Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What Pentecost Teaches about Church of God Organization and Authority

This coming Sunday is Pentecost.

Pentecost represents the beginning of the New Testament Church of God. The Church is the collective body of Christians, all those who have God's Holy Spirit dwelling in them (Romans 8:9). It was on Pentecost that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples (Acts 2:1-4).

But we also know that the Church of God is a small body compared with the world (Luke 12:32, Matthew 7:13-14).

God is calling only a few in this six thousand year age of man. Pentecost is only the first fruits, the early harvest of souls. The main harvests will be in the millennium and the white throne judgment periods.

It is those represented by the early harvest, by Pentecost, who will be in the first resurrection and will rule the nations with Christ in the millennium (John 6:43-44, 65, 1 Corinthians 15:50-53, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, Revelation 20:4-6).

Thus there will be hierarchy. Christ will not rule and teach every man and woman directly and alone in the millennium. He could. He is God and has all power. But he will use the saints, those in the Church who make it into the kingdom of God, to help Him rule. Some of us will rule a city, some several cities (Revelation 2:26-27, 3:21, Luke 19:16-19).

And there will be organization and hierarchy. Not all of us will report directly to Christ alone, but some of the saints will be over some other saints.

David will be king over all Israel (Jeremiah 30:7-9). But the apostles will be over the tribes of Israel, one apostle over each of the twelve tribes (Matthew 19:28). This means that David will be supervising the apostles in the teaching and ruling of Israel. Thus you have a hierarchical organization such as described in Exodus 18:13-26.

Pentecost teaches first fruits, and first fruits indicates a system of authority and organization in the kingdom of God. Everyone will not be equal in authority, but some will have more authority and others less. All will be under authority, and some will be over others in authority.

Thus there is organization, first in Israel, second in the Church, and third in the kingdom of God.

And part of the reason for that organization in the Church now is to teach us lessons of how to live and serve in an organized way in the kingdom of God. We are being prepared for God's kingdom. We are to respect government and organization in the Church to show God we will do the same in His kingdom.

Anyone in the Church who says, "I will never accept the authority of any man over me, but only God", only shows he has not yet learned a lesson he needs to learn to be prepared for the kingdom of God. For if he refuses to accept government as God teaches in the Bible now, how can God trust him to cooperate and accept government in the kingdom of God?

Mr. Armstrong taught that the Church of God is not an organization, but it is organized. In other words, there is organization within the Church of God.

And this organization is ordained by God (1 Corinthians 12:27-28).

"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, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Moreover, God commands that we respect that organization and the offices He has ordained. This was true in Old Testament times as well as in New Testament times.

"Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel" (Deuteronomy 17:12). See also Numbers 16:1-35 and Numbers 12:1-10).

"He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' 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 16:15-19).

"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
   "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:15-28).

"Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" (Hebrews 13:7).

"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).

"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).

"He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me" (Luke 10:16).

But there has to be a balance. We should respect the ministry and government in the Church, but we should put God first and not make idols out of our ministers. Most ministers in the Church of God would agree with this, I think.

And finding that right balance is a problem for some. Failure to find a right balance has been the source of many controversies and splits.

It is important to know where that balance lies.

The authority of the leadership and ministry has limits, and ministers and members need to know what those limits are. God's authority is not limited, but the minister's authority is. A minister does not have the authority to order you to break God's commandments, for example, by lying.

God defines the job of the ministry in Ephesians 4:11-16 as I quoted above.

Christ established the binding and loosening authority of the apostles, and by extension the ministry appointed by the apostles, in Matthew 16:15-19 and Matthew 18:15-28 which I quoted above.

What does this binding authority include?

It includes authority to bind and loosen in regards to the work of the ministry for which they are appointed, as listed in Ephesians 4:11-16 which I have already quoted. In other words, they have the authority they need to do their jobs. It is not just in regards to resolving disputes. It includes authority over the official teaching of the Church of God, so there is no confusion.

The binding and loosening authority includes resolving disputes between brethren (Matthew 18:15-28).

