Friday, October 19, 2018

Why Division Concerning Calendar and Holy Days?

Someone emailed me with a question: Why do Christians differ in calculation of appointed times, and how can we know?

I thought my answer to this would make a good post, so here it is.

God gives directions for the appointed times of His Sabbaths and feast days in the Bible, and it is from the Bible that we can know the dates.

The weekly Sabbath day, the seventh day from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, is easy for anyone who believes the Bible to understand. The weekly cycle has been kept by the Jews, wherever they are in the world, for centuries since the time of Moses until now. There is no serious disagreement about when the seventh day is, although most traditional churches prefer to observe Sunday.

God uses the seventh-day Sabbath day to test those who want to live by every word of God, as Jesus said (Matthew 4:4). You don't need a church organization to know when the seventh day is.

But the annual holy days are more complicated. God gives instructions in the Bible that tell us when these days occur, but you have to put scriptural passages together from different places in the Bible to understand them properly. And sometimes, a judgment is required to make a decision God has given leaders in the Church the authority to make.

Part of the problem is that the annual days - Passover, Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day - all depend, directly or indirectly, on a calendar.

But God does not give an exact calendar in the Bible.

Most, not all, disagreements among those calling themselves "Church of God" about when these days occur involve disagreements about what calendar to follow.

But God gave authority for deciding these issues to the leaders He has appointed. God's leaders do not have the authority to contradict or disobey the Bible. But they have the authority to make judgment calls to decide details that are not spelled out in the Bible.

In the Old Testament, God gave this authority for Israel to the Levitical priesthood. "If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you. 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. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously" (Deuteronomy 17:8-13).

In the New Testament, for the Church of God, God gave this authority to the apostles and the ministry in the Church. "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 16:19).

This is good, because it is a way God can test our willingness to submit to the leadership of those He has placed in authority over us. "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). "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).

This authority that God gives to the leaders He appoints is for the purpose of maintaining unity and enabling the Church to work together as a team. It is necessary that we learn this lesson because unified teamwork is the pattern of how we will function in the millennium and for eternity in the Kingdom of God.

"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).

So, difficult questions about the exact timing of the calendar and annual holy days and festivals are decided by the leadership and ministry in the Church of God.

So, as God tests each Christian with the weekly Sabbath day to know if that person will obey God directly when God's word, the Bible, is simple and easy to understand, so God can use the calendar and annual holy days and feast days to test each person to know if they will submit to the judgment of the Church of God leadership and ministry as He instructs in matters that may not be simple and clear from the Bible and easy to understand.

Now for some history of this issue in the Church of God in modern times.

When Herbert W. Armstrong was first converted, he had to be willing to obey God by keeping the seventh day Sabbath. It was a hard test for him, but he finally obeyed God. He also learned at that time from the Bible that Christians are also to keep the annual holy days and feasts of God.

He began to fellowship with the Church of God Seventh Day. They knew about and kept the seventh day Sabbath. But they did not observe the annual holy days and festivals. So Mr. Armstrong and his family had to observe the annual days alone.

In the matter of the calendar, Mr. Armstrong recognized that God committed the "oracles of God" (which would include the calendar issues) to the Jews (Romans 3:1-2), and also, this was the calendar in effect when Jesus Christ, our perfect example, kept these days. So Mr. Armstrong made the judgment to follow the Hebrew calendar.

Mr. Armstrong eventually left most fellowship with the Church of God Seventh Day when he raised up the Radio Church of God, later renamed Worldwide Church of God. As this Church grew and the work of God expanded, and as God revealed to Mr. Armstrong more and more new doctrinal knowledge from the Bible, Mr. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God recognized that God was using Mr. Armstrong as an apostle.

As I understand it, during all this time, Mr. Armstrong, as Pastor General of Worldwide, taught the Church to observe the Hebrew calendar. This was in line with the authority God gave to the apostles and the ministry to make binding decisions (Matthew 16:19).

That did not eliminate every controversy regarding the holy days and festivals, because a few issues remain even when we agree on a calendar. But at least the calendar was a base upon which most observance of annual days can be based from clear Bible instruction.

Can men, ministers, and even apostles make mistakes? Yes. For years, Mr. Armstrong thought Pentecost was on a Monday, and the Church thus observed it. But that was an error due to a misunderstanding of scripture. Later, Mr. Armstrong corrected his mistake and taught that Pentecost is on a Sunday, which is correct.

That raises a question. What should a Church member have done during the time when Mr. Armstrong was teaching a Monday Pentecost if that member could see in the Bible that this was a mistake and it should be Sunday? Should the member obey Mr. Armstrong and keep it on Monday or obey God and keep it on Sunday?

I believe the correct answer is, both. And I think some did exactly that. There is no reason for division here.

Such a member could obey God by quietly resting and reading the Bible on Pentecost Sunday to obey God, without making an issue of it with the Church or discussing it with other members, and also resting and attending Church services on Monday with the rest of the Church. That would be obeying God, obeying the ministry, and avoiding division.

After the death of Mr. Armstrong, his successor, Mr. Tkach, began changing doctrine and Worldwide split up into a number of fellowships, each with a different leader or form of governance. I think God allowed this because we, as a Church, had become Laodicean, lukewarm, and it served God's purpose to let the Church become scattered to test us and try us and teach us lessons.

"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).

This left members to turn to God, turn to the Bible, and really study the issue of where to attend and who to support. I think members with spiritual discernment understand the need to attend with and support an organization that is governed from the top down and is actively doing God's work of preaching the gospel to the world.

Even so, the vast majority of members and major fellowships continued in the traditions and judgments of Mr. Armstrong regarding the calendar and holy days. This includes Living Church of God, United Church of God, and most or all of the other large organizations that came out of Worldwide. Only some small groups reject Mr. Armstrong's judgment in these matters.

I have studied these issues myself to a certain degree, and as far as I can tell, Mr. Armstrong was completely correct in the calendar and holy days once he corrected his Pentecost error.

Why do some groups do things differently?

I cannot judge if their leaders are sincere. I cannot read minds. If a man is not sincere, he may make an issue of the calendar or holy days just to create a following. Or, if he is sincere but is not whole-heartedly following God and the Bible, God may have removed from that man the spiritual discernment to realize his error.

Of all the fellowships, I think Living Church of God is doing the best job of being faithful to God's instructions in the Bible including the annual holy days and festivals. They follow the same schedule Mr. Armstrong followed and taught, and I follow the same.

Why is there this division in the whole Church of God?

God allows it to test us, to force us to dig into the Bible, to be zealous, to search out where He is working, and to test our obedience both to His word, the Bible, and to His appointed ministry.

Friday, October 12, 2018

New Supreme Court Justice - What It Can Mean for the Church and God's Work

Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed as new justice of the Supreme Court. He is a conservative. For the first time in decades, conservatives are a majority on the Supreme Court, outnumbering liberals five to four.

Liberals in the United States have been advancing their liberal agenda and values for decades, with some success. That agenda has a number of characteristics. It is anti-God and anti-Christianity. It is pro-abortion. It is pro-homosexuality. And it is against freedom of speech and freedom of religion when such expression goes against liberal values.

All these things can affect the Church and the work of preaching the gospel.

Liberals would like to ban public messages that criticize homosexuality, and that can include the teaching of the Bible. They characterize Bible teaching as "hate speech" and try to build a culture and legal environment that will not tolerate God's teaching on the subject.

So far, the liberal effort has not advanced to the point where our ability to preach the gospel in the United States is seriously hindered. But that is the direction it has been heading.

But a conservative Supreme Court should help to slow down the liberal agenda that threatens the preaching of the gospel.

The liberals will not give up. But for the time being, they can no longer depend on the highest court to back them up.

This suggests that the Church will still have a number of years left to finish God's work of preaching the gospel and delivering the Ezekiel warning of the tribulation to come. The door is still open and is likely to remain open for a while.

But we do not have an unlimited number of years. New elections and new Supreme Court vacancies can change things again.

There is another possible effect of this new, conservative Supreme Court.

Will Roe vs. Wade be reversed?

It is possible.

And if that happens, the abortion battleground will move from the Supreme Court, over which voters have only indirect control, to the Congress and presidency, over which voters have more direct control through their votes.

In other words, the American people will become more directly responsible for the way the country goes on abortion.

Up till now, people can say, we don't want abortion but the Supreme Court forces the nation to allow it. Neither the Congress nor the states can outlaw abortion because the Supreme Court won't allow them.

But suppose that sometime in the next two years before the next presidential election Roe vs. Wade is overturned. Both Congress and the states would be able to stop abortions.


Congress would still be able to pass a law that gives women the same power to have abortions that Roe vs. Wade gave them, and federal law will override state law. Abortions would continue.

That is unlikely to happen while Donald Trump is president. He would veto any attempt by Congress to guarantee women the legal right to have abortions.

But 2020 is a presidential election year. If a liberal democrat wins the presidency and a liberal majority wins control of Congress, they could pass a federal law guaranteeing women the power to have abortions, and that law would override state laws. Abortions would continue just as they did with Roe vs. Wade.

On the other hand, a conservative president and Congress could pass a law prohibiting abortions in all states.

What this means is that abortion could be a HUGE issue in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

For the first time since Roe vs. Wade, the American voting public will have very direct control over the lives of millions of unborn children - control to determine whether they are murdered or not. They will elect a president and members of Congress who will stop abortions or allow them to continue.

God is teaching mankind lessons and He is preparing the great tribulation to punish the United States (and other countries) for their sins.

But for the people to understand this punishment and to learn their lessons, they need to know that they are responsible for their sins and the sins of the nation. This will be easier for them to understand if they elect a Congress and a president that allow abortions to continue.

So it may be that if the American people, at a time when abortion is a top campaign issue, choose through their elected officials to let abortions continue, that God's time will come to hold the nation directly responsible more than before. Dramatic punishments may soon begin after that, and the American people will begin to understand that these punishments are connected with their decision to allow abortions.

Watch for a possible reversal of Roe vs. Wade in the next couple of years. Then watch which way the nation chooses in the election of a president and members of Congress. This may give us a clue as to when God's punishments on the United States will increase.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Last Great Day - God's Fairness and Wisdom

The eighth day after the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles is the Last Great Day, a feast of God separate from, but connected with, the Feast of Tabernacles.

This day pictures the general resurrection of the dead, also known as the White Throne Judgment. It pictures a time, after the millennium, when the vast majority of mankind that had died are resurrected back to physical life. This is pictured by the valley of dry bones passage in Ezekiel 37:1-14.

This event is described in Revelation 20:11-15.

The billions who have lived and died since the time of Adam will be brought back to life. The billions who never had a chance to hear, understand, and believe the true gospel and repent and be converted, the billions that much of traditional religion has assumed are lost, will be given a chance for salvation. No one ever born will miss out on salvation because of circumstances of birth.

