Friday, January 30, 2015

Giving Credit to God

Whenever we accomplish anything good and worthwhile, we should give credit to God. It is God who gives us gifts, abilities, and opportunities for accomplishment, and we should give Him thanks and acknowledge, to ourselves first and to others when appropriate, that we were only able to accomplish anything good because of God's gifts, mercy, and help.

This is especially true with matters relating to the Church and God's work. Ministers, deacons, and Church of God employees, for example, should acknowledge that anything worthwhile and good they accomplish is because of God's help. All credit should go to God.

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

Mr. Armstrong set a good example in this, as he set a good example in many things. He always gave God and Christ the credit for his accomplishments in the Church and in doing God's work. If someone spoke to him about his building of Ambassador College, he would correct him and say, "I didn't build Ambassador College, Jesus Christ built Ambassador College through me."

Yet, while we give credit to God for our accomplishments in the Church, which are really the work that Christ does through us, we must always remember that we are imperfect instruments capable of mistakes, and our mistakes are our own.

Not everything we do in the Church is Christ's doing. He doesn't lead and inspire us to make mistakes in teaching, writing, and speaking, for example. Our mistakes are our own, and we should acknowledge that we can and do make mistakes and accept responsibility for our mistakes.

We should give God the credit for any good we do, and we should accept the blame for our own sins and mistakes.

Here is my main point. Just because Jesus Christ works through the leaders, ministers, and members of the Church of God to do the Father's will and accomplish the Father's work, that does not mean that everything we say and do in the Church is from God and blessed by God.

So we have to be careful in the way we give God credit for our accomplishments that we do not imply that everything we do and teach is right because God is doing it through us.

For a minister to acknowledge to others that God helps him in giving sermons is right. Members who give opening prayers also acknowledge this when they ask God to bless and inspire the minister's speaking. But for a minister or speaker to tell the congregation, "Everything I tell you in a sermon is from God and is the word of God", or, "Listen to me to find out what Christ is saying to you", implying that what the speaker teaches and does is free from error and always according to God's will, is not right.

What should be a thankful and humble acknowledgement of God's gifts and help can easily slide into a proud and vain form of self-praise.

Have you ever heard a false minister or false teacher claim that the work he does is really God working through him? He may put on airs of humility - "I can't take the credit, what I teach you is God working through me - I am just an imperfect, lowly tool in His hands" - but he is really praising himself using God's name to justify and support his wrong teaching. In effect, he is saying that he is a worthy tool in God's hands, that God is able to use him as a tool because he is faithful to submit to God's will.

But in fact, God is not able to use a false teacher as a tool because a false teacher is not willing to be a submissive tool in God's hands!

So if you have hear someone you know is a false teacher say, "I am not doing this, Christ is doing this through me", in your mind you might say, "No, He isn't", because you know the teaching is false.

I used the example of a false teacher. That is the extreme case. What about a minister who is a true minister and most of what he teaches is right, but he is human and has faults and weaknesses and makes mistakes, even mistakes in his teaching?

He should give Christ and God the credit for helping him and inspiring anything he teaches that is right, but without implying that everything he teaches is right and from Christ. His attitude and explanation to the brethren should be, "God and Christ get the credit for anything I say that is right, and I am to blame for anything I say that is wrong."

The teaching of a teacher in the Church is only true and according to God's will to the degree that teacher understands and submits to God's will in his teaching. If he understands and submits to God's will 96%, his teachings will be 96% according to God's will.

How do we know what is right? By the Bible.

One minister who writes or speaks when preaching the gospel to the world might say to the brethren, "Read or listen to me when I preach the gospel to know what Christ is saying to the world." But someone else in a competing Church of God fellowship might say, "Look at the website Christ has built through us." Yet the teachings of the one group and their website differ significantly from the teachings of the other group. Is Christ contradicting Himself?

When Christ speaks to me through a minister, I think He usually does it by showing me the scriptures on a subject and inspiring the minister to put them together correctly. The minister will persuade me by building his case honestly and logically by the word of God, the Bible. Then I know the teaching is from Christ.

What I say about ministers also applies to lay members. We might pray and ask God to help us in our speaking with the brethren, to help and inspire us to say and teach right things in conversation and fellowship, to encourage, to be helpful, to say things that are right and edifying (Hebrews 5:12). And to the degree we succeed in saying and teaching right things, it is because God helps us, but if we say wrong things, those are our mistakes.

Does God help me to say right things in my book and this blog? I pray for His help. And I know that I am not capable by my human effort alone of teaching right things. I need His help. And to the degree I write what is good, God gets the credit. But if there is anything bad in my writing, the blame belongs to me.

And you have to know your Bible to know which is which.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Priorities of True Christianity - Priorities in the Church of God

This is a time in the history of the Church of God when certain issues may threaten to divide and weaken the Church even more than we have already been divided and weakened since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong and the breakup of Worldwide. Some members must face decisions in regard to these issues. Small issues have always threatened God's work and right unity in the Church of God, and this time is no exception. Actually, it is not the small issues themselves but the failure of some to set right priorities according to God's word that is the problem.

Not every Church of God member is faced with these issues, but those who are, if they are to make wise and right decisions, must make those decisions based on Bible study, prayer, and meditation, and sometimes fasting. We must also keep right priorities in mind.

