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' "
"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"
"Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help"
"The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe"
"Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him"
"The entirety of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever"
"Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth"
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.
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).