They will live in two worlds. They will have lived in this present evil world ruled by Satan - a world that practices Satan's way of life. And they will live in the general resurrection period (perhaps 100 years - see Isaiah 65:20) when Satan is put away and the whole earth is ruled by Christ and the saints in justice, peace, prosperity, and happiness. And they will be able to compare.

They will be able to compare their experiences with Satan's way and God's way, and they will be able to see, if they are willing, that God's way is better. And they can make their choice to accept the truth of God, to accept Christ and the gospel message, to repent, be baptized, and be converted, and be saved.

No doubt the majority will choose to be saved, but each person will have to choose.

But people will also have to choose to forgive. When the billions who have lived and died over centuries are brought back to life at one time, murderers and their victims will be alive together. Hitler will be alive with the millions of Jews who died in Nazi concentration camps as a result of his murderous policies. Hitler will have to repent if he wants to be saved, but if he does, his victims will have to forgive him if they want to be saved. That will not necessarily be easy.

But that is the choice people will have to make.

This is all part of God's great plan for the salvation of mankind.

This shows the wisdom, love, and power of God that He will use this plan to teach mankind a lesson that will enable the greatest number to be saved. It also shows God's fairness and justice that no one will miss out on an opportunity to be saved.

How great God is!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Millennium Prepares for the General Resurrection

The Feast of Tabernacles 2018 will soon start. This is a seven day festival to teach us and remind us of the coming one thousand year reign of Christ and the saints over the earth, a period pictured in many psalms and scriptures as a period of great joy, peace, justice, and happiness over all the earth.

"And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4-6).

"For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this"
(Isaiah 9:6-7).

"There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
His delight is in the fear of the Lord,
And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,
And faithfulness the belt of His waist.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them
The cow and the bear shall graze;
Their young ones shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,
And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea"
(Isaiah 11:1-9).

"Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
Many people shall come and say,
'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.'
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore"
(Isaiah 2:2-4).

"And in this mountain
The Lord of hosts will make for all people
A feast of choice pieces,
A feast of wines on the lees,
Of fat things full of marrow,
Of well-refined wines on the lees.
And He will destroy on this mountain
The surface of the covering cast over all people,
And the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever,
And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces;
The rebuke of His people
He will take away from all the earth;
For the Lord has spoken"
(Isaiah 25:6-8).

"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

"Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises.
Sing to the Lord with the harp,
With the harp and the sound of a psalm,
With trumpets and the sound of a horn;
Shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell in it;
Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills be joyful together before the Lord,
For He is coming to judge the earth.
With righteousness He shall judge the world,
And the peoples with equity"
(Psalm 98:4-9).

People will be taught the give way of life. They will learn to live that way of life, as we do, both by instruction and by practice. They will learn the way of love by living that way - they will learn by doing.

One way they will learn is by working and sacrificing to prepare for the general resurrection - the white throne judgment period - as pictured by the Last Great Day. This will be a time when billions of people will be brought back to life and given an opportunity to learn and believe the true gospel, repent of their sins, be converted, and be saved.

But those people will need to be housed, clothed, and fed. They will need to be provided for, and a great project will be needed during the millennium to prepare for them. This is a way the people living in the millennium can practice the give way of life by contributing to the preparation for the billions in the general resurrection to be provided for.

In like manner, we in the Church of God also learn the give way of life by doing. We love our neighbors as ourselves by putting our love into action, and one way we do this is by supporting the preaching of the gospel and warning of the coming tribulation to the general public which needs this message to prepare them for what is to come.

Just as the people in the millennium will prepare for the general resurrection, so we in the Church need to be preaching a message that will prepare the world for the events soon to occur. This will help the world to realize that God was fair to tell them, through us, ahead of time what is about to happen, and that will help their repentance and make it easier for them to trust God. This will also help prepare them to have a humble, trusting, and teachable attitude at the beginning of the millennium, which is so vital for their conversion and the happiness of that time.

Those in the first generation of the millennium will have lived in two worlds - this present evil world and the happy world tomorrow under the reign of Christ. But those who are born in the millennium will not know this present evil world, except as they are taught.

I imagine that they will find it amazing how evil this present world is. It may even be that some will find it difficult to believe. They may need to exercise faith to know they are being told the truth.

Some may be spiritually lazy. But they will need to develop zeal and take the truth of God seriously. Not all will necessarily be converted and saved in the end, for at the end of the millennium Satan will be released and some will be deceived.

"Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them" (Revelation 20:7-9).

Likewise, we in the Church must not become spiritually lazy, but we must be zealous and on fire for God's truth, for God's law, and for God's work.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Putting Satan Out of Our Lives

Atonement represents and reminds us that Satan will be put away - put into a condition of restraint so that he cannot deceive the nations - after the return of Christ and at the beginning of the millennium.

But we in the Church have an opportunity - and a responsibility - to put Satan out of our lives right now, in a limited sense.

We cannot put Satan and his influence out of our lives completely, as he will be put away during the millennium. Satan still broadcasts his wrong thoughts and attitudes through the air (Ephesians 2:1-3). He still tempts us. He still rules this society and world and creates circumstances that make it difficult for Christians, both because of persecution and because of the temptations created in society.

But we can put some of Satan's influences out of our lives by limiting or eliminating our exposure to many of the elements of this world that Satan uses to influence people, primarily, the entertainment and recreation of this world: television, movies, Internet videos, games, etc.

This world's entertainment is corrupt and ungodly in many ways. Violence is a common theme. So is sex. The occult is often portrayed. God's name is commonly taken in vain as an expression of surprise or emotion. Music is corrupt.

It is hard to find good programs to watch.

We can diminish Satan's influence over our minds by avoiding wrong entertainment and recreation, which, sad to say, includes most entertainment this world offers.

In this way, we can, to a degree, put Satan and his influence out of our lives. We can also limit Satan's influence by choosing, when possible, the friends and people we spend time with, and by putting wrong, Satan-inspired thoughts out of our minds.

Atonement can remind us of this, just as the days of unleavened bread teach us to put sin out of our lives.

"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29). This is figurative - we are not to mutilate our bodies. But this shows the seriousness with which we should limit what we watch.

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17).

The Feast of Tabernacles represents the millennium, one thousand years of happiness on the earth under the rule of Christ and the saints. The absence of Satan's influence will be one reason for that happiness which the Feast pictures. It is therefore especially important to be careful about the entertainment we enjoy during the Feast. This is an opportunity to get away from the ways of the world - let's make it as complete as possible by avoiding wrong entertainment during the Feast.

And all through the year, let's limit and carefully screen the entertainment that we expose ourselves to. That will make putting sin out of our lives easier.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Dual Meaning of Atonement

The next annual holy day after Trumpets is Atonement.

Atonement is listed with the other holy days in Leviticus 23:1-44. "Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath" (Leviticus 23:27-32).

The Day of Atonement is a holy day, an annual sabbath, and the Church of God rests on that day, assembles for services, and fasts on that day (no food or water for 24 hours, from sunset to sunset).

It is interesting that there are eight commanded annual days of observance listed in Leviticus 23 where the Church is to hold services of some kind: Passover, the first day of unleavened bread, the last day of unleavened bread, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day. Yet there are seven feast days and seven holy days (a holy day is an annual sabbath, a day of commanded rest).

Passover is a feast day, but not a holy day. We can work on Passover day. Atonement is a holy day, but since we are to eat no food on Atonement, I don't think it is to be considered a feast day.

We know from the account of the two goats in Leviticus 16:7-31 and from Revelation 20:1-3 that one of the meanings of Atonement is the putting away of Satan after Christ returns. The goat that is killed represents Christ and the goat that is released in the wilderness represents Satan.

But Atonement has a dual meaning. It also, like Passover, represents the sacrifice of Christ for our sins and the forgiveness and reconciliation with God that that sacrifice makes possible.

It addresses the question, who is responsible for our sins, Satan or ourselves? Are we responsible for what Satan tempts and deceives us into doing?

The answer is, both. Satan has his share of responsibility, and he is banished as a punishment. But we also have a responsibility for yielding to Satan's temptations, and our penalty is death. But Christ paid the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven.

The account of the two goats does not indicate that Christ pays the penalty for Satan's sin. Satan bears his own penalty.

After Christ returns, Satan will be put away in a condition of restraint and not allowed to deceive and tempt mankind anymore. For the first time in the history of mankind, the earth will be free from Satan's influence.

This is one reason why the millennium, represented by the Feast of Tabernacles, will be a time of peace and joy over all the earth.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Day of Trumpets Teaches Us Many Lessons

It's that time of year. The fall holy day season is upon us.

Unlike the traditional churches of this world, the Church of God observes the annual holy days and feasts that God has ordained in the Old Testament (Leviticus 23:1-44).

The first of the fall holy days is the Day of Trumpets. The command to observe this day is given in Leviticus 23:23-25: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel, saying: "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord" ' ".

Like all of the feasts and holy days of God, Trumpets has important meaning and helps us understand God's truth. This meaning and truth is lost on the traditional churches that do not keep these days as God has commanded, because God gives understanding to those who obey Him. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments" (Psalm 111:10).

Though the command to keep the day is in the Old Testament, the meaning is made clear in the New Testament.

We learn from Revelation that a series of Trumpet blasts occur at the beginning and during the one-year period known as the Day of the Lord, a time when God punishes the world for its sins (Revelation chapters 8 through 11).

We also learn from the epistles of Paul that the saints will be resurrected and Christ will return at the last trumpet blast.

"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).

Like the other feasts and holy days, Trumpets helps us learn and understand a number of doctrines. Trumpets teaches us about the return of Christ to set up His kingdom on the earth, which is an important part of the seven-thousand year plan of God. It, along with Pentecost, helps us understand about the Church being the first fruits, because it is the first fruits that are resurrected at the last trumpet blast. It also helps us understand that man does not have an immortal soul, for it shows that a resurrection from the dead is needed for this mortality to put on immortality - we do not have immortality yet (1 Corinthians 15:53). It helps us understand the Day of the Lord, which starts with the first trumpet blast.

And when we consider the holy days, their meaning, and the whole plan of God that is made clear, and add to that the history of the Church, we can be reminded that we need always to be willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible as God reveals it, for it was the lack of such willingness to learn new knowledge that prevented the Church of God Seventh Day from learning about the need to keep the annual holy days and from learning the knowledge of the plan of God they help to reveal.

None of us knows when the Day of Trumpets will be fulfilled, although it seems it must be near. But on an individual, personal basis, the Day of Trumpets may be fulfilled for any of us at any time. We never know the day of our death, but if we are faithful, the next second of our consciousness after we die will be the resurrection to immortality - entrance into the kingdom of God - that takes place in fulfillment of this day.

Many of the holy days and feast days are related. Trumpets is related to Pentecost, with Pentecost marking the beginning of the first fruits and Trumpets the end when we receive our reward. Pentecost marks a major beginning of the Church preaching the gospel to the world (Acts 2:1-41), and Trumpets is a major fulfillment of that message.

