Mr. Brian Orchard gave an interesting sermon last Sabbath on the subject of competition in the Church of God. He addressed the problem of a wrong spirit of competition between Church of God organizations. His sermon is entitled, "God’s Truth is Not Competitive". Here is a link to the Father's Call webpage that lists that sermon:
He also addressed the subject of putting increased focus on the Father more than Christ.
A wrong spirit of competition has certainly been a problem in the Church of God since the Church was split up following the death of Mr. Armstrong in 1986 and the subsequent changes in doctrine made in Worldwide by Mr. Tkach. The Church is now scattered into many competing fellowships and organizations.
I say "wrong spirit of competition" to qualify "competition". There is certainly a wrong kind of competition in the world. Is there such a thing as a right kind of competition? It depends on what you mean by "competition".
It is not wrong to play a friendly game of basketball or chess, for example. In a sense, playing a game for fun or exercise (mental or physical) or training is not necessarily wrong. You can call it "competition". Whether it is wrong, hostile competition depends on the motives of the players.
If the players have a right spirit, each will try to win, but each will also want the other player to do his best. The goal is to use the game to prod each player to do his best, and it may include the goals of improving one's skills through practice and testing one's skills against an opponent to see where one is weak and needs to improve. The goal is also to have fun, and we can have fun in a game or contest simply by facing and meeting a challenge and learning how to improve.
Imagine you are a father teaching your son to play chess. If he makes a good move, taking your queen for example, would you be disappointed? No, you would probably be glad at his success. If you saw him making mistakes, you would teach him to play better. Your goal is to help him do his best.
Likewise, friends playing chess or basketball may also help each other that way. If you see your friend, your "opponent" in the game, making a mistake he does not realize, you can help him and say, "You know, when we play, I notice you are often making such-and-such mistake. You can be more effective if you do it this way..." And likewise if he sees you making a mistake, or knows of a way to help you improve your game or your performance, he can help you.
That is the right kind of competition, if you want to call it competition.
All competitive games are not necessarily in the wrong spirit. If that were true, we could not have basketball in the Church of God. Church members could not play board games or chess or cards.
It is not wrong to try to help others by pointing out their faults, so they can improve. If the motive is love, that is not a wrong attitude of competition that is so much a part of what the world practices. In fact, pointing out to your opponent his mistakes so he can correct them is the last thing competitors in the world will do. They do not want to see their opponents or competitors succeed. If they see their competitor making a mistake, they will keep silent and hope he keeps making the same mistake.
Can you imagine executives of General Motors saying to the executives of Ford, "You know, we notice you are making a mistake in your marketing, and here is how you can improve"? Or the coach of one NFL team telling the coach of another NFL team in his division, "Here is how you can improve your team and maybe beat us the next time"? No, that is not the world's way. It is not Satan's way. Satan's way is love for self, NOT love for neighbor. It is the way of selfishness. Satan wants those he hates, us, to keep making the same mistakes. He will not correct us for our long-term good.
God's way is outflowing love. That is why God corrects us (Hebrews 12:3-11, 1 Corinthians 11:32). And we are to learn and practice God's way, not the world's way. That is why God teaches us sometimes to correct others. "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thessalonians 5:14). "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter" (Proverbs 24:11). "When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18). Indeed, such correction should be appreciated by one who is converted. "Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:8-9).
But as Mr. Orchard pointed out, there is often a spirit of hostile competition between Church of God groups, where there should be cooperation.
Sometimes, outward actions of those who correct in love may look similar to actions that come from a spirit of hostile competition. It is a matter of motive. God knows the heart and can know if those who correct are giving correction motivated by love or criticism motivated by the desire to promote the self.
Mr. Orchard said that Satan tries to inject the spirit of competition into the Church, and one way is to place over-emphasis on Christ to the exclusion of God the Father, as if Christ competes with the Father. There is no competition between Christ and the Father. But Satan has influenced traditional, mainstream Christianity to speak of Christ to the near total exclusion of God the Father. Yet the Father must be our focus, and Christ set the example of always giving glory to the Father and not to himself.
Mr. Orchard said something that surprised me. He said that in the past the Church of God has focused too much on Christ and not enough on the Father, and that COGFC is trying to put the focus on the Father. It surprised me because I do not think that Mr. Armstrong taught the Church too much emphasis on Christ, rather, when he was alive I thought we were properly focused on the Father. Perhaps Mr. Orchard was speaking of only the past 16 or so years since COGaic formed under Mr. David Hulme. I have not attended that organization enough to know if they were negligent in focusing on the Father. But Mr. Armstrong was not negligent. He focused on the Father, and so did the Church of God when he was alive. I think many or most converted members of the Church of God today in various fellowships put primary focus on the Father, addressing our prayers to the Father for example.
