A controversy that exists within and between various Church of God fellowships is how to set priorities between feeding the flock and preaching the gospel. Some fellowships believe in preaching the gospel with equal zeal as feeding the flock, while others believe in giving first priority to feeding the flock and second priority, or no priority, to preaching the gospel to the world.
Some Church of God fellowships do virtually nothing to preach the gospel to the world.
And sometimes, within the same fellowship, members and ministers are divided, some wanting to preach the gospel to the world and others saying, no, let's just concentrate on feeding the flock for now.
Just about everyone in the Church of God knows that Pentecost is a memorial of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the promised gift from the Father, upon the Church and the real beginning of the Church of God. We also know that it represents the Church as the firstfruits.
Consequently, it is easy for some to associate Pentecost with the Church of God in the sense of Pentecost putting a focus on the Church. And thus, Pentecost can be an occasion for ministers who are against preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel to give sermons emphasizing the Church's responsibility to feed itself, to focus on itself, at the expense of preaching the gospel. Pentecost can be a perfect occasion for such ministers to teach that we should put the Church first. After all, isn't Pentecost all about the Church?
But the Bible gives a different perspective.
It was on Pentecost that the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4).
Today, some ministers claim that the Holy Spirit leads them to postpone preaching the gospel so that the Church can focus on the Church, focus inwardly. They may have meetings with other ministers, pray for God to guide them, come to agreement in their meetings that the preaching of the gospel should be postponed, then assume and claim that God through the Holy Spirit answered their prayers and guided them to agree not to preach the gospel at this time.
But what was the first thing the Holy Spirit guided the Church to do on that day of Pentecost?
"But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words' " (Acts 2:14). "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know - Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it' " (Acts 2:22-24). " 'Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:36-41).
Did the Holy Spirit lead Peter and the other apostles to have a meeting to discuss whether they should preach the gospel right away or wait till they preach to the Church, to themselves, for a few months or a few years, then lead them to decide to wait with preaching the gospel? No, the Holy Spirit led them to preach the gospel to those OUTSIDE the Church that very day, and God blessed their efforts by adding 3,000 people to the Church that very day.
In fact, the Church was given the Holy Spirit for the express purpose of preaching the gospel with power. Jesus spoke to them before He ascended to heaven. "And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which,' He said, 'you have heard from Me; For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.' Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, 'Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' And He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth' " (Acts 1:4-8).
Jesus said that the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit would come upon them and they would be witnesses to Christ to the end of the earth. Does that not sound like one of the reasons they would receive the Holy Spirit was so that they would have power for preaching the gospel? Not the only reason, but one of the reasons?
Of all the Holy Days, which one most represents preaching the gospel to the world? Pentecost! Why? Because it was on Pentecost that the New Testament Church first began to powerfully preach the gospel to the world. It was on the day of Pentecost that the most dramatic account of preaching the gospel and getting results in the entire Bible occurred.
There is another example of how the Holy Spirit leads. Saul was persecuting the Church of God (Acts 8:1-3). He was struck blind by Christ to get His attention, and after that, he was converted and spent some days with the disciples at Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Then what did the Holy Spirit lead him to do? "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 9:20-22).
Pentecost is a memorial of the preaching of the gospel just as it is a memorial of the gift of the Holy Spirit, because both happened dramatically on the day of Pentecost in Acts. God's Holy Spirit leads and empowers the Church to preach the gospel to the world, so the two go together. That is what the examples in Acts show.
Yet, on the very day that is a memorial of the preaching of the gospel to those outside the Church and a lesson in its importance, the very day that shows that one of the major purposes of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Church itself is the preaching of the gospel to the world, some ministers may take advantage of the day to teach the Church to focus on itself inwardly, selfishly, as if Pentecost represents an inward, self-centered focus for the Church of God. That is the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches.
But it is no wonder, for such ministers ignore many other scriptures and lessons in the Bible about preaching the gospel, so why would they not ignore what the Bible says about Pentecost? If such ministers ignore scriptures in Ezekiel, Proverbs, the gospel accounts, and the rest of Acts, why would they not also ignore Acts chapters 2 and 3?