The resurrection of the first fruits, a major meaning of the Day of Trumpets, will mark the first time in the history of the universe when God's family expands from two (God the Father and the Word, Jesus Christ) to many. Christ will marry His bride, and this will be a great time of joy for God as well as for us.

Friday, August 31, 2018

In Defense of New Knowledge

Sometimes members of the Church of God who listen to the sermons of their pastors and teachers feel that they need to hear something new and interesting. They feel bored with sermons that only remind them of things they already know.

Is it wrong to want to hear something new? Does it indicate "itching ears"?

The "itching ears" metaphor appears in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables". In this context, it indicates ears that are itching to hear something false, something wrong, something that is heresy - not just something new. It is thus a derogatory metaphor, indicating a desire to hear something wrong, something that is not sound doctrine.

But that is not always the case with a desire to hear or learn something new.

There is another Bible passage that refers to the people's desire to hear something new. "For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing" (Acts 17:21).

Why do people want to hear new things?

Some might say, it is carnal human nature and it is wrong. But is it?

If you look at the surrounding context of the passage I just quoted, and the results, you will see that Paul made use of his audience's desire to hear something new to preach the truth of the gospel to them (Acts 17:22-33) - and it bore some good fruit. "However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them" (Acts 17:34).

People heard the gospel because they wanted to hear something new. And some of them believed the gospel because they were willing to learn something new.

Some readers may remember a book that was popular many years ago called, Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. The main theme of the book is how the pace of change in society creates stress.

But in discussing change, the book points out that we all need a balance between things that are familiar and things that are new in order for us to be happy and function well and be in good mental health.

If we experience too much change too fast, our brains have difficultly processing all the new information and we become stressed, and that stress reduces our mental efficiency, can cause depression, and can even increase the risk of physical sickness.

On the other hand, if we do not have enough new things in our life, if everything is always the same, we can become bored, and the boredom itself can be stressful and harmful.

So we need a balance in our lives between things old and new, between familiar knowledge and experience and new knowledge and experience.

Christ said, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old" (Matthew 13:52).

God made the human mind to need that balance between old and new. God gave man a sense of curiosity and joy in learning new things. And the desire to learn new things is not wrong.

Also, as brought out in Future Shock, that balance between old and new, between the familiar and change, is not the same for everyone. As individuals, we vary in our need for and tolerance of change. Some people handle change better than others.

Individuals who like a lot of change are often seeking new experiences. They never vacation to the same place twice. They change jobs frequently, and sometimes even change careers. They change apartments or houses frequently, sometimes moving to different parts of the country.

Others who like more stability - more of the old and familiar - tend to live in the same place, keep the same job, and take the same vacations year after year.

Good speakers in the Church of God understand the principle of giving both old and new in their messages. The main point of their sermon or sermonette will be the old and familiar sound doctrine we need to be reminded of, yet they will also find ways to make it new and interesting. They may use scriptures and examples from the Bible that most of their listeners may not be familiar with to support the doctrine. They may give historical background not commonly known. They may illustrate the application of the doctrine with examples from their personal lives or the lives of others that are new to their listeners. But they find ways to make the reminder of old doctrine new and interesting in some way.

What does the history of the Church of God tell us about this? Does it teach the need for new knowledge, or does it teach the need to be reminded of the knowledge we already have?

The history of the Church of God teaches both.

The history of the Church certainly teaches that we have a need to be reminded of the truths we already know. We saw that lesson after Mr. Armstrong died. Many COG members quickly abandoned the sound doctrine they used to believe. They needed to be reminded of the sound doctrine they had and the proofs in the Bible of those doctrines. But they either didn't have that reminder in their instruction and their own studies, or they didn't believe the scriptures that proved those doctrines. They fell away from the truth.

This also occurred with many in the Church of God in the late first century and in the second century.

But the history of the Church also shows the need for new knowledge and the need for people - members of the Church and new prospective members coming into the Church - to receive and accept new knowledge and to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).

Those being called by God have to respond to that call by being willing to learn the new and surprising things God has to teach them as they learn the truth for the first time.

The most obvious application is the growth of the first century Church of God as well as the Church in modern times. Everyone coming into the Church of God has to be willing to learn a lot of truth they didn't know before, a lot of new knowledge. Most of us have heard stories of old timers describe what it felt like to hear Mr. Armstrong expound on the meaning of the holy days and the plan of God at their first Feast of Tabernacles, and how they were astounded at the new truth they heard - it was a life-changing experience, one they never forgot.

Yet, for everyone who heard Mr. Armstrong, or the first century apostles, preach the gospel and believed it, though it was new to them, there were probably many who rejected the truth because it seemed new and strange to them - they wanted to just stick to the things they thought they knew. Because the truth was new to them, it seemed strange, and they rejected it. "I have written for him the great things of My law, But they were considered a strange thing" (Hosea 8:12).

But has this been a problem only for those outside the Church?

No, it can be a problem even inside the Church of God. That also is something the history of the Church teaches us.

Some of that history is recorded in Mr. Armstrong's autobiography.

Mr. Armstrong describes his experiences with the Church of God Seventh Day, with which he fellowshipped and worked. Mr. Armstrong was learning many new doctrines from the Bible, some of which the Church of God Seventh Day had (the Sabbath, tithing, clean and unclean meats), and some of which they did not have (the holy days, the identity of the lost ten tribes of Israel). Mr. Armstrong shared the new things he learned with the Church at that time, but they rejected them. They only wanted to keep the knowledge they already had, but not learn anything new.

It was not a reminder of old knowledge they needed but instruction in new knowledge. But they were not willing to learn.

Mr. Armstrong later identified them as the Sardis Church, a Church of God that had a name that they were alive, but were dead. "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" ' " (Revelation 3:1).

The time had come for the gospel to be preached to the world, but God could not use the Church of God Seventh Day to do it. Why? Two reasons.

One, God wanted the new knowledge Mr. Armstrong was learning from the Bible to be included in that gospel message, and since the Church of God Seventh Day refused to learn it, they could not preach it.

Two, and more importantly I think, God was not willing to use someone to preach the gospel who did not practice what they preach.

When we go to the public and preach the truth to them, we are asking them to be willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible. But we must have the same attitude that we want them to have. If we ask others to learn something new, we have to continue to be willing to learn something new ourselves. If we close our minds to new knowledge, then preach to the public things that are new to them, asking them to be willing to learn new knowledge and not be prejudiced against it, we are hypocrites for asking people to do what we are not willing to do ourselves.

So God could not use Church of God Seventh Day. Instead, He used Herbert W. Armstrong, a man who loved the truth, all the truth, even truth that was new to him.

And Mr. Armstrong retained that love of new knowledge all his life.

Today, in the Church, if the ministry does learn something new from the Bible, they often tend to downplay the newness of it, as if they are ashamed to be teaching something new. They will sometimes call it a "clarification".

But Mr. Armstrong was not like that.

When he learned and taught something new, he loudly proclaimed it as new. He would say, here is new knowledge, brethren. He often spoke of Church of God Seventh Day and their rejection of new knowledge, and he taught that we must be different.

When we hear something new, the criteria of whether it is good or bad, true or false, is not whether it is new or old, but whether it is taught by God in His word, the Bible, or not.

That is the criteria the Bereans used when they heard something new. They didn't reject it because it was new. Rather, they searched the scriptures to find out if it was true. "Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men" (Acts 17:10-12).

In searching the scriptures, they were able to determine that the new things Paul and Silas taught were true, and they believed the gospel.

If we are not willing to learn new knowledge and be corrected by the Bible, as we teach the public to be willing to do, it is unlikely God will open the door to preaching the gospel very much for us. He is more likely to reject us as He rejected Church of God Seventh Day for the same reason and give the open door to someone else.

There is still a great work to be done before the end, and God will empower those who are willing to believe and be corrected by and be taught by the Bible to do that great work.

Let's not be prejudiced against things that are new just because they are new, but let's all let the Bible be our guide in determining what is true, whether old or new.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Jonah's Warning Message

There are many lessons from the book of Jonah. The book of Jonah is a prophecy about Christ and a sign of His Messiahship (Matthew 12:39-40, Luke 11:29-30). This is emphasized in a sermon given by Mr. Dexter Wakefield. Mr. Wakefield also pointed out something I had not noticed before. When Jonah fled from God the first time God told him to give a warning message to Nineveh, and the ship he was on was threatened with destruction, Jonah told the men to throw him overboard (Jonah 1:10-12). As Jonah being in the fish and in the sea three days and nights was prophecy about Christ being in the grave three days and nights, so it is also symbolic that, just as the death of Christ reconciles us to God, so the men on the ship were saved after they threw Jonah overboard - the sea became calm for them (Jonah 1:14-16).

Here is a link to Mr. Wakefield's sermon:

There are many lessons for us in the book of Jonah. Mr. Wakefield concentrated on the sign of Jonah being fulfilled in Christ and gave historical background to help explain why the Ninevites were so wicked and why they took God's warning from Jonah seriously.

I would like to cover an additional lesson from Jonah.

One lesson is the need for the Church of God to deliver God's warning message to the nations.

Today the Church of God is scattered into many fellowships. Some of these fellowships make little or no effort to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning of the punishment of the great tribulation to come upon the nations of Israel if they do not repent. They say that this is not the time because the Church needs to first concentrate on overcoming and drawing closer to God before we preach to the public.

They say that the Church of God has problems and we must get our act together. We must reconcile with the Father more than we have in the past before we preach to others. We need to be spiritually healed. They say, God will not bring members into the Church if we are not setting a good example for them. The Church is in such bad shape today that God will not call new members into the Church until we overcome our problems and draw closer to God and set a better example. Only then will God bless the preaching of the gospel to bring in new members.

Whether they mention the "beam in the eye" analogy that Christ gave or not, it is likely that many of them have it in mind when they teach that this is not the time for the Church to preach to the public. "And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye" (Matthew 7:3-5).

This point of view may seem to make sense until you look deeper. You have to look at all the scriptures on a subject and let the Bible interpret the Bible.

The fallacy in this way of thinking is the idea that we are doing the correcting when we deliver God's warning message to the people. If that were the case, then indeed the "beam in the eye" principle would apply. We would need to get the beam out of our own eye so we can see clearly to get the speck out of our brother's eye.

But that is not the case. We are not correcting the public. It is not our message. God is correcting the public, through us. It is God's message of correction. We are only the delivery man delivering the message from God.

And God is more than qualified to correct the world for its sins. God has no beam in His eye that He has to remove to see clearly how to correct the world.

And He commands us to deliver His message (Proverbs 24:11-12, Ezekiel 3:4, 17-21, Matthew 10:5-7, Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 10:27).

Does God use those who have faults to deliver His corrective message? Yes. Jonah is proof of that.