There are priorities. Not all issues are equal. There are smaller matters of the law and there are weightier matters. And we must understand the weightier matters of the law or we are likely to make mistakes in the smaller matters of the law.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!" (Matthew 23:23-24).

Because the Pharisees neglected the weightier matters of the law, they were not able to understand the smaller matters of the law. It is not that they should have focused only on the weightier matters while neglecting the small matters. Christ said they should do the weightier matters without leaving the smaller matters undone - they should do both. It is that they could not clearly see and understand the smaller matters while they were neglecting the weightier matters - thus they were spiritually blind. Christ called them "blind guides". By neglecting the weightier matters of the law, they disqualified themselves from properly understanding and teaching the smaller matters of the law.

"Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch" (Matthew 15:14).

In fact, the Pharisees were enemies of the gospel, as some who claim Church of God affiliation today are really enemies of the gospel. As the teaching of the Pharisees was spiritual poison to the Israelites of their day, so the teaching of false teachers among the Church of God is spiritual poison to members of the Church today.

"Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 'Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.' He answered and said to them, 'Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death." But you say, "Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God'--then he need not honor his father or mother." Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" ' " (Matthew 15:1-9).

"At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, 'Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!' But He said to them, 'Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless" (Matthew 12:1-7).

The Pharisees thought that by teaching men not to eat grain from the grainfields on the Sabbath that they were upholding the fourth commandment, not to work on the Sabbath, for the Pharisees, being strict, defined plucking the grains as "work". But their judgment was faulty, because they were neglecting one of the weightier matters of the law, mercy, as Christ said in Matthew 23:23. In other words, their neglect of mercy ruined their discernment and corrupted their wisdom so they were not able to make right judgments about the smaller matters of the law, such as eating grain from a grainfield on the Sabbath. This is why they were blind guides, and those who followed them were also blind, and Christ said they would fall in the ditch together.

There are parallels today. Some of those who divide the Church over minor issues are some of the most unmerciful people of everyone who claims affiliation with the Church of God.

Some of these people are enemies of the gospel. I say that because they show by their fruits that they are enemies of the preaching of the gospel. They show no love towards their neighbors in the world, no outgoing concern to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel before it is too late. They speak evil of those in authority in the Church of God and rail against "organization", but they themselves do virtually nothing to get the truth out to a world that badly needs it. Like the Pharisees, they neglect the weightier matters of the law, such as mercy towards those in all Israel about to go through the tribulation, while they try to be ultra-strict in their interpretation of the smaller matters of the law. But like the Pharisees, because they neglect mercy and other weightier matters of the law, they are blinded in trying to understand and teach the smaller matters of the law, and those who follow them will fall into the ditch with them.

Christ said, "Leave them alone" (Matthew 15:14). Don't go to these people for spiritual instruction.

These people can be tools in the hand of Satan for hurting the work of God, the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, which Satan hates, and he can use them to try to pull members out of any organization that is effectively preaching the gospel to the world. He can also use these people to spiritually damage members in the Church of God and to hinder feeding of the flock with right spiritual knowledge.

Jude was inspired by God to speak strongly against men like some of these. "Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever....These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage" (Jude 8-13).

Pretty strong words, but God also inspired the same truth in Peter's writings, in slightly different words. "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber....then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord. But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption, and will receive the wages of unrighteousness, as those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;" (2 Peter 2:1-15).

I don't say these verses apply to everyone who is concerned about small issues, sometimes not understanding or not agreeing with the leadership of the Church of God on these issues. Some who have concerns about small issues study them with an open mind and try to obey God the best they know how but without causing division and without openly criticizing and contradicting the ministry and leadership of the Church. They have a right attitude. They are not causing division. They obey God, quietly if necessary. They understand that they have not been given the office of minister, and they show respect to that office by not undermining it by contradicting those who hold the office in conversation with other members in their fellowship.

I am talking about those who openly rebel against authority, creating division by openly criticizing the teachings of their ministry within the fellowship they attend, or who try to pull members out of organizations that are preaching the gospel to the world into groups that show no love or mercy towards those in the world who are about to suffer and need a warning and a message of hope.

Here are some priorities to keep in mind. These are major principles, weightier matters of the law compared to smaller issues. We must understand and try to apply these things first if we are not to be blinded like the Pharisees when we try to understand smaller issues. These priority issues can then guide us in understanding the application of God's way of life and truth to the smaller issues. But if we do not understand the priority issues, we are unlikely to understand and know how to properly apply the smaller issues in God's law.

Here are some priority issues to keep in mind:

1. Mercy. Christ lists this as a weightier matter of the law (Matthew 23:23). The principle of mercy is based on one of the two great commandments, to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). The greatest need for our neighbors in the world is to hear the truth of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning. The greatest act of mercy we can show to the greatest number of our neighbors is to get that message out with power. There are about 500 million people who desperately need that message. This is far more important than opening a door for a woman carrying groceries, or putting a few coins in the hat of a street beggar, or buying a meal for a homeless person, or helping a widow in the Church move.

If there is a time in these last days when someone who is against corporations and organizations is able to get that message out with power, I haven't seen it yet. Today, the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning is done with organization and with money. Thus it was when Mr. Armstrong was alive and so it is today. These efforts need to be supported, not weakened.