I do not think COGFC is necessarily more focused on the Father than other Church of God fellowships, though they use the name "Father" in their speaking and website more than other groups. Mr. Orchard seems to think this is a problem in the Church that COGFC is positioned to correct. Whether it is a general problem in COGaic, which COGFC came out of, I do not know. Perhaps someone in COGaic can tell me in a comment. But I do not see it as a widespread problem in the whole Church of God, at least not in the fellowships I have attended.
But I agree with Mr. Orchard that there has been too much of a spirit of hostile or worldly competition between Church of God groups, with each group acting as if it alone is the only faithful part of the Church of God, and that there should be more of a spirit of cooperation between fellowships. Some groups express the spirit of competition when they boast that they are better than other groups. I feel that each group should strive to obey God in a spirit of humility and help other groups do the same. Correction in love in matters of doctrine and policy, even one group showing another group where it is in error and how it can improve, is not wrong, but boasting and bragging against other groups is wrong. It is certainly unseemly.
Mr. Orchard and other ministers in COGFC have said in sermons and Bible studies, if I understand them correctly, that they must learn to love one another better and be better reconciled with the Father and each other before they can teach others outside COGFC. Perhaps there is some truth in that. I do not mean in reference to preaching the gospel to the world. Preaching the gospel to the world is a command from God, and you cannot disobey or neglect that command and hope to reconcile with God. He requires obedience as a condition for reconciliation with Him. But I am talking about teaching other Church of God fellowships. COGFC may indeed need to learn and practice God's way of love better before they teach the rest of the Church of God and other COG fellowships.
For example, COGFC may have much work to do to get rid of the spirit of competition within itself. I was reminded, when Mr. Orchard spoke of competition, of his own reaction to Mr. Peter Nathan and other ministers going to Living Church of God. I heard Mr. Nathan's explanation in a question and answer session that lasted about an hour after Sabbath services in COGFC. He basically took the position that we are all one Church of God - and that is the right position. Thinking the best of COGFC, I expected or half expected that session to be made available for later listening in the Father's Call website, as other sermons, Bible studies, question and answer sessions, and meetings have been published. But they did not do this. I was disappointed. There was good spiritual meat in what Mr. Nathan said, as valuable to the Church as the best sermons and Bible studies you can hear in the Father's Call website. But it was never published. I suspected at the time that it was not published because COGFC had a competitive spirit towards LCG and did not want to publish any message in which the speaker said anything good about LCG. COGFC seemed to express an "us against them" mentality in not publishing that session.
I was also somewhat disappointed in Mr. Orchard's personal reaction to Mr. Nathan and others going to LCG in a letter to COGFC brethren dated, I believe, on or around February 26, 2014, which appeared on the Father's Call website. Instead of congratulating Mr. Nathan and the other ministers and wishing them the best in their new positions, recognizing that we are all one Church of God under God's leadership through Jesus Christ (as Mr. Nathan recognized), Mr. Orchard reacted with disappointment, as if Mr. Nathan did something wrong or unfortunate. Mr. Orchard was polite in his letter and told members that they should not vilify those ministers or feel critical about others having interaction with other groups. Nevertheless, he said it disappointed his expectations. There was no expression of a desire that these new minsters do well in LCG or that the members should pray for their success.
That letter has disappeared from the Father's Call website, otherwise I would provide a link to it. But some of you may remember the tone of the letter.
Kind of strange from a group that teaches reconciliation and non-competitiveness with other Church of God organizations, but maybe not so strange since COGFC admits they have spiritual problems they have to work on - maybe this is one of them.
But one way Mr. Orchard can teach COGFC ministers and brethren to have a non-competitive approach to other groups is not only to give sermons on the subject, but to set an example. He could talk again about Mr. Nathan joining LCG and his letter about it, using himself as an example, and saying what is wrong with that letter and with his reaction to Mr. Nathan going to another group. In other words, he can acknowledge that he behaved in a competitive spirit and make amends, as they say. He can wish Mr. Nathan and others who have joined LCG the best and ask brethren to pray for their success. He can publish Mr. Nathan's question and answer session in the Father's Call website so the brethren who have not heard that session can listen and learn from it, if it was recorded (I would think it was probably recorded by someone).
This would help to show the brethren of all groups that COGFC is genuine in their desire to reconcile with other groups, starting with LCG, and is not just preaching reconciliation and non-competitiveness to please their own members and others they can attract into joining them, to sound good and tell the brethren what they like to hear.
