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.

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