Does it seem strange that God would so structure things that the preaching of the gospel today is empowered by money? It does not seem strange to me, but fitting. Why? Because it is a perfect test of where our hearts are. Where we put our money often shows where our hearts are. Contributing money to the preaching of the gospel requires personal sacrifice. It requires giving up things. In effect, it pits love of money against love of our neighbors - which is greater? If you love money and the things money will buy, if you love yourself more than your neighbors, you will not want to sacrifice and give things up to support the gospel. But if you love your neighbors more than money and the things money can buy, you will use your money to support that gospel. Is that not a pretty good test to show God where our hearts are?

Support for a Church of God organization that is effectively getting the gospel and warning message out is the clearest expression of mercy towards our neighbors. It seems that those who are against organization are against mercy, which is one of the weightier matters of the law, and if they show themselves to be against mercy, they cannot be trusted to understand and correctly teach the finer details of God's law.

2. Respect for God-ordained government. We have to respect government in the Church of God. Respecting the authority God has given to those He has placed in office is respecting the authority of God Himself and is one of the ways we are to love God with all our being (Matthew 22:36-37). Respect for and submission to those in authority is a major theme of the Bible. Many examples in the Old Testament show how God hates and punishes rebellion against authority. The New Testament also confirms this. "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:17-19).

"And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17).

The authority of the ministry is limited and is not as great as the authority of the Bible itself. Nevertheless, the authority of the ministry is real and is ordained by God.

The leadership and ministry of the Church specifically have administrative authority over the doctrines taught by the Church. They have the job of deciding what doctrine will be taught so that there is no confusion. They have the job of protecting the flock from heresy.

Do they have authority over your faith, over what you believe? Do they have the authority to command you to believe their interpretation of the Bible? No. They do not have dominion over our faith. "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24). They do not have the authority to command you to believe them more than you believe the Bible.

But we are all to speak the same thing so that there be no divisions among us (1 Corinthians 1:10), and the ministry certainly has the authority to determine the official teachings of the Church and to require that members not openly criticize, contradict, or undermine that teaching. "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting," (Ephesians 4:11-14).

Those who contradict the doctrinal position of the ministry of the fellowship they attend in conversation with other members of that same fellowship should be put out, disfellowshipped, and maybe marked for causing division. "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18). "But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:9-11). This has nothing to do with whether those who contradict are technically right or wrong about some detail of doctrine they argue about. It is a matter of who has the God given authority to determine the doctrines that will be taught in the Church. It is not those who argue, contradict, and cause division, but the leadership and ordained ministry who have that authority.

What about a matter so fundamental and serious that one must take a stand? That is different. If the leadership and ministry of a group begin to teach major heresy, such as saying that the Bible is not inspired, or that the ten commandments are obsolete, etc., then what Jude wrote applies: "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" (Jude 3). There does come a time when we have to contend for the truth. That time came to many of us in Worldwide after Mr. Armstrong died and those who had control of the organization changed fundamental doctrines and showed obviously that they were not being guided by the Bible.

But if a group goes into that kind of major heresy, we should not want to be part of that group anyway (Revelation 18:4, 2 Corinthians 6:17).

3. Faith. Godly faith is more than believing God exists. Godly, living faith is not believing in our own opinions or in the traditions we were raised in. People in the mainstream religious traditions of this world have that kind of "faith". Godly, living faith is believing what God says in the Bible and acting on that faith - doing good works and bearing good fruit according to God's word.

Each one of us must believe what we see in God's word, the Bible, more than our opinions, more than the traditions we were raised in, and more than the teachings of our leaders and ministers. If we see a difference between what the Bible says and what our ministers teach, we must believe the Bible first and the ministry second.

Does that contradict the point I made about government? Not at all. There is a right way to handle doctrinal disagreements. If we see in the Bible, or think we see, that the ministry in the Church of God fellowship we attend is teaching an error on some detail of doctrine, we have to make a choice - believe God or believe the ministry. We better believe God. My point about government is that we should not be taking it upon ourselves to correct the error of the ministry with the other members. Instead, we can take the matter to God in prayer and wait for Him to open the understanding of the ministry to show them their error or to show us our error if we are the ones who are in error. We can also talk to the ministry, respectfully and wisely, if we think this can do some good. And in the meantime, we simply (not that it is always simple) decline to discuss the issue with other brethren. We talk about the many points of God's truth about which there are no disagreements.

Faith means we are willing to learn new knowledge and be corrected by God's Word, to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). Faith means we are willing to let the Bible interpret the Bible, getting all the scriptures on a subject and letting clear scriptures interpret difficult ones. Faith means understanding and believing that the Bible is God's word, that God cannot lie, that scripture cannot be broken, and that God cannot contradict Himself in the Bible (John 10:34-36, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Titus 1:1-2, Hebrews 6:17-18). And living faith is faith that bears good fruit in obedient action and good works (James 2:14-26).

The above list does not include every priority doctrine, but I mention these three because they directly relate to how we handle some of the smaller issues that can divide the Church of God and weaken the work of God.

How should we handle doctrinal disputes? If we see something in the Bible that seems to be different from what the ministry in the fellowship we attend teaches, how should we handle it? We have to find the right balance between respect for the God ordained office of minister and loyalty to God first over loyalty to man (Acts 5:29).