There is a need for COGFC to back up their words with action. Action consistent with their words would do much to improve their credibility. So far as action is concerned, they look just as competitive as any other Church of God fellowship. Can scattered members and members of other groups be faulted for wondering if the stress on "reconciliation with the Father and the brethren" is just a form of "branding" or positioning - a marketing ploy to make it appear to the whole Church of God that they are unique and offer something unique? Is that in fact what it is? Is that why they say that the Church has not placed enough focus on the Father, to position themselves in the minds of the brethren as a group who can teach and correct the whole Church of God in this matter? For COGFC to back up their words of reconciliation with action, to show more respect and appreciation for the decisions of ministers who have left COGFC to join LCG, would give Mr. Orchard's sermon, "God’s Truth is Not Competitive", some of the credibility it needs. It would cause brethren who may doubt Mr. Orchard's sincerity to think, "Yes, he really means what he says, he isn't just saying these things to gain members from other groups, but he believes and practices what he preaches - look, he is reconciling with Mr. Nathan and LCG - he is no longer claiming that COGFC is better than LCG - no longer saying that Mr. Nathan going to LCG is a 'disappointment' with no expression of good wishes for Mr. Nathan and LCG in their new relationship."
Am I being competitive, harshly critical, by pointing these things out? It depends on my motives, and God knows my heart, better than I do in fact. Correction in love is not this world's spirit of competition. The Bible is full of correction, some of it very stern (read Paul's epistles for some examples). That is not because God or the prophets and apostles who wrote the books of the Bible have a hostile, Satan-inspired spirit of competition, but because they want to effect positive change in those they rebuke, for their long-term good.
Mr. Orchard made some good verbal points about competitiveness in the Church of God. If he means what he says, he has an opportunity to show it by his actions in addressing the Peter Nathan issue in a right way, which he did not do in his February letter. He can correct his error publicly and with the COGFC brethren, and that will do more to teach reconciliation by example than any words he gives in a sermon. He can publicly wish Mr. Nathan and other ministers in LCG success and ask for prayers that God bless their work and relationships in LCG. He can publish the recording of Mr. Nathan's question and answer session (if the recording is available). The brethren should hear that session - it was a good session with good spiritual instruction and lessons.
There are a few things in Mr. Orchard's sermon I had trouble reconciling with the Bible. Perhaps I am missing the scriptures that back up what Mr. Orchard said. If so, I would like someone to show me what those scriptures are so I can be corrected. Or, perhaps I misunderstood Mr. Orchard's intent and someone can show me my mistake.
He said that members sometimes ask if it is wrong to pray to Christ, and Mr. Orchard said, Christ said not to. He didn't quote scripture as I remember, but perhaps he is talking about the model prayer where Christ told his disciples to pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9-13). But Christ did not say that we should never pray to Him but only pray to the Father. He simply said, we should pray to the Father. The implication is certainly that most of our prayers should be to the Father, but not that it is necessarily wrong to pray to Christ occasionally. I know of no scriptures that indicate that Christ said never to pray to Him.
Perhaps this is a doctrinal change COGFC wants to make in the Church of God as part of what they say they are trying to accomplish in putting a greater focus on the Father. I say this because I have heard this question come up before in the history of the Church, and in every case, both when Mr. Armstrong was alive and after he died, in every fellowship I have heard this question addressed, the answer has been the same: most of our prayers should be to the Father, but it is not wrong to occasionally pray to Christ.
So the idea that we should never pray to Christ may be a doctrinal change COGFC is making, one that will separate them from the other groups who do not have this new doctrine.
But not only is this idea not backed by any scriptures that say it is wrong to pray to Christ (if you know of one, tell me so I will know), but it is disproved by an example in Acts. "And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:59-60).
I address my prayers about 99% to God the Father, but when I thank Him for the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, I also often thank Jesus for being that sacrifice. And I occasionally ask Christ specifically to intercede for me with the Father, and I thank Him for His saving work as my High Priest and for His intercession for me.
We are to honor the Son as we honor the Father (John 5:22-23). If prayer is a way of honoring the Father, then it is certainly not wrong to honor the Son the same way.
I think the Church of God's understanding of this issue has been correct. If COGFC is offering a doctrinal change here, to say we should never pray to Christ, that doctrinal change is in error, according to the Bible.