If there was an example of an Old Testament prophet of God who needed to be spiritually healed, who had character and spiritual problems, who needed to seek a greater reconciliation with God, it was Jonah.

Jonah did not have a right attitude towards God. He disrespected God's authority. God gave him a job to do and he ran from it (Jonah 1:1-3). Later, after God punished him and brought him to repentance, he delivered the message he was told to deliver. But still, his attitude was not right. His preaching brought about a great repentance, and God spared Nineveh as a result, but Jonah was displeased by that (Jonah 3:4-10, 4:1-4). How far his mind was from God's mind! How unlike God was His thinking. He did not have love for his neighbors, the Ninevites. He was angry towards God because of God's mercy.

Later, because a plant died, Jonah was angry towards God, angry enough to die (Jonah 4:6-9).

Those are pretty serious spiritual problems. Jonah certainly had a beam in his eye that prevented him from seeing things clearly.

But God saw things clearly, and God saw that the Ninevites needed a warning message. And God commanded Jonah to preach God's message exactly as God framed the message. "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you" (Jonah 3:2). God knew what the Ninevites needed to hear even if Jonah did not.

And the message got results. Nineveh repented.

Jonah's spiritual problems and bad attitude did not prevent the message he delivered from God from getting good results. The people repented.

If God did not intend those who have serious spiritual problems to deliver His warning messages to those who need it, He would not have used Jonah to deliver a warning to Nineveh.

The fact that the Church has spiritual problems is NOT an excuse to disobey God's commands to preach the gospel to the world and a warning message to Israel.

In fact, refusing to obey God's command to warn the wicked is itself a spiritual problem that needs to be corrected.

Jonah's reluctance to deliver God's warning to Nineveh may be a prophecy of the Church of God's reluctance to deliver God's warning to the nations of Israel today.

There is one more example of one who was unrighteous that God used to preach the gospel. That example is Judas.

Judas was not clean in God's sight (John 13:10-11). He was a thief (John 12:4-6). He betrayed Christ and later committed suicide (Matthew 27:3-5). Christ said he would have been better off if he had never been born (Mark 14:18-21). You can't get much worse than that.

Yet, Christ used Judas as an apostle. He was called an apostle (Matthew 10:1-4). Judas, along with the other eleven apostles, preached the gospel, cast out demons, healed the sick, and baptized (Matthew 10:5-9, John 4:1-2). Some of the 120 who received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost may have been baptized by Judas. Judas was apparently just as effective as the other apostles in preaching the gospel and performing miracles, because they didn't know that he was the one to betray Christ. They had to ask Christ who the betrayer was (John 13:21-26). Judas seemed to be the same as all the apostles.

Now, how could Christ have used Judas, a man with a beam in his eye, to correct and teach the world? The answer is that the message Judas preached was not Judas's message - it was Christ's message, and Christ received it from the Father. Judas and the other apostles (and they had faults too, though not as serious as Judas's) only delivered God's message, not their own, just as Jonah was commanded to deliver God's message, not his own.

I don't disagree with those that say that the Church of God has problems. But we still need to deliver God's message to the public as He commands us. We won't draw closer to God, be reconciled with the Father, and be spiritually healed by running away from our responsibilities as Jonah tried to do.

Does that mean that our spiritual condition has no effect on the success of our efforts to preach the gospel and the warning message? No, I am not saying that. The more we obey God, the closer we are to God, the more God will bless us and bless our efforts to preach the gospel and the warning. Drawing closer to God, being reconciled with the Father, being spiritually healed, overcoming our sins - all of these things help us be successful in delivering God's message to the world.

It is the Philadelphians who are promised an open door, not Laodiceans.

But we have to do both at the same time. We have to obey God by delivering His message to the world even while we learn and develop the habit of obeying him in other ways. We cannot deliberately postpone or reject obedience to God's commands to warn the world and expect to be spiritually healed that way.

Those Church of God groups that want a closer relationship with God, but are not preaching the gospel, need to start preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world as best they can, even while they draw closer to God in other ways at the same time. And members who want to draw closer to God need to support a fellowship that is delivering God's message to the world, not just to the Church of God.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review of Sermon by Mr. Wallace Smith

Recently Living Church of God (LCG) published a sermon by Mr. Wallace Smith entitled, "Engage the Power of God's Spirit", published 5/20/2018.

Here is a link to the page with that sermon:

I thought it was an excellent sermon, and I recommend it to anyone who wants the Holy Spirit to be more active in their minds and life.

In the sermon, Mr. Smith gives six ways to engage the power of God's Holy Spirit. His points are practical, straight-forward, and easy to understand.

In the beginning he talks about the desire of some to hear new knowledge, and he explains that there is a need to be reminded of what we know. He then reviews the meaning of the holy days.

I find his talking about the need for Church members to be reminded of what we know as a Church more than to be taught new knowledge, then his six points on how to engage the Holy Spirit, ironic, for me anyway, but I mean this in a complementary way.

I find it ironic because what he taught in his sermon was actually new knowledge, for me personally. Maybe for others it was not new, but for me it was new, and I have listened to sermons regularly in the Church of God for almost 40 years. And it was very good. Mr. Smith explained something I did not fully understand before.

I have had a pet peeve about some speakers in the Church of God over the years. Sometimes they would say that we need to "use the Holy Spirit", but they don't say what they mean or how to do it.

"Use" is an active verb. It means we take some sort of action. So how are we to "use" the Holy Spirit? I know what it means to use paper and pen to write something. I know what it means to use a computer keyboard, or to use a cell phone. So what does a speaker mean when he says, "use" the Holy Spirit? What am I supposed to do? Say some magic words? Put my mind in some kind of meditative state or trance? What? Speakers often don't say. It is as if they are aware of some special, mystical mental process that they think their listeners know about, and they are saying to do it, but not what it is or how. It is as if they have some secret knowledge I do not have. It irritates me when they speak that way.

But while Mr. Smith uses the word "engage" rather than "use", he does give practical points on how to make the Holy Spirit more active in our minds and how to have access to the power of God's Spirit.

I won't summarize his points here - I'll let you get those from the sermon if you want to listen to it. Click the link above.

But basically he explains that the Holy Spirit becomes active in our minds when we do certain things that the Holy Spirit will help us with. One example is Bible study. Then he gives six things to do, that, when we do them, the Holy Spirit automatically becomes more active in our minds to help us do them. Bible study is one example, but there are five other points he gives.

There was nothing new for me in the six points themselves, but I learned at a deeper level the truth that when we do these things, we are engaging or "using" the Holy Spirit, because God's Spirit automatically goes into action to help us when we do these things. This is how we can "use" the Holy Spirit.

This sermon was helpful to me and I recommend it to others.

Thank you, Mr. Smith.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Pentecost Lessons

This coming Sunday, May 20, is Pentecost, one of God's seven annual holy days and festivals. It is called "Pentecost" (meaning, count fifty) in the New Testament (Acts 2:1) and "the Feast of Weeks" in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:22).

For ancient Israel, it represented the early spring harvest. For the New Testament Church of God it represents the coming of the Holy Spirit and the start of the New Testament Church (Acts 2:1-4).

The Church is a kind of first fruits, not the first of the first fruits, which is Christ, but the first of the harvest of souls among men. This is a small harvest because only a few are called in this church age, in contrast to the many who will be called during the millennium and the white throne judgment.

This is the tie-in between the Old Testament meaning of the day and the New Testament meaning. This day represents an early spring harvest in the Old Testament and the start of the Church of God in the New Testament. And the Church is an early harvest of souls.

The tie-in between Old Testament meaning or explanation and New Testament meaning exists for all the holy days and festivals, but it is more obvious for Pentecost than for some of the other festivals. Even some in traditional churches can see some of the meaning of "first fruits", as applied to the Church, in Pentecost.

Pentecost represents the Church of God. It represents the gift of God's Holy Spirit. It represents the Church as first fruits, a comparatively small early harvest of those God calls. It represents the truth that God is not calling everyone, or even very many, in this age of man.

But Pentecost also represents several important principles and lessons for the Church.

One is the need for preaching the gospel to the world.

That is the first thing Peter and the apostles did on Pentecost after receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14-42).

Pentecost is the anniversary of the founding of the New Testament Church. And it is also the anniversary of the preaching of the gospel by the Church. The Church, in the person of Peter, began preaching the gospel the same day the Church received the Holy Spirit. It is evident that the Holy Spirit led Peter and the Church to preach the gospel.

Another lesson is the lesson of government.

A significant lesson of Pentecost is that there is a first fruits, an early small harvest, before the main harvest. And this means hierarchy.

God did not design His kingdom to be flat in authority, with every person reporting directly to Christ and no one having greater authority than anyone else.

He could have. God could have planned for everyone in His kingdom to report personally and directly to Christ and to no one else. There would be no requirement for a first resurrection or for anyone to be called in this age. Christ and the angels could rule the millennium, and all who would eventually be saved could come up in one resurrection.

But God did not plan His kingdom that way. He built hierarchical government into His kingdom. There is a first fruits, and they will be in the first resurrection and will have authority over the human race in the millennium.

There will be organization, with some saints having authority over other saints.

David will be king over Israel (Jeremiah 30:9). The apostles will be over the twelve tribes (Matthew 19:28). This means David will have authority over Peter, John, James, and the rest of the twelve apostles in ruling Israel.

And that means, to learn the lessons we need to learn in this life to prepare us for that kingdom, we need to learn to submit to the authority of those God has placed in offices of authority in the Church. It also means that those holding those offices must learn how to rule with justice, compassion, wisdom, and love. "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" (Ephesians 4:11-13).

"And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:28).

Another lesson is the importance of believing the Bible.

This may not at first seem evident as a lesson of Pentecost.

Peter based his message to the crowds on Pentecost on three things. One was Old Testament scriptures and the things people knew from the scriptures (Acts 2:16-21, 25-28, 34-35). He referred to scripture to make his points. Another was the miracle of tongues, which the crowd had witnessed (Acts 2:4-16). This miracle was a sign from God that backed up the words of Peter and the apostles. A third thing was the eye-witness testimony of Peter and the apostles regarding Jesus Christ - His teachings, His miracles, His murder, and His resurrection (Acts 2:32).

Today, we do not have the eye-witness testimony of living human beings to the events of the Bible, and we do not have apostles or prophets who work public miracles. But we do have the miracle of the Bible.

The Bible is a miracle.

Anyone with an open mind can prove the inspiration of the Bible by its internal consistency and by fulfilled prophecy. We can prove that the Bible is God's word - God speaking.

The principle here is that God backs up His message by miracles. In the days of Peter and the original apostles, speaking in tongues and healings were the miracles to back the message (Acts 3:1-26). Today, it is the Bible itself, which was not complete and widespread in the days of Peter.

God is fair. He requires that we believe what He says, but He does not require that we blindly believe that a message is from Him without proof. He gave the proof in Peter's day by miracles of tongues and healings. He gives us the proof today by the Bible.