I wish that all ministers, before taking it upon themselves based on their own human reasoning to teach and to lead the Church, or part of it, to postpone preaching the gospel and just concentrate on nurturing the Church for a while, would first check the Bible to see if God endorses their idea in the instructions and the examples of the Bible about preaching the gospel, and then follow what the Bible actually says.
Reasoning and making judgments is fine - that is what God has given us a mind for - but we must always check our reasoning with the scripture. We should also use our reasoning to understand what the Bible really says. We should get all the scriptures on a subject and let the clear scriptures and examples interpret the unclear ones. Always we should pray that God, through His Spirit, will help us understand and reason about the scriptures correctly. We must also strive to believe and obey the Bible so that God continues to open our understanding with the Holy Spirit. Then, when we reason and make judgments about the circumstances the Church is in and whether we should preach the gospel now or not, we should compare what we think against God's word, and if the Bible tells us differently, we must accept God's judgment even when we do not understand God's reasons for His judgment.
God does not call us the "first" fruits as a way of telling us, "put yourselves FIRST". That is Satan's way of thinking, not God's.
Jesus Christ is the first of the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:20). Did He put Himself first? Did He say, "I am important. I must put Myself first. Why should I become a human, have the possibility of sinning, and suffer and die? Everything depends on Me. If I am lost, what point is any plan of salvation? I must think of Myself first"? No, but rather, He gave up His divine power and became a man, setting us an example of humility and self-sacrifice. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).
For the Church to use the Day of Pentecost to exalt itself, to stress its own importance, to focus inwardly, self-centeredly, to say, "We are important, the whole plan of salvation depends on us making it into the kingdom," is the exact opposite of the way of life Jesus Christ taught. For us to use the term "first fruits" to say of the day of Pentecost, "this day is about us, we are the firstfruits, and that means we must put ourselves first" is a total misuse of the term firstfruits. We are firstfruits in the sense that we are the first in time sequence to be called to salvation. We are NOT to put ourselves first in priority. "First" in "firstfruits" refers to time sequence, not self-importance, not an inward focus.
"And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, 'If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.' " (Mark 9:35). "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it" (Mark 8:35).
We are to be willing to lose our lives for the sake of the gospel, as Christ said.
God's way of life is a way of self-sacrifice, of sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others, a way of outflowing love and concern for others outside of ourselves. That way of life applies to the Church as a family as well as to each of us individually. God did not focus on His own family when He sent His Son Jesus Christ to preach the gospel and then die. God's love was outgoing, outside of His family, to an unconverted world. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
As Mr. Armstrong taught, there are two ways of life, the give way and the get way. God practices and teaches the give way of life, an outgoing concern and focus, while Satan practices and teaches the get way of life, an inward focus, a focus that says, "Me, me, it's all about me." On a group level, this can be worded, "Us, us, it's all about US."
It is Satan's teaching that the way to success and happiness is to focus inwardly, that you can help yourself succeed by focusing on yourself and putting yourself first. But God's way of life is the opposite, and He teaches that the way to true happiness is to focus outside of oneself, and on a group level like the Church of God, the same is true for the group. Success requires an outward focus, outside the Church of God. This seems contrary to human reasoning. Satan would argue that focusing on the self will bring greater happiness and success and accomplishment, even success for salvation, but that is not what God teaches. God has put a law into effect, and that law requires sacrificial love for others. We won't get salvation as a Church if we focus on trying to get our salvation more than obeying God and serving others outside the Church.
There are many false arguments against preaching the gospel to the world. You can spot them if you listen carefully and think and call to mind what the scriptures say (John 14:26). But these tend to have some things in common, though they come in many varieties.
One false idea is the idea that the Church will do better spiritually, will become more like God, if we feed the flock only while not preaching the gospel for a while. This is similar to the idea that we can only feed the flock effectively OR preach the gospel to the world, not both at the same time. Both ideas are false, for two reasons.
One reason is, feeding the flock and focusing inwardly on the Church's spiritual growth only while not preaching the gospel to the world teaches a wrong spiritual lesson. It sets a wrong example and teaches a wrong, Satanic way of life. It adopts and promotes Satan's view that the way to success, the way to achieve what is best for yourself (or your group) is to focus inwardly on your own needs (or the needs of your group), not outwardly on the needs of others (outside your group). In the case of the Church, Satan promotes the idea that success in getting saved and making it into the Kingdom of God is best achieved by the Church of God by focusing on our own spiritual needs as a Church more than the spiritual needs of the world. God teaches differently.