I have heard of an example of such a balance in something that happened in Worldwide while Mr. Armstrong was alive, and I think this example illustrates the lesson perfectly.

At one time, because of a misunderstanding of the language of the Bible, Mr. Armstrong thought Pentecost was on a Monday, and thus Worldwide at that time observed Pentecost on Monday. Some members understood that this was an error, that Pentecost should be observed on Sunday. Some of those members may have taken it upon themselves to contradict Mr. Armstrong on this point in conversations with other members. They may have been technically right about the day, but they were wrong in how they handled it. But some members handled it right. How would you have handled it if you were in Worldwide at that time and if you knew that Pentecost should be on Sunday but Mr. Armstrong and Worldwide were keeping it on Monday?

Here is what they did. They did not cause division. Perhaps some of them wrote to Mr. Armstrong or talked to their minister, but they did not talk about it with the brethren or contradict the Church in conversation with the other members. They met on Monday with the Church in obedience to the ministry.

But to obey God and to have a clear conscience towards God, they also quietly rested on Sunday, the day they knew as the real Pentecost. They rested and prayed and studied their Bibles at home on the day they knew from the Bible was the right day for Pentecost, Sunday, then on the following Monday they continued to rest and attended Pentecost services with the Church. The brethren and their friends in the Church did not even know they were also resting on Sunday.

They did this in faith that eventually God would show Mr. Armstrong his error or would show them their error in case they were wrong.

Eventually, Mr. Armstrong saw his error and made the correction, and the Church of God began to keep Pentecost on the right day, Sunday.

The people who were keeping both Sunday and Monday for Pentecost maintained peace in the Church, did not cause division, did not discuss the matter with the brethren or contradict Mr. Armstrong, and were not put out of the Church. And yet, they put God and His word the Bible first. They believed the Bible, they believed God, and they rested on the day they knew God in the Bible said was Pentecost. They believed God more than man, and they obeyed God but without causing division in the Church. They acted with wisdom and faithfulness. They set a good example for us to follow. They showed that it is possible to put God first without undermining the authority of the ministry and causing division.

Jesus Christ warned about false prophets. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:15-20).

Jesus spoke about false prophets, but the principle applies to any false teacher. By their fruits you will know them. The Church of God has always been attacked by those who twist scriptures to promote their pet ideas and use small doctrines to divide the Church and pull people away from obedience to the weightier matters of the law. It is Satan who is the real enemy, and he uses these false teachers to attack the Church of God.

Satan HATES the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning. He does not want the people in the world to hear it. He uses every trick he can think of to weaken the work of preaching the gospel to the world. Causing division in any fellowship that preaches the gospel is one of his tricks, and using small details of doctrines in the hands of those who do not understand and obey God's way of life, those who will use their doctrinal ideas, which often are false, to divide and confuse the Church and distract members from the real work of overcoming and warning this world, is one of Satan's most dangerous techniques for fighting the Church and God's work.

What are the fruits of some of these false and divisive teachers? They pull people out of other organizations and fellowships, some of which are preaching the gospel to the world, but they do not preach the gospel themselves. They teach and infect members with a spirit of disrespect towards government and authority in the Church. Their teachings are spiritual poison. They may speak of "repentance", but they are far from repentant themselves, and the repentance they teach their own followers is a false repentance.

There is certainly a need for repentance in the Church of God. But these people do not know what real repentance looks like. They market a counterfeit repentance.

By their fruits, we can know them. And when we know them, we should avoid them.

Priority issues, the weightier matters of the law such as mercy and faith, must be understood and practiced in order for any member to have the spiritual discernment to understand how to handle controversial issues regarding the smaller matters of God's law. A man or woman who feels compassion towards a world heading towards disaster and is zealous to support a message that will help their neighbors, a man or woman who believes what God teaches in the Bible about respect and submission towards government in the Church and practices that respect and submission, is far more likely, upon Bible study and prayer, to have the wisdom and spiritual discernment to know God's will regarding controversial issues about smaller doctrines than critics who are against the gospel, against God ordained government and organization, and actually against God Himself and God's way of life, as their real leader, Satan, is against God and His way of life.

Here are other posts in this blog related to this subject:

"The Responsible Use of New Knowledge", dated November 5, 2010, link:

"Speaking the Same Thing in the Church of God", dated September 10, 2012, link:

"Should Members or Ministers Be Disfellowshipped for Disagreeing about the Calendar, New Moons, or Eating in Restaurants on the Sabbath?", dated November 8, 2012, link:

"Beware of Those Who Preach Against Organization", dated March 28, 2013, link:

"Should Someone Who Contradicts Church Leadership Be Disfellowshipped?", dated April 11, 2013, link:

"Should the Church Flee Before It Finishes Delivering the Ezekiel Warning?", dated July 12, 2013, link:

"What Is the Church of God's Greatest Sin?", dated February 27, 2014, link:

"False Repentance Movement in the Church of God", dated March 28, 2014, link:

"Do Our Choices Really Affect the Preaching of the Gospel?", dated May 16, 2014, link:

"How Do You Know God Leads Your Understanding of the Bible?", dated January 4, 2015, link:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

COGFC Direction

This is a short follow-up to my last post, "How Do You Know God Leads Your Understanding of the Bible?", dated January 4, 2015, link:

In that post I say that if we are to understand God's truth and know that we understand the Bible correctly, we need to confirm what we believe by getting all the scriptures on a particular subject and letting the Bible interpret the Bible, using clear passages of scripture to interpret difficult ones. This is how we are to understand God's will, by the Bible.