And just as Peter used Old Testament scriptures and knowledge and miracles to prove his message, so the Church today must prove its points by the Bible when preaching the gospel. We must give the proof that our message is from God. We can't expect or require that the public take our word for it - "Believe us because we are the true servants of God - the true Church - and this is where God is working". Rather, we must say, as Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible - believe God".

But herein lies a problem for many COGs that try to preach the gospel. They say this to the world. They say the right thing to the public. But they don't say the same thing to their members. They practice a double standard. They want their members to believe their interpretation of the scriptures rather than what the members can see and prove for themselves from the Bible. In this manner they direct the faith of the members, in matters of doctrine, towards the Church and the ministry rather than towards God and the Bible. They compete with God for the faith of the members.

It is this inconsistency that can cut us off from God's blessing for preaching the gospel.

A test for any Church of God administration is this. Do they teach their members to believe the Bible first, but not to talk about their disagreements with other members?

Just about every COG leader and minister knows that you cannot allow members to promote their pet theories contrary to the doctrines of the Church because that would cause division. So how is that prevented or minimized?

There are two ways. One is to teach the members that they are to believe the doctrines of the ministry, even if they do not see it themselves in the Bible. Many COGs take this approach.

And if that approach is followed, it certainly helps to build organizational unity and loyalty, but it does not build faith in God, and it does not help to preach the gospel.

The other approach is to direct the faith of the members toward God and His word, the Bible, in all matters of doctrine. Members are to believe what they see in their own Bibles. But if they disagree with the Church in some matter, they should not discuss it with others, except with the ministry.

This approach does not cause division. It promotes peace and unity in the Church. It teaches respect and obedience towards the ministry. It creates consistency between what we tell the public and what we practice among ourselves, and that consistency will enable God to bless our efforts to preach the gospel to the world.

Pentecost is all about the Church of God. It includes lessons about how the Church should conduct itself, in practicing hierarchical government and respecting the ministry, in putting God and His word the Bible first in matters of doctrine and faith, and in preaching the gospel to the world.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Korean Agreement

As many of you know by now, last Friday it was in the news that the leader of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, and the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, met and agreed to officially end the Korean war. They also agreed to work for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

This is a agreement of intent. The actual end of the Korean war and the full details of the agreement are yet to be worked out. But the leaders of North and South Korea agreed to work out an agreement to end the Korean war and denuclearize the Korean peninsula by the end of this year.

The Korean war started in 1950. In 1953 an armistice was signed and the fighting stopped, but that was not a peace treaty, and technically North Korea and South Korea have been at war ever since.

So this agreement is an agreement to negotiate a formal end to the war.

North Korea has agreed to negotiate a denuclearization of both Koreas. On the surface, this may seem to indicate that North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear weapons. But North Korea in the past has insisted that South Korea give up its alliance with the United States. Since the United States is committed to the defense of South Korea, and the United States is a nuclear power, it may be that North Korea will insist that the alliance between the United States and South Korea be ended before it gives up its nuclear weapons. I think this is unlikely.

Nevertheless, this agreement seems to be a step forward in lessening tensions between North Korea and its neighbors, including Japan and the United States.

In evaluating the chances that this will lead to real peace between North and South Korea and the removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea, it is important to have a balance. There are difficulties ahead, and an agreement to reach an agreement isn't the same as a final agreement. But we should not go to the opposite ditch and assume this has no value at all. I think there is a real chance for North Korea to reach an agreement with South Korea and the United States to give up its nuclear weapons in return for an end to economic sanctions and a pledge by South Korea and the United States not to attack North Korea.

South Korea credits President Trump with helping to bring about this meeting. Trump also plans to personally meet with the leader of North Korea at a later time.

If there is one thing Donald Trump is skilled at, it is negotiation. He is not likely to be deceived and taken advantage of during the course of future negotiations for the removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea and an official end to the Korean war. He has spent his life making business deals, and he can be a tough negotiator, but also a successful one.

Time will tell how this will work out.

This can have a political effect in the United States that affects how long the Church will have an open door for preaching the gospel.

If the American public views this as a positive development, and if they credit President Trump with a positive accomplishment, this can help his approval ratings and popularity.

The news media loves to criticize President Trump because he does not share the media's liberal agenda. But their focus almost always seems to be on his rhetoric - what he says - not what he does. But his decisions and actions are more important than his words, and he has made some good decisions. The Korean meeting and agreement is an example of what he can accomplish.

If this helps to boost his popularity and the popularity of the Republican party - or at least reduce his unpopularity - that can affect future elections, including the congressional elections coming up later this year.

In short, this can be a blow against the liberals who want to destroy religious freedom and freedom of speech in this country - freedoms we need to preach the gospel to the public. The fewer liberals elected to Congress, the less chance there is that Congress will pass laws restricting our freedom to live as Christians and preach the gospel any time soon. If President Trump is re-elected to the presidency in 2020, that also will help us continue to have the open door of freedom of religion, speech, and the press.

So this can be a good development for the Church of God and for our mission of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.

It may mean we will have more time to finish our mission. Eventually, the door will close and there will be a famine of the word, but that time has not come yet.

We need to take advantage of the freedom we have while we have it. We need to be zealous, diligent, and active in preaching the true gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel of the coming tribulation to fall up the nations of Israel as punishment for their sins if Israel doesn't repent.

The Church of God has an open door, if we are willing to go through it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread - God Wants Relationship-based Obedience

Tomorrow evening after sunset, members of the Church of God will be observing Passover. Passover represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven by God the Father and given the gift of eternal life. Ancient Israel sacrificed a lamb on this evening in Egypt, and that lamb represents Christ.

We observe Passover by partaking of unleavened bread and wine as symbols of Christ's sacrifice. The unleavened bread represents the broken body of Christ and His suffering, and the wine represents His blood and His death. Because of His shed blood and His death, we can be forgiven and reconciled to God the Father and given eternal life. He paid the death penalty for us so we don't have to pay the death penalty for our sins. Because of His broken body and suffering, we can be healed both physically and spiritually. Our sins not only bring upon us the death penalty but also bring upon us suffering and pain. When we violate health laws, we pay the penalty in sickness and injury. But Christ suffered for us so we can be healed. His suffering paid the penalty of suffering that our sins bring upon us.

Also, our sins bring mental suffering because they build the habit of sin and a sinful nature in us. Our character becomes flawed and sinful, and that evil, carnal character and nature leads to more sin and to suffering that comes from sin. We need to be healed spiritually as well as physically, and Christ's sacrifice pays the penalty of all suffering that comes from sin, so God can heal our character by His Holy Spirit.

After Passover, the next evening begins the seven days of unleavened bread. That evening is the night to be much observed. It represents the night that ancient Israel began their journey out of Egypt. We observe it by having a special meal with brethren. For us, it represents our coming out of the sinful ways of this world.

The seven days of unleavened bread represent putting sin out of our lives. Before those days begin, we are to put all leavening out of our homes. For seven days we avoid all leavening (yeast, baking soda, baking powder, etc.) and leavened products. This represents putting sin out of our lives and keeping it out. The diligence and mental alertness we are to exercise to remember to avoid leavening during this time is a lesson that reminds us that we need to be diligent and mentally alert to avoid sin.

But also, for the seven days we are to eat unleavened bread (matzos for example). My understanding is that we should eat some unleavened bread each of the seven days (if you like matzos with butter as much as I do, that is easy). This also is a lesson that we not only are to avoid sin, but we are to put the righteousness of Christ into our lives every day. In these lessons, leavening, because it puffs up, represents sin, which is based on a puffed up attitude of pride, vanity, and conceit. Unleavened bread represents the righteousness of Christ.

The first and last days of unleavened bread are annual sabbaths, holy days. We are to refrain from work on those days and the Church of God holds services on those days.

In addition to the meaning of what these days represent, for us in the Church of God in our time, the days of unleavened bread should remind us of Mr. Armstrong's and the Church's commitment to believing the Bible more than tradition and having zeal to preach the gospel to the world, because if it were not for their zeal in these two things, we would not know about these days. We would not know that we should keep them, and we would not know what they mean. And not knowing what they mean, we would miss out on the lessons they have to teach us.

As I think about the lessons of Passover, it comes to mind that God does not just want obedience to His law without His involvement, but God wants our obedience to be based on a relationship with Him. He wants our obedience to be something personal, something special, between us and God. He wants our law keeping to be based on trust in Him, faith in Him, and love towards God and man. Our relationship with God, our fear of Him and our desire to please Him, should be a big part of our motivation to resist sin and keep His commandments. Likewise, our love for the brethren and towards our neighbors in the world should motivate is to keep God's law.

God gives us His law for our good. God's law defines a way of life that produces blessings, happiness, and everything good. It defines God's nature, and we are blessed in the long run if we keep it.

The violation of that law is sin, and it produces pain, suffering, and death.

Mr. Armstrong emphasized this aspect of the law of God. He emphasized the truth that obeying the law of God produces blessings and breaking that law produces penalties. He said, if you break the law of God, it will break you.

That is an important truth to keep in mind. Obedience to God's law produces blessings and happiness, violation of that law brings curses and suffering.

But our relationship in this should not just be with the law of God only. Obeying the law of God to receive blessings that come automatically from obedience to that law should not be our only motivation for avoiding sin.

God's whole plan of salvation, including the sacrifice of Christ, is designed to build a relationship between God and us. It is to be a relationship of trust, faith, and love.

In other words, a motivation for us to obey God's law must be to please God and show our love towards Him. It should not be just an impersonal desire to reap the benefits of law keeping. We must obey God because He is our Father and because we want to fear, trust, believe, and love Him. Likewise we are to trust, believe, and love Christ and deeply appreciate what He went through to save us.

This lesson is evident throughout the whole Bible. Everything God has done to teach us His law and save us emphasizes the deeply personal nature of our obedience to God.

God did not have to save us the way He does. He did not have to make death the penalty for sin. He could have designed His plan of salvation so that Christ, the Word, would not have to come as a human being and suffer and die.

But God wants to make our salvation based on love, a very personal love between us and Him.

We should obey God's commandments because God gave them to us. We should believe what we believe because God teaches it to us. It is not just a matter of what we obey, but who we obey. It is not just a matter of what we believe, but who we believe.

Think about all the history and lessons of God's interaction with man, with Israel, with the Church, and with all of us individually that is in the Bible. It is God's program to bind Himself with us in an eternal bond of love and trust. That is why we should obey. In other words, we should not just think of ourselves as obeying the law of God, as if the law could save us. We should think of ourselves as obeying God personally, because we fear, trust, believe, and love Him.

That is why I say that our obedience should relationship-based obedience. It should be based on our relationship with God.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

If Herbert W. Armstrong, As a Young Man, Came into the Church of God Today, Would We Accept Him?

