Some of the human leadership of the Church of God has managed to build a culture of hostility to new knowledge at a very time when there is a desperate need for new knowledge in the Church of God.
"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children" (Hosea 4:6).
Could this apply to the Church of God today?
I have said there is a desperate need for new knowledge in the Church. What is that need? What do we need God to teach us that we do not already know?
I will mention three examples, though I could probably list many more. All three relate to problems in the Church of God, problems the ministry and membership do not know how to deal with. We need knowledge from God and from His word the Bible in how to remedy these situations, knowledge we apparently do not have.
One is the problem of addiction in the Church. Some baptized Church of God members struggle with addictions to sins, addictions they have struggled with unsuccessfully for years and have still not overcome. These could be addictions to alcohol, drugs, sexual sin, gambling, over-eating, and many other things. In vain you may search a sermon list of a Church of God fellowship for a sermon series on how to overcome addiction with messages that are truly effective in helping members overcome their addictions. Why do ministers avoid this topic? Is it because they think addiction is not a problem? Unlikely. More likely, they do not have an answer, so they avoid the subject.
The Church needs new knowledge from the Bible on the subject of how members can overcome their addictions, knowledge that really gets results and bears good fruit.
Another problem is the lack of a wide-open door for preaching the gospel. Yes, the door is still open, but only a crack. We have had plenty of time since the breakup of Worldwide for faithful remnants of the Church to grow and become strong. But God has not given us a wide-open door as He gave Mr. Armstrong. Magazine circulation in the old days was about 7,000,000 or more, and growth in members and income for a time was about 30% a year. Now, typically for one of the larger organizations, magazine circulation is only about 250,000 or 300,000. Growth in membership and income is small, maybe less than 5% a year. Why? Why is the work not growing faster? At this rate, we will never get the work done in time.
The Church needs new knowledge from the Bible on what changes the leadership and membership need to make in order for God to bless us with a wide-open door for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel and the world. We have about 500 million people or more just in the nations of Israel to reach with that message, and we have barely scratched the surface. Blood guilt is on our heads - we become murderers in God's sight - if we fail to get that message out (Ezekiel 3:18). We talk endlessly about the sins of the nation - how 60 million or more unborn children have been murdered - but we do not consider that God may put the deaths of 500 million people on our heads if we don't warn them in time.
A third area is healing. We have far fewer cases of miraculous healing than we had in Mr. Armstrong's day, especially in the early days of the work God did through him. Why? God is the same (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). What are we doing wrong? We need to know. We don't know now, but we need to learn, and we need to learn the answer from God's word, the Bible, just as we learn all our doctrinal knowledge from the Bible.
Those are just three examples. They are not the only ones.
Yet, at the very time when the Church needs to learn new knowledge from God and His word, the Bible, many in the Church of God are busy building a culture that is against learning anything new. Members who come to the ministry to learn more of the truth of God and who want to learn something they did not know before and not just be reminded of old knowledge are rebuked instead of instructed. Those who want to learn something new are belittled. Those ministers or members who have ideas they want to share with the ministry - ideas for new knowledge they feel they have discovered in the Bible - are warned not to focus on new ideas. Their ideas are rejected outright, sometimes without any real examination, not because they are wrong, but only because they are different from the present traditions of the Church.
There is a myth in the Church that goes around that says that correction only comes from the top down. This is true if the correction means discipline or punishment or taking authoritative action. In God's way of life, correction in that sense only comes from the top down. But there is another kind of correction that comes in the form of respectful suggestions and advice given in private (whether asked for or not), and that does not always come from the top down.
Ministers sometimes refer to the example of Miriam and Aaron speaking against Moses (Numbers 12:1-15). God was clearly displeased with them. This is an example of the wrong kind of correction from the bottom up. Why? Because they spoke against Moses, and because they spoke among themselves first without each going to Moses only privately to discuss the matter. They spoke behind Moses's back with each other, accusing Moses (Numbers 12:1-2).
But do ministers who say that correction is only from the top down mention the example of Naaman the Syrian? Read the account in 2 Kings 5:1-14. Naaman went to Elisha to be healed of leprosy, and Elisha told him to wash seven times in the river Jordan. But Naaman was offended at this because the way he was answered was not as he expected. So he went away in anger. But Naaman's servants gently and respectfully corrected him, and he responded, did what the prophet said, and was healed. Why was this acceptable to God? God blessed Naaman for accepting the correction by healing him, and God inspired this whole account, including "correction" from the bottom up, to be recorded in the Bible. He could have left that part out and just said that Naaman did as Elisha said and was healed. Why?