While the Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible, we are not to believe every thought that comes into our minds and attribute that thought to the Holy Spirit just because we have been baptized.

Moreover, if we are to keep the truth we have and avoid Satan's deceptions, we must use the truth we have responsibly, and that means preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel to share the truth we have been given with others who need it. God will give us the fruits of our doings, good or bad, and if we refuse to obey God by preaching the gospel God can take from us the understanding we have and allow Satan to deceive us. For we only have that understanding because others before us have sacrificed to preach the gospel to us and to our fathers, and if we refuse to practice the way of life that gave us that truth, God would be just to take His truth from us.

Since I published that post, Church of God, a Family Community (COGFC), publisher of "The Father's Call" website ( ), has published a new update in their series of regular updates in their site. This one is dated January 10, 2015 and is written by Brian Orchard. Here is a link:

If you have read my last post, and if you like to keep up with events and directions in COGFC, I encourage you to read this short article by Mr. Orchard. It shows clearly the COGFC direction in regards to the matters I discussed in my last post.

The COGFC article points out the importance of doing God's will, then asks, how can we know God's will? The rest of the article explains what Mr. Orchard thinks is the way to know God's will.

The word "Bible" is not in the article. Neither are the phrases, "God's word" or "Word of God". Yet, this is an article about how to know God's will.

Does it seem unusual or inappropriate to anyone but me for a Church of God article on how to know God's will not to include any mention of the Bible?

I can't think of a clearer contrast between what COGFC teaches as a way to know the truth and God's will and what I teach than the comparison between my last post and their last update.

This issue is important. There is a lot at stake.

God teaches us lessons not only by instruction but by experience. All mankind is being taught a lesson, for 6,000 years, that Satan's way of life does not work. In the millennium soon to come, mankind will learn that God's way does work.

Even in the Church of God and in our individual lives, God lets us learn lessons from experience. He also lets us see and learn from the experiences of others. Some people become good examples for us to follow and some become object lessons to teach us to avoid their mistakes.

Mr. Brian Orchard, one of the two main leaders of COGFC (the other being Steve Andrews), has articulated the direction COGFC takes in seeking to know God's will. It is a clear, concise statement that describes what has already become apparent in COGFC's actions and teachings over the last year.

In effect, he is telling COGFC members to submit to the thoughts the Holy Spirit puts into their minds, but he does not warn them to make sure those thoughts are true according to the Bible. As I pointed out in my last post, it is by the Bible that we can test our thoughts to know if they are from the Holy Spirit or some other source.

If a man teaches that we should let the Holy Spirit guide us, but does not also teach that we must use the Bible to test thoughts and ideas to see if they are inspired by the Holy Spirit or some other source, I think there is a danger that such a man may be inviting a different spirit to guide us. He himself may not even realize the danger of what he is saying. But I think the danger is real, and it is potentially deadly.

Members of traditional, mainstream religions and churches often think that the Holy Spirit is guiding them, guiding their church, guiding their leaders, and has guided their traditions for centuries. They may very easily submit to whatever spiritual influences come into their minds. But without testing those influences with God's word, there is no guarentee those influences are truthful and right.

The only difference between the historical origins of Church of God doctrines and the doctrines of mainstream religion is that our doctrines have been taught to us by a man who believed what the Bible actually says, while mainstream traditions come from teachers who have not believed what the Bible actually says. We members of the Church of God must also believe what the Bible actually says.

As I have proved in posts in this blog since COGFC began to form, they are not following the Bible in the major matter of preaching the gospel to the world. They also do not follow the Bible on government. Perhaps they do not follow the Bible in these matters because they are submitting to thoughts and ideas in their minds, thoughts they attribute to the Holy Spirit, that are not consistant with Bible teaching.

Mr. Orchard seems to be teaching members to submit to what they think is the Holy Spirit, but without checking in the Bible to know what is true. And if this is what he teaches members, it is probably what he believes and practices himself.

This seems to be part of the foundation of COGFC thinking, and the fruits of that thinking are bound to manifest themselves in that organization in the future. We will see the long-term results. That organization may become an object lesson for us to learn from.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

How Do You Know God Leads Your Understanding of the Bible?

If you are in the Church of God and you study and read your Bible, do you understand it? If you understand it, how do you know you understand it correctly?

Mr. Armstrong taught that the Bible is in a sense a coded book, that we need the help of God's Holy Spirit to understand it correctly, that the world as a whole does not and cannot understand the Bible, and that only those called by God in this age are able to understand the Bible correctly.

Satan is the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12:9). We need the help of God's Spirit to escape that deception, and God gives us that help when we are called (John 14:15-17). He gives us more of that when we are converted (1 Corinthians 2:9-16, Romans 8:9). The world as a whole is blinded (2 Corinthians 3:14-16, 4:3-4). A veil is over the eyes of the world until Christ returns and Satan is put away.

So we need God's help, which He gives through the Holy Spirit, to really understand the Bible and the doctrines of the Bible.