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong came into contact with the Church of God Seventh Day around 1927 when he was first converted. His autobiography records his experiences with that Church. The Church of God Seventh Day, though it had faults, was the true Church of God and was spiritually descended from the first century Church of God. Mr. Armstrong later regarded it as representing the fifth era of the Church of God - Sardis - according the messages of Christ to the seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

Mr. Armstrong began to fellowship with the Church of God Seventh Day, and for a time he worked within that organization. But eventually he went independent, not independent from God and Christ, but independent from the Church of God Seventh Day. He refused further salary from them - in effect, he resigned his employment with them. That is when he started the radio broadcast and magazine. The work that he started grew into the Worldwide Church of God. Most of us in the Church of God came from that background or the background of numerous groups that came out of Worldwide.

The Church of God Seventh Day never really accepted Mr. Armstrong and his teachings and his approach. He recorded in his autobiography the hostility most COG7D leaders showed towards him.

Today, most Church of God groups profess to honor the memory of Mr. Armstrong.

But how would the various Church of God groups react today if Mr. Armstrong, or someone like him, with a different name and appearance, but with the same spiritual values, came into the Church of God now?

If a man came into the Church with the same mind, attitude, and approach to the Bible that Mr. Armstrong had when he came into the Church of God Seventh Day, would we accept him or would we reject him as the Church of God Seventh Day leadership rejected him?

In other words, would the Church of God accept someone like Mr. Armstrong but with a different name and face?

I think not.

Mr. Armstrong put the Bible first. Most groups today put their leadership, ministry, and traditions first.

Mr. Armstrong sent in papers to COG7D headquarters. Most groups today belittle those who send in papers and reject papers without serious examination. COG7D rejected Mr. Armstrong's study on the identity of the lost tribes of Israel, and they rejected another paper correcting them on an error, probably the error of not keeping the holy days and the Feast of Tabernacles.

Mr. Armstrong had a zeal for preaching the gospel to the public, but most groups today do not have that zeal.

Mr. Armstrong taught the things he believed to COG7D members in sermons he preached and articles he wrote, and some of these contained new knowledge. But today's groups tend to condemn anyone with "new ideas", not because those ideas are wrong, necessarily.

In one of today's groups, I heard one minister say that in a class for sermonette speakers he told his class: I am not interested in your ideas. I heard another minister say, if God were to reveal knowledge to the Church of God today, he would not reveal it "through me" (the speaker) because that would be destructive of hierarchical government (implying, God would not reveal new truth to anyone but the top leadership).

So how would such men react if Herbert W. Armstrong came in the door and said, I have discovered something new in the Bible? Not Mr. Armstrong as the well-known and respected apostle, but as a lay member (as Mr. Armstrong was a lay member when he came to COG7D) with a different name and a different face, but the same spiritual gifts and the same spiritual attitude and approach to God and the Bible.

I think they would reject him just as the Church of God Seventh Day rejected Mr. Armstrong, only more quickly. They would not seriously and open-mindedly consider his ideas and research in the Bible. They would not allow him to teach. They would demand that his first allegiance be to their group, their leadership, and their ministry - not to the Bible itself.

Obviously, it is not wrong for the leadership and ministry of a Church of God fellowship to require new ideas and new doctrines to be cleared through the ministry before being taught to the brethren. And in examining new teachings, the leadership and ministry should compare them with the Bible with an open mind. That is the only way to protect the congregations from false teaching and heresy. Yet, the leadership and ministry should be responsive to new ideas and teaching that are really true according to the Bible.

But many Church of God groups have become completely unbalanced in this. They speak as if it is wrong for members to think they have discovered new knowledge in the Bible and to submit study papers to the ministry. They speak as if God would never reveal new knowledge to a member or a lower-ranked minister or local elder before revealing it to the top leadership. That is wrong, for that is exactly what God did with Mr. Armstrong.

Would most of the Church of God fellowships accept a younger Herbert W. Armstrong, with a different face and name but the same spiritual knowledge, character, and values, if he came among us today?

I think they would not accept him, but reject him. I think that is something to think about.

Mr. Armstrong had a Philadelphia spirit and attitude. And the Church of God today, in most of its groups and fellowships, is hostile to the Philadelphia spirit and attitude. And that is expected, since we are no longer in the Philadelphia era, but the Laodicean era. The predominant attitude of the Laodicean era is lukewarmness towards God, His word the Bible, and the message of the gospel.

And that Laodicean spirit and attitude will always be hostile to the Philadelphian spirit and attitude.

That is why most Church of God groups would not accept Herbert W. Armstrong if he came among us today.

Read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Principle of Knowing God's Revelation - How Can One Know the Truth? / How to Preach the Gospel More Effectively

How can a man or woman know the truth of God? God must reveal His truth, but how is a man or woman to think and act to be open to that truth, and how does God reveal it?

What is the process? What is God's part and what is our part, and how do they work together to reveal truth to a person's mind? And how can a person know that what he or she believes is really the truth?

I am not asking this question just about Church of God members or prospective members, and I am not even limiting it to those God is calling. I am including members of this world's traditional churches, such as the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches.

You might say, well, it is impossible for one not called by God to fully understand the truth. That is true, but why is it impossible?

It is impossible because Satan deceives those who are not called. They either cannot understand the truth or cannot respond to it if they did understand much of the truth.

"So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:9).

"But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Satan blinds and deceives the whole world. Yet, those God calls to salvation in this life are able to know the truth if they respond to that calling. Why? Because God works with those people in a special way, by the Spirit of God working in their minds, to understand and be able to respond.

There is a process involved. Those God calls must respond to that calling. They have the power to choose. They can reject that calling. God does not force them to accept His truth.

What is that process, in detail?

There are steps one must take to learn, understand, and know the truth of God. Those Satan deceives, the majority of mankind, are not able or not willing to take those steps. God works with those He calls so that they are able to take those steps when they are exposed to the truth.

One part of the response to God's calling involves repentance - the decision to turn from our sins and sinful nature and give our lives one hundred percent to God.

The other part of our response involves faith and coming to know and understand the truth of God. Both faith and repentance are required for conversion.

In this post, I am going to address the process of coming to know the truth and coming to have faith in that truth.

The process is fairly simple, and it is the same for everyone. One is first exposed to the truth through God's word. One is able to know that it is God's word. One then chooses to believe what God says. One step at a time, a person is able to learn God's truth that way. It is also important that the person strive to obey God's truth as it is revealed to him by God's word, if that process is to continue.

This is the process for those who are called in this age. God helps them to be able to understand and believe the message of the gospel.

What about those who are not called in this age - those who remain deceived? Are they able to follow this process?

No. Why do they fail?

Because Satan deceives them, and without God's calling and intervention in their minds, they are not able to understand and believe God's word when they hear it or read it.

What happens when they hear the truth?

They don't understand and believe it.

There is not a clear distinction here between understanding and believing. They can merge together. They may understand partially and simply refuse to believe it, and this may be the case with many atheists. But often the unwillingness to believe causes the misunderstanding.

The person deceived might not be aware of this. But if a person is part of a traditional church of this world and wants to think he follows the Bible, when he reads something in the Bible he does not want to believe, he twists its meaning in his mind without realizing it. He won't believe the plain text of the Bible because he doesn't want to believe it. But neither does he want to believe that he is not obeying the Bible. So he twists the meaning of what he reads to fit his own beliefs, beliefs he does not want to give up.

This can happen unconsciously. But the person deceives himself, or rather Satan deceives him or helps him to deceive himself. He might read God's plain words about the Sabbath, but twist them to mean Sunday. The person doesn't want to give up the Bible. He wants to be able to say, "I believe and follow the Bible". That is important for his self-image as one who is good. But he doesn't want to acknowledge the seventh-day Sabbath with all the consequences of that (giving up his church, his family, his friends, risking his job, and admitting he has been wrong). So he reasons in his mind that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday. That way he still feels he is a Bible-following Christian and can still keep his Sunday-keeping traditions.

But, in fact, he has chosen to disbelieve God.

It is not just a matter of innocent misunderstanding. Simple misunderstandings alone can be cleared up with the right scriptures, putting all the scriptures together in the right context for a subject.

Many people can have simple misunderstandings about the Sabbath or any other point of God's truth because no one has shown them the scriptures that would clarify the matter.

But once you show them the scriptures that prove God's truth on some point, then they must make a choice to believe God or not. Without God's calling, Satan influences them to refuse to believe and to twist the scriptures to justify their disbelief.

You can consider Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong as examples of those who were willing to believe. Loma Armstrong kept Sunday all her life until someone showed her the scriptures that proved that the seventh day is the Sabbath. She believed right away. Mr. Armstrong did not believe right away, but after doing in-depth research in the Bible he also accepted the truth of the Sabbath.

Because God worked with Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong, they were able to believe God. The majority of mankind, deceived by Satan, are not able to make that choice and come to repentance and conversion.

The process of learning and understanding the truth of God involves:
a) Being exposed to the truth through God's word.
b) Knowing or being able to know it is God's word.
c) Choosing to believe what God says without twisting God's word to fit what one wants to believe.

Satan can deceive someone by blocking any step above. By manipulating the world's religions and entire civilization, Satan prevents billions from ever being exposed to the truth at all. They never hear the truth gospel (point a).

Satan can deceive millions who may or may not hear it from knowing that God's word is God's word or even that God exists. Atheists and agnostics would fall into that category. You could perhaps persuade an atheist that the Bible teaches the Sabbath and not Sunday, and he might agree, "Yes, I see that the Bible teaches the Sabbath", but then he would say, "But it doesn't matter because the Bible is only a collection of man-made myths and fables - the Bible is not inspired by God because there is no God" (point b).

Finally, among members of this world's traditional churches - those who claim allegience to the Bible - Satan deceives people into misunderstanding or twisting the Bible so that they do not believe the truth that God tells them (point c).

If someone is exposed to the truth of God from His word (point a), how can they know that God's word is really from God (point b)? How do they know it is God's word?

God gives proof for those with a mind open and willing to receive it.

In the days of the first century Church of God, the word of God came by scriptures (Old Testament scriptures primarily) and by the words of the apostles. The apostles performed miracles, and those miracles were a sign that their message was from God. They were the proof that the apostles were speaking the word of God.

"For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient—in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:18-19).

"Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds" (2 Corinthians 12:12).

"For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:2-4).

What about today?

Today we do not have men of God performing great signs and wonders - miracles - to prove they are speaking God's word. But we have something else. We have the Bible in a way first century Church of God members did not have.

They had the Old Testament scriptures, yes. But they were not widespread, they were not the complete Bible, and they did not have the proof from history that the Bible is God's word.

Today, because of the printing press, the Bible is wide spread. Just about anyone can afford to own their own copy of the Bible. It has been translated into the main languages of the world. It is also complete, with all the books of the old and new testaments.

And today we have proof that the Bible is God's word, because the fulfillment of prophecy in the last couple of centuries proves that God inspired those prophecies.