It includes authority over the doctrines and teachings of the Church, "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 4:13-14).

"Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).

"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17).

For those who say that the binding authority of the Church leadership only includes resolving disputes between brethren, I suggest they read Acts 15, which shows an example of how the apostles had the authority to make a binding decision about what the Church would teach and require concerning physical circumcision. This shows that the ministry has authority over what doctrines will be officially taught in the Church.

The binding authority of the ministry includes authority to disfellowship or mark those who cause division or sin openly. I already quoted Romans regarding the marking of those who cause division over Church of God doctrine. See also Titus 3:10, which says, "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition". Also, notice how Paul used his authority to disfellowship one who was sinning in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. "For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).

It includes authority to appoint others to offices (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9).

In short, the binding and loosening authority of the leadership and ministry of the Church includes authority over those things that relate to the organized work of the Church.

Yet, that authority should be loving authority, not harsh authority (Matthew 20:25-28, 2 Corinthians 13:10).

What does it NOT include?

The authority of the ministry does not include authority to order anyone to break God's law. If there is a conflict between what God commands us in the Bible and what a minister commands us, we must obey God first. "But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men' " (Acts 5:29).

Also, the authority of the ministry does not include authority over what the members believe, that is, their 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).

In other words, faith - what we believe - like obedience to the law of God, is a matter between us and God personally. Just as we must obey God first, so we must also believe God first.

So just as a minister does not have the authority to command you to break God's law, neither does he have the authority to command you to believe what he says regarding doctrine contrary to what you see in your own Bible. You must believe God's word, the Bible, first and the Church second.

Obviously, both the minister and us are human and can make mistakes. So if the doctrine you disagree about is important, you have the option to take it to the minister in private and look to the Bible to know what is true. The minister may show you your mistake, or you may show the minister his mistake. But also, it is possible that after discussion you and the minister will still disagree. Why?

Learning is a process. It can take time. Also, we need God's help to understand the Bible, and God may allow us to make mistakes for a while. Why? Perhaps to test us to see how we get along when we do not agree. So God may open your mind to understand a truth from the Bible he has not opened the minister's mind to understand right now. Why? To test you and the minister - how will you two get along?

So what do you do? Talk about it with other brethren? No, you should not contradict the minister's teaching in conversation with other brethren. Why? God did not give you the job of teaching and determining what will be taught as doctrine of the Church - God gave the ministry that authority - remember the scriptures I quoted and referenced. The ministry has authority over the doctrines the Church teaches. It is rebellion to go against that authority, undermine the teachings of the ministry, and contradict them in conversation with the brethren.

If it is something small, let God correct it directly in His time. If it is something large, if you cannot live peaceably in the Church while the Church practices a major error (like abolishing the Sabbath or using images in worship), then you may have to leave the fellowship you are in, just as many of us had to leave Worldwide when it went into major error on many important doctrines.

All the above I think is basic, and many brethren understand these things and have a right balance, and many ministers have a right balance also.

This is the only way I know of to reconcile the demands of God's law to put God first and not make idols out of the ministry, and also respect and obey the ministry when it does not conflict with God's law.

Ministers are to be an example for the flock (1 Timothy 4:12, 1 Peter 5:1-3), and we are to follow them as they follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Yet, no minister and no man is perfect. If a minister makes a mistake, that is no reason to totally go against him or abandon him. We do not follow his mistake, but we continue to respect and support him as long as he is overall following Christ and serving as a minister. Remember, David did not go against Saul even though Saul had many sins (1 Samuel 26:10-11).

But there are trouble makers, divisive, rebellious men, both in various COG fellowships and on the Internet, who use their opinions about small details of doctrines to create division in large COG organizations that are trying, and succeeding to one degree or another, in preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.

These divisive men usually have a small following of weak and deceived people, foolish people who do not know their Bibles or God's law. They read what these divisive men write or they listen to what they say, and they are deceived.