God is showing us that correction from "the bottom up" - from one under authority to one over him in authority - is right if offered as a suggestion, given respectfully and in love, and given in private, not behind the person's back in some kind of conspiracy of discussion against the person in authority. It bore good fruit in this case. God blesses that kind of correction.
Even business corporations have suggestion boxes and encourage employees to suggest ways the business can improve.
When it comes to doctrine from the Bible, these types of suggestions are discouraged by much of the Church of God leadership. The Church needs new knowledge desperately, not necessarily on small, picky details of prophecy or law, but on some major issues. Who knows if some local elder or pastor might seek new knowledge in the Bible, and in seeking it might find it if God opens his mind to reveal it to him, and through that man to the whole Church of God, if that man were not discouraged from even suggesting anything new to the leadership.
Here is an example from Church history that we can learn from.
Read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography. When he first came into the Church of God Seventh Day, he came as a lay member, not an apostle. He had not been ordained as a minister. Yet he offered doctrinal suggestions, suggestions that Church of God Seventh Day leadership did not accept and teach. One was the identity of the lost tribes of Israel. The other was a matter Mr. Armstrong did not identify in his autobiography, except that it was a correction to an error in Church of God Seventh Day teachings. My guess is that it was about our need to observe God's annual holy days and festivals.
But that Church rejected the new knowledge God was revealing through Mr. Armstrong, a lay member.
And God rejected that Church from doing a powerful work.
The person or group to do a powerful work, the person or group to whom God would reveal lost knowledge, had to say to the public, "Don't believe me, don't believe any man, believe God, believe your Bible". Why? Because the people who would hear the message were raised in false traditions. They had to reject their traditions and believe the Bible.
The Church of God Seventh Day could not be used by God to preach that message because they weren't living it. They did not reject their traditions to believe the Bible. They rejected new knowledge - new knowledge God offered them through a lay member, Mr. Armstrong - in order to keep the traditions of their organization. In this they were like the Pharisees who favored their traditions over the word of God (Matthew 15:1-9).
The Church of God today is in danger of becoming the same way, if it has not already done so.
Mr. Armstrong identified the Church of God Seventh Day as Sardis, the Church that had a name that it was alive but was dead.
Let's read the message to Sardis and see what Christ said to them.
"And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy" ' " (Revelation 3:1-4). Also, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 3:6).
Notice a few things. First of all, verse 6 says we are to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. In other words, all of the messages to all seven churches are important to us, not just the message for the era we are in. We should not reject this message just because we are in the Laodicean era or because we think we are a remnant of the Philadelphia era.
Verse 4 says there are some in Sardis who are worthy to walk with Christ in white. They are not at fault. This is important, because it shows that not everyone in Sardis is spiritually dead. We might think the fellowship we are in cannot be a dead Church because we see good in it, but there can be good in it in the form of some members and ministers who are spiritually alive. This does not mean the whole fellowship is alive. In terms of eras, that reference to those who are worthy to walk in white garments with Christ may very well refer to remnants of the Philadelphia era - true Philadelphians in character and spirit - a minority in the midst of a fellowship, or several fellowships, that are predominantly dead.
Finally, look at verse 3. Christ tells Sardis to remember how they received and heard. Notice that word, "how". They are not told to remember what they received, but how they received it.
They are not being reminded to hold on to old knowledge. They are being told to remember and think about how they came to have the knowledge they have. HOW, not WHAT.
How did we receive it? To know that, we have to remember our roots. Look at our history. We received it through Mr. Armstrong and his early supporters who were willing to believe new knowledge from the Bible, even when that meant rejecting the traditions they grew up in, even when that meant rejecting the traditions of the group they attended with.
The Church of God desperately needs new knowledge from God and His word, the Bible. And God can reveal that new knowledge through any ministers or members He chooses, just as He revealed new knowledge from the Bible to Mr. Armstrong before Mr. Armstrong started a new work or was ordained as a minister. God can do this by opening our minds to see what has been in the Bible all along, but we have not noticed it.
God does this through His Holy Spirit and through His word, the Bible. God speaks to us directly in the Bible, and through His Holy Spirit He helps us understand the Bible, one part at a time. And as we believe and try to obey what God reveals to us, He reveals more. But if we disbelieve, the help to understand stops, or is diminished.
This is how a Church of God fellowship can spiritually die. To be alive means to grow, in knowledge, in numbers, in power to do God's work. But if that organization builds an atmosphere of hostility and antagonism towards new knowledge, that is the exact opposite of an atmosphere of faith that believes what God says in the Bible when God teaches us something new.
Look at the natural world. If a tree is alive, it grows. Tree rings are added yearly. If it stops growing, it is dead.