Now, say you are a baptized member of the Church of God. You read a scripture, meditate about it, maybe pray about it, and a certain understanding of that scripture comes into you mind that you did not have before. How do you know if that "understanding" is correct? Could your understanding be mistaken? Was it put into your mind by God's Holy Spirit? Do you assume any idea about scripture you have comes from the Holy Spirit just because you have understood and believed the major doctrines of the Church of God and have been baptized?

If you say, yes, then there is a problem, or a question that needs to be answered. Many baptized members of the Church of God may read a passage of scripture and have different ideas and opinions about what it means. This can be true even though we all agree with the major doctrines taught by the Church of God and Herbert W. Armstrong. Yet, the Holy Spirit does not deceive us. The Holy Spirit will not put a true understanding of a passage of scripture into the mind of one member and a false understanding of that same passage into the mind of another member.

If two baptized members of the Church of God have opposite views of a passage of scripture, both views cannot be inspired by the Holy Spirit because God does not contradict Himself. One view or the other must be false, and if it is false, it was not inspired by God. If it is false, it is either a simple human mistake in the mind of the person who believes it, or it is a deception from Satan that the Church member who believes it has not yet escaped from or has now succumbed to, temporarily if he later comes to a right understanding. We do not instantly learn everything when we are baptized. God's Spirit leads us into all truth (John 16:13), but it is a process of correcting error that can take time, and we all make mistakes along the way. Even Mr. Armstrong made mistakes as he was learning.

Growing in grace and knowledge is a life-long process. We should never stop learning, never stop accepting correction from God as He gives us deeper and more accurate knowledge of His word and His way of life.

So it is very possible that two baptized, converted members of the Church of God may read a scripture, pray and ask God for understanding, then come to an understanding after that, yet have opposite views of that scripture. God does answer prayers, but according to His timetable, not ours, and just as God may delay answering our prayers for physical healing, likewise God may make us wait before He answers our prayers for anything we pray about, including understanding of a particular passage in the Bible. God can allow us to make mistakes in understanding the Bible, and if we are not obeying God as fully as He expects, He may allow Satan to deceive us about a particular passage of scripture.

So just because you are in the Church of God does not mean that your understanding of a scripture, even a recent thought or idea that has come into your head that you might think is an answer to prayer, is correct. You can still make mistakes and God may allow that.

Yet, if we are believing and obeying God, our overall understanding of scripture will improve and be more accurate over time.

So if you are reading a passage of scripture, trusting God to help you understand it, and a thought or idea comes into your mind about what that scripture means, should you automatically accept it as truth because you think God has given you that understanding? How do you know that your thought or idea about what that scripture means is correct?

Mr. Armstrong set the right example. He knew that human reasoning is not trustworthy, even his own reasoning, and he knew that he could make mistakes, but He also knew God's inspired word is true and God cannot contradict Himself (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18, John 10:35). So he realized that the way to understand the scriptures is believe God's word and use other scriptures that are clear to interpret scriptures that are not clear - in other words, as he put it, "let the Bible interpret the Bible". We should search the Bible to find all the scriptures that relate to the one we are trying to understand and believe what those scriptures say, putting related scriptures together on one subject.

This involves a lot of work and effort, but God wants us to make that sacrifice of our time and effort. God doesn't make everything easy for us. He is testing us and building His character in us, and we have to make the effort, even hard effort at times, to do our part. This includes resisting hard temptation, it includes enduring trials and remaining faithful in trials, and it includes the time, hard work, and effort to really study the Bible with diligence to put scriptures together on a subject to really understand that subject.

Sometimes we have to open a Bible concordance or other reference source to get the original Greek or Hebrew and study what a word means in the original language. Not every member has the academic and research skills to do this, and God can compensate for our lack of ability and give those members extra help, but if are able to do the research, we should do it. Mr. Armstrong had to do that when he was being converted.

There is also a principle that we need to believe and obey God to receive God's help (Psalm 111:10, Romans 4:3, Romans 11:19-23, Hebrews 3:12, 19). Someone who refuses to believe what God says or does not make an effort to obey God should not expect God to give him or her help in understanding the Bible. God is not interested in giving us accurate academic knowledge of His way of life and doctrines if we do not obey them. God's truth is meant to be followed. We have to make what we learn in the Bible our way of life. If we do not, God is able to take away from us the understanding we have. We can lose our knowledge of God's truth. We can fall away if we do not believe and obey God.

Should we depend on the Holy Spirit for interpretation of the Bible as we read it, and then accept whatever we think the Holy Spirit has revealed to us, trusting that the Holy Spirit has revealed accurate truth to us when we think we understand a scripture?

We should certainly trust and rely on God through His Holy Spirit to help us grow in grace and knowledge and help us understand the Bible more accurately over time, as we choose to believe and obey what God says in the Bible. We should be aware that our understanding is a gift from God, and we should thank Him for it, giving Him the credit for our understanding and not ourselves. We should be humble and understand that by our own human effort alone, we could not understand the Bible, and we should realize we need God's help and pray for that help.

But when it comes to any particular passage of scripture, we should be cautious about believing any "understanding" or idea that comes into our mind about that scripture. We should realize that it is not necessarily from the Holy Spirit. It could be a mistaken idea that we thought of and a human mistake if we believe it. Before we accept it as true, we must verify it by what related scriptures in the Bible say. We should put all scriptures on the subject together, letting clear scriptures interpret difficult ones, and letting the Bible interpret the Bible. And if that takes work and effort, so be it. God's Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to understand the Bible, but God does not necessarily make it easy. He wants us to make the effort because that shows Him where our hearts are.

