Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fasting to Know God's Will and Isaiah 58:6-8

Ministers and members of Church of God, a Family Community (COGFC) fasted last Sabbath for the purpose of seeking God's will for themselves.

It is good to fast to know God's will, to humble the self, to become responsive to God's correction.

Several weeks ago, prior to this fast, nine leading ministers of COGFC met for a 3-day conference. During that conference certain decisions were made, and COGFC has held to those decisions till now.

Minor decisions were made, such as the decision to set up a website, and similar things. But two major decisions were made, decisions of the utmost importance.

A decision was made at that time not to immediately adopt the model of governance practiced and taught by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, but to seek a new model of governance, to break new ground. Thus we see today, several weeks after that conference, a functioning Church with a ministry, members, and Sabbath services, and with an arrangement for collecting the tithes of the members and paying ministers' salaries, but no one man in charge, as leader under Christ, over the rest of the organization, as we had with Mr. Armstrong when he was alive.

Another decision was made in that conference not to immediately begin preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, even on a small scale at first, but to focus on feeding the flock only, for an indefinite period of time.

Last Sabbath, Mr. Brian Orchard gave a sermon on fasting and on seeking God's will.

When we seek God's will, I think it is best to seek His will in everything, not just the things we have questions about or think we do not know. In other words, we may have questions, things we do not understand, things which puzzle us and prompt us to seek God's direction, "Where do we go from here?". We may feel lost about certain issues and feel the need for God's instruction and guidance. That may prompt us to fast so we can be humble and responsive to God's direction so He can guide our way. All that is good.

But in seeking God's will, we must not close our minds to correction God may give us, through the Bible and through His Holy Spirit, correcting decisions we have already made. It is not enough to go to God and say, "Well, we have been able to make decisions about these two things, but we need Your guidance about this third thing because we don't have an answer, but don't correct us in the things we have already decided because our minds are made up about that and we are sure we are right." That would be the wrong approach, wouldn't it? Rather, we must seek to have minds that are open to God's correction on any subject, even things we think we know about and have already made up our minds about. We must be willing to change, to admit mistakes, as God corrects us and shows us that we are wrong and that we have made bad decisions, even recent bad decisions.

In my opinion, the decision to postpone obedience to God's command to preach the gospel indefinitely may be a mistake, and though I have given my reasons in prior posts, I will summarize some of them here. Perhaps it is true that the brethren need a short period of re-education and preparation before they will be prepared to support the preaching of the gospel. A certain amount of time may be required to make decisions about how to preach the gospel. I only hope that period of time will not be too long. I think the ministers in COGFC are probably sincere in saying that they want to preach the gospel to the world. I hope they will follow up their good intentions with action as soon as possible.

There is an idea that the brethren of COGFC need a period of preparation, of listening to sermons about Israel in prophecy, about the importance of preaching the gospel, about handling relationship problems, about drawing closer to God, BEFORE giving them the opportunity to participate in preaching the gospel to the world as God commands the Church. And during this time, while brethren in Living Church of God and various other groups are blessed with the opportunity to share the truth of God with the world and to obey God's command to give a warning, this blessing is withheld from COGFC brethren for an indefinite period of time. Even COGaic brethren are able to support the preaching of the gospel, though on a small scale, but not COGFC brethren. COGFC has existed for about a month and a half, and during this time Mr. Hulme has done more to preach the gospel to the world than the new group that came out of COGaic, not just because COGFC is small and is a young, recently formed group, but also because COGFC has not even begun to preach the gospel to the world, and to date they have given no clue as to when they will begin. As far as anything they have said goes (that I know of), it could be fifty years before they start to preach the gospel to the world.

And there has not been a glimmer of light in any message or teaching on their website concerning any date when this will change. No domains have been purchased for preaching to the public, no booklets started, no definite plans made, no inquiries about radio time or Internet radio time and costs. Nothing but vague promises that it is important to be a light to the world. Words but no action. This worries me.

Yet, it is possible that there may be thinking, planning, and much prayer in the background in preparation for preaching the gospel. I hope there is. It is too soon to be discouraged, I think. If COGFC begins to take action to preach the gospel to the world in the near future, how wonderful that will be. But if they do not, how ironic it would be if some members left COGaic to follow COGFC because they were unhappy with Mr. Hulme's slow pace of preaching the gospel to the world. They will have transferred from a slow-moving freight train, hoping to find an express train, and they would find themselves in a train that is standing still and is in no hurry to leave the station.

