Is it sin to contradict the ministry in matters of doctrine in the presence of the brethren?
In my last post, and in many prior posts, I talked about the need for all Church of God members to believe the Bible more than they believe the leadership and the ministry of the Church of God fellowship they attend. When they see something in the Bible that seems different and contrary to the teachings of the Church, until it is resolved, they should believe the Bible, not the Church.
But there is a flip-side to that coin. While we believe the Bible first, and may therefore sometimes disagree with the Church if the Church makes an error in understanding the Bible, we must not talk about our disagreements in front of the brethren, else we cause division. I have also said this in many prior posts.
If we choose to discuss our disagreements with the ministry, this should be in private. We should not plant our ideas in the minds of other members.
There are two principles that must work together in balance. One is that we are to believe the Bible more than the ministry - we must trust and believe God more than man. The other is that we must recognize the office and role God has given the ministry in establishing official teaching and doctrine and protecting the members from false doctrine. The ministers have the authority to decide what the members will be taught. This preserves unity.
Trust and believe God, but also cooperate with the ministry and don't undermine their authority over what the brethren are taught.
The Bible teaches both of these principles, and they must be practiced together, or you have trouble. One without the other won't work.
If we believe the ministry more than the Bible, we injure our spiritual relationship with God. We substitute faith and trust in man for the faith and trust we should have towards God and His word, the Bible. We make an idol out of the ministry.
But if we disagree with the ministry openly, discussing our disagreements in the presence of the brethren, we undermine the authority of the ministry over doctrinal teaching that God has given them, and that creates division.
And it may be fear of such division that motivates some ministers to want the brethren to trust their teachings more than what they see in the Bible.
Why is it wrong and contrary to God's law to contradict the ministry in matters of doctrine in conversation with other brethren?
There are several scriptures that address this issue.
God has given the leadership and ministry the job of establishing official Church doctrine and teaching it to the brethren. He has not given that job to everyone. In any decision about what doctrines the brethren are to be taught, the ministry has the authority to decide. Part of the purpose is to protect the brethren from heresy and every wind of false doctrine.
"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16).
The ministerial offices Christ establishes are for the purpose of bringing us to a unity of faith and preventing members from being carried away by every wind of doctrine.
But that purpose is hindered when some members think they have the right to contradict the ministry in doctrinal discussions with other members.
We are also to maintain unity and not cause division.
"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18).
The ministry has a job to do. That job is given to them by Christ. Part of their job is to understand and teach doctrine to the brethren. They are human and can make mistakes, but overall their doctrine should be right. And they are answerable to Christ, not to the brethren, as far as how they do their jobs.
But if a member takes it upon himself to tell other members that the ministry is wrong on a certain doctrine, that member is not only hindering the work of the ministry, he is taking something upon himself - determining what doctrine will be taught to the members - that has not been given to him. That is rebellion against authority, and the Bible does not approve it. And when many members do this, you have division, confusion, and chaos, and God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).
What about differences between different fellowships and groups that are different in the details of doctrines they teach their members?
The Church of God today is scattered. We do not have the unity we should have. This is no doubt due to a general Laodicean condition of the Church in this last church era. Christ promised to spit us out of His mouth as a corrective rebuke for our lukewarmness and Laodicean condition, and no doubt the scattering that has occurred is part of this (Revelation 3:14-19).
So sometimes brethren from different fellowships gather in someone's home or a restaurant and have doctrinal conversations about matters where they differ. And sometimes discussion about doctrine is necessary to help members decide what fellowship is following Christ and the Bible most faithfully and where they should attend.
But members should not be contradicting the position of their own ministry and the fellowship they are a part of.
What about taking a stand for important, foundational truth that is being abandoned, as was the case in Worldwide after the death of Mr. Armstrong?
Most of the doctrinal disputes today have to do with details of doctrines, not foundational points.
But if a Church of God fellowship turns away from something truly foundational - not just a detail - then it is time to leave that fellowship. If a group says that the Bible is not God's word, that Christ is not the Son of God or that He did not live a sinless life, or teaches the trinity doctrine, or that man has an immortal soul - at that point it becomes necessary to take a stand. "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3-4).
In that case, there is little point even staying in a fellowship that has abandoned the truth of God in a major way. And it would not be wrong to explain to those who ask why you are leaving.
Those who are converted and close to God will have the discernment to know what is a detail and small matter and what is foundational. And God will judge those who create division over small matters, calling them foundational.
Eating in restaurants in not foundational. It is a detail. Calendar issues are not foundational. New moons are not foundational. What the "falling away" refers to is not foundational. Where the wedding supper will take place is not foundational. Details of prophecy are not foundational. These are small matters that can be left to Christ to correct when He returns, if necessary.
God will judge us if we create division and contradict the ministry of the fellowship we attend over these or other doctrinal details.
If we think the ministry is in error about a doctrine, pray about it and wait for Christ to make the correction. But let's not take it upon ourselves presumptuously to contradict the leadership and ministry of the fellowship we attend. If we talk about it, talk to the pastor in private, but not with the brethren.
Let's maintain unity and peace and avoid creating division in the Church of God.