And we must believe and obey what God says in the Bible if we want Him to continue to open our minds to understand more truth over time. If we reject God's word, He will reject us and let us be deceived.

Not everyone in the Church of God follows what I have just described. Some who call themselves members of the Church of God do not put scriptures together to understand the Bible. They do not prove what they believe by letting the Bible interpret the Bible. They believe, uncritically, what ideas about scriptures pop into their heads, attributing those ideas to the Holy Spirit, but not doing the work of finding out what other scriptures say about their ideas.

Likewise, some members never really proved what Mr. Armstrong taught. They just accepted it because it sounded good to them. They believed, but they didn't prove. They actually went against what Mr. Armstrong taught when he said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible". They believed Mr. Armstrong about everything else, but they did not believe and do what he said on that one point. They thought, "I don't have to prove anything, I KNOW this is the truth."

But that is not how Mr. Armstrong came to believe the truth. He proved the truth.

Many growing up in the Church believe a set of doctrines, but have not proved them.

All this has a lot to do with preaching the gospel to the world as a witness and the Ezekiel warning to Israel (Matthew 24:14, Ezekiel 3:16-21, 33:1-9).

First of all, you cannot effectively preach the gospel to the world unless you are willing to prove the truth by letting the Bible interpret the Bible. To preach the gospel and deliver a warning effectively, we have to ask the public to do something. We have to ask them to prove what is true by the Bible, putting scriptures together on a subject, letting easy scriptures interpret hard ones, and letting the Bible interpret the Bible. That is how Mr. Armstrong preached the gospel. That is how many of them must come out of their traditions they have believed from childhood if they are to believe our message at all.

But to preach that way we have to practice what we preach. We will not be effective if we are not practicing what we preach. We can't just assume what we believe is true without proving it, then teach the public to prove that their beliefs and traditions have been wrong. God will not bless us in that if we do not obey His words. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21, KJV). If we want God's blessing and power, we must do what we tell others to do.

But also, we must preach the gospel to the world if we want God to help us understand the Bible more accurately and in more depth. In fact, if we do not preach the gospel to the world, we are in danger of losing the truth, perhaps permanently. That is a danger to be afraid of.

Why? "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7). "I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 17:10). "You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 32:19).

God gives us the fruits of our ways. If we help and serve others, God helps and blesses us. If we ignore the needs of others, God ignores our needs (Proverbs 21:13).

How does this relate to preaching the gospel?

What are the fruits or results of preaching the gospel to the world?

The fruit of preaching the gospel is that some come into the knowledge of the truth. In our case, we came into the truth, the body of doctrine we have today, because Mr. Armstrong and others sacrificed to preach the gospel to the world. Our knowledge of the truth is a direct result, the fruit, of their sacrifice in years past.

But God has given us that truth so we can share it with those who do not have it, as Mr. Armstrong and the Radio Church of God, later renamed Worldwide Church of God, sacrificed to share it with us and with our parents. That is a way of life. We sacrifice to share the truth with those who do not have it. It is a gift to them. But then, they are to sacrifice to share it with others. It is a continuous cycle. God gives to us so we can give to others. "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:7). "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

But what if some of us break that cycle? What if God has given us truth through the sacrifice of others in the past, but we refuse or neglect to give that same gift to others so they can also have it?

Might not God take the gift away from us if we are not willing to share it as He commands? He has given us the truth for the very purpose that we will share it with others! If we refuse to do that, is there not a danger God will take it from us?

For as we do to others, God may do to us. If we withhold the truth from others by neglecting the preaching of the gospel, God may take the truth from us. We can lose the gift of truth we have if we do not use it as God commands. God is merciful, but He is also just. It would be God's justice if He takes the truth from those who refuse to preach the gospel to the world. It would be God's justice if He let Satan deceive those in the Church of God who are not willing to help others in the world escape from Satan's deceptions.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. But judgment is without mercy to those who show no mercy. "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). If we do not show mercy to the world by giving them the gospel and the warning, God may not show mercy to us by letting us keep the truth. He can let us fall away.

God's gifts are conditional. They are on loan, in a sense. He expects us to use those gifts in His service. He expects us to choose to believe and obey Him. If we do not, He can take the gifts away from us.

This passage is about forgiveness, but there is a principle that has a wider application than just forgiveness: "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses" (Matthew 18:23-35).

Notice the principle. The king forgave his servant. That forgiveness was a gift. But that servant was not willing to give that same gift of forgiveness to his fellow servant. He accepted the benefit of the gift for himself, but did not do likewise to others. So what happened? The gift he had received, the forgiveness, was taken from him. He lost what he had received because he was not willing to practice the way of life that he had benefited from. He benefited from his master's way of life of forgiveness, but he did not practice that way of life himself even after he saw the benefit of it by being blessed himself. So when his master saw it, he took back the gift of forgiveness of debt. He delivered him to the torturers until he paid his debt in full.

As the king in the parable said to his servant, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?", might not God say to some of us who do not preach the gospel to the world, "You wicked servant! I gave you the gift of truth by leading others to sacrifice to preach the gospel to you because I had compassion on you. Should you not also have had compassion on others in the world to sacrifice to preach the gospel to them just as I had mercy on you?"

