Monday, August 31, 2020

The Importance of the Ezekiel Warning at this Time

This is a critical time in God's work.

There is a crisis for the nation and the Church of God.  Within that crisis is danger but also opportunity.

The danger is that we will fragment due to the stress of the effects of the coronavirus.  There is also the danger that Church income will decrease due to mass unemployment because of the corovavirus.  This can diminish our power to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.  And by Israel, I mean all the tribes of Israel and the nations that are made up of those tribes: the United States, Canada, Great Britain, etc.

But the irony is, the opportunity is tremendous.  Interest in our work has surged.  This could be due to several factors.  Some people have more time on their hands because they are unemployed.  They have more time to watch our broadcasts and read our websites and literature.  But also people are worried.  Some are scared.  They are worried about the direct effects of the virus on themselves and their loved ones.  They are worried about the economy and their income.  And in an election year when the liberal Democrats have a real chance to gain control of the white house and Congress, some of them are worried about the liberal, anti-God agenda growing and being enforced upon the people.  Add to that, worry about national debt and a possible dollar collapse.

This is a great opportunity to expand the work and reach more people with a warning message, a message they desperately need whether they realize it or not.

This is a time when we should be spending more money on the gospel, not less.

Some people think of preaching the gospel only or primarily in terms of bringing in new people, those God calls.

That is certainly important.  And it may be that this period of crisis we are in is a time when God is waking people up and drawing to the Church a large group of people He is calling - a group that will increase our numbers, our income, and our power to do God's work in the years ahead.  There may be tens of thousands of new people God is starting to call and is ready to bring into the Church, and it may be that God is using the corovavirus crisis and economic crisis to wake them up and get their attention.  This may be the beginning of a big renewal of God's work.

But there is another, perhaps more important reason for getting the Ezekiel warning out to our nations.

We need to warn everyone of their sins before the great tribulation starts while there is time for them to repent.  This is important for reasons beyond helping those God is calling in this age.

God is not calling the majority.  Yet, the first generation of the millennium will be made up largely of people alive today.  

They are not called to salvation in this age.  But they need to hear the warning anyway.  Why?  Even though most, without God's calling, will not repent, they need to hear it, remember it, and know that God was fair to give them a warning.  This will make it easier for them to accept responsibility for ignoring the warning.  They will know God was fair.  It will be easier for them to repent and learn to trust God during the great tribulation so that they can be converted after Christ returns and be teachable as the first generation of Israel in the millennium.

In other words, we have the opportunity to do some of the work of the millennium now by preparing the minds of the people who will be in the beginning of the millennium.  Never before in history has the Church of God had the opportunity to deliver a message to the first generation of Israel that will be saved after Christ returns.  We need to show them that God is fair to give them a warning, whether they heed it or not.

Many Catholics and Protestants never heard a warning against keeping Christmas and Easter and other wrong traditions.  They need to be told.

It can mean the difference between people saying, "It's not my fault, no one warned me, God is not fair," and "It's my fault, I heard the warning but I didn't listen.  God is fair - I should have listened."

We are going to have to work with these people in the millennium, and I would rather work with people with a repentant, humble, and teachable attitude than a complaining people who think God was not fair.

By demonstrating God's fairness and love, we glorify His name and reputation.  In the model prayer, we pray for God's name to be hallowed.  By our actions now, with our prayers, our tithes and offerings, our service, and our loyalty to God's work, we honor and glorify God's name and reputation by showing His love and fairness to give everyone a warning while there is time to heed and escape the punishment.

Giving a warning now will make it easier for the people to repent in the great tribulation.  Why?  By showing God's fairness to warn, we make it easier for the people to trust God and believe in His goodness.  We make it easier for them to accept responsibility.  Both of those things make repentence easier, and if easier, then more likely.  God can grant repentance to all Israel during the tribulation, but He doesn't force anyone to repent.  Each person makes his or her own choice.

Not all will repent when God grants repentance.  Some may choose to reject repentance.  They could lose their salvation and go into the lake of fire, eventually, if they do not repent when God gives them the opportunity.

So some could lose their salvation who otherwise might have been saved if we make their repentance more difficult by not giving the warning.

No wonder God counts us as murderers if we fail to do our part to warn our nations of the great tribulation to come upon them because of their sins.

God gave us a job to do, and we better do it.

"Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, And the house of Jacob their sins" (Isaiah 58:1).

"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, "You shall surely die," and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:17-18).

What makes us the Ezekiel watchman, you might ask.

Several scriptures make it clear that God commands us to warn the nations.

The most general, but perhaps the most important, is the command to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39).  Also, we are to do unto others as we would want them to do for us (Matthew 7:12).

We know that trouble is coming and our nations need a warning.  Love demands that we warn them.  And if we were in danger, we would want a warning, so we should do for others as we would want done for us.

But God gets more specific.  "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter" (Proverbs 24:12).  The only way to hold back is to warn.

We know the truth.  We know the sins of the people and we know the punishment that is coming.  We have the opportunity to warn.  That makes us the watchman.  Our opportunity to warn plus God's command that we love makes us the watchman, because if we don't warn, we don't love.

And in Ezekiel, God makes it clear how serious our responsibility is and the consequences if we don't do our job.  The consequences are, God will count us as murderers.

"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:17-18).

There was a movie named, "The Perfect Storm".  The title referred to the perfect conditions for a powerful storm.