God is not healing us as He used to. He is not giving us a wide-open door for the work as He did before. And if we continue to build a culture that rejects new knowledge from God, He is likely to reject us from doing His work. He will find someone else. That is God's way.
We must be reminded of old knowledge, but not reject the new.
Notice what Christ said.
"Then He said to them, 'Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old' " (Matthew 13:52).
But there is a tendency, with old-timers, to reject things that are new simply because they are new.
"And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, 'The old is better' " (Luke 5:39).
It should be obvious that Christ is not talking about wine.
Finally, there is this warning to those who reject knowledge.
"Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me" (Hosea 4:6).
Christ rejected Church of God Seventh Day for this very reason. He did not use them to do a powerful work, but used Mr. Armstrong instead. God can likewise reject any Church of God fellowship today that rejects knowledge from God to hold on to its organizational traditions.
How is the Church of God Seventh Day doing today? Organizationally, it is very large. But it is not spiritually powerful and it is not doing God's work of getting the warning message out to all Israel about the coming tribulation and how our nations must repent. They do not even know who Israel is. They rejected that knowledge offered to them 90 years ago by God through a lay member of the Church, Mr. Armstrong.
Likewise, if a Church of God fellowship focuses more on preserving its organizational strength and stability than it does on understanding, believing, and obeying God's word, the Bible, it can die spiritually while it remains alive organizationally. It can put a spin on everything to support the organization and the authority of its leadership and ministry, yet not help members in their relationship with God. It can compete with God for the faith of the members, telling members to believe the Church and its traditions more than they believe God and His word, more than they believe what they see for themselves in the Bible. In effect, they make an idol out of themselves and teach members to believe them more than God.
A sign of God's disapproval will be weakened power for doing the work.
Such an organization can die spiritually, even while a few members in it, perhaps Philadelphians in character, remain alive and faithful, as Christ said in His message to Sardis. The door will remain open for their sake, but not open wide.
That door will not open wide before it is God's time to separate the faithful few from a dead Church so those faithful can finish the work with power.
That time has not yet come. God has given, and is still giving, the ministry and leadership of all the Church of God fellowships time to repent of their faults, whatever they may be, and heed the messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
God gave Church of God Seventh Day time to repent. Mr. Armstrong fellowshipped with them for about seven years before he separated to do a Philadelphia work. But they did not use that time to repent and accept new knowledge from the Bible.
Let us and all the ministry and leadership of the various Church of God fellowships learn the lesson from the example of Mr. Armstrong and the Church of God Seventh Day. Let us do as Christ said and remember how we have received and heard. Let us remember that we received and heard by being willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible, knowledge different from the knowledge and traditions we were raised in.
It is only those who have learned that lesson who will be able to do a powerful work of warning the nations and preaching the true gospel to the world. Only those can say to the world, "Don't believe us, don't believe any man, believe God, believe the Bible", without being hypocrites. Because those who say that to the world, but say to their members, "Believe us, the ministry, because Christ leads us", are not practicing what they preach. They use a double standard, saying one thing to the outside world and something different to their own organization.
That is a double standard which God hates (Deuteronomy 25:13-16, Exodus 12:49, Numbers 15:16).
People who come into the Church of God must be willing to learn many new things. They must be willing to believe God and His word the Bible directly more than they believe their own priests and ministers and the traditions of the church they were raised in. They must believe what they see for themselves in their own Bible, or they won't come to us.
But when they come to us, if they hear our ministers teaching that they should believe them now more than what they see in the Bible, they will see the double-standard. They will see that we are like the churches they came out of, and many will walk right out again. And God will not be pleased.
In fact, God may already not be pleased and may be withholding from us the power to bring more people in for that very reason. He sees our hypocrisy, and He sees that we offend new people by our double-standard, and so He is not bringing them into the Church of God in any great numbers right now.
There is still time to repent, but if we do not, God will no doubt reject us from doing a great work and use someone else. He is quite capable of doing that, and the history of the Church of God in the last 100 years shows that He has done that at least once already.
I know that some ministers are afraid of dissent. They are afraid members will promote their pet theories among other members. And that is and should be a concern. Members should be taught not to do that. They should be taught not to contradict the ministry and leadership in conversation with other members. If they do that, they are like the bad example of Miriam and Aaron, who criticized Moses in conversation with each other.
But it is not wrong for a member or local elder to offer ideas and suggestions to the leadership and higher ministry respectfully in private. That is what the servants of Namaan the Syrian did, and God blessed it. That is what Mr. Armstrong did as a lay member in the Church of God Seventh Day. Members and ministers should NOT be discouraged from "having ideas" about the Bible. That is how we learn. That is how God teaches us.
We must not be like Sardis, a dead church.