We reap what we sow. As the master of the servant took back the gift of forgiveness when he saw that servant was not willing to forgive others, so God can take back the gift of truth He has given us if we do not share the truth with others.

We of all people should see the benefit of preaching the gospel to the world because we are all recipients of the benefits of that way of life. We only know what we know (and how precious is the truth we know) because others sacrificed to preach the gospel to the world, and we or our parents heard it from them. They did that as a way of life. We should see that that way of life is good because we have benefited from it. And if we agree that it is good, we should practice it ourselves.

The worst danger is for someone in the Church of God who is NOT supporting the preaching the gospel to the world to assume that some idea about scripture that comes into his head must be right because he thinks God's Holy Spirit is leading him to understand the Bible, but does not carefully check that idea with other scriptures in the Bible to prove if it is true or not.

I think any man or woman in the Church who does that is just begging to be deceived.

Here are posts in this blog related to this subject:

"Preaching the Gospel - We Reap what we Sow", dated March 6, 2010, link:

" 'Beam in the Eye', and Preaching the Gospel to the World", dated January 14, 2014, link:

"What Good Does It Do to Preach the Gospel If We Do Not Live It?", dated February 22, 2014, link:

"What Is the Church of God's Greatest Sin?", dated February 27, 2014, link:

"Human Reasoning", dated March 24, 2014, link:

"Pentecost: Stirring Up the Holy Spirit / How the Holy Spirit Leads the Church and Us Individually in Doctrine, Policy, and Decisions", dated June 5, 2014, link:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Church of God, a Family Community (COGFC) at One Year

It has been a year since ministers and members leaving Church of God, an International Community (COGaic - David Hulme) began to form a new Church of God fellowship, Church of God, a Family Community (COGFC). When they first met January a year ago, they may not have known for certain that they would start a new Church of God fellowship, but that is what most of the leading ministers did. That group began to set a direction for themselves in a number of matters, chiefly, that they would feed the flock and hold Sabbath services, but not preach the gospel to the world in the near future (except perhaps in a tiny, token way). They also did not accept top-down governance as taught in the Bible and practiced by Herbert W. Armstrong, but instead planned to develop a new model of governance based on the family, though they did not make clear what that means exactly.

Shortly after that, some ministers including Peter Nathan left COGFC to go to Living Church of God (LCG), which preaches the gospel to the world.

Those who remained in COGFC have stuck to their original direction.

When they left David Hulme, Mr. Hulme and many ministers and members in COGaic no doubt viewed these men as rebels against government in God's Church. Some of those who left COGaic to go to COGFC probably said, "No, we are not rebellious, but God commands that the gospel be preached to the world, and we want to preach the gospel and Mr. Hulme is not doing it. We have to leave COGaic in order to support the preaching of the gospel."

Also, some might have said, "We want to reconcile with other Church of God fellowships and bring unity to the Church, and we cannot do that in COGaic". But just as with the gospel, I do not think COGFC has has done much to reconcile with the rest of the Church of God. They did not show a spirit of reconciliation in the matter of Peter Nathan accepting a position with LCG. They did not publicly congratulate him and wish him well. They have not taught doctrines that build unity, but rather I think their teachings cause division in the body of Christ. For they have alienated many who really want to obey the Bible in the matters of preaching the gospel and government in the Church of God. They have in effect driven those people away from COGFC by their refusal to obey God's word in the matter of preaching the gospel to the world.

So COGFC has neither preached the gospel to the world in any substantial way nor reconciled the Church as some of those leaving David Hulme may have said they would. Their policy on preaching the gospel excludes members and fellowships that understand God's requirement that we share the truth we have been given with others who need it. They do not directly say to such members, "We exclude you." They no doubt welcome their attendance and tithes. But such members know they cannot support a group that does not preach the gospel to the world and demonstrates by its example that it does not give it the same priority as feeding the flock.

So events seem to have proved Mr. Hulme right in this matter, at least in regard to those who stayed in COGFC (not those who went to LCG). They have NOT preached the gospel to the world more than David Hulme. They have not reconciled with brethren in other Church of God fellowships who understand the urgency and importance of preaching the gospel to the world. It must appear to those who stayed in COGaic to be rebellion after all.

It seems the leading ministers in COGFC just did not want to be under the authority of Mr. Hulme. I think that was the main reason they left and started a new Church of God fellowship. Not the gospel, and probably not reconciliation with other Church of God groups and members.

One year is more than enough for COGFC to show its true nature.

Is it possible that COGFC will preach the gospel in future years? Yes. But if that happens the question will be, is it a token effort or a real effort?

There will be two ways to measure. One will be effectiveness of their reach. How many people are being reached with the truth that they never heard before? These things are best measured with magazine or printed booklet circulation and with new people coming in to be baptized. It can also be measured with website statistics, though these are less substantial. The second way to measure is to measure the effort. That is best done via financial statements. Many of the more responsible Church of God fellowships publish financial statements for their members and for the Church of God at large showing how much money was received and how it was spent. LCG does this for example. I expect COGFC will soon publish something on their finances during 2014.

When financial statements show that COGFC is spending about half of their income on preaching the gospel and about half on feeding the flock, then this will show they are making a real effort to preach the gospel to the world.