In the preaching of the gospel, God is giving the members of the Church of God a perfect test.  The test is a test of faith - if we believe God's word that the great tribulation is coming and what it will be like for the people - and a test of love - if we love our neighbors enough to go all out with sacrifice to get the warning message out.

For it is a sacrifice.  Each one of us who supports the gospel and the warning pays a price, in tithes and offerings, in prayer time, or in service.  The man or woman who gives up some small but unnecessary purchase to contribute a little more to the preaching of the gospel and the warning is making a sacrifice.  Those sacrifices can be small but they add up.  They show God where are hearts are.

So we are being tested.  And the eternal lives of many may depend on our passing the test.

Let us be motivated by love to go all out to preach the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to all the Israelite nations and to the world.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Sheldon Monson of Living Church of God Is No Longer with LCG

Many or most of you probably have most of this information already.

The following is my understanding, which may be based in part on incomplete or unconfirmed reports.  Interested readers can do their own research and checking up.

On or around August 7, Mr. Gerald Weston, presiding evangelist of Living Church of God, announced that Mr. Sheldon Monson, a pastor with Living Church of God, and Mr. Jason Fritts were no longer ministers in Living Church of God.  I do not know, from what I have seen of Mr. Weston's announcement, if Mr. Monson was fired or resigned.  Other sources may have information on that.  This may be more clear over time.

The immediate cause of the separation seems to be wearing of face masks and singing in services.

On August 15, Mr. Monson conducted a Sabbath service which was broadcast live on Youtube and was made permanently available afterwards as a Youtube video.  He spoke on the subject of faith, and he made his email address available in the video for those who want a link to future live service broadcasts.

On or around August 19 Mr. Weston announced that Mr. Monson, by making the decision to "start his own work" (apparently by giving a Sabbath service live on Youtube), has caused division in some families and congregations, and consequently, members of LCG should avoid contact with him.

Since then, Mr. Monson has been giving live Sabbath services on Youtube each week.  He has given three services so far.  I believe all are available as recordings on Youtube.  In his second service, he gives some information about his separation from LCG.

In his third service, Mr. Monson talks about plans for a Feast of Tabernacles in Lake of the Ozarks.  According to his description, members will not be required to wear face masks in services and will be permitted to sing out loud.

Those who choose to access Mr. Monson's weekly Sabbath services can go to the Youtube site, and in the Youtube search box (not the Google search box) enter:

COG Broadcast

This will bring you to a listing of the recordings of his Sabbath services and a link to live services as the Sabbath approaches.  Live services start 2:00 pm, Eastern time on the Sabbath.


Friday, August 28, 2020

Can God Cause a Split for His Own Purposes, But Not Because of Sin?

In the Church, as God works things out, it is possible for Christ, as head of the Church, to create a separation between two ministers - two groups - one splitting from the other - for His own purposes without either side being wrong.  Neither has to sin.

Christ can engineer a split where two sides act correctly, according to the limited understanding God gives to each.

Each side may have understanding of a part of the situation and how God's law and way of life applies, and each may apply God's law correctly according to his understanding, which may be limited.

God holds us responsible for what we know and understand.  Sometimes, there are balancing principles in the Bible, and two men can understand the importance and application of different points or details of God's law and not other points or details.  This can create conflict between men who understand the importance of different parts of God's way of life, according to the wisdom God gives to each.  God gives to each man the wisdom and understanding which that man needs to do the job God has given him.  But God does not necessarily give a different man the same wisdom.  So that second man may not understand the actions of the first man - and he may judge him.  But God has called him to a different job.

Paul and Barnabas separated over Mark.  The contention between them was sharp (Acts 15:37-40).

There was a "split" between the two.

Which man sinned?

Maybe neither of them, at least not in a major way.  Each man acted according to the wisdom and understanding God gave him, but not the other.  God did not give both men the same understanding.  He gave them different understandings, accurate but incomplete, because each understood what he needed to do his own job, and the time had come for them to have different jobs.

"Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God" (Acts 15:37-40).

At the time of their separation, Paul understood, apparently, the need to have with them only someone they could rely on in time of trial, and maybe Paul understood the need to teach Mark a lesson and also set an object lesson for others in their group as an example.  Paul was not necessarily wrong about that, and this understanding of the situation, though maybe not complete, may have been accurate as far as it went, and it may have come from God.

But Barnabas apparently understood the need for compassion and forgiveness, and may have known that the action of rejecting Mark at this time would have a devastating effect on Mark.  This too may have been an accurate understanding, inspired in Barnabas's mind by God.

Both men could have had accurate understandings of the situation, but partial understandings - not complete.  Each understood part of the problem, but not what the other man understood.  And God may have inspired each man to have the understanding he had that the other did not have.  

Why would God inspire each man with a partial understanding that the other man did not have, which would lead to different conclusions?

Perhaps it was God's time, for whatever reason, to separate Paul and Barnabas and send them on different ways, to do different jobs.  And God chose this way to do it.

Likewise, Christ, as head of the Church of God, can create a separation - a split in the Church - if it suits His purpose.  He may not want all one organization at this time.  He may want two groups - both faithful to Him - but doing somewhat different jobs - having different, though overlapping, roles.

I don't say this has happened.  I only say it is possible.

So God could inspire one man to grasp the importance of protecting the members, the organization, and the work by using the scriptures about taking action to avoid problems, such as these: "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 22:3).  "Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, 'If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: "He shall give His angels charge over you," and, "In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone." ' Jesus said to him, 'It is written again, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God" ' " (Matthew 4:5-7).  God can also embolden such a man with the scriptures that show his authority to make decisions for the organization he leads (not necessarily the whole Church of God including all fellowships), scriptures such as Matthew 16:18-19 and Hebrews 13:17.

But at the same time, if God wants to separate a different man from that organization, God can inspire in him a deep understanding of the need for faith in God's protection from physical harm.  That could put him in conflict with the first man.  Each man has a certain understanding - one man understands the need for caution and the need for government, the other man the need for bold faith in the face of danger.  Both men have accurate understanding, but not necessarily complete understanding.  One or both has understanding that is true, but not complete.  Christ might not give complete understanding at this time to both men.  Why?  Because Christ, as head of the Church, wants to separate them, just as He separated Paul and Barnabas.  He has different jobs for them to do, and Christ wants each man to report to Him directly, not through the other man.

I don't say this is actually the case, even with Paul and Barnabas.  But it could be.  Maybe Barnabas was wrong, or maybe he was not.

It is something to consider before we are quick to judge others harshly.

It is a myth in the Church of God, held by some, that God only works through one man at a time. The Bible does not teach that.

God worked through two men, Peter and Paul, individually.  Paul did not report to Peter, and Peter did not report to Paul, but both reported to and took directions directly from Christ (Galatians 2:7-9).  When matters came up that required agreement, such as in Acts 15, Peter had authority under Christ to make a binding decision for the whole Church of God, but in day-to-day operations, he did not have authority over Paul.

God worked through more than one prophet at the same time, directly, such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

God worked through more than one prophet in the same area at the same time.   

David was a prophet, and also king over Israel.

Nathan was a prophet of God at the same time, and he had access to David.

But God worked through them individually.  When God's time had come to rebuke David concerning the matter of Uriah the Hittite, God used Nathan to do it.  God worked through two men at the same time.  God worked through David as king over Israel and as prophet when writing the Psalms, but He worked through Nathan as prophet to rebuke David when David sinned. He also worked through Nathan to tell David he was not to build the temple (1 Chronicles 17:1-4).

Nathan had no authority over David in the matter of the kingdom or David's prophecies in the Psalms, and David had no authority over Nathan's prophecies from God, but God supervised both men in their jobs directly.  God worked through two men at the same time.

But would God inspire rebellion?

Yes.

Sin, no. God never inspires sin.  But rebellion or disobedience against authority?  It appears He has.

Consider Rehoboam and Jeroboam.

Solomon became unfaithful to God, and God was determined to punish him by removing ten tribes from the authority of the line of David, not in Solomon's time, but in the days of Solomon's son, Rehoboam.  God determined to give ten tribes to Jeroboam, and this was communicated to Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:6-13, 26-40).

Eventually, Jeroboam and the ten tribes rebelled against Rehoboam's authority (1 Kings 12:1-19).  Notice that God calls this action, "rebellion" (1 Kings 11:26-27, 12:19).

Rehoboam then prepared to send the army of Judah and Benjamin against Jeroboam and the ten tribes to restore the ten tribes to the house of David.  This would have resulted in a civil war.  But God sent a message to them, saying, "You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel.  Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from Me".  And Rehoboam and his armies obeyed God (1 Kings 12:24).  There was no civil war at that time.

Did Jeroboam sin against God by rebelling against the authority of king Rehoboam?  The Bible doesn't say that he sinned, rather, God promised to bless him with an enduring house as He blessed David if Jeroboam obeyed Him (1 Kings 11:38).  

Later Jeroboam sinned with the golden calves and the changing of the dates of the Feast (1 Kings 12:26-33), but God does not say he sinned by leading ten tribes to separate from the rule of David's house.

Did Rehoboam sin by trying to hold the kingdom together?  No, he did according to his understanding of God's will, but when he tried to send the army against Jeroboam, God told him, "no", and Rehoboam obeyed God.  Rehoboam simply did not know that the separation into two kingdoms was God's will, but when God told him, "This thing is from me", he submitted to God. There is not necessarily sin here.

And God was working through two men, Rehoboam over Judah and Jeroboam over Israel, at the same time.  Soon after the split, Jeroboam sinned against God with the idols and the change in the Feast, but until he sinned God worked through him.

Usually a split in the Church of God indicates sin, but not necessarily always.  It may be God's time and will to have more than one organization, to emphasize different parts of God's work, and God can create the separation by inspiring understanding of part of a problem - but different parts - leading to different conclusions in two different men.  Each man then does what he has to do.

Thus God can separate us when it suits His purpose.  God can cause men to separate by limiting their understanding when it suits God's purpose.  But they can separate peacefully, or not.  God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).  While it is not necessarily sin for men to go in different directions to do different jobs independent of each other, there should always be a way for them to separate peacefully.  If there is contention, then there is apparently sin involved in the way that they separate.

This is one reason why we need to be careful about judging each other.

But is God the author of confusion?  No.

"For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:32).

God can cause a separation between men when He wants them to do different jobs, neither having authority over the other.  He can do this by giving each man the understanding that man needs to do his particular job, but not giving that understanding to the other man.  Thus they have different viewpoints, but each has exactly the correct viewpoint for the job Christ wants him to do.

And there is always a way they can separate peacefully, without confusion, if both behave in a perfectly godly manner.

But we still have human nature.  As Paul says, we are carnal (Romans 7:14).  So we usually do not behave perfectly.  And often that means that a separation does not occur peacefully.

God can even anticipate and use our carnal nature for His purposes, as He used the carnal nature of Pharaoh in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt in the way He did.  But our carnal, evil nature does not come from God.  It comes from Satan.  Satan is the real author of confusion and contention.  God is the author of peace.  And to the degree that men act in a godly manner, according to the letter and spirit of God's law, we will have peace.  Separations in that case, though they may occur according to God's purpose, will be peaceful.

The confusion and contention that often occurs in a split in the Church of God does not come from God.  It comes from our human nature.

A decision to mark a minister or group that separates may be justified.  Or it may not.  Time and fruits will tell.  It may not be God's intention and direction that a man who separates to start a new work be marked by the group he leaves.  The decision to mark may not come from Christ.  Christ may allow it but not lead it.  If so, this could be a case of a leader not following where Christ leads.  Sometimes Christ allows men to behave in a carnal way - He doesn't always force decisions, not even in the Church of God.

Some things cannot be known, except by fruits over time (Matthew 7:15-20).

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Self-willed Faith?, Loveless Faith?

Don't be misled by the title of this post.  I am not judging anyone or taking any sides at this time.  This post, and the next one I think, will not be as harsh as the title implies.

Nevertheless, certain things need to be said.  A principle needs to be stated, even if it does not apply to any particular person at this time.

Suppose there is a man who has genuine faith, the kind of faith that God honors with positive action.  Suppose that man believes God's word on a particular point - a particular passage or collection of passages of scripture.  He very sincerely trusts God, even to the point of sticking his neck out to trust God to keep His promises.  And God blesses him because of his faith.

But suppose there is another point of scripture, something else that God says, which that man does not believe.  Maybe he doesn't fully realize it himself.  His disbelieve may be subconscious.  But He does not believe God on that point.  So, consciously or subconsciously, he twists the scripture to make it mean what he wants it to mean.  He doesn't take it for what it says.  

So he has faith in one thing God says, but not another.

How does God look at this man?

I think God may honor the faith the man has in the one point of scripture.  But God has unfinished business with that man.  At some point, God may bring the other point of scripture to the man's attention.  God may test him.  God may correct him.

You might have a man who has faith in God's promises of protection.  So he relies on God's protection.  God honors his faith and blesses and protects him.  But that same man does not fully believe, or does not correctly understand, God's word about giving the leadership of His Church authority to make binding and loosening decisions. (I am tempted, as a joke, to make the movie disclaimer, the preceding example is wholly fictional and any similarity to a real person is coincidental - but I better not get too cute).

God has unfinished business with such a man.  He is pleased that he has faith in God's protection.  But at some point he has to learn to have faith in all of God's word.

It is not enough for us to pick and choose what things God says that we will believe and trust.  God wants our faith to be based on a with Him.  He must be the object of our trust, not a particular scripture.  And that means we must learn to trust and believe everything God says, the whole Bible.  For the same God who inspired one scripture also inspired all the scriptures.

We are human.  We have faults and weaknesses, and do not see them clearly.  God is patient, and He works with us.

In a general sense, it is like a man who obeys all of God's law except one point.  If he breaks one point, he breaks all of God's law (James 2:10).

The Bible is full of examples of men who were righteous in some ways but had problems in other ways. 

We need to learn to trust, believe, and obey God in all points of His word.  It is a process.  God is patient.  He works with us.

Job had a problem.  He was righteous in many ways.  He loved God and he loved his neighbor.  God blessed him.  But his faith in God's righteousness more than his own was weak.  God tested him and corrected him and taught him a lesson.

Mr. Armstrong relates, in his autobiography, how he first learned about healing in his early days coming into the Church of God.  He writes of a man who had the gift of healing.  That man had faith in God's promises of healing, and he prayed boldly for God to heal.  And God backed up that faith!  God healed people when that man prayed for their healing.

But that man did not keep the Sabbath.  He was a Sunday-keeper.  Yet, God answered his prayers for healing with miracles.  God honored that man's faith even though he did not understand and obey all of God's law.

God answered that man's prayers based on his faith in what he understood.  He did not yet understand about the Sabbath.  He thought it was ok to work on the seventh day and observe Sunday as the weekly day of worship.

But God had unfinished business with that man.

One time, Mr. Armstrong brought him an article showing that there was no scriptural basis for Sunday-keeping and we should keep the Sabbath.  He left the article with him so he could review it and give Mr. Armstrong his opinion.

Later, the man said that his minister and he agreed that it was a mistake to be too concerned with those scriptures because they were liable to get themselves "all mixed up".

In other words, he admitted that the article was correct, but rejected this point of knowledge from God.

This man, who had such faith in God's promises for healing, when confronted with scriptures about the Sabbath that corrected him, rejected those scriptures.  He believed God about healing but not about the Sabbath.

What happened?

He lost the gift of healing.  God no longer answered his prayers.

Having faith in one point of God's word, but refusing to believe another part of God's word, is what I term "self-willed faith".  Yes, it is faith.  Yes, it is good.  Yes, God may encourage that kind of faith with blessings, for a time.  But it may be self-willed if the man picks and chooses what parts of God's word he will have faith in, and what parts he will not fully believe and live by.  And if his rejection of certain parts of the Bible is sub-conscious, he may not fully realize what he is doing.  He can deceive himself, twisting the scripture to mean what it does not mean.  The principle of the heart being deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) does not end at baptism.  We have God's Holy Spirit, but we still have human nature.

God is patient and He works with us, over time.  But we have to learn our lessons.

Then, there is what I call, "loveless faith".  I don't have an example in mind, except that Paul talks about it, at least in a hypothetical sense.  Paul says that if he has all faith so he could remove mountians, but have not love, he is nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).

In making decisions, to obey a supervisor, to leave a group, or even where to place focus and priority if forming a new group, we must be motivated by love.  We must love God and love our neighbors.  Christ spoke of both and taught that love of God is more important than love of neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40), yet Christ emphasized love of neighbor because He knew that was a point where many people fell short, even in a way they could understand (Matthew 25:31-46).  They fell short in loving God too, but that was harder to demonstrate to their blinded minds.  Their lack of love for their neighbors was easier to illustrate (Luke 10:25-37).

We live in a unique time.  Our nations will soon be engulfed in the great tribulation as punishment for their sins, and most of the people have not heard a warning.  Many of these people, those who are religious members of traditional churches, do not know they are sinning.  Above all, they need to be told so they know that God was fair to warn them.  And these are the people who will make up the first generation of Israel in the millennium.

This is a time when we can express love for our neighbors by supporting the message of the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to all Israel and the world.  This is so important that God counts us as murderers in His sight if we refuse to do this (Ezekiel 3:18).

And right now, with the coronavirus crisis, the economic crisis, and the cultural and political crisis affecting people's lives, people have the time (many of them, because they have been laid off) and the concern (because they are worried about the future) to pay attention to the Church's broadcasts and literature and message.

This may be a golden opportunity to advance God's work.  And we should support this work, not just to avoid a murder charge upon ourselves (Ezekiel 3:18), but to love our neighbors.  They need our message.

Any decisions we make affecting the Church of God should be made in light of this issue.  Love for our neighbors should motivate all we do.

Any decision a minister or member might make concerning leaving or staying in a group, paying of tithes and offerings, setting a focus if starting a new group, or any other decision, should be made in light of how it will affect our neighbors by helping or hurting the work of God of preaching the gospel and delivering God's Ezekiel warning as He commands us.  When Church of God income is diminished, that can hurt the gospel and the warning message.  When people are pulled out of a group that is effectively preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning, that can hurt our neighbors.

When I have an idea for a post for this blog, and I am considering whether or not to publish it and how to write it, I must also consider how it might affect the gospel.  I want to help the preaching of the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, not hurt it.

And if any member evaluates a Church of God fellowship, considering whether to join or support a particular group, I would advise, look at their effort to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning, and look to see if God blesses their effort with an open door.  A new group should state the gospel and the Ezekiel warning as a priority from day one, coming out of the starting gate, or their heart probably isn't in it.  And the setting of such a priority needs to be backed up by action.  Don't be fooled into accepting words only.

Don't accept the excuse, we have to focus on getting right with God for a while (day?, week?, month?, year?, hundred years?) before we preach to the world.  That excuse has been used by leaders of groups before.  It is God who corrects the nations, and we are just the delivery man delivering God's message.  It is God's message, not ours.  We obey and deliver, or not.  

If a minister thinks he has no right to preach to the public because he is not right with God, then let him repent, today, and tomorrow obey God by preaching God's message to the world.  If he has no right to preach to the world because he needs to get closer to God first, then what right does he have to preach to the Church of God membership on the Sabbath?

But some leaders of new groups in the past have focused on preaching to their own members, but not the world.  Why?  I am tempted to think that they may preach to their members so they will receive tithe income.  They don't preach to the public because that uses up some of the tithe income that would go to themselves.  Well, God knows their hearts, I don't.

From what I have heard, when Dr. Roderick Meredith left Worldwide Church of God, or was forced to leave, and started Global Church of God, within a few weeks, maybe about six, he had a program going to preach the gospel to the world.  I emphasize, to the world, because many new groups may start a work on the Internet or radio or TV, but oriented towards Church of God members.  That does not help our nations who need a warning.

Preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning can start small, but it needs to start.  It can be started quickly, in a few weeks.  TV or radio might be best, followed up with a magazine and literature, but if that is not possible, it can start smaller.  You need some articles, at least one, a website, and a bit of advertising to get it going.  Advertising can start as small as a couple of hundred dollars.  It is not that complicated or expensive to start.  If a minister can afford meat on his table every day, he can afford a website and some advertising to preach the gospel.  If he has the time to prepare a Sabbath sermon for the Church, he has time to write an article for the public.

Then God decides whether to bless it or not.  He promises an open door to those in the Philadelphian condition (Revelation 3:7-10).

And by this, any objective member who has zeal for the gospel can know if he should support such a group.

Are there Philadelphians in the whole Church of God today?  No doubt there are some, even if only a few.  They may be scattered.  But most will be in a group that is preaching the gospel to the world.

"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, 'These things says He who is holy, He who is true, "He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens": "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name" ' " (Revelation 3:7-8).

Philadelphians, wherever they are, have an open door for preaching the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the nations of Israel and the world.  But how does God give them that open door?

Legally and financially, we all have an open door.  But many non-Philadelphians do not see the need for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning.  So they don't support it, or they are lukewarm in their support.  For them, the door is closed.

In other words, in physical circumstances where any COG fellowship can preach the gospel, only those who see the need will make the sacrifices to do so.

So one way God gives Philadelphians an open door is to open their minds to understand the importance of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning.  Laodiceans in the Church of God may be blinded to that.  God lets them be blinded.  They don't think the gospel and warning are important.  That is how God closes the door for them, one way anyway.

Those who see the need for the gospel and the warning should not pull any of their tithes or offerings from a group they are supporting that has a strong work of preaching the gospel to contribute to a group that is not doing so, not unless and until that other group proves itself with action.

Don't just listen to words.  Watch for action.  Watch for a website or radio station program or Google pay-per-click advertising - something.  Good intentions expressed in words about what someone is going to do are not enough.

Above all, if action comes, watch and see how God blesses it.

I can understand both sides of a dispute.  God promises protection against disease and other calamities.  But also, we should not tempt God.  Two sides can argue.  Paul teaches tolerance in the matter of faith (Romans 14:1-23, 15:1-7).

As one side will point out, we should consider the consequences of our actions.  "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 22:3).

This might be said in the context of protection from physical diseases, accidents, or problems.  But there is something else to consider.

What are the consequences of a split?

The wise foreseeing danger can apply to diseases or physical dangers.  But it can also apply to a split?

In other words, if a minister foresees that his actions will cause a split in an organization that is preaching the gospel, and a diminishing of that organization's income for preaching the gospel, that is a factor to consider.  The hurting of the work of God may be a more serious problem than getting sick.

If a minister leaves or is put out of a fellowship, what is he to do?  His calling as a minister is permanent - he can't walk away from his obligations to God's work and people.  He has to eat, and even if he is independently wealthy (few are), God does not want him to be idle.  He cannot abandon the flock.

Unless he finds an existing COG fellowship that is faithful and will employ him (there may not be any), he has no choice but to form a new fellowship.  God will judge him if he abandons the flock (Ezekiel 34:1-10).  It is Christ who ordains a man to the ministry, through the established ministry, and I find no scripture that authorizes any man or leader to annul that ordination.  A leader can remove him from an organization, but he is still a minister in God's sight.  "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29).

But it is natural, almost inevitable, that many of his tithe-paying members will come out of the organization he left, taking their tithes with them, and that diminishes the power of the organization he leaves to do God's work.

All that is part of the consequences of our actions that a wise person will avoid, if possible, as taught in Proverbs 22:3.

He may plan to preach the gospel, devoting about half of his tithe income to that purpose and the other half to feeding the flock, which is a good balance.

But it takes time for that to be effective.  Even if you start a work towards the public in a few weeks, it takes time to grow.

One solution may be to instruct members and supporters that, until the new fellowship can build an effective work, they should send about half of their tithes and offerings to the former organization that still has a powerful work of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning.  That is one way God's work will not be hurt.

That will seem odd.  But is it not God's way?  To give for the good of others, even when that good in not appreciated (Matthew 5:44-45)?  The motive would not be love for unjust ministers, but for the people of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and many other countries who desperately need a warning.

And for a minister who does this, it may be a demonstration that he is not trying to cause division.

"Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' Therefore 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17-21).

"But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil" (Luke 6:35).

Before closing, I want to say that, though I mentioned the possibility that selective faith can be self-willed or unloving, there is another possibility, one that does not assign major blame for a split to anyone.  In a dispute or split, it is possible that both sides could be right, in a sense, as strange as that may sound.

I will cover that, I hope, in the next post.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Ministry's Authority to Limit Contact (Marking)

 
If things go according to plan, this will be the first in a series of several posts I plan to publish over the next several days, maybe a week or so.  There may be five or six, and they are intended to all be read as a related group.

From time to time there are crises and splits in the Church of God.

I do not know the hearts and intents of various leaders in the Church of God.  I cannot, at this time, form judgments as to the right or wrong of various decisions that have been made and are being made.  I cannot judge the spiritual condition of anyone involved in recent events.  Even if I could make judgments, I should not judge others except as I need to do so to make decisions I have a responsibility for making.  But even in that case, I am unable at this time due to a lack of information (I cannot read minds) and my lack of wisdom to put the information together properly (even if I could read minds).

I don't know what Christ has in mind in the current situation.  I do not know how He intends things to develop.

Over time, things will probably become more clear, to me and to others.  But not yet.

But I do understand certain lessons from the Bible and from Church of God history about God's way of life and how things are being worked out in the Church and in God's work, and I want to talk about those things in this post and in the next several posts.  These are general principles, and each Christian who reads this or understands these principles from his or her own Bible study and meditation can apply these principles to form necessary judgments  - judgments needed for making decisions God has given us the responsibility for making.

The above paragraphs I write not just for others, but for myself.  I should re-read what I just wrote from time to time as I write these posts, for I must resist the temptation to judge things too quickly.  Let me stick to principles.

This is an importance post.  I suggest you read it carefully, remember it, and print it or copy it to your hard drive.  And later, if your friends ask you to send them a copy of the text of this post, go ahead.  You have my permission.

Do your own research in the Bible, as needed, to check up on what I say in this post, to see if it is true, and believe what you find in your Bible.  Don't take my word for what I say.

If a Church of God leader (apostle, prophet, presiding evangelist, pastor general, president, or whatever title is used for the top man in a Church of God fellowship and organization) marks someone as causing division and forbids members of that fellowship from having contact with the person so marked, is that binding upon the members?  Does God require members to obey that order and avoid contact?

In general, yes.  The authority to prohibit contact is established by a number of passages in God's word.

"And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19).

"Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).

"Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17).

"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17).

When your Church leader tells you to avoid contact with a marked person, you should obey.

But there is an exception, which I will get to.

Christ is the head of the Church.  He has delegated certain authority to His leaders and his ministry.  They do have the authority to mark those who cause division.

But how does Christ exercise headship over the Church?  Does He do it only through the human government and ministry in the Church?  Is that the only way He guides and leads the Church of God and its members?

No.

There are actually three separate, overlapping authority structures, reporting structures, "chains of command" as they say, by which Christ rules the Church, as identified in the Bible.  You can draw an organization chart for each, and I have done so in my book, Preaching the Gospel.  These reporting structures or chains of command do not contradict each other or conflict with each other, but compliment each other (when used properly).  They work together.  They differ in the kinds of decisions and matters they govern: church organization, Christian family, and our direct relationship with God.

In other words, Christ rules members of the Church through the leadership and ministry in the Church only for certain things. Not everything.  There are some matters the ministry has no authority over.

The idea of multiple channels of authority may seem strange to some, but I can illustrate it with some human examples some of us may be familiar with.

In business, an employee, call him Jim, may report to the head of the department he is in (call him Fred).  He may have been hired by Fred.  Fred has authority over him.  He tells him what work to perform and how to perform the work.  He can promote him, give him raises, or even fire him.  

But there are other departments in the company, and there is a project that involves several departments.  Perhaps that project is the development of a better mousetrap that uses the latest technology including atomic power, lasers, computer chips, nano-robots, micro-black holes, quantum mechanics, and general relativity.  All these departments work on many projects, but they all work on the mousetrap project.  To keep the work on track for that project, a project manager is appointed, Larry.  That project manager supervises a team that works on the project, but that team includes employees from several departments.

Jim is assigned to Larry to work on the mousetrap project.

So Jim reports to Larry for the details of his work on the project.  Larry tells him what to do, for that project, but not for other projects.  You see, Larry's project is not the only thing Jim works on.  He spends about half his time on Larry's project and the other half of his time on other duties, over which Larry has no authority.

And Larry does not report to Fred, because Larry is not part of Fred's department.  Several of Fred's employees, including Jim, are "on loan" to Larry for the duration of Larry's project, no more.  

So Jim has two bosses, Fred and Larry.  Fred is the "big boss", the one who hired him and can fire him, and gives his is annual review and pay raise as well and tells him what to do.  But Larry is also his boss, only regarding the details of the mousetrap project.

Does having two bosses lead to conflict and confusion?  Not at all, but each boss is only in charge of certain things.  For certain decisions Jim goes to Larry and for certain other decisions he goes to Fred.  The lines of responsibility are clear, when it is set up right.

This type of arrangement is used in big business all the time because it works very well.

Here is an example from history and the military.  American and British soldiers participated in an invasion of Hitler's Europe in June 1944 in an operation code-named, "Overlord".  Although the soldiers of each nation had primary loyalty to their own country's leaders, to keep the invasion force unified, Dwight Eisenhower was appointed supreme commander over the invasion operation.  But his authority was temporary and limited, and his authority over a nation's soldiers could be overridden in a crisis by the governments of those nations.

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and all its members, but He does not use the same chain of command for all things.

In matters of the organized work of the Church, Christ supervises the Church and its members, through the human leadership and ministry.  What is the "organized work of the Church", as I call it?

"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 4:11-17).

"Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 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 12:27-28).

Matters the ministry has authority over include: determining what doctrines are to be taught so we all speak the same thing, preaching the gospel to the world, feeding the flock, caring for the poor in the Church, administering services, handling budgets, counseling members and prospective members, baptizing, teaching, disciplining members for sin, and resolving disputes.  Conduct at services would fall into this category.

Their authority for these things is given in several places, but the main summary of the extent of that authority is given in Ephesians 4:11-17. They do not have authority over everything, but only those things having to do with the organized work of the Church.

But in family matters, Christ uses a different chain of command.  He rules the Christian family, not through the ministry, but through the husband, the head of the family.

"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything" (Ephesians 5:22-24).

"But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3).

Notice that in family matters, the head of the man is not his pastor or the human leadership of the Church, but Christ directly. This is describing a chain of command from Christ to the man that does not include the ministry of the Church.  But in these family matters, the head of the wife (and children) is not Christ directly, but the man.

So the wife has two bosses.  She obeys the ministry in matters of the Church, but she obeys her husband in matters of the family.  In both cases she is obeying Christ, through the ministry in matters of the Church and through her husband in matters of the family.

Does she, or any man or woman in the Church, obey Christ directly, not through any man?  Yes.  In matters of faith and obedience to God, she obeys Christ directly, as we all must.

In our faith in and obedience towards God, men and women in the Church of God are equal.  We all are led by God and Christ through the Bible, God's word, and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

Our faith must be in God and His word directly, not through the ministry.  The Bible specifically says that the human leadership and ministry do not have authority over your faith.  They decide what can be taught so we all speak the same thing (1 Corinthians 1:10), but they cannot tell you what to believe.  As the Bible words it, they do not have "dominion" (rule, authority) over our faith (what we believe).

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

So in matters of what we believe, Christ rules each of us directly.  Even a wife is to believe God's word, the Bible, more than her husband or minister.

Any minister who tries to teach you to believe him more than the Bible, or to believe his interpretation of the Bible (the Bible interprets itself, and clear passages interpret difficult passages) more than what you can see for yourself in your own Bible, is taking upon himself a prerogative that belongs only to God.  If he does that, he is making an idol of himself and wanting Church members to worship him.

Our faith and trust must be towards God, not man, not even ministers in the true Church of God.

This Church and work was built on those who followed Mr. Armstrong's suggestion, "Don't believe me.  Don't believe any man.  Believe God.  Believe your Bible".

Ministers are not consistent if they say that to the public, but tell their members something else.  And saying that to the public is the only way we can preach the gospel effectively.

When we pray, our prayers go to God direct, not through the ministry.  We pray in Jesus Christ's name, that is, by His authority, and the ministry is not in that loop.

The Holy Spirit works in our minds to help us understand spiritual knowledge directly.

When we obey God, we obey Him directly.  The ministry can sometimes help us in this, but our obedience is to God.  If a minister commands us to break God's law, to sin, such as by lying, or if a husband commands his wife to lie, a Christian must obey God rather than man.  The chain of command for obedience to God's law is through Christ direct, not through any man.

So in matters of our relationship with God in faith, in trust, in prayer, in obedience - Christ rules each member directly, not through any man.  He is the head of the Church, the head of all of us, that way.

But also, in family matters and decisions, Christ does not rule the wife and children directly, but He rules the family, through the husband.  Christ leads the husband to make the decision, and the husband is then to lead the wife and children in Christ's decision.

Do husbands follow Christ perfectly?  I suppose few do all the time, but some follow Christ more than others.  But unless the husband tells his wife to sin, she should obey.  Just because the husband's decision is unwise, in the wife's opinion, is no excuse for her to disobey.

But in matters involving the organized work of the Church, the chain of command Christ uses to govern the Church is not direct over every member, nor is it through the husbands over the wife, but it is through the human leadership and ministry in the Church of God, and we are to obey that chain of command.

I said that when your Church leader tells you to avoid contact with a marked person, you should obey, but there is an exception.

With the background of how Christ is head of the Church, we can discuss that exception.

Normally, if there is no pressing spiritual need for contact with a marked individual, you should avoid contact as your ministry tells you.  You should not read the marked person's website or listen to his speaking for purposes of entertainment, or curiosity, or gossip, or having something interesting to talk about with other Church members.

But . . .

The Church of God is scattered.  That is undeniable.  And Church of God organizations and fellowships change over time - sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly - that is also obvious.  Probably, we are in the Laodicean era - a time when the predominant characteristics of the Church are lukewarmness and blindness.  "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:15-17).  Christ has scattered us, or as He says, vomited us out of His mouth.

Sometimes it takes research to learn where God wants us to go or who to support.

Your primary relationship should be with God direct.  You obey the ministry only because God tells you to, not the other way around.  God has priority.

If your obligation to seek and obey God requires you to learn and know what is going on so you can most effectively seek and obey God - if God Himself requires you to do certain research for important spiritual reasons - and if that research requires you to have contact with a marked person, at least temporarily until you find some answers - then that obligation to God overrides your obligation to obey His ministry.  It becomes a special case of obeying God rather than man.

But you better have a good reason, because God knows your heart, and He is your judge.  He won't take it lightly if you kid yourself and listen to those who cause division out of idle curiosity or other non-important reason.

Why is it sometimes necessary to do research to "check out" those who have been marked on accusation of causing division?

I will use myself as an example.  I have been a member and am still a supporter of Living Church of God.  I tithe to them and I recommend them to others as the best fellowship to support and attend.  I don't necessarily agree with every detail of what they say and do, but I have seen them as doing the best job of all the major Church of God fellowships.  None are perfect.

But I did not come to this conclusion, or come to Living Church of God, blindly.  I had to check up on many organizations with an open mind.  I had to make judgments.  And I could not be disuaded by ministers in a group I might be with saying, "Don't read their literature", or "Don't listen to them."  I checked up on everyone, the bad as well as the good.  I had to.

Likewise, when I was Catholic, no pope or priest could command me not to listen to Herbert W. Armstrong.  I was after the truth, and my obligation was to God, not to any church.

That is the exception.  Generally, avoid those marked by the fellowship you are in, but if there is an overriding spiritual necessity - one required by your direct relationship with God - then that is a case of obeying God rather than man.  Do the research you have to do - get the facts - so you can follow where Christ leads as He wants you to do.

Christ leads the ministry.  But the ministry does not always follow where Christ leads.  History proves that.  The Bible gives examples.

Christ can force obedience in the Church.  Sometimes He does.  Sometimes He does not.  He tests all of us.

I heard a story that someone said something like, "If you think Christ cannot rule His Church, you don't know Christ".

True enough, but if you think ministers always follow where Christ leads, you don't know ministers.