It keeps going back to what I have said over and over, about preaching the gospel mostly, but also about government or anything else. We must let the Bible guide our doctrinal beliefs and policies, and we must get ALL the scriptures on the subject. Mr. Orchard did not get all the scriptures on the subject of praying to Christ, or he would not have missed the passage about Stephen praying to Christ as he was dying. Christ did NOT tell His disciples not to pray to Him, or else Stephen would not have done so.
Another point. In reference to 1 John 1:3, Mr. Orchard said it shows a beautiful connection of the members to the ministry to Christ to the Father. Perhaps I misunderstood the intent of what Mr. Orchard was saying. This may seem like a minor point to some. Our connection to the Father does indeed go through Christ, but it does not go through the ministry, except in a limited sense. It does not go through the ministry for fellowship with God.
The way Mr. Orchard words this, our connection for fellowship with God looks like this:
members ---> ministry ---> Jesus Christ ---> God the Father.
That is not the case. We have fellowship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, but not through the ministry. The ministry is not the intercessor between us and God. A correct picture of this relationship looks like this:
members ---> Jesus Christ ---> God the Father.
Look again at 1 John 1:3: "that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ". Does any reader of this blog know Greek? Tell me if the Greek word translated "our" in the term "our fellowship" refers only to John and the apostles, not to the membership that reads his epistle. In English, it can mean both.
"But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3). This does not say that the head of every man is the ministry and the head of the ministry is Christ.
There is a relationship with God that goes through the ministry. That is the decision-making relationship regarding the organized work of the Church. In that case, yes, our connection to God's supervision, for those able to attend a fellowship led by an ordained ministry, goes through the ministry. God leads the ministry to make decisions concerning binding and loosening, resolving disputes between brethren, distributing help to the poor in the Church, preaching the gospel and feeding the flock, establishing official Church doctrine to be taught with one voice, etc.
But not our spiritual fellowship with God. Our fellowship with God is through Christ directly, not through the ministry. We fellowship with God when we pray and when we read God's word.
I address this in detail, with diagrams and scriptural evidence, in the section titled, "Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry", in my book, Preaching the Gospel. Here is a link to that section:
Mr. Orchard said there is a danger of having a spirit of competition when we think of ourselves as defenders of God's truth. He said that the way to defend God's truth is to live it. He seems to argue against striving about doctrine. He says that the truth is God's truth and He does not need us to defend it.
Certainly we should live the truth. But there is a place for teaching it also, and correcting those who are in error. There is also a place for warning the Church about false teachers and false doctrines that can do harm to the Church. Paul lived the truth, but he also defended the truth with words, even when he had to strongly rebuke and correct. His epistles are full of that kind of strong correction. Moreover, God says through Jude, "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3-4). Notice that word, "contend". We are to contend earnestly for the faith.
Did Paul in his writings and teaching attack others for false teaching? "I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!" (Galatians 5:12).
Notice God's instructions to Timothy: "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2). Timothy was to convince and rebuke.
Paul told Titus to defend the truth and teach against various false ideas and doctrines, sharply rebuking false teachers: "For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth." (Titus 1:10-14). And "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you" (Titus 2:15).
Look at some of Paul's examples. Was he a defender of God's truth? He certainly was. He strongly defended the truth against many heresies, such as the heresy that we must be circumcised to be saved. Read Romans 2:17 through 3:31, Galatians 1:6-9, 2:11-21, chapter 3, chapter 4, 5:1-15, 6:12-15, and 1 Corinthians 15:12-49.
In Acts 15 there was "much dispute' (Acts 15:7). They discussed doctrinal questions openly and with passion. That is not wrong.
Mr. Orchard said that we have had to make decisions to move from one organization to another and tried to be faithful to truth, but that always comes with a problem, which is, who becomes the arbitrator of truth? We should not become the arbitrator of truth ourselves.
He asks the question, who becomes the arbitrator of truth, but he doesn't answer it or give the solution to the problem. My answer is, to know the truth, go to the Bible. When we have to make a decision, to leave one organization to go to another or to stay, in order to be faithful to the truth, the way we find out what the truth is is to look to God's word, the Bible.
To prevent ourselves from becoming the arbitrator of truth, we have to make the Bible the arbitrator of truth. We have to study the differences between organizations and the positions they teach in the Bible to learn who is teaching and practicing the truth of God most accurately. Is there an issue about governance, such as top-down vs. voting? Study the issue in the Bible. Is there a question about whether Mr. Armstrong's teachings can be changed? Study the issue in the Bible. Is there a question about whether the gospel should be preached? Study the question in the Bible.