A second reason is, trying to focus on the Church and its spiritual needs while neglecting the needs of the world for the gospel and the Ezekiel warning is direct disobedience towards God and His instructions in the Bible. It not only teaches the brethren by example to practice Satan's get way of life, it teaches them that God's commands and instructions can be ignored, even that ignoring or disobeying God's instructions is the best and surest way to get saved. For the Bible is clear that God commands that the gospel be preached to the world, and I find no precedent for postponing the preaching of the gospel many months or years for the sake of strengthening or healing the Church spiritually. If there is a single example of that in the Bible, show me.
In fact, preaching the gospel to the world is good for the Church. It strengthens us spiritually. It is a necessary part of our training for the Kingdom of God. It teaches us the give way of life. It teaches us to focus outwardly on the needs of others, not inwardly on our own needs only. You can't heal, reconcile, or strengthen the Church of God spiritually without also preaching the gospel to the world. They go together, whether certain ministers want them to go together or not. It is God's plan and intent that they go together, and the Church is not going to thwart God's purpose in this.
You cannot reconcile to God by disobeying Him. Obedience to His command to preach the gospel and submission to His will as expressed in the Bible more than our own human reasoning is a necessary step towards reconciling with God and improving our relationship with Him and our spiritual condition.
Another fallacy is that nothing we do to preach the gospel today will have much beneficial effect on God's plan for saving mankind.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
The fact is, preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world is more important now than ever before because the first generation of the millennium is mostly alive today. We can now speak directly to Israelites that will be the start of millennial Israel. They won't believe what we say now, most of them, but they can remember it, and remembering it later can have a huge effect on their attitude and teachability, even their salvation. When they remember the gospel and the warning while they are going through the tribulation, they will remember that God was fair and just to give them a warning. They can acknowledge their responsibility for ignoring the message, and that will help their repentance. They can more easily trust God, and that is important for their conversion and their teachability.
Our preaching of the gospel to the world today has a HUGE effect on God's entire plan of salvation for the human race.
Another fallacy is that, since time doesn't matter to God, we should not be in a hurry to do what He commands. A variation of this is, God will let us know when it is God's time for us to preach the gospel, and we should not try to get ahead of what God is doing.
But God created us to live in time, and how we use our time tells Him where our hearts are. We make choices in how we use our time, and God wants us to make right choices. Time certainly does matter. God wants us to obey him quickly. Abraham shows the right example. When God appeared to Abraham and told him to be circumcised, he and his entire household were circumcised that very day (Genesis 17:9-14, 23-27). When God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, he started out early the next morning to do what God told him to do (Genesis 22:1-3).
And the idea that we should wait till God shows us we should preach the gospel is ridiculous from the start. God has already commanded us to do so in the Bible. Saying we must wait till God "gives us a special invitation" to preach the gospel is just an excuse for disobedience. If someone is not willing to believe what God says in the Bible, they will not believe God if He appeared in person and thundered from the podium, "PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE WORLD!" They would find some excuse. "How do we know this is God?", they might say. "Maybe Satan wants us to preach the gospel!"
I strongly suspect that those who say we should not be preaching the gospel now will never be in favor of preaching the gospel to the world. You watch. Watch those who say, now is not the time for the Church to preach the gospel. Watch the months go by, then the years.
Now I understand that there may be some ministers in some groups - the group won't preach the gospel now, but some ministers in that group want to. But they can't because they don't really have the authority in that group to do it. Maybe they cannot control the finances. There could be opposition to the gospel by enemies of the gospel in the group that won't allow that group to preach the gospel. David, for some reason that is not explained in the Bible, did not have total control over Joab (2 Samuel 3:12-39). The time may come when such ministers who want to preach the gospel but right now can't will be able to. But I think those who actively appose preaching the gospel will never support it, unless they deeply repent.
