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:


Anonymous said...

Speaking of priorities and enemies of the Gospel--do you think it is probable that some of these men that are in leading positions of organizations, who claim to preach the Gospel but do not really do so affectively, are actually enemies of the Gospel and are ignorant to the way Satan is manipulating them?
What I mean by this is that they could be preaching it more powerfully, but have come to believe there are many other things that take a higher priority--thus subtly being an enemy to actually getting the preaching of it done. I know of some men in the ministry who think it is a waste of money to use radio and TV, opting for use of the internet and yet still do not audibly even preach the Gospel using that avenue. every time a question is put to them about it--there are a ton of excuses they use for not doing it--so is that being an enemy to the preaching of the Gospel?
Trying to understand,
Anon. said...

Yes, I think that it is possible, maybe probable.

If a minister really feels unqualified to preach the gospel to the world, or is afraid to do it, or just doesn't have his heart in it, it would be better for him to tell the members he pastors, "I am not going to preach the gospel because I do not have the desire or ability or temperment for it - I only feel confident feeding the flock. So if you want to support the preaching of the gospel but let me continue to pastor you, I suggest you split your tithes and offerings - send half to me for giving you sermons and counseling and send half to a Church of God fellowship that is preaching the gospel and will use that money for preaching the gospel."

That would be honesty. I would not accuse such a man of being an enemy of the gospel.

Of course, I have never heard of any minister or COG leader saying something like that, do you?