God did not create the divisions in the Church, but He allows them and He uses them to test us. In every decision we make about where to attend, we are tested, and to pass the tests, we need to look to the Bible for answers. We go where the truth is being taught and practiced most accurately, and we know what that truth is by the Bible. Those therefore who study and believe the Bible and live by every word of God will know the truth and be able to make right decisions about where to fellowship.
Mr. Orchard quotes or refers to Paul speaking to Timothy about how he should conduct himself in the house of God. "These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:14-15). Mr. Orchard uses this scripture to try to show that it is our conduct, that is, our personal example that is important, and that is how we should defend the truth, not by our words and arguments. But Paul did not use that word, conduct, in a limited sense of only our personal behavior apart from our words. Our words and teachings are included too. He was not just telling Timothy how to personally behave, but also how to teach, how to use his words. He had just told Timothy to charge the ministers and members something. "As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith" (1 Timothy 1:3-4). Paul told Timothy to charge some that they not teach false doctrine or give heed to fables. That involves words and teaching. Timothy was to defend the truth by his words and teaching. That is part of the conduct Paul was instructing Timothy about. Conduct involves words and teaching as well as personal action. We defend the truth by our words as well as our personal behavior. "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:37).
Mr. Orchard said that we should be sure in our own minds about what we believe, and exposure to other believers should be thought of as positive and not a threat. I agree wholeheartedly. I would add that our confidence in our beliefs must be based on what the Bible says. And because our faith is in the Bible, we have confidence that we can turn to the Bible about any question. And that means having the confidence to have an open mind and be willing to be corrected by the Bible, even when the passages in the Bible that correct us are pointed out to us by other members or groups.
In other words, we should be confident in the presence of other groups, not that they cannot change our views, but that they cannot change our faith in the Bible, and therefore cannot change our views except by the Bible. If they tell us something different than what we believe, we have a simple way of knowing if they are right or not: check the Bible. Our faith and trust in God and His word the Bible must be our foundation. Mr. Orchard also, a little later in the sermon, says that we should be confident because we prove our beliefs in the Bible.
Towards the end, he made the point that if we live the truth now and set the right example, the world will not necessarily understand now, but will later. I have to assume that he is talking about after the return of Christ. That is when people outside the Church of God who have known us, our neighbors, our unconverted family members, people we work with, who have seen our example but never understood it, will then understand after Christ returns. They will remember our example and understand the reason for it.
That is fine and good. But I would just give the reminder that our example will not reach the hundreds of millions who need to hear the gospel and the Ezekiel warning before the tribulation begins so they know God was fair to give them a warning. That will take preaching and teaching. It takes words, words publicized for the nations with power, not just the personal example of our members that will be seen by a few people in close proximity to us.
Six Months after the Start of COGFC
Church of God, a Family Community (COGFC), publisher of the Fathers Call website, has been operational for about six months. Their situation has become more clear over those six months.
The ministers and members in COGFC at this time seem to have a kind of unity among themselves. Their form of governance is by mutual agreement among a few top leaders, mainly Mr. Brian Orchard and Mr. Steve Andrews, but also several other leading ministers. Government by mutual agreement is not wrong, but it is limited and it can be weak. It can only make decisions when there is agreement or when the leaders are willing to compromise with each other for the sake of unity. It is not the best structure and practice of government in the Church of God.
COGFC does not preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel at this time, not even on a small or token scale. They give no indication of when or if they will ever do so. I myself see clear indications in what has been said in sermons and Bible studies that there is almost no chance that COGFC will make any significant effort to preach the gospel to the world with the leadership configuration it has at present.
I would be happy to be proved wrong about this.
For any member seeking a place to attend and support, anyone looking for a faithful Church of God fellowship that is teaching and practicing God's truth and trying to make a decision about attending and supporting COGFC, the COGFC ministry has never given a good defense from the Bible of their decisions to adopt governance by mutual agreement and not preaching the gospel to the world. If they are making decisions according to the Bible, they are not giving all the scriptures upon which such decisions should be based. For the scriptures they have given so far do not justify their decisions.
I notice that changes, splits, and reorganizations in the Church of God usually happen between the Feast of Tabernacles and Passover. Winter is prime-time for organizational changes. Probably, there will not be any great changes in the Church of God until after the next Feast of Tabernacles.
But after that, more people may leave COGaic. Some may be trickling out now, but if there is another split from COGaic, my guess is it will not happen till after the Feast. And if there is a split in COGFC, or one or more ministers leaving COGFC, it will probably not be till after the Feast.
But COGFC, for now, certainly seems settled in its doctrines and policies. I don't have a lot of questions about them in my mind.