So today, any sincere, open-minded, and objective person can study, learn, and know that the Bible is God speaking. There are also some, never having proved that, who believe that the Bible is God's word because of the faith of their upbringing.

But believing that the Bible is God's word is one thing. Actually believing the Bible is something else. That is where most members of traditional, mainstream churches go astray. They acknowledge the Bible as God's word. But they don't believe what it says.

And some who claim to be members of the Church of God fall short on this point too.

The process of what one must do to learn the truth from the Bible is the same for everyone. There is not one process for Catholics, a different process for Protestants, and a different process for Church of God members and prospective members.

One must believe what God says in the Bible without twisting the scriptures to make them say what one wants them to say. And then, as one learns what God says, strive to obey God.

It is a process, and it takes time, even after conversion. We do not stop learning when we are baptized. It is a step-by-step process before conversion to bring one to enough understanding to be ready for repentance and baptism. And after baptism, it is a step-by-step process to continue learning and growing spiritually.

It has been more than 30 years since I was baptized, and I am still learning new things from the Bible.

"...but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).

This is the process of faith. We are to believe in God but also believe what God says.

I said before, the process is the same for everyone. God requires that we believe what He says. He requires that of anyone if they are to learn truth from God - Catholics, Protestants, and Church of God members. God does not have different standards - different requirements - for different persons and different religions.

God requires the same thing from Church of God members and prospective members as He does from those of other religions coming into the truth.

"One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you" (Exodus 12:49).

"And if a stranger dwells among you, and would keep the Lord’s Passover, he must do so according to the rite of the Passover and according to its ceremony; you shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger and the native of the land" (Numbers 9:14).

"One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord. One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you" (Numbers 15:15-16).

"You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them" (Numbers 15:29).

God hates a double standard, just like he hates unjust and differing weights some have used to cheat others.

"You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a heavy and a light. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure, that your days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who behave unrighteously, are an abomination to the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 25:13-16).

There is no partiality with God. He requires the same thing of us in the Church of God as He requires of those from other religions coming into the Church of God. We have no right to require a higher standard from Catholics and Protestants coming into the truth than we require of ourselves.

"Then Peter opened his mouth and said: 'In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him' " (Acts 10:34-35).

"For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law" (Romans 2:11-12).

"And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him" (Ephesians 6:9).

"But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality" (Colossians 3:25).

"And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear" (1 Peter 1:17).

"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17).

God hates partiality and hypocrisy. The scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers were guilty of that in Jesus's day, requiring of others what they did not practice themselves.

"Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matthew 23:1-4).

"And He said, 'Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers" (Luke 11:46).

We should know these things. Yet in one point, we may be requiring something different - more difficult - of those from other religions who come into the Church of God than we are willing to teach and practice among ourselves. We have a double standard - like unjust weights and measures - for we require a different standard of faith of others than we require of ourselves. We are inconsistent - hypocrites like the Pharisees - requiring more of others than we are willing to practice ourselves.

Here is what I am talking about.

Anytime you have a church - Catholic, Protestant, or Church of God - there are times when a member reads the Bible and has a question about doctrine. They found something in the Bible that seems different from what the ministry in their church teaches. So they take it to the minister, or in the case of the Catholic Church, the priest. The minister or priest gives an answer, but it still seems different from what the church member reads in the Bible. To the member, it seems that God is saying one thing and his church is saying something different. Who is he to believe?

What do we tell Catholics and Protestants?

Do we not say, "Don't believe your minister, believe God, believe the Bible"?

Isn't that what we say to others outside the Church of God when explaining the doctrines of the Bible, in other words, true doctrine?

Mr. Armstrong said that on the radio, and that helped lay the foundation for the Church of God today. It was because he said that when the Church was growing that we are here today - many listeners did exactly what he said: checked to see what the Bible said, believed God, that is, the Bible, and came into the Church of God.

When Mr. Armstrong said that, he was asking his listeners to do exactly what he had done and continued to do himself. There was no double standard between what Mr. Armstrong practiced and what he asked his listeners to do. Mr. Armstrong believed the Bible more than he believed any minister in the Church of God Seventh Day before Mr. Armstrong was ever ordained as a minister. He put the Bible first, the Church of God second.

Do we still say that to the public today when we preach the gospel?

Whether we say it in those exact words or not, we still say it, for by teaching doctrines contrary to Catholic and Protestant traditions and proving what we teach by the Bible, we are certainly saying by implication that our listeners and readers should believe the Bible more than their own churches.

And apart from the official preaching of the gospel to the public by any particular fellowship, all fellowships have members who from time to time have doctrinal conversations with Catholic or Protestant family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and the like. These non-COG people ask our members questions, and our members have to explain our doctrines. No doubt many such members have to explain that we are to believe what God says in the Bible more than any minister, church, man, or tradition.

And we have to say that, either explicitly or by implication, to effectively preach the gospel to the world. We have to say, believe God more than your traditions and ministers. If we don't say that, or if our listeners and readers do not do that, how can they come out of their false traditions? If Protestants believe their ministers more than the Bible, how can they come into the Church of God? If Catholics believe their priests and the Pope more than the Bible, how can they come into the Church of God? How can they turn from their sins and turn to God? They can't. To do that, they have to believe the Bible first.

To effectively preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public, we have to ask them, one way or another, to believe God - believe the Bible - more than their own traditions, churches, and ministers. We have to teach them to believe God more than man.

But what do we practice ourselves and what do we teach our own members?

If we tell our members, believe Church of God traditions, leadership, and ministry more than what you see in your own Bible, we are practicing a double standard.

There are various ways ministers might say this. If they say that the ministry is to interpret the Bible and we are to believe their interpretation, then we are teaching the same thing the Catholic Church teaches its members, that the Pope, the Catholic priesthood, and Catholic traditions interpret the Bible for their members.

But Mr. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God taught that no man should interpret the Bible, but we should let the Bible interpret the Bible. We should put all the passages on a subject together and let clear passages interpret difficult ones.

Some may say that Christ is the head of the Church and He guides the teaching and the establishes true doctrine through the leadership and ministry. That is certainly true, but by itself is misleading because it leaves something important out.

What that statement leaves out is the fact that ministers do NOT teach the truth exactly, because ministers make mistakes. They teach the truth overall, if they are true ministers of Christ. But Christ does not keep them from making mistakes. They follow Christ imperfectly - we all do. Mr. Armstrong made mistakes in his teaching. He made a small mistake, for years, about Pentecost being on a Monday. He made a great big mistake, near the end of his life, telling us to follow Mr. Tkach, not qualifying that with, "as he follows Christ" or "as he follows the Bible".

We are not to trust ministers with the same kind of unconditional trust we should have towards God and His word, the Bible. In fact, God specifically tells us not to trust other people, and I see no exceptions for ministers.

"Thus says the Lord:
'Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit' "
(Jeremiah 17:5-8).

"It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man.
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in princes"
(Psalm 118:8-9).

"Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help"
(Psalm 146:3).

"The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe"
(Proverbs 29:25).

"Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him"
(Proverbs 30:5).

"The entirety of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever"
(Psalm 119:160).

"Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth"
(John 17:17).

So what should a Church of God member do when he sees something in the Bible that seems to him to contradict the teachings of his minister and the Church?

First reaction should always be: believe God, believe the Bible. If that's what a Catholic or Protestant should do, that is what we should do. We must put God first over our traditions, our church leadership, and our ministers.

Does that mean the member is right in his understanding and the Church of God wrong? No, not necessarily. The member can make a mistake just as the ministry can make a mistake, even more so.

So, if the matter is important, the second reaction, if it is practical, is to take the matter to his pastor or write to his Church headquarters. I say, "if practical" because some Church of God fellowships may not be open to this kind of questioning. This is a judgment the member must make. But if he chooses to discuss it with the ministry, he should do so respectfully, putting it in terms of questions if possible, and he should do it with an open mind willing to be corrected by the Bible. The minister may be able to explain it to him by the scriptures and the member may learn his mistake. Or, more rarely, the ministry may see its mistake and make the correction for the whole Church.

But often, the member and ministry will still not come to agreement. Then what?

First of all, can two sincere Church members, even one a minister and one a lay member, have a disagreement even after discussing it with the Bible? Yes. How?

God opens our minds to the truth and helps us understand the Bible. But He doesn't give us perfect understanding in all points all at once - if that were true, we would not have to grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). Right now, we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:9).

Does God open every member's mind to every point of truth at the same time? No, not necessarily. Some in the Church of God understood that Pentecost was on a Sunday before Mr. Armstrong did.

God is able to open one person's mind to understand a truth before another person, minister or not. Why? To test us. To see where our loyalty is, to God or to man.

So a member might understand a point of truth that the Church of God as a whole does not yet understand. Why? So God can test the member to see if he will put his faith in God more than man, but also to test him to see if he will be respectful towards the ministry in spite of his difference of opinion. Likewise, God can test the ministry to see if they will examine the matter sincerely, humbly, and with an open mind - looking to God, not their traditions, for truth and being willing to be corrected, even by a member.

By the way, some have said that correction is always from the top down. That is false, according to the Bible. Read the account of Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings 5:1-14. Naaman's servants lovingly and respectfully corrected him. He accepted the correction, and God performed a miracle to heal him. This is entirely different from Aaron and Miriam talking against Moses, behind his back in Numbers 12:1-10. The difference was that Naaman's servants were respectful and probably spoke to him face-to-face, privately. They never challenged or undermined Naaman's authority.

So what should a member do if he cannot agree with the ministry on a point of scripture? He must believe God, but quietly, respecting the authority of the ministry over official teaching in the Church. And if it is a point of God's law, something the member must do, then he must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29), but again, quietly, not making it an issue with other members more than is necessary.

In this manner, some who knew that Pentecost was on Sunday were able to obey God, resting on Sunday Pentecost, but also attending services with the Church of God when Mr. Armstrong taught Monday Pentecost observance. And they didn't have to talk about it with other members. I have no doubt some did exactly that. And it was the right thing for them to do.

A member in such a situation can trust Christ to correct the error in the Church in His time, even if that time is when He returns.

Some Church of God ministers say that letting each member decide for himself what a scripture means results in confusion and division. That is nonsense, and it is an excuse for the ministry to compete with God for the faith of the members. A member should strive to let the Bible interpret the Bible (not the ministry), getting all the passages on a subject and letting clear scriptures interpret difficult ones. And he should be open-minded and humble enough to carefully consider what the ministry has to say.

But if he still does not agree, he should not create division. He should believe, trust, and obey God and His word the Bible, but quietly, not making an issue out of it with other members. He should not create division, and that means he should not contradict the ministry in conversation with other members (because that always creates division). Contradicting the ministry weakens the authority God gave the ministry. They have the job of teaching, not the lay members (Ephesians 4:11-16).

And the ministry should teach this process to the membership.

If the ministry does not teach the members to keep quiet about their disagreements over doctrine, that is a pretty good sign that the ministry is teaching the members to not disagree at all, even quietly in their own minds, with the ministry on matters of Bible doctrine. In other words, that ministry is teaching the members to believe and trust their interpretation of the Bible, not what the members see for themselves in the Bible. That is exactly what Catholics do.

Church of God ministers can say that in various ways. For example, they can over-emphasize that Christ is the head of the Church, as if that means that what the ministers say must be true. They can say that members need to have faith that Christ is the head of the Church (but I never heard anyone say that Christ is not the head of the Church, so why the unbalanced emphasis?).

Of course Christ is the head of the Church. But He is not just the head of the ministry. He is also the head of every member individually.

I go into this in more detail in my book, but I will here simply state that Christ directs the Church through the leadership and ministry only in matters pertaining to the organized work of the Church, such as official doctrine that is taught to the brethren, preaching the gospel, resolving disputes between brethren, caring for the poor in the Church, discipline, etc. But in matters of faith, prayer, and personal obedience to the law of God, every member is personally responsible to Christ, and not through the ministry. And in family matters, Christ is the head of the husband and the husband is the head of the family.

And even in matters of the organized work of the Church, the ministry makes mistakes, not following Christ perfectly in doctrine or anything else, just as husbands and fathers in the Church make mistakes and just as all of us make mistakes in our personal faith and obedience to God.

Yet, Christ is head of us all.

For more detail, and three organization charts, see my section "Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry" in chapter 8, "GOVERNMENT IN THE CHURCH OF GOD", link:

Sometimes, when a member wants to submit a question or a doctrinal paper he has written that challenges the Church's understanding on some doctrine, the ministry may want to brush it aside and belittle it by saying, "We have studied all this before".

But so what? Does the fact that they have studied it mean that they are right, that they made no mistake in their study? Mr. Armstrong must have studied the Pentecost issue and concluded that Pentecost was on a Monday, but he made a mistake. God may allow a lay member to see the importance of a particular passage relating to a doctrine that the ministry missed when they did their study. God can do that to test us, both the lay member and the ministry.

And are those studies made available to the lay members so the members can see for themselves how the doctrine is based on God's word, not human tradition? If a proper study was made, there should be documentation. No one would do a serious study of doctrine for the Church just in his head. There would be documentation that could be circulated and reviewed by the top ministers in the organization. That document, if the study was honest, would show scriptures and arguments on both sides of an issue, and it would show which side is right and why.

Where is that documentation? Is it made available to the members of the Church who have an issue with the doctrine so they can see how it was studied and so they can see the scriptural reasons for the Church's doctrine - so they can put their faith in God, not man, not the Church ministry? Or is it locked up in a file cabinet, not available to the membership? And is the member just told, "We have studied this before", and left to trust the ministry, not God?

Ministers sometimes justify teaching the members to believe the ministry's interpretation of the Bible by repeating that the Church is the "pillar and ground" of the truth, quoting 1 Timothy 3:15.

"but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).

Yes, the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, and should be, for that is its function. But what does that mean, especially in the context of other passages?

First of all, this is an analogy or metaphor. The Church is not literally a pillar, nor is it literally the ground. These things represent something. The Church is to uphold the truth as a pillar upholds a building. The Church is the ground from which the truth is to be taught and spread. It is the source of the gospel message that is to be preached to all the world, in the sense that the Church is to do the preaching. But the message comes from God, and today that means, from the Bible.

This is an example of where we must let clear scriptures interpret difficult ones. Both the Bible and history show us that the Church and its ministry make mistakes, so being the "pillar and ground" of the truth does not mean that everything the Church teaches is true. The Church, if it is the true Church, will overall teach the truth, but there can be mistakes.

I have already quotes Bible passages showing that we are to trust God more than man.

And while the Bible makes a symbolic statement that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, the Bible clearly states, without analogy, symbolism, or metaphor, that God's word IS truth. Moreover, the Bible is error-free, for scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).

Therefore, the teachings of God's word, the Bible, are higher and to believed more than the teachings of the Church.

The Bible also clearly states, without analogy, symbolism, or metaphor, that the ministry does not have dominion (rule or authority) over the faith of the members, that is, what members believe. The Church does not have authority to command members to believe certain doctrines, except that we all should be taught to believe what the Bible says.

"Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Faith towards God, His promises, and His truth is an act of worship. It should be directed towards God and His direct word to us, the Bible, not towards the ministry.

Members who believe their ministers more than what they see in the Bible, or who let the ministers interpret the Bible for them rather than letting the Bible interpret the Bible, are making idols out of their ministers, and ministers who teach them to do that are making idols of themselves.

I don't say that a member has to meticulously prove in the Bible every tiny doctrine the Church teaches. Most members do not have time for that, and it is not necessary with the smaller doctrines. But when a member, in his regular Bible study, reads something in the Bible, he better believe it.

Faith - which includes believing what God says - is one of the three weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). It is part of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We love God when we trust and believe what He says - unconditionally. That unconditional trust and belief in God's word is something we must never share with fallible human beings, even faithful ministers in the Church of God.

Some ministers may say we should look to the Church and the ministry to hear what God is saying. That can be true to the degree the ministers prove what they say by the Bible. It is never true in an absolute sense. God was not speaking through Mr. Armstrong when Mr. Armstrong told us to follow Mr. Tkach.

Imagine someone who sees a conflict between what his minister teaches and what he sees in the Bible. Who should he believe more, his minister, or God?

Before reading further, stop and think. How would you answer?

I didn't mention it before, but in the above question, the member belongs to a Protestant church. Does that change your answer? It shouldn't. If a Catholic or Protestant should believe the Bible more than they believe their church, so should a Church of God member.

Jesus Christ severely rebuked the Pharisees and lawyers for applying a double standard. He said they bound heavy burdens on the people that they would not lift with their finger.

"For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matthew 23:4).

"And He said, 'Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers' " (Luke 11:46).

Is that what we do in the Church of God? If we demand more of the people we preach the gospel to in the general public - Catholics and Protestants - than we demand of ourselves, yes. We do that when we require that they give up the beliefs of their churches, ministers, religious leaders, and traditions in order to believe what God says in the Bible, but we do not practice that ourselves.

It is hard for outsiders to choose to believe the Bible more than their churches. It is hard for Catholics and Protestants to give up their traditions, their friends, their families, and sometimes their jobs to follow the Bible. Harder than for us whose traditions are mostly according to the Bible already.

Moreover, top leaders and ministers are applying a double standard when they teach their members to believe them more than what they see in the Bible, because they don't do that themselves. When they study the Bible, perhaps considering whether a doctrinal change is needed, they allow themselves to study the Bible with an open mind. They allow themselves to read the Bible as it is, letting the Bible interpret the Bible, and they do not consider themselves bound by past human interpretation in the Church. If they think the Church's past understanding is wrong, they change it (they often call it "clarifying", but it is changing).

But they don't allow the members to do the same thing when they read the Bible. They preach against "wrong ideas" and "pet theories". They preach against each person deciding for himself what is true doctrine. In effect, they want the members to make idols of the ministers.

And many members are pleased to do just that. It is much easier to simply believe what a flesh and blood minister tells you. He is visibly present, and you can ask him questions. That is easier than doing the hard work of Bible study.

This reminds me of the story of Gideon. Gideon was a righteous man, a man of God, and God worked a great victory for Israel through Gideon (Judges 6:11-Judges 8:21). Gideon is also listed in the faith chapter of Hebrews as one of those who obtained a good testimony through faith (Hebrews 11:32-40).

Yet, after Gideon led Israel to victory in battle, the men of Israel asked Gideon to be their ruler. But Gideon said that God would be their ruler.

"Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, 'Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.' But Gideon said to them, 'I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.' " (Judges 8:22-23).

So far, so good. Gideon seemed to realize that God was ruler over Israel, and he himself seemed willing to submit to God's rule. He seemed to be humble. He said the right words. But then he fell into a trap.

"Then Gideon said to them, 'I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder.' For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites. So they answered, 'We will gladly give them.' And they spread out a garment, and each man threw into it the earrings from his plunder. Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments, pendants, and purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were around their camels’ necks. Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house" (Judges 8:24-27).

Gideon made an idol that became a snare to Gideon and his house.

Even this righteous man, through whom God gave to Israel a great victory, fell into the trap of idolatry.

Likewise, many ministers in the Church of God, and many members too, fall into the trap of making idols of their ministers and Church of God leaders.

In fact, if the ministry does not even warn members not to make idols out of the ministry and the Church of God, that itself should set off alarm bells. Members can make idols out of their ministers, is that not so? There are certain prerogatives that are reserved for God alone. So ministers in their sermons and articles ought to warn against that just as they warn against other sins. But do they?

If they don't, why not? Do they think it is impossible for members to make idols of their ministers? If they don't see the danger, that is bad. It indicates that they themselves don't understand that there are prerogatives that belong only to God, not men. One of those is faith. Our faith must be towards God alone, not towards men.

In order to effectively preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning of the punishment of the great tribulation to come upon Israel, we need God's blessing and help. But God is unlikely to very much bless such efforts if we do not practice what we preach. If we follow a double standard, asking others to believe God more than man, but are not willing to do that ourselves, we are practicing a double standard and may be counted as hypocrites in God's sight. And thus, our preaching of the gospel will be weak.

And that is the case. We do not have the 30% growth rate Mr. Armstrong had during many years in the Radio/Worldwide Church of God. No Church of God group has a magazine circulation in the millions as Mr. Armstrong had. We do not have the TV coverage we had.

No doubt there are many Philadelphians in the whole Church of God, but they are a minority. The door is open for them, but not open wide. Laodiceans are the majority. And the whole Church of God has not been blessed with a wide-open door for preaching the gospel to the public.

It may be that God has not blessed us because of our hypocrisy.

In my opinion, no group that teaches this kind of hypocrisy - the hypocrisy of telling the world to believe God more than man while we teach our members to believe the ministry more than the Bible - will have much success reaching all of Israel with the true gospel and the warning of the tribulation.

I have been teaching this - that members should be taught to believe the Bible first more than they believe the ministry - in my blog and book for years. I know that many ministers in the whole Church of God do not practice teaching their members to put the Bible first. Yet, none of them has challenged me, in the comments in this blog or in email correspondence with me. None wants to discuss this according to the Bible. None wants to correct me by the scriptures. They don't want to try to show me I am wrong. I think they know they can't.

The solution?

Believe what you see in the Bible more than what your minister, Church leader, or Church of God tradition tells you. Have an open mind, and be willing to be corrected by the ministry if you are wrong. But don't discuss disagreements with other members in the Church. Keep quiet about it. Don't create division. But believe the Bible first, the Church of God second.

And ministers should teach the membership to do these things, and they should warn the members not to make idols of the ministry and Church.

Then God can bless us with a wide-open door and greater growth and success in preaching the truth to the public (Revelation 3:7-8).