Another argument that is sometimes used is that Galatians 6:10 teaches us to put the Church first by postponing preaching the gospel. Galatians 6:10 says, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith". This is not talking about postponing preaching the gospel. This is talking about good deeds and personal service, such as helping widows, serving the brethren, sharing food with the hungry, etc. The context is those things that individual members can do for each other in their congregations and with their neighbors they are near to outside the Church. We should do good deeds for all we come into contact with, but more so for the brethren. So if two people need the same act of kindness but you can only help one, and one is a Church member and the other is outside the Church, help the Church member.
But the context has nothing to do with preaching the gospel to the world. In Paul's day, the apostles preached the gospel, and while the members backed them up with tithes and offerings, they did not have the expenses of TV and printing we have today. Preaching the gospel was a personal activity done mostly by the apostles themselves, and the membership did not have the financing role they have today, except for travel expenses, which they would have anyway for Paul to visit congregations to feed the flock.
In fact, we love God by keeping His commandments, and preaching the gospel is a commandment from God. Loving God actually comes first, before loving our neighbor even in the Church.
Here is an argument that comes up from time to time: Preaching the gospel will not unify (or "fix" or "heal" or "reconcile") the Church of God.
I suppose this is one of the more stupid excuses for not preaching the gospel to the world. It should be easy to see through it.
One could say, keeping the Sabbath will not heal the Church, so let's not keep the Sabbath. Or, honoring our parents will not bring unity in the Church, so let's not honor our father and mother. As a point of fact, giving sermons on the Sabbath will not, by itself, heal the Church of God or bring unity.
No one point or part of God's law or instructions will, by itself, heal the Church. But obedience to God in any part of His instruction will help to heal the Church, and obedience in everything God says will definitely heal the Church. But it will not bring unity between the converted members of the Church and the tares that attend among us. The unconverted tares will separate from the converted no matter how perfectly and completely the converted obey God, in fact, the more the converted obey, the more the tares will separate. You will still have splits (Matthew 13:24-30, 1 Corinthians 11:19, 1 John 2:19).
Most of the division that exists in the Church of God today is not because brethren do not forgive one another. Most of the division that exists today is because ministers and brethren do not agree with each other in doctrine, in policy, and in judgments.
Divisions are created by those who disbelieve or disobey God. When there is division in the Church between those who obey God and those who do not obey God, it is those who do not obey God who are causing the division.
Nor is lack of unity the primary problem in the Church. It is a symptom, but not the underlying problem.
When some want to preach the gospel and others do not, the division that exists between them is caused by those who do not want to obey God by preaching the gospel.
But as far as healing the Church is concerned, preaching the gospel to the world with a sincere heart motivated by love for God and neighbor will certainly help to heal the Church. It is not everything of course, but it is an important ingredient. It is a necessary part of our obedience to God, and God will not bless the Church with spiritual healing without our submission to Him. It is part of God's program for training us in the way of outgoing concern for others. It is part of God's curriculum for teaching us love. We learn to love by putting love into action, and we love the world, as God loves the world, by preaching the gospel to them and by preparing them for the tribulation.
I suppose some of these ministers who speak against preaching the gospel think that love is listening to their sermons about love.
Pentecost is about the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is also about God's plan of salvation that teaches us that the Church is the firstfruits, the first in time sequence to be saved, and that the majority of mankind will be saved later. It is also about preaching the gospel to the world, because the preaching of the gospel to the world on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was as dramatic an event in its own way as the coming of the Holy Spirit, and in fact, it was the Holy Spirit that led the apostles to preach the gospel effectively and empowered them to do it.
But Pentecost is NOT about the Church adopting a selfish, self-centered, inward focus that puts itself first at the expense of God's plan for the preaching of the gospel to the world as a witness and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. Pentecost is not about disobeying or postponing indefinitely God's command to preach the gospel to the world. Pentecost is not about teaching the Church of God membership a sense of self-importance. That is how Satan thinks, not God.
Any teaching that says that "firstfruits" means that the Church should put itself first in importance, first in preference to the needs of the world, first over obedience and love towards God, and first in place of doing what God says, is misusing the term.
But I think those who know their Bibles and who believe God will not be deceived by false arguments against the gospel.