Those members would have left COGaic because they took seriously God's warning about blood guilt if they did not warn Israel about the coming tribulation (Proverbs 24:11, Ezekiel 3:16-21, 33:1-9), and now are they to find that they are in even more danger of blood guilt because they are doing less than they were doing before?

COGFC ministers feel a strong need to heal the flock. But for that very purpose, it is essential that they do not delay preaching the gospel to the world for very long. You will never have true healing of the Church without preaching the gospel to the world.

Some of these ministers may feel that the brethren need a long time of preparation before COGFC can preach the gospel effectively. The fallacy in this is the idea that this time of preparation requires only hearing, not doing. But we learn by doing, not just hearing. Church of the Great God is a perfect test case to show that feeding the flock only does NOT prepare a Church for preaching the gospel to the world, as I pointed out in a previous post. COGFC should not repeat that mistake. For all that COGFC ministers are saying about the need to draw close to God and the brethren, to have healing within the Church before going to the world, was said by CGG when they made the same decision years ago not to give a priority to preaching the gospel to the world. The words may be different, but the human reasoning is the same.

Preaching the gospel helps build character and spiritual harmony in a Church of God fellowship because it is a joint work, a common mission and effort that everyone can participate in, and it has an outward focus, to help others. When you feed the flock only, but do not preach the gospel at the same time, you are teaching an inward focus, whether you want to or not. You might think that is the way to heal the Church, but it isn't going to work.

When you teach the brethren the importance of preaching the gospel with words, but are not doing it with action, you are not practicing what you preach. You are saying one thing with your mouth, but something else with your actions. You are teaching the brethren, by your actions, that you really don't think preaching the gospel to the world is important no matter what you say. You are like a parent who tells his child, don't smoke, yet the parent smokes. Or maybe the parent tells his child, don't smoke, and I am going to quit smoking in a few months, but right now I can't stop. What does that tell the child?

The way to draw closer to God is by obeying His voice in everything, not picking and choosing what to obey now and what not to obey now, but maybe obey later. "To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22). "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). We should have a sense of urgency about obeying God rather than saying, "Now is not the time".

Preaching the gospel is something that can be started now, or soon.  Then as the Church grows closer to God, God can bless the preaching of the gospel more and more. Healing the Church and preaching the gospel should be done at the same time, because one helps the other. Once you start preaching the gospel, members will have an added motivation to reconcile with each other and draw closer to God, so that God will hear their prayers for the success of the radio program, or the pay-per-click advertising campaign, or whatever form preaching the gospel takes. You are trying to stand on one leg if you only do one part of the two-fold commission. It will take longer and with less chance of success to try to build unity, to reconcile with each other and with God, if you are not preaching the gospel to the world at the same time. In fact, it may be impossible to really reconcile with God and the brethren without at the same time preaching the gospel to the world.

Praying for the success of the work of preaching the gospel, contributing tithes and offerings for that purpose, participating where appropriate, welcoming new people when they come in the door, hearing news of the work in announcements each Sabbath - all these things are absolutely vital for the spiritual health of any Church of God fellowship or congregation. If you think you can have a healthy reconciliation with God and between members without preaching the gospel, I think you are deluding yourself.

There is nothing I find in the Bible that indicates God ever intended the Church of God to function in a healthy way by only feeding the flock but not preaching the gospel to the world, not even for a few months.

As a practical matter, many of those members and ministers who are most useful for preaching the gospel, who understand the need and have the most zeal and enthusiasm for it, will likely be driven away in the next several months, and you won't easily get them back later when you need them. COGFC is being judged, not only by God, but by brethren, in COGFC right now, in COGaic, and in the whole scattered Church of God. Brethren have to judge the decisions the ministers make because God holds the brethren responsible for the decisions the brethren make about where to attend and who to support with tithes. And those brethren are making decisions right now and will make decisions based on what COGFC is doing right now and will be doing in the next few months.

In other words, the way you are starting out, good or bad, is the way you are likely to keep going. You are known by your fruits from day one.

Six months from now, COGFC may want to start preaching the gospel to the world, but they may find that they have lost much of their base for doing so. Those who are most zealous for preaching the gospel won't wait - they will go elsewhere, because they regard preaching the gospel as a point of God's word and law they must obey. They do not want the blood of the people hanging over their heads. Those who will be left may be those who never had much enthusiasm for preaching the gospel to begin with, and you are not going to change them. You will be trying to preach the gospel with ministers and members who do not have the stomach for it.