Some of these divisive men can seem so reasonable, till you get into a serious discussion of their doctrines. Then, when you show them from the Bible that they are wrong, they say, "There is no point is discussing this further, I don't want to waste my time with you", or words to that effect. They then delete your comments from their blog so their readers do not see the proof from the Bible that they are wrong.

Do they accept correction from the Bible? Do they show an open mind as they demand from others? They do not. Rather than welcome discussion and correction in the spirit of "iron sharpens iron", they react with anger and rejection towards those who try to show them their error. But this is predicted in the Bible, showing the difference between the wise and the foolish. The wise accept, even welcome, correction, but the unwise reject both the correction and the one who corrects them.

"He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:7-9).

"He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1).

These divisive men harden their hearts against correction from the Bible, and their readers, foolish as they are, do not dig deep to prove these things for themselves.

Some or all of these divisive men behave like total hypocrites. Like the Pharisees, whom Christ called "hypocrites" (Matthew 15:7, 16:2-3, 23:13-29), they are inconsistent in their teachings and behavior. They make a show of following the Bible, they insist you read their writings with an open mind, but their own minds are closed. They pick and choose what scriptures to use to support their position, but when you answer them with other scriptures on the subject, scriptures they have ignored, they end the discussion. They can't answer, but they won't admit even the possibility they may be wrong.

I say they behave like hypocrites because they make a show of following every word of God, but they won't actually do it. They show their readers their own writings, but exclude the comments of others that show from the Bible they are wrong. Their readers only get one side, not both sides. Their readers see the false side, but not the true side of the issue.

I have had this kind of experience several times on the Internet. I will give one example. I once found the blog of a man who grew up in the Church of God, but is not part of the Church now. He published a book that tries to teach that spanking as a form of child discipline is wrong. He invited others to read his book and discuss it with him. So I did.

I pointed out errors in his book and in his blog.

In one of his posts, not related to child rearing, he said that ancient Israel coming of out Egypt was not about 600,000 men plus women and children, but far less, because (he said) the way they counted a census was to include all past generations, even those dead. So you could, for example, have 200,000 men alive, but when you added all those who had died generation after generation all the way past to Jacob, you would come up with 600,000.

This sounded ridiculous to me, but I checked it out anyway, and I looked for and found proof in the Bible that it was wrong. The account of the first census is in Numbers 1:1-54. The total count of the Israelite males, from 20 years and above, able to go to war (verse 3), not including the Levites, was 603,550 (verse 46). This census was taken in the second year after they came out of Egypt (verse 2). But I found where there was a second census after Israel wandered 40 years in the wilderness, and it was slightly smaller. That census is described in Numbers 26:1-65. The total is given in verse 51: 601,730. The number had decreased. That could not have been the case if each generation's numbers, including those dead, were added to the total - the number would always go up, never down.

So I showed this man his error by submitting a comment in his blog for that post.

Did he admit the error? No. He ignored it for a time, then deleted my comment along with other comments I submitted regarding the Bible's teaching on child discipline.

As far as I know, he still teaches his error on the census.

This man could not admit he was wrong no matter how clearly the Bible proved he is wrong, not even in the tiniest matter.

This is typical of many divisive bloggers on the Internet. They paint themselves as believing the Bible, but they actually reject anything in the Bible they don't agree with. And their readers only get their side of the picture, and being weak, they are deceived. They contribute their tithes and offerings to these men and do not realize how far off the mark they are.

Probably, their pride, vanity, conceit, and egotism won't allow these divisive men to admit they have made mistakes or even admit to themselves the possibility they could be wrong, that they could have misunderstood the scriptures. Apparently their wisdom has been corrupted by their pride and vanity, as with Satan (Ezekiel 28:17). They have lost their common sense. Their minds have become twisted. And by refusing to believe all that God says in the Bible, by refusing to live by every word of God, they disqualify themselves from God giving them help to understand. They begin to lose more and more knowledge of God's truth, and God lets them lose it, because they don't believe Him.

