Does the ministry or top leadership of a Church of God fellowship stand between us and God in the flow of authority from God to us, or do we report to and receive direction from God directly, without the ministry standing in-between?
I think many brethren are concerned about this. There is an anti-organization mood among many brethren, a sense that we should all follow God directly without the ministry standing between us and God in the flow of authority and decision making from God to us. And because of that concern, there is a fear or a distaste of "organization" in general. There is a mood that Christ is the head of the Church and every member should serve God as Christ personally directs the member, without a minister or Church leader directing us as Christ directs the ministry. There is a sense that if there is a minister or Church of God leader supervising us, that somehow interferes with Christ's prerogative to supervise us directly without a minister as an intermediary.
This concern is, in my opinion, unnecessary when the limits of ministerial authority are understood.
Christ supervises each one us directly in certain matters. In certain other matters, Christ supervises us through the ministry and the leadership of the Church of God fellowship we attend. And in certain other matters, Christ supervises every Church family through the father of that family.
In other words, in the flow of authority and supervison over our lives from God to us, sometimes it is direct from Christ, sometimes if flows through the ministry, and sometimes it flows to the wife and children of a family through the husband and father. Which is the case is determined by the kind of decisions that must be made.
I explain this in detail in my book, Preaching the Gospel, in the section titled "Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry", in chapter 8. Here is a link:
I have produced three organizational charts in that section, and I will refer to them here, but you can look at them by following the above link. I also have scriptures in that section that explain why this is so.
The first organization chart shows our reporting relationship to God directly, through Jesus Christ, in matters of our salvation, our faith and trust in God and His word, and obedience to the spiritual law of God. Each of us is directly responsible to God for our faith and obedience, and God and Christ work with each of us directly. We communicate to God through prayer and God communicates to us through His word, the Bible. In these kinds of matters, Jesus Christ is the head of each one of us, man or woman, ordained or not ordained, directly. God leads us by the Bible, but also by His Holy Spirit to help us understand the Bible and to help us apply spiritual principles taught in the Bible to our daily lives. Our prayers go directly to the Father when we pray in Christ's name. Christ is our high priest, not the ministry, and He is the savior and intercessor for each one of us. God and Christ, through the Holy Spirit, help us to see our faults and to overcome them. When we face a trial, we go to God in prayer, and God intercedes to help us directly.
The ministry can help us, and should help us, in this relationship by teaching us where to find answers in the Bible, by offering wise advice, and other means. And God's word, God speaking to us directly, instructs us to respect and obey the ministry in certain matters defined in God's word. So the ministry can help us in our relationship with God and God teaches us to respect the ministry and also teaches us when and how to obey the ministry in certain matters. The Bible teaches us when to obey a minster and when not to obey a minister.
But the relationship in these matters - faith in God's word, obedience to God's spiritual law, and our personal salvation - is with God direct, not through the ministry.
So, for example, if a minister tells you to commit a sin, such as to tell a lie, that is where this direct relationship with God teaches you to obey God first, not the minister.
The second organization chart shows how God supervises family decisions. This would include things like child discipline, household matters, family budget and spending, family activities, and stuff like that. God the Father and Jesus Christ do not directly supervise and lead the decisions of the wife and children in these matters, but rather, they supervise the family through the husband and father. So if Christ wants the wife to do something, He directs the husband and the husband in turn directs the wife. I do not mean to say that God does not help the wife in her role, such as by answering her prayers and giving her wisdom and various gifts. But when a decision needs to be made, and the husband makes the decision, the wife should submit to that decision and the husband should submit to Christ in the way he makes that decision.
As in the previous example, if a decision is a matter or obedience to God's law, the wife reports to Christ directly, but if it is a matter of what room in the house to use as an office, how much money to spend on groceries, and things like that, the wife reports to the husband and the husband reports to Christ. So if her husband tells her to tell a lie, she must obey God first, because this decision - the decision of whether to break God's law and tell a lie or to obey God and not lie - is a matter of obedience to God's law, and in this kind of decision she reports directly to Christ and to God, NOT through the husband.
