of the other twelve. God did not choose Saul THROUGH the apostles He already had appointed. He went outside His own system on that occasion (Acts 9:1-16).
Did Saul wait till he was ordained a minister or evangelist or apostle by Peter or the other apostles before he began doing the work God had given him to do of preaching the gospel to the people? Not according to the biblical record. "And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, 'Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?' But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 9:17-22). Notice, Saul IMMEDIATELY began to preach. If Peter and the other apostles first ordained him to preach before this occasion, there is no hint of it in the Bible, and why would God leave that out of the record if ordination was a requirement before one could preach?
What about recent Church of God history?
Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was already doing the work of God directly, by feeding the flock by giving sermons to the Church of God, by preaching the gospel to the world, by baptizing new members, and by doing doctrinal research and submitting new doctrinal knowledge from the Bible to the Church leadership, all BEFORE he was ordained by the hands of men. You can read of this in his autobiography. God had a system of ordained ministers in the Church of God Seventh Day, yet it was not through that system, or through Mr. Andrew Dugger, or through ordained ministers that God chose Mr. Armstrong to do His work. Eventually, AFTER God had already been using Mr. Armstrong, the Church of God Seventh Day did ordain Mr. Armstrong. But they did not choose him. God chose him APART from that system of ordained ministers. In fact, just as the Pharisees opposed Christ, so most or all of the ordained ministers in that Church opposed Mr. Armstrong. I have read that several years after Mr. Armstrong raised up a separate work, the ministry of the Church of God Seventh Day disfellowshiped or marked him. So again, even in modern times, we have an example of how God sometimes goes outside the system to choose one to do a job of some kind, even when human leaders IN GOD'S GOVERNMENT IN THE CHURCH are against God's choice, as the ordained ministers in the Church of God Seventh Day were against Mr. Armstrong.
So, returning to my first question, does God ONLY determine positions in His work and His Church, positions of leadership and responsibility, through the ordained ministry? As I have shown, no, not always. Ordinarily, yes, through the ordained ministry, but not always. The Bible and history show that God sometimes goes outside the system to choose someone to do some kind of work in support of God's purpose.
Second question, does Christ allow division and contention to occur in His Church, division and contention between members and between ordained ministers and leaders? Examples in the New Testament show the answer is yes.
Christ does not approve of division and contention among human leaders in His government in His Church. But He allows it to occur. He gives us free moral agency. Human leaders, being human, sin and make mistakes. There is sometimes contention between members. Christ gave instructions for handling disputes between members (Matthew 18:15-18).
There was division in some of the congregations Paul supervised (1 Corinthians 1:10-11, 3:1-3, 11:17-18). Paul gave instructions to Titus to put out those who cause division after the first and second warning (Titus 3:10-11). Some must have caused division, or why would Paul write about this? Yet, he did not presume those causing division were not converted Church members, else why give a warning before putting them out? The fact that a warning is given shows that there is hope - the one causing division may be a converted Church member who can repent and learn not to cause division anymore. But that also shows that division can occur.
When the apostles came together to resolve a doctrinal matter in Acts 15, there was "much" dispute before it was resolved (Acts 15:2, 7).
Even between Paul and Barnabas there was contention that caused them to separate (Acts 15:36-40).
The messages to the seven churches in Revelation show that the Church is not perfect (Revelation chapters 2 and 3).
After Mr. Armstrong died and Mr. Tkach made doctrinal changes, even the ministers who stayed with the truth overall did not stay together but scattered and were divided among themselves. You can't say that they were all unconverted.
Christ Himself is not divided, nor is there any division between God the Father and Christ or among the holy angels. Christ always leads the Church perfectly, but the Church of God does not follow Christ perfectly because we are imperfect humans, and that goes for the ministry as well as the members. We sin and we make mistakes, and sometimes we are divided because of our mistakes and sins. But Christ is not the source of that division. Our carnal nature, our human weakness, and Satan's temptations are the source of our divisions.
We must not blame God or Christ for our sins and mistakes and the sins and mistakes of others in the Church of God. But just as we do not blame Christ for the sins of men, even men in the Church, we must also not attribute infallibility to our human leaders because Christ is the head of the Church. Human leaders, even those Christ works to lead, sometime choose because of human weakness not to follow where Christ leads, and Christ allows that to happen. And when it does, division can result. We must not blame Christ for the division, but neither should we say that such division is impossible because Christ leads the Church. Division is possible, and we have seen it, and the Bible records it even in the first century (3 John 9-10). Leaders in the Church of God who unfairly and harshly criticize other leaders and thereby cause division will be judged by Christ (Matthew 24:45-51).
What this all means is that God and Christ do not necessarily work only through one united Church of God fellowship and one leader, especially in this Laodicean era. God may work primarily through one leader to the extent that that leader is more faithful than other leaders, because Christ can work through us in proportion to our faithfulness and submission to Him. So Christ can work through one leader more than another, and perhaps some who claim to be Church of God leaders Christ may not be able to work through at all (because they do not submit to Christ at all).
But to say that there can be only one Church of God leader, called an apostle or evangelist or prophet or pastor, and only one fellowship that is really part of the true Church of God, and that all other leaders, ministers, and groups are outside the true Church of God, not converted in other words, and to make that an article of faith, is simply wrong. It is not according to the Bible.
Christ can have more than one man report to Him directly in the work of God. A president of a company can have more than one department head report to him. In the first century, Christ directed the work of Peter and Paul at the same time. Peter did not supervise Paul. And sometimes they disagreed (Galatians 2:11-14).
God's government is from the top down, but the top starts with God the Father, not with any human leader on earth. Under the Father is Christ. Under Christ is the human government in the Church, and that government can branch out into several leaders starting with the next level directly under Christ. It does not always branch out immediately under Christ, but it can.
It is to our shame that we are divided. Our divisions are real, but they are not a reflection of Christ and God's way of life. They are a reflection of our carnal nature.
A leader who teaches that there MUST be only ONE leader under Christ, and who claims that therefore He is the ONLY leader that Christ supervises and that the fellowship he leads is the only true Church of God in its entirety, and teaches that as an article of faith, is not gathering God's people but is further dividing them.
Rather, any faithful leader of a Church of God fellowship should recognize and cooperate with any other leader in the Church of God that is teaching God's truth faithfully, just as Paul recognized Peter and Peter recognized Paul (Galatians 2:6-10).
We build unity by recognizing that, just as God called us, so God has called others, that as we serve Christ, so others in the whole Church of God serve Christ.
"Now John answered Him, saying, 'Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.' But Jesus said, 'Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side' " (Mark 9:38-40). Christ did not say, "he is neutral" but "he is on our side". Christ recognized that anyone empowered by the Father to do God's work is "on our side", and Christ did not look at him as a competitor. In this, as in all other things, Christ set the example.
A key test of a leader is, is he teaching the truth faithfully, or, is he effectively doing God's work faithfully, not, is he submitting to the authority of another Church of God leader faithfully.
If a Church of God leader sees by the fruits that God is working through another man not under the leader's authority, he should not view that man as a competitor to be shunned but as a fellow servant working for Christ, and he should extend the right hand of fellowship to him (Galatians 2:9-9).
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry, Chapter 8
How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7
A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5
Can We Make an Idol out of a Man or Church?, Chapter 6
The Cause of the Church's Scattered Condition, and the Solution, Chapter 5
We Need to Repent, Chapter 9
We Need to Be More Zealous for the Things of God, Chapter 9
Is the Church Commissioned to Preach the Gospel to the World?, Chapter 5