"The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken. Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord; So what wisdom do they have?" (Jeremiah 8:9).

God lets them display their own foolishness on the Internet. They mock themselves and don't even know it. They openly shame themselves and should be embarrassed by what they say, but they don't have the wisdom for that. So God displays them as fools and as bad examples for the rest of the Church of God to learn from, as object lessons, so we don't follow their bad example and reap the consequences.

So they have their pet theories about minor details of doctrines, which in many cases (probably most or all cases, but I haven't studied "every wind of doctrine" to say with certainty) are plain wrong according to the Bible, then they use these things to create as much division and disrespect in the major Church of God fellowships as they can. And weak people are deceived.

They are tools in the hand of Satan and probably don't know it. Satan uses these deceitful men to hurt the work of God.

God gave His basic law through Moses and in other writings in the Bible. God did not spell out every detail of how His law was to be obeyed. So God gave authority to the leaders of His people to make decisions concerning the details of how to obey His law. This is part of God's plan to train His people for His kingdom where everyone will obey hierarchical government. Respect for government in the Church is both training and test.

These details are judgment calls to be made by those in authority, and they are to be made according to God's word, the Bible, but also according to the circumstances of the times and places where the judgments must be made. In the Old Testament, you had priests and judges to make the decisions. In the New Testament you have the apostles and ministry to make the decisions. So, for example, Ezra and Nehemiah might make one judgment call for their circumstances, the first century apostles might make a different judgment call based on their circumstances, and Mr. Armstrong, Dr. Meredith, or Mr. Weston might make a different judgment call based on our circumstances today.

Yet divisive men without authority will make their own judgment calls and try push them on the members of various fellowships who may read their blogs. And some of these men, while they may not use details of doctrines to divide, may divide the Church of God even on foundational principles, such as using the Bible as a source of truth and actively preaching the gospel to the world. At least one whole fellowship downplays the Bible and refuses to preach the gospel.

And in doing this, they impede and discourage members of many larger fellowships from going all out to enthusiastically and zealously support the preaching of the gospel to the world. They create unnecessary division. They weaken the hands of those who are doing God's work.

These divisive men have made themselves enemies of the gospel, enemies of the Church, and enemies of God. Their teachings are spiritual poison. Some of them preach a message of repentance, but it is a false repentance.

They apparently are deceived, and they spread the deceit they believe. They deceive others, whether they realize it or not.

And all of this assumes that they sincerely believe what they say. There is another possibility, that they know they are lying and do so strictly for money. But only God can judge their hearts that way - I cannot. I can only observe the fruits, which are bad.

In some ways, they may be like those described in 2 Peter 2:1-22 and Jude.

"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" (2 Peter 2:1-2).

"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" (2 Peter 2:9-12).

"These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever" (2 Peter 2:17).

"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" (Jude 8-10).

"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.
   "Now Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men also, saying, 'Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.'
   "These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage" (Jude 12-16).

"These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit" (Jude 19).

I don't say that every one of these divisive men have all the sins included in Jude and 2 Peter chapter 2. But there is a lot here that seems to fit.

They pick off the weak and the foolish and lead them astray.

But those who are strong to live by every word of the Bible will not be deceived by them.

There is still time for these dividers to repent. There is time. I hope they do repent, not just for their sake but because some of them have zeal and talent that can be useful for God's work if they do repent. But all the time in the world will not help them if they are not willing to repent. And only God knows if they are willing or can be made willing.

Pentecost reminds us and teaches us about organization in the Church of God, because Pentecost reminds us that some of mankind are chosen to be first fruits, and that shows that all mankind will NOT be at the same level of authority in the kingdom of God - there will be hierarchy and organization, and thus there must be now in the Church.

We must always have a right balance in our understanding of the authority of the ministry. We must respect that authority, but we must also know its limits.

And we must be on guard against mockers and dividers who weaken the hands of those who do God's work.

Here is a link to a post in this blog on a subject related to this post:

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

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel: 
Government in the Church, Chapter 5


No comments: