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).