The third organizational chart shows how God supervises us in matters of the organized work of the Church. These matters include: what the official doctrinal teaching of the Church will be, preaching the gospel to the world, feeding the flock, caring for the poor in the Church, resolving disputes between brethren, counseling people for problems, and disciplining those who are openly sinning. It includes protecting the flock from wolves, from deception, from heresy, and from false teachers. It includes removing those who cause division.
In these things, Christ supervises us, not directly as individuals, but through the leadership and the ministry of the Church of God fellowship we attend. God leads the ministry to determine what doctrines will be taught, how the flock will be fed, the preaching of the gospel, and similar matters of the organized work of the Church. Christ does NOT supervise each member directly, but leads the ministry to make the right decisions.
So, for example, if there is a dispute between members, and the ministry makes a binding decision to resolve the matter, the members should obey that decision. When the leadership and ministry determine a point of doctrine that will be taught, the members should cooperate and not oppose that decision - they should not contradict it and criticize the decision in conversation with other members of that fellowship.
What happens when the ministry teaches something contrary to the Bible? If we see such a case and are unable to resolve it quietly with the ministry, should we then go to the members and teach them what we see in the Bible that we think the ministry is wrong about? No, because God has given the ministry the job of determining what will be taught in the Church, not us. Decisions about the teaching of doctrine to others is a matter where Christ supervises us through the ministry, meaning we should not take that prerogative ourselves contrary to the ministry. But should we believe the ministry when we see in the Bible that they are wrong? No, because in matters of faith, in matters of believing what God says in the Bible, our responsibility is to God directly, not through the ministry. God and Christ command us directly in the Bible to have faith in God, to trust God, and not to trust man. So we must believe what we see in the Bible, even while we keep silent and do not contradict the ministry with the members.
But what if the matter is of fundamental importance and the ministry and the leadership of the Church of God fellowship we attend are not following Christ in major matters?
Then that is a time to leave, either by taking a stand (and being disfellowshipped) or by quietly leaving. Usually it is better to quietly leave.
But if we take that course, we better have a very good reason, because if we take something small and blow it up to be big (when it really isn't), Christ will judge us. We are accountable to God and Christ for any decision to leave a fellowship. Nevertheless, sometimes it is necessary to leave a Church of God fellowship in order to obey Christ.
Do some ministers or Church of God leaders abuse their authority and try to extend it beyond what God has given them, trying to assume authority over matters that God reserves for Himself? Do some ministers try to make "exceptions" to God's law, trying to get you to tell lies? Do some try to command you what to believe and try to interpret the Bible for you and command that you believe their interpretation? Yes, unfortunately, sometimes ministers abuse their office that way. And when it comes to making a decision to leave them or stay with them, that decision is between you and God, because it affects your salvation and your obedience to God's law, and it affects your relationship with God. You have to make the decision to stay with a minister (because his faults are minor and you can stay without sinning) or to leave (because you must leave in order to obey God).
My main point here is, there is no reason to be "anti-organization" as long as you understand the limits of the authority of the ministry. Organization (and I do not mean incorporation but simply the recognition of offices and roles from the ministry on down) is important within the limits of the matters it is for: the organized work of the Church.
God, in His word, has already placed limits on the authority of the organized ministry, and those limits can help to protect you spiritually from ministerial error when you understand them.
Yet, too often members look at some errors among ministers and then are against ALL authority of the ministry and ALL organization. That is wrong. We should respect and support the organized ministry in the decision making authority over the work of the Church that God has given them while we obey God directly in matters of believing His word and obedience to His spiritual law.
The offices in the ministry and the organization that exists in the Church of God are ordained by God. They are there, not only to help manage the work of the Church, but to teach us the lessons of submission to authority that we need to learn by experience.
And organization will be necessary for finishing God's work of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.
Let's not be against organization and the ministry, but let's respect and support them while we understand the limits of their authority.
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
CHAPTER 8 - GOVERNMENT IN THE CHURCH OF GOD