Right now, COGFC probably has a number of ministers and members who have fire in their bellies for preaching the gospel to the world. They can be a core of supporters whose enthusiasm can spread. You probably won't have that in six months if you don't start preaching the gospel now (or soon).

COGFC is taking shape according to which ministers and members are choosing to be part of COGFC and which ones are choosing not to be part. That is a continuous process that takes place as each individual member and family makes the choice, do I go with COGFC? If I am with COGFC now, do I stay or do I leave? These ministers and members are making their decisions based in part by what they see COGFC actually doing from the first day it came into existence. Postponing the preaching of the gospel will shape the kind of membership you will have.

Preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel is a command from God. I do not think COGFC will win God's favor by postponing it indefinitely. To do so signifies a lack of trust in God to help you succeed in doing what He commands you to do.

In Mr. Orchard's sermon on fasting, he quoted all or parts of this passage: "Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard" (Isaiah 58:6-8).

What is God saying here to the Church? Is He only talking about physical food when He says we should share our bread with the hungry? We talk about feeding the flock (John 21:15-17), and when we do, we are using food as an analogy for teaching truth, and this symbolism is used much in the Bible (John 6:57, Matthew 24:45-46, Luke 12:42-44, 1 Peter 2:2, Hebrews 5:12-14).

When it comes to spiritual food, we in the Church are well fed compared to the world. Even the poorest fellowship in this regard is far richer than the world. It is the world that is hungry for the truth, and we in the Church have an obligation to share with them the spiritual food others have sacrificed to give us. It is the world that needs us to undo their heavy burdens. And if we share our spiritual food with the world, if we help to loose their bonds of wickedness, to undo their heavy burdens, to break the yoke that is on them, and we bring their spiritual poor into our Church of God house where we can feed them spiritually - if we do all these things, what does God promise?

"Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily."

That is God's formula for Church healing. Show compassion to a lost world, and THEN God will help to heal the Church.

The whole idea some may have that by concentrating indefinitely only on one half of the two-fold commission, feeding the flock only but not preaching the gospel to the world, they will facilitate a process of reconciliation within COGFC and in the whole scattered Church of God, is ridiculous, because by neglecting preaching the gospel, which most of the Church of God knows is important, they would be alienating the greater part of the whole Church of God as well as many of their own brethren! They would be driving away those Church of God members who may need a place to support and attend, but cannot go with COGFC because they know that COGFC is NOT preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, and they do not want blood guilt of the English-speaking nations on their heads. If COGFC pursues that recipe for reconciliation and healing for a long time, it will be shown to be a recipe for further division, not healing at all.

Some brethren in COGaic, and maybe some in COGFC, may fear that COGFC will become just another disappointment, another example of ministers dividing the body of Christ because they can't get along with each other, another example of ministers feeding themselves but not the flock, another example of ministers scattering God's sheep. I hope that fear is unfounded. But I believe that it will come to be true if COGFC does not soon start putting into action what they say in words is important: preaching the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to a public that needs it.

Because if they firmly put themselves, by their actions, on the side of that part of the whole Church of God that says, now is not the time to preach the gospel, they will not be creating unity with God or unity in the Church, and they will not be healing their own members.

Today is always a good time to do what God says.

If COGFC is serious about preaching the gospel to the world, probably one of the next things they will decide is who can help coordinate and plan that effort. Three of the nine ministers who attended the 3-day conference have been assigned roles by mutual consent: Peter Nathan working with training, education, and doctrine, Brian Orchard working with pastors and congregations, and Steve Andrews working with administration and finances. That leaves six leading ministers who attended the 3-day conference available for an assignment and role to help coordinate discussions, plans, and research on how to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. If one of those men is given that role, that would be a positive sign, a good first step.

I sense good things about COGFC. I have listened to their sermons and Bible studies and I have liked much of what I have heard. I think it is great that they make their services available live on the Internet for the whole Church of God to benefit from. I have been concerned about their slowness to preach the gospel to the world. But I am optimistic and hopeful that they will soon make a start, even a small one, at preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.

I believe that once they do that, their efforts to reconcile with God and with the